I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently, mostly, I think, because I haven’t been able to do much writing. For me, writing requires a certain amount of head room, and I haven’t had enough of it. What seems to be happening lately is that life has been ratcheting my anxiety levels up a little tighter. This is a situation that will, hopefully, resolve itself soon enough. I know there are things I can do to lower my stress levels, meditation helps, structuring my day helps, triage helps, but sometimes the shit gets too deep and I cannot muster the mental space I need to get any writing done.
Which is not the end of the world.
In any event, over this past weekend I read ‘Columbine,’ by Dave Cullen. It is the definitive account of what really took place at the Colorado high school. The book is not written in anything like a linear fashion, Cullen jumps around in both time and viewpoint. I’m guessing it took him more than a couple of years, both in the researching and the writing, and I’m willing to bet he came away with a few bruises. There’s no way you can immerse yourself that deeply, for that amount of time, into the mind and actions of a psychopath without suffering some damage. Reading the thing was hard enough. I wandered around talking to myself for a couple of days after I put it down.
I choose to believe that most people are decent. The novelist John D. MacDonald once wrote that the desire to be helpful to other people was the basic glue that held civilization together, and I think he was probably right. As a writer, I know that the best villains are recognizably human. In our stories, we force them to make choices, and though the choices they make are sometimes bad or even evil, they still need to be understandable and relatable. The eighteen year old at the center of Columbine, Eric Harris, was a true psychopath, one with a rare sadistic twist. Experiencing his story through his journals, videos, actions and thought process was a wrenching experience, and Cullen dispels the notion that Harris’ dysfunctions had anything whatever to do with violent movies, video games, or some supposed shift in American culture.
The truth is, Harris was born broken, and there is as yet no treatment on this planet that could have healed him. His explosion was inevitable.
And he knew it.
‘Columbine’ is a terrific book. Read it at your own risk.