Thursday, August 16, 2007

The End of an Era

Every week or so I receive an update, as an alumni of Bennington College's Writing Seminars. We used to joke, when we were still in session, that a vast majority of the emails we got, usually forwarded by our director Liam Rector, were to tell of the death of a person, so if you saw that person's name in the email list, you'd clench up in anxiety, thinking: "Oh my god, Maya Angelou??"...

Today, in my email subject was, sadly:

Liam Rector, 1949-2007.

That was bad enough. Whatever one may have wanted to say about Liam, he was THE force behind that writing program, whose ego and energy colored it just the right shade. He was larger than life, yes, and a little pompous, but in the kind of way that made him strangely likable. He's the one who called me in person and told me I was accepted in 2003. Since I had been rejected one round, and had been accepted at Mills, I made the director of the program tell me why I should come!

Who can forget him taking great pleasure in showing us his favorite scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross in which Alec Baldwin is the powerful shark of a salemsan who humiliates all the men and ends with Liam's message to us: "Always Be Closing." Or his spiel about "the vortex" into which we would all fall during our intesive 11 day residencies.

Or him asking me at the end of my graduate lecture to define the word "pissy."

Or that grad student's speech in which she accidentally said "Liam Rectum..." followed by the phrase, "He's begun a movement."

Unfortunately, the email also said this:

"It is with unbearable sorrow that I write to tell you that our beloved founder and director, Liam Rector, killed himself yesterday morning."

See, if you knew Liam, you might believe heart attack, or emphysema or something related to his pleasures. I never thought this. As always, suicide makes everything seem worse. There are unanswerable questions. A death that could have been prevented. He leaves a wife and daughter behind, not to mention a program that adored him, and needed him, ran on his wild energy, and the poetry that I know was both boon and bane to him.

I'm really sorry to hear this. Deeply so.

Here's a quick entry from one of the "logs" I kept during grad school that remembers Liam for a brief moment: Our resident Patriarch, Liam Rector, was in a much more approachable mood this time around. Who knows if enough of us complained that he seemed aloof and rather elitest in our previous evaluations, but he mingled and chatted, even sat at my table one breakfast and we had a full-fledged conversation about my upbringing by, in essence, hippie parents. He encouraged me to write about this subject later that day, stopping me on the path to talk further. This was a very redemptive thing for him to do in my eyes. Not to mention he wins the best dressed award, looking very much like Our Man from Havana in a cream-colored linen suit, saddle shoes and a straw panama hat.



At 10:13 AM, Blogger gnomeloaf said...

I've had something similar happen, so I have an idea of how strange and sad it must feel for a lot of Bennington and other folks right now.

I'm sorry for your loss.


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