Just Have to Say

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.

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7 thoughts on “Just Have to Say

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    • Good question.

      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.

  4. Pingback: To Be Read, and To Be Understood | The Seeker

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