Yesterday, I finished reading an article in the Washington Post that has really stuck with me, and not in a good way.**
The article, written by Cynthia McCabe, is about man who e-mailed a dozen or so writers–all strangers to him–of his intention to commit suicide. The reasons he gave were that he, as a writer, had “said everything I wanted to say and consider my work finished.” He goes on: “I believe I have an immense amount to give, not only from my mind but from my heart, and there are just no takers.”
It was a suicide note from a writer who had failed to find an audience.
Sadly, I found that McCabe’s reaction, and that of some of the other writers, showed an appalling lack of compassion.
Writers, in my experience and from anecdotal evidence, are all too happy to sacrifice their own as they claw their way to the top. McCabe has the privilege of being allowed to write and publish about this failed writer. Instead of saying how she may have felt similar feelings at one time or another, she voiced her disdain and that of the other writers for this failed writer and his tactics to bring his work to the world.
The suicidal writer, a man named Dennis Williams (or his pen name, Katry Rain), is described by his ex-wife, who perhaps knew him best, as a philosopher, a thinker, a writer of both prose and music, and a popular teacher.
But in McCabe’s article, he is called narcissistic and selfish. One writer who received Williams’ e-mail said she felt emotionally mugged. A Washington Post reporter basically said that Williams should have called someone who cared, implying that he didn’t.
McCabe herself calls Williams’ writing clunky and not particularly noteworthy. If whether your prose is impressive or not is the benchmark against which we should measure success as a writer, then “Fifty Shades of Grey” and countless other commercially successful but otherwise unremarkable works would be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Williams is in no position to defend himself. McCabe’s article, written from the point of view of an author who has tasted some success, feels like bullying.
This is exactly why he took his life.
**NOTE: For an update on this topic, see here.
Thank you for posting about your reactions, because I myself could not understand my uneasiness with reading The Washington Post article. And it was the writers’ callous tone (listing her course of options rather than expressing genuine sympathies, or her semi meta-judgmental of the publishing world, yet failing to recognize her part in it). I thought the most distasteful part was her admitting relief when William’s ex-wife exclaimed the late writer’s incorrigibility in his inevitable suicide.
Glad to hear that I’m not alone in my feelings about this. Thanks much for your comment.
Matthew: This is a thoughtful alternative reading of Dennis Williams/Katry Rain, which was “therapeutic” to see after reading the Washington Post version. You concisely articulated the psychological disengagement of the Washington Post writer, who, ironically, is getting the kind of attention from the story that Dennis Williams himself could only dream of.
Thanks for the comment, David.
Being a struggling writer myself, I felt I had to say some things that the article’s author left out. Whether she considered and rejected them or it didn’t cross her mind, we’ll never know.
Thank you for reading the piece and taking the time to work through your thoughts on it here. I’m not clear though in your comment above what you’re curious if I considered and rejected? Dennis Williams’ feelings? If that’s the case, he was very specific in the full letter to me what his feelings would be about me writing to bring more attention to his work.
I guess I was left wondering whether you had felt any connection to Williams’ situation. To me, the piece seemed to jump from startled reaction to considering options to respond. I would have thought there would be something in between, like that feeling when your child tells you about something bad happening to them at school that echos something from your own childhood. You feel those feelings again (though not always saying so to your child). I was looking for that.
Anyway, you are to be commended for bringing Williams to my awareness and that of many others. I know that your piece is being discussed on a few blogs out there, at least. None of us would like suicide to be the best solution, but we all walk our own paths.
Thank you for the comment.
Pingback: To Be Read, and To Be Understood | The Seeker
I absolutely agree with you. And I agree with Dennis. It sux. I used to think I was such a cool guy and that mabey in time folks would come around and I’d be something super important to someone … Just one. I’m outgoing . I’m told I’m funny and smart and all that like many of us have. But yet I’m still alone. Most folks who have claimed they loved me have shown that it isn’t ME they love but how I make them feel. I’m a big fan of making sure I try to make everyone I care about feel important and feel like they are awesome and I make damn sure they know I love them and that they are AWESOMENESS… But it’s only because I know what it’s like to not have that. I really did try and I waited . I remember telling myself when I was younger that if I didn’t have my own person or true friends by the time I was 40 that I was done. I’m 39 and my bday is in a few months and this is closer than I promised id let it get. I appreciate reading what you wrote and hope that you are doing well and I hope the people you love know it. And if you don’t know just for good measure make sure that they do. Make sure they know they aren’t alone. Make sure they know that they aren’t the flavor of the day. And most of all. Make sure YOU know you are all of that for someone else. Trust me. It’s really easy to get forgotten about. I feel horrible doing this as I know some poor person will have to deal with the aftermath. I didn’t want to cause anyone else even a stranger any trouble but I have to do it this way because I want it to be instant. I am not brave enough to deal with even the nano seconds that mabey Dennis did falling. I really wish things could have been different. I’d have been his friend no doubt. And I damn sure would have let him know how immensely helpful and important he was to me if he would’ve been my pal in return.. again… I know what it’s like to be the opposite of this. Please keep writing and don’t take this the wrong way but you have helped me. I’m not happy. I’m not going to lie. But I’m not panicked as I was before. Your words calmed me. And it’s kinda good knowing that for every Cynthia out there there is also a polar opposite… You. Ty. And enjoy what’s left
Hi Sage. Thanks for the comment.
As the years march on, if I have learned one thing it is this: life is hard. For many people in many different ways. So what that requires of us is compassion for those we meet in our lives. So I totally agree with you — make it known, whenever and where ever it feels appropriate (and sometimes even when it doesn’t quite feel appropriate). Because bottom line, that’s where the important stuff is.
It’s as if there is a flow that you can almost see when you look in the right place, an energy that connects. It breaks but reconnects again. Hard to explain, but maybe some people just don’t notice. As you can see from the comments, Cynthia has tried (repeatedly) to justify her reactions. But people like you see through that.
Best of luck to you. We all need a tribe and I like to think there is one for all of us (hence why I named this blog ‘The Seeker.’)