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20 April 2007 @ 06:50 pm
It's a thin line  
Where does creative writing end and criminally actionable psychosis begin? Salon asks the question in an article about the frequent dilemma of English instructors across the nation.

As the Virginia Tech shooter's plays were being shown in tv news broadcasts I was reminded of the string of stories and poems I wrote about suicide when I was a teenager trying to come to terms with my mother's series of attempted suicides. I was just trying to wrap my brain around the reason or reasons why she might have wanted to die, so I had a number of scenarios where my characters decided to kill themselves. The one that comes most readily to mind involved a lonely and isolated elderly widow who decided to starve herself to death and died in her attic surrounded by her mementos and photo albums, remembering her husband and family. (I no longer have the story.) I suppose someone could have concluded that I was suicidal, but that was not the case. I could picture someone writing the oft quoted plays if they were trying to deal with feelings about a past experience of abuse. Who knew the author would end up committing mass murder?

I just hope that we don't end up going too far in the other direction and prevent the kind of catharsis I experienced and insight that I gained in writing my short stories.
Tapatitapati on April 22nd, 2007 06:18 am (UTC)
Trouble is, writing teachers aren't really trained to figure out who is a future horror writer like Stephen King or Dean Koontz vs. who is going to become a school shooter, rapist, or serial killer. I would wonder, too--but I don't think I want English teachers to be the ones who decide to intervene in any forceful way. I read one letter in response to the Salon article from a teacher who simply responds to such pieces on the basic level of writing critique. I think that's the way it should be. I think if other behavior in class is disturbing--in his case he was trying to take snapshots of women's legs with his cellphone camera--then report that by all means and mention the writing in that context.

We have people all over our society saying and writing violent things, and only a small percentage actually do something. My internet stalker who threatened to stab me and cut off my breast has factually used more direct violent language toward a specific person than this guy ever did--and the authorities have not chosen to lock him up. If he ever becomes a shooter, people will look back at those complaints and shake their fingers at the police and FBI who took those reports and didn't act on them. But until then he just looks like a powerless jerk who gets off on trying to scare people via the internet. And maybe he is harmless, more bark than bite. We can't look into his head and know.

I wish we had some machine that could do so. Would save a lot of trouble.
labrys6 on April 22nd, 2007 02:16 pm (UTC)
Of course English teachers shouldn't be responsible for spotting nutjobs.
But then, on the other hand, EVERYone should be responsible in a sense---for paying attention. It seems more and more often, when bad things happen---the response that comes out is "Well, I was never trained to deal with THAT!". We are becoming a nation, possibly a world full of specialized sorts---and not generalists who can use common sense.

And it includes cops who worry about what some "profiler" somewhere would say. I think we have lost something of ...what to call it? "Societal empowerment"? Nobody feels qualified to take a stand on "this is over the frickin' top" and stick to it.

Finger pointing after the fact does no good at all. It really IS a problem and I don't know how to turn it back. We don't need a machine so much as people who can trust and act upon their conclusions.