The Mind Fuck: Thoughts for the start of school September 2009
The Mind Fuck: Thoughts after the Virginia Tech Massacre: April 16th 2007
The Mind Fuck: Same Thoughts after the NIU Massacre: February 14th 2008 (insert applicable details)
As I was giving a lecture to a bunch of bored freshman, I saw a young man approaching my classroom door. I did not recognize him as one of my students. He had shoulder-length blond hair and was wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses. As he paused at the threshold, he reached around for his backpack. I looked to the faces of my students, then, I glanced to the row of windows -3 stories up - and for one quick instant the thought: If he has a gun, we're fucked and I'm first, went through my mind. And then the fella made his way down the hall. Now, I'm not really afraid that some disgruntled and disturbed student is going to come into my classroom and start shooting. I've never really had that thought before.
While some of my colleagues have admitted to having had this nightmare, I have not. And so the rise of that thought, that image in my overly-active imagination caught me by surprise. It's not that I haven't had disgruntled students, I have; they write me angry emails when they get bad grades, they cry in my office when the news isn't good, they give me crummy evaluations, or rant about me on one of the many Grade Your Professor websites that exist, but only once have I ever had an aggressive confrontation with a pissed off student who threw a failed-paper at me (I remained unharmed), and stormed out - never to be seen again.
As a creative writing teacher, I have had occasion to read some disturbing and sometimes violent prose of my students: a rapist spying on his next victim, a wife plotting the poisoning of her husband, an ex-con whose first conjugal visit ends in the bloody massacre of a certain member caught in a certain zipper - but not funny, like in Something about Mary but alarming ala Lorena Bobbitt. And while I may not enjoy some of these narratives, or have been critical of their execution, or bored by the very nature of the cliché....I have never felt the kind of concern that might lead me to report them to my Chair. As a fiction writer who is often immersed in a kind of zone where reality and imagination blend and blur, I hesitate to question another human's capacity for this - no matter the perceived craziness of the writing.
Hell, creative writing is cathartic we tell ourselves and our students. We believe that getting the macabre or psychological down on page is a way to alleviate ourselves of certain thoughts - not to map out the blueprint to carrying them out. And let's face it, had some creative writing professor reported the novice writer Stephen King (maybe one did?) perhaps the likes of "Carrie" or "The Shining" would have never been written or published. I don't like the feeling of creeping paranoia about where I work, or the state of my students' mental health, or whether a word from me is going to ignite a horror in them. I don't like feeling that I now must be on the look-out for creepy writing and somehow make evaluative considerations as to its truth in fiction or its truth in reality. I'm a friggin' novelist - for crying out loud - not a psychologist.
I'm concerned that since the events at VT (NIU), we as an academic community will be called to form committees to create policies for our course-work, where lines between fact and fiction are determined not by the genre, the professor, or the nature of the workshop, but instead by a list of subjects that can and can not be visited in our creative stories. I don't know what the answer is. I'd like to believe that the tragedy at VT was an isolated incident: just one really fucked-up individual amongst scores of others just trying to get an education (But it wasn’t). I’d like to believe that what lies between me and this kind of horror isn’t reliant on gun laws or whether one’s medication had been missed. I'd like to believe that whatever evil lies so deeply in someone's heart is rarer than not, and the likelihood of its existence is small in comparison to the goodness that lies in the hearts of most people.
And, yet, like many campuses around the country, ours too received a "copy-cat" threat in days after the VT tragedy. Imagine getting an email – like a memo - from your employer informing you not to worry, that a potential threat had been "averted" and all can return to normal. But the normal today is not the normal it was a week ago, before one really disturbed guy started shooting, before quick-thinking professors barricaded doors with their bodies, before nineteen year old kids started jumping out of windows, hiding beneath desks, or being the last of the lot, the one to play opossum with a bullet in his leg, as his looming attacker shot two more rounds into him just before the nutcase turned the gun on himself. So what was once normal in my reality – is no longer normal in my mind, because whether or not this ever happens again, whether there is any blame to take or make, any resolutions or policies to impose, whether it happened once like a fluke (but it wasn’t), there has been a mind-fuck on me, on my colleagues and students, on parents and friends, on our counterparts across the country – and whether it has touched us personally or not, it has messed with our collective consciousness as a nation; our once-normal is no longer our present or future normal, nor will it ever be.
Causes Cynn Chadwick Supports
Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, American Cancer Society, NPR, Humane Society.