I have started writing this post five times now, and each time, I have erased it, and stared at my screen, I guess hoping that the more I erased and the longer I stared, the closer I’d come to knowing what to write. It turns out that I still don’t know, but since I can’t sit here forever, I will go ahead and do my best. As you know by now, a student at Virginia Tech opened fire in a residence hall and in a classroom, killing 32 people, wounding 15 others, and finally killing himself. It’s an act of brutality so distinctly horrible that it’s nearly impossible to process it into words, and more impossible still to understand. Yet in the hours and days afterward, all media outlets, from the television to newspapers to the internet have been inundated with stories and thoughts and feelings, all of it in an attempt to get a handle on what happened. And while several facts have come to the surface — the shooter’s name was Cho Seung-Hui, he was 23 years old, he was an English major, he was a quiet loner described by his roommate as “weird”, he produced some dark writing — I don’t think anyone is any closer to understanding how a person can reach a point where killing that many people is the answer. I’ve been reading the news almost all day, and I certainly don’t.
Earlier today, I emailed back and forth with Levi about the fact that Cho Seung-Hui was a writer, and what that might mean in the face of this, and so I dutifully read things about his writing: Nikki Giovanni expressed concern about his behavior and writing in her class, Cho left behind a manifesto, Cho’s writing was disturbing. I even read his script called “Richard McBeef”. His script reads like something written by an angry boy, but does it indicate what he would later come to do? In light of what’s happened, it might be easier for some to say yes, but to look at it honestly as a piece of writing, I can’t help but think that many, many people write things that are dark and angry and violent. They write about murder, about rape, torture, abuse, war, greed, blood, pain. They may be quiet, antisocial, angry, occasionally belligerent, labeled as weird. They might make other people uncomfortable. They don’t take guns into a classroom and start shooting. So what’s the difference? In the wake of Monday’s massacre, experts have come out and said that Cho perfectly fit the profile of someone who would do such a thing, but the fact that the experts know this now seems to be too little, too late.
Here in this post, I’m supposed to be analyzing Cho’s writing and coming to conclusions about why he did what he did, but I think it’s fair to say it’s a task that’s completely beyond me. I don’t know why, more than anyone else does, but the thing that strikes me — as a writer, as a reader — is that in the age we live in, this age of paranoia and fear and finger-pointing, it’s going to be very important for people to remember that artists are still going to need room to create art. Do I think Cho’s writing was good enough to be called art? No, but as it turns out, that point is moot. Even though I absolutely believe that if people have valid safety concerns after reading something they should tell someone, it is also my hope that the fact that Cho chose to express himself in writing doesn’t restrict the freedom of other people to create, even if what they’re moved to create might make other people uncomfortable.
In the end, I am sorry for what happened and I am sad, and my heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were killed this week. It doesn’t make any sense that something this horrible should happen, and I think that no matter how many facts come out and how much analysis is done in the coming days and weeks, it never truly will. I have quoted this poem before on LitKicks, and I debated with myself about quoting it again, but when it comes down to it, this is the only thing left to say:
We Are Waiting
There are days that haven’t arrived yet,
that are being made
like bread or chairs or a product
from the pharmacies or the woodshops:
there are factories of days to come:
they exist, craftsmen of the soul
who raise and weigh and prepare
certain bitter or beautiful days
that arrive suddenly at the door
to reward us with an orange
or to instantly murder us.