Sunday, June 03, 2007

Class Obsessions

The television was blaring a program of no great import, and I had Baby slung across one shoulder, trying desperately to ameliorate his gaseous tears — rocking him, bouncing him, singing to him, promising him a Camaro.

With my free hand, I changed the channel. A golf tournament appeared. And this made me think of Cho Seung-Hui.

Remember him?

I bet it took a second. He’s the nutjob who shot and killed 32 innocents at Virginia Tech, less than two months ago. But you won’t find much new stuff about him. Nor will you see anything about calls for gun control, a debate that lasted about 8 seconds after Cho’s last bullet was fired.

But this is not a call for reflection or remembrance, as our cumulative memories have been wiped clean by Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab or A-Rod’s latest stint with his P-Rod.

To be honest, I had forgotten about Cho, until I saw some boring white guy (except for Tiger Woods, golfers all look the same) hit a 7-iron from about 150 yards, the ball landing five feet from the cup. Naturally, this made me think of a horrific mass killing.

You see, when I was in college, I wrote a poem in which the narrator kills someone with a golf ball.

Workshop: obsessions on parade

The poem’s narrator describes a a well-struck shot, done intentionally, as well as anonymous White Guy I had seen on television. In this poem, however, it was 5-iron, and instead of setting up a birdie putt, the ball lodged into the back of the victim’s skull. The narrator, you see, had gotten tired of all the anti-Semitic ranting the other fellow had been doing on the links.

You might say it was a revenge fantasy, laid bare for the inspection of the first creative writing class I had ever taken. Revenge for all the slights I had ever received for being Jewish, slights real or imagined, verbal or physical. But the class was not horrified — most were amused, and the teacher thought it a clever poem, if not fully formed.

Nobody thought I was going to stalk around campus with a golf club and Titleists, wreaking havoc.

You probably remember Cho was an English major, and that some of his anger was manifest in two short plays he wrote for a creative writing class. If you haven’t read them, it’s pretty disturbing stuff.

Cho’s teachers and fellow students were not blind to his demons, and in one class, the poet Nikki Giovanni had him removed from the class entirely. His writing pointed to a twisted mind, and he was referred to counseling, which obviously didn’t take.

Now, of all the creative writing classes I have taken, from my undergraduate days through the splendid waste known as an M.F.A. program, I’ve met some strange fellows, male and female.

Some were obsessed with sex (mostly men). Some were obsessed with unfaithful boyfriends (mostly women). Yet others wrote incessantly about angry protagonists in which violence often boiled under the surface (both men and women). Yet others were obsessed with sex, unfaithful boyfriends, and violence. If you are honest, one’s obsessions will be on parade.

None of this particularly bothered me, but only if it wasn't repeated. My rule of thumb was if someone wrote a story about a disturbing subject and shared it with the class, the person was not disturbed unless a) the story sucked and b) he handed in another badly written story encompassing the same themes. Write a story about killing your parents, fine, but do it twice, and you’ve got larger issues.

Which is what Cho did. Not only did he pen “Richard McBeef,” a whacked-out revenge fantasy about an abusive stepfather, but the equally insane “Mr. Brownstone,” which is not something I expect to be performed on Broadway.

Murder weapon?

I guess my point is this — it’s a fine line between stupid and clever, and a finer line between insane and normal, and I imagine that at least one person, for one second, thought I was, at the least “weird” for writing a poem about killing someone with a golf ball.

I wonder if students in creative writing classes are afraid to write about violence, or feel it is indicative of a warped mind.

That golf-ball poem was half my life ago. I wonder if, in this day and age, I would have been referred to counseling. Perhaps. And I don’t think I would have been offended.