I mentioned in a post several months ago that I will be reading at the Great Writing Conference, held at Imperial College, London at the end of June. Well--after bureacratic delays that made the U.S. government look like a comparative bastion of efficiency--my university finally figured out how to extend a contribution toward the total cost of the trip, and so our travel plans were finalized just last Friday. While we're paying more for our tickets than if we'd made the reservations back in October, when I submitted my funding request to the university, I'm excited that the trip is finally real. We're actually going. As I wrote in my previous post about the conference, I haven't attended or spoken at Great Writing since 2007, when it was held at Bangor. While I'll always remember that trip as a lovely one--and certainly one I'd love to make again--there's no matching London as a summer destination. (Well, so okay, there is Paris.) Best of all is the conference itself, which in the past has always featured smart discussions, diverse topics, and plenty of time set aside for collegial conversation over coffee (or whatever else one prefers). I always return home with new writers in mind and at least one really great pedagogical idea I'm dying to try out. And last I heard, the conference is still willing to consider proposals in hopes of filling out its last few slots. So while the American dollar is still fairly weak against the British pound, making the trip not exactly cheap, if you're an American creative writer in the academy looking for a place to present a provocative paper you've just written or looking for a new place to read from your own work, I urge you to--quickly!--consider the Great Writing conference. Hey, it's London, people!
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Meanwhile, in Boston . . . On to more somber thoughts. It's ironic that when I first wrote about my intention on presenting at Great Writing, I also wrote about Boston, the site of this year's AWP conference. Now I find myself, for much sadder reasons, writing about Boston again in a post about Great Writing. At this point, the identities of both the victims and perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing have been well-publicized world wide. We've watched as last Thursday night and Friday a literal explosion of activity happened in the search for those perpetrators and as an unprecedented manhunt occurred that ending up killing one perpetrator and wounding another. We know who, we know when, and we know what. The only real mystery remaining, and it's always the biggest, is the why. All last week this question bugged me, since I couldn't see one outcome from the bombing that held any benefit for anybody. The Boston marathon? Why? Even if the motivation was simply to kill as many innocent persons as possible, there were far more lethal methods the perpetrators could have employed. The entire business made no sense.
Just since the manhunt on Friday, pieces of information have come out about the two perpetrators, especially the older brother: Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It appears that in the last three years he had become, in the words of some who knew him, "very religious." And in the last year he had begun watching jihadist videos and even adding some of them to his YouTube channel. And of course he took that six month trip to Chechnya and Dagistan, which has led to speculation that he received training there in terror tactics. I read Saturday that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been increasingly upset over what he regarded as a "lack of values" in the West. Did this, in his mind, justify murder? If so, I have to wonder why for him being a murderer didn't also indicate a "lack of values." Most value systems, whether they be religious or secular, forbid murder. It appears that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is the victim--for lack of a better word--of a particular kind of religious mind set. (I say particular because I know for a fact that many religious people and religious systems do not endorse it.) This particular religious mind set--utterly dualistic, harshly judgmental, prejudiced in the extreme--makes one so unable to recognize the common humanity in other people, or whole populations of people, that behavior as unthinkable as murder becomes justifiable. This kind of thinking, it seems to me, is so twisted and so fundamentally contradictory as to border on mental illness. It's also, as my wife pointed out, completely megalomaniacal: I am God; I get to decide who lives and who dies; and on my terms. Most of all, of course, it is just sad. Like everyone else, I hope investigators get some answers out of the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But I have my doubts. I fear that he'll not be able to provide any explanation for what the brothers did. At least not any explanation that makes sense. But, then again, sense and murder are two words that don't belong together in the same sentence.
London Marathon is underway, and nothing untoward has happened. London and Boston again . . . But it looks like we can anticipate a happier ending this time.