“The holidays is hard on some,” he said. “It ain’t joy and cranberries for everyone. For some it’s only lonesome pain.”
— Alan Heathcock, b. 1971
American fiction writer
from “Peacekeeper,” in the collection Volt
I wasn’t going to do a Festivus piece this year, an essay that calls up a grievance, perceived or real, serious or frivolous, and takes the offending party to task for it. There have been some minor personal affronts — I had an apology for ignoring an invitation that I thought inadequate, and I’m still mad at Verizon landline for a billing snafu a year ago that is still fu’ed. They’re neither outrageous nor funny enough to spend energy writing about, and other sadnesses are too deep and too personal to air in a public way. I see enough negativity on Facebook from my Evangelical Atheist friends who think people of faith are stupid and should be silenced or my acquaintances who think I am disloyal for not reposting their screeds about puppies or veterans or people who battle cancer.
Today, though, I saw a statement from a writer whose work I generally think first-rate that, in its facile logic and its poor choice of words, had me scrunching up the newspaper and firing off a personal note directly to him. And now I’ll air the grievance here.
I live in south central Pennsylvania, not far from Penn State University, where a scandal involving accusations of child rape against a once-revered coach and charges of a coverup of the matter by university administrators has dominated our news for the past six and a half weeks. I have already commented on this in “Ferocious Words,” my post for December 7 that called for referring to these crimes by their proper names and not by less direct terms like “molestation” or “abuse.”
Now allegations against a revered public figure, Philadelphia sportswriter Bill Conlin, have emerged. These are disclosures about sexual assaults suffered by both girls and boys over a period of many years beginning in the 1970s. Conlin, now 77, was a relative or a family friend of the children or very young teens whom he targeted. What makes this story more appalling than the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State story is that, unlike the boys preyed upon in those cases, the Conlin victims did go to their parents, who reacted by merely telling them not to go down to his house anymore, and by having stern words with Conlin, even choosing the most mild-mannered among them to do the talking, out of fear Conlin might be physically harmed by the angrier fathers.
Harrisburg’s Patriot-News, a paper I do not often praise, has done exemplary work in the Sandusky matter, both in reporting and in opinion pieces. Most of the reporting has been done by Sara Ganim, a twenty-four-year old working the crime beat who is evidently at the beginning of a great career. The newspaper chose “Victim One” as its Newsmaker of the Year, and, unlike the venerable New York Times, has taken a hard line against both the alleged perpetrator and the university officials who apparently covered up what they knew or pushed off responsibility to other agencies.
Today, Patriot-News sports columnist David Jones addresses the Conlin matter, specifically remarking on his long professional association with Conlin and the fact that he has looked to Conlin as a writing role model. I follow high school, college, and professional sports more than most dreamy poets, but until yesterday I had honestly never heard of Bill Conlin, and thus am not familiar with his writing. I am, however, quite familiar with David Jones, and do have a high opinion of the way he practices his craft.
In today’s piece, “Bill Conlin was a friend and idol. Now what is he?,” Jones struggles with how best to now regard a man accused of terrible crimes against vulnerable youngsters, youngsters who trusted him and who were not only (allegedly) abused by him, but also betrayed by others in their lives who should have done more, done anything, to protect them and to see that the man who had stolen their innocence was brought to answer for his crimes. It’s a good piece, a thoughtful piece, in Jones’s familiar subtle diction and measured reasoning.
But there is this sentence: “Because envisioning the truth about child sex crimes is so disturbing, it’s very easy to purge from the mind, even for the alleged victims.”
Easy? EASY? Mr. Jones, what in the name of all that is holy, makes you think it is EASY for the victims (I don’t have to say “alleged”) to “purge” from their minds the truth of what has been done to them? Do you think they can say, “Oh tra-la-la [or fa-la-la, depending on the season], this terrible thing happened to me, more than once even, but I just don’t think about it anymore.” There must be a name in logic or rhetoric for a statement that says you no longer think about the thing you are thinking about and recalling clearly enough to say something about it.
Easy? EASY?? It’s a hard road, every single step, to carry that knowledge, carry that awareness, into a life that you nevertheless make happy and fulfilling. It can be done, but it ain’t joy and cranberries. There’s a lot of lonesome pain.
I am SO disappointed in you, David Jones.