Jan 20 2015

On Writing

Published by at 7:56 pm under Personal,Philosophy

Last week, I read a Washington Post article about Katry Rain a/k/a Dennis Williams, who committed suicide after sending an email to a handful of reporters, stating, essentially that since no one was interested in what he had to share, he found no point in sharing anything more and was choosing to die.

Depression is a hell of an illness and I suppose narcissism is, too.

I’m always interested in people who write and speak and seem to do so only to be heard by others. Maybe I lack self-confidence, but I find myself grateful when people listen to what I say and read what I write, however infrequent or few and far between those people might be. Writing, to me, is not a one-sided process wherein I share and others listen and learn. It’s more conversational than that.

I write (privately and in a few blog-type spaces) because I want to. Because I have a thought or an idea that keeps poking up and writing makes that thought go away, at least temporarily. I don’t track pageviews. I know when someone has read something only when they comment or they email. And those things happen rarely. If I’m honest, there is a great deal of narcissism in posting things to the internet to share with anonymous folks. But if there’s an aspect of narcissism, there’s also a desire to spark a small sense of community; of connectedness.

There is nothing new under the sun, but there are countless ways to express ideas, to build images with words, to move your audience (whoever they might be) along a path. Good writing grabs you and sucks you under water until you breathe only the air that the author intended you to breathe. It’s a little like drowning. But, it’s an art and on some level art depends on an audience to consume it.

That said, the audience doesn’t have to a be a million people. Some days, the audience is just me. I have things I’ve written that I will never share and I re-read them just for me, just to admire what I’ve captured. It’s a lot like masturbation.

But, I’m intrigued by people who are driven not just to create but to be consumed by others. People who feel as though they have discovered something heretofore unknown, something remarkable that could change the course of human lives. How many people feel that way and actually have done so? The fact that at some point in your life, you have found “the way” reflects nothing so much as your own evolution. It does not reflect some great eternal truth, and where it does that same truth is bound to have been expressed by hundreds of people before you, and likely better illustrated. Writing because you found some philosophy, some important guiding principles that have led you to happiness or fulfillment is all well and good and may be of importance to you. But if you expect that human misery and suffering can be cleared up by someone reading your thoughts, you’re a fool. People have been trying to do that since the beginning of the written word, just look at the many, many religious texts we have. What, then, can writing do? Document us. Challenge us. Move us. Connect us.

Like a lot of kids who grew up reading and writing incessantly, adults always told me how good I was: how my writing moved them; how they cried. They told me I would write the next great American novel. Then I grew up and entered a college classroom with hundreds of other people who were told the same thing. I’m enough of a realist to know that writing the “great” novel is a damn impossibility and in any case,  I’m not driven to do it and I never was. I enjoy writing but I couldn’t care less whether I’m writing a letter to a friend or a poem. My goal is always the same – to share myself, in the truest way I am able.

And I don’t expect millions of people to want what I have to share. I don’t expect *hundreds* of people to want it.  I have made connections and continue to make connections with some smaller number of people, which feels wonderful, of course but also isn’t the point. I write because I want to.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “On Writing”

  1. Hello Kara and Michael,

    I too read the article about Katry Rain a/k/a Dennis Williams and had a slightly different take on it.

    I don’t feel that Williams was obsessed with having his writing consumed by others, as you suggest. Rather, I think he was searching for that community, that connection that you mention, and he decided it just wasn’t there. He’d reached the end of his rope, he gave up, and the community failed him.

    Even the article about his suicide failed to accept him as a fellow struggling writer, instead calling him narcissistic and selfish, holding him “out there” as some kind of oddball.

    If you’re interested, you can read more here: http://theseekerblog.net/2015/01/19/just-have-to-say/

  2. Kara says:

    Hi Matt,

    I don’t have the right to assert that Mr. Rain was narcissistic in his day-to-day life – I didn’t know him personally. In fact, in the article the author consults with an expert – the Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention who asserts only that the manner in which he chose to kill himself was narcissistic – and I would have to agree.

    A lot of people can make the argument that suicide is by its nature a selfish act, and I think they have a right to (I say this as someone who has attempted suicide). The act itself radiates pain, stress, guilt and anger – to those who know you personally and professionally. Those scars never heal entirely. By reaching out to people who were essentially strangers and stating he intended to die, he caused those people strife and extended the pain which he would cause with his suicide – to what end? I can’t make sense in anyone doing that unless there was an element of narcissism to the act, unless he did so to ensure that his name and his work would remain in the public consciousness.

    I read your blog entry, but I’m still curious as to which community failed him and how they did so. If he was failed by the writing community simply because his work failed to find an audience, I don’t think that’s a flaw in the community. Millions of people write to reach handfuls of people and only a handful of people write and successfully reach millions. Perhaps the author’s critique of his writing did not come from an entirely sympathetic place, but is it reasonable to expect that everyone who writes will be read by millions of people? Of course not. To be personally hurt by a lack of success on that front is a symbol to me of a larger emotional problem from which Mr. Rain suffered. My entry was not intended to be a reflection on Mr. Rain’s writing: I only wanted to assert that it is not reasonable or sane to expect success from writing; that the majority of us will never find it and that not finding a huge audience or huge success ought not detract from the joy of writing and forming connections with the small number of people you can.

    I don’t know very much about the Japanese health care system or the mental health system therein, but if it is anything like the system in the US, I’m sure that’s a huge aspect of how we as a community have failed Mr. Rain. But I don’t think the people who received his suicide e-mail were wrong to feel hurt, angry, and manipulated. Them choosing to express those natural feelings doesn’t detract from the overall tragedy: that Mr. Rain took his life.

  3. To your question about which community failed him, I meant **any** community. We all search for community; many find it, but some don’t.

    Williams clearly felt more comfortable in Japan, a country where he was not a native. That says to me that he was searching long enough and hard enough to find someplace to fit in that he was willing to go overseas.

    Likewise, he was hoping to find community in the audience for his writing. Writers write — that’s about the only common characteristic that defines them. Reportedly, Williams wrote and wrote…and nobody was listening. That is where the community failed. You say that we can form connections with the small number of people you can. When that small number is zero, it leads to despair.

    I am not saying that every writer is entitled to be famous. I don’t assert that he was entitled to make a living from it. But every human being wants to have their time on this planet remembered by someone. That is not narcissism; that has human nature. Williams’ tactics ensured that we would talk about him just as we are doing. You ask ‘to what end’ — that is the end. To be remembered.

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