Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I think this is a good thing.

Four or five years ago I wrote an essay about my godfather who was at the height of his alcoholism. It was an essay borne out of pain and betrayal, out of frustration and anguish. It was the digestion and translation of years of experience with this man, and came out of a series of conversations my family and I had about his current state of drinking himself--it seemed to us--to death.

I am breaking no anonymity when I say that my mother is an alcoholic. She, however, is a sober one. One who has committed long, hard years of work through a variety of means to healing herself, and making amends for the damage she caused. So yes, I'm biased. I have seen alcoholics change and heal and therefore, I know it can be done.

The essay I wrote about my godfather has been published in two different forms. The most recent, here. You can read it for yourself. I changed names to protect identity, of course. And yes, this is the situation as seen through my eyes, naturally. I have only my own experience to go on. Well, today I received an email from a gentleman who read this essay and was outraged. I wrote back to him as patiently as possible, because I think it's a good thing when someone is upset by your writing. This is what writing should do. He wrote:

"What I've concluded is that your reliance on similes in describing Jack works as a distancing mechanism. "He carried the liter of if he were cast in a remake of 'The Lost Weekend'." Elsewhere, he is " and old man who has forgotten something..." and " a toddler at day care..." He is treated not as a person of flesh and blood, but as a tragic character in a story. I find troubling the appropriation of a heartbreaking circumstance as currency for literary ambition."

My first response, internally was, oh yeah, the appropriation of a heartbreaking circumstance has NEVER been currency for literary ambition. Right! Literature is all about people falling in love and saving puppies from trees. But then, I quickly realized that he was angry/grieved from a personal stance. Perhaps HE is an alcoholic or someone he knows. Perhaps he believes you CAN save someone from themselves. I replied:

"I think that what you might be saying is that nobody cares about the alcoholic, which actually, is probably the message the alcoholic received all along his/her whole life, which led him/her to drink. Having a parent who is also an alcoholic, I know this, and I have actually learned to have some sympathy for the "disease" as they call it in AA. But I won't pretend it didn't damage and shape me."

He also said:
"I hope you and your family care enough about this man to lead him to the care of a psychiatrist who may be able to provide him with any medication he might require. Isn't that better than the alternative of seeing him continue to rot away through the self-medication of alcohol, as if his pathetic death were some foregone conclusion?"

I replied:

"The essay was an expression of grief, of betrayal, of how this man who I loved, who fostered my writing, who was a part of my life, has continued to reject ALL the means that would get him help and treated me and others badly in the process. was clear to all of us when I wrote this essay that he wanted to die. Tell me. How do you stop a person from dying who wants to die? Have you tried?

"Yes, art is my way of dealing with the pain. Writing, art, is my way of making the horrible, horrible reality digestible and manageable. I'm not sure what experience you've had with alcoholics, but there is a common theme that arises in those who don't get help...people turn away from them. I am not Mother Theresa. When a man I have loved and known is verbally abusive, sexually suggestive and rude, after he's told us how AA and psychiatry are a sham, well, you might just get a feeling for where this essay came from."

Today I feel like a real writer. An object of another's projections.



At 12:36 PM, Blogger J said...

Moving Essay about your God Father. I'm speachless. Hits close.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...




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