I know--it's a funny question, but it first occurred to me when I was getting my MFA at Vermont College, and my beautiful friend, Alice, with her long golden hair (I mean, she's one of the most gorgeous women I have ever met) went out on the town one night with some famous visiting poets, and when she came back, she was horrified. "The poets!" she said. "They were such creeps!" She added that she thought, after reading their work, that they would be "like angels."
I told her how, before I went to church, I thought Christians were, well, Christian. "Wow, you really are out of touch!" she laughed. "Like what planet did you grow up on?"
I have often wondered, how far we are from the message or story or image we send into the world? Of course, fiction writers aren't held up to the same standard as poets. We don't expect Stephen King to be a psycho-murderer. But poets are often equated with the work they create. Maybe it's a problem of the the first-person in poetry. Am I really the I in my confessional poems? Are you? Yes or no, it creates a certain kind of expectation. We like to identify people in one way or another.
It's that kind of identification I wonder at. I wonder about it with cities, too. Because I think of places as stories, as personalities almost, and I travel to them with certain expectations.
When I was moving back to Charlottesville, the story I read about it was of a lovely, exciting, liberal University town. I was relieved to think it had changed so much from the Charlottesville I grew up in, which was a beautiful but racist, sleepy, southern town much like the fictional Lessington, Virginia I wrote about in Miss August. But then, last summer there was that horrific White Supremacist-Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and many have written me to ask what it's like here. Is it a racist city? How is the town coping with what happened. I don't know the answer, but from what I have since read in the Heaphy Report , the story is both beyond upsetting and it's ongoing.
In the aftermath of the event, many of the counter-protesters are being sued, and there are plans for another Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August of 2018. The protesters, as one friend explained it, have learned to tell a legally defensible story. They have figured out how to situate themselves on the right side of the law. Or to frame the story in their favor.
Is that even possible? I wonder. I am not yet up to speed on the subject.
But it brings me to my last point, or the last thing rambling around in my brain today . . .
In his article, The Double Murder Case That Still Haunts Me, Nathan Heller writes about a gruesome double-murder that happened in the 1980s in Lynchburg, an hour down the road from Charlottesville. It was a murder that caught the attention of the public back in the 80's and that the short story writer, Peter Taylor, and his wife, the poet, Eleanor Ross Taylor, talked about when we visited that year. The murderers were top UVA students and talented writers, and they were stunned by the horrific news of what had happened. Now, years later, a film has been made about the case. And everyone is still questioning, what happened.
But it is their ability as writers that causes Heller to question them. He writes:
Both Haysom and Soering were writers in college, and both have become successful authors who have published from prison. That haunted me, too—partly because there’s an inherent slipperiness involved in interviewing people who know how stories are composed, and partly because the coverup itself seemed to have literary attributes. As I put it in the magazine piece: “At least one of the people implicated has been hiding the truth with a writer’s mind."