(Yes, if you know me at all, “dead” comes into play more often than not!)
Literary giants of our time, their lives and their writing cut short because of fame.
Every writer, whether celebrated or not, crawls and claws his way up the notoriety ladder. You know the one. The one where he begs to be read and adored for his work, fame and adulation the rewards for a lifetime full of hardship, loneliness, moodiness and angst.
In his quest for the “Top”, he doesn’t weigh the cost that he might have to pay for that one brief, shining moment, when the literary Gods were shining down on him as he created the book of the century, the epitome of prosaic perfection, the smooth-as-silk literary equivalent to Heaven on Earth.
He never sees beyond the limelight that a perfect work will attract. He sees only the big moneyed book deal, the public readings, the signing tour, the endless talk show circuit and yes, that movie-version New York premiere.
After that, well, there is no “after that” because the white light of perfection is always utterly blinding. How can you top, the Top?
Maybe the Pulitzer is next, heck, maybe even a Nobel Peace Prize. The sky’s the limit, he thinks, and when he gets to Cloud Nine, he never considers how far the fall might be, if he ever falls from grace.
Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961).
Truman Capote (September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984).
Hunter S. Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005).
These three men never did, I can honestly tell you that.
All three were vastly different men, came from vastly different backgrounds and were world’s apart in terms of lives lived and experiences endured.
Yet, each one, one by one, committed slow suicide, each having touched literary perfection only to have that white light burn their very souls.
Truman said it best.
“Writing stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good writing and bad and, even more terrifying, the difference between it and true art. And after that, the whip came down.”
I imagine it’s akin to meeting God. Whoever you meet next can never be as wonderful.
Whatever you attempt to write after perfection was attained has to be less than, for all time.
Yet each and every one of these men loved life, lived it to the fullest, and it was this thirst for the human experience which made them hold on, day after day, hoping to view again that white light but knowing damn well that it would have been more judicious to have shot themselves in the head immediately after that New York premiere.
Each returned to the typewriter disheartened.
Each turned to the bottle and shied away from the typewriter in the end.
Each having been fatally wounded by his own success.
Sure, not all writers commit slow suicide…but not all writers are as perfect as Hemingway, Truman and Thompson.
So when next you sit at your computer keyboard, your IBM golf-ball or your Underwood manual, take a second to assess the damage you may cause yourself, in just the very next word that you type.
Perfection has a price…and it’s usually paid posthumously.