a solitary death

Circumstances permitting, I try to prepare at least one long post a week. I had something else than today’s post in mind, but I received an email this morning that a friend and former co-worker killed himself last Monday. His body wasn’t discovered for three days.

My friend suffered from a severe anxiety disorder. Every day he felt the kind of terror most of us would experience if at night during a storm we had to crawl along a crumbling ledge that might give way at any moment and send us hurling towards pavement ten floors below.

Daniel struggled heroically against his chronic psychic pain. He kept up a fitness program that made me look sedentary, and I am one of those kooks you see out running miles at daybreak. He tried religion. He was a born-again Christian who, sincerely and with the best intentions, although without success, tried to convert me to his beliefs.

The last time I saw him was when he came to see me on my last day of work before I retired. His psychiatrist had prescribed yet another cocktail of anti-anxiety drugs, but they weren’t working any better than the last blend or the one before that. He looked frightened in the way that you would expect someone to look if you pointed a gun at him.

Why do I bring this up in a blog about writing and the dark fantasy genre? Because I live in a society that works very hard at pretending that something like what happened to my friend either doesn’t happen or, if it does, we can somehow spin it into a happy ending.

I see no happy ending here. I believe that to pretend there is one when there isn’t, either in a real situation or in a fictional one, trivializes the very real torment of people like Daniel.

I think that through our media we Americans have infected other societies with our childish need to deny just how bad things really are. Our fiction, our mainstream commercial fiction anyway, generally requires that even if there are a few casualties along the way, eventually we all get back to a world of only minor, easily solved problems surrounded by a plethora of things to buy.

Also implicit in that is the premise that you can solve any problem and make your life full and meaningful if you buy the right product, whether it’s a wrinkle cream or a religion. And, above all, you need a positive attitude to magically attract money and love and make your cancer go away.

Lies. All lies.

I believe that genre fiction, fiction that reliably contains some element a certain type of reader is looking for, whether that’s a murder mystery or something supernatural, can and should take the pain of the world seriously. P. D. James writes very good novels that don’t run from the knowledge that, sooner or later, whatever we do or believe, the darkness will come for us. At the same time, these novels are very good murder mysteries. Those of us working in other genres owe it to our tormented brothers and sisters to do the same.

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3 thoughts on “a solitary death

  1. You’re so right, the darkness is coming for us in the end. No one makes it, not even the dog. The “Grim Reaper” is sitting on the doorstep waiting. Most of us are terrified of him, but in Daniel’s case he invited him in hoping the pain and the loneliness would stop. Where ever Daniel is now, may he be at peace.

  2. I hate this type of magical thinking. I have some pretty nasty anxiety, and knowing it isn’t based on something real (i.e. a train bearing down on you at full speed) does not make it go away. It’s very physically tiring to be terrified all the time and try to operate normally, and it’s mentally tiring to deal with people who think you ‘just need to stop worrying so much’.
    And I agree there’s a lot of denial – how could we let such social inequality exist if we didn’t believe that people could change it if they wanted to, but that they just don’t care to? Poor people are poor because they don’t want to work, etc.. I suspect if people realised that it doesn’t have to be this way, heads would start literally rolling.
    Sorry for the rambly-rant! Keep up the great posts.

    • Not a rant at all. I agree with you that is it awfully convenient for folks lucky enough to be free of serious personal difficulties to believe that those with them are simply guilty of character flaws or moral failings. It’s also comforting for some to think that difficulties such as chronic anxiety or severe depression can be wished away or cured with magic happy pills. It would be pretty to think so, as Mr. Hemingway might have said.

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