Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thomas Disch

I recently discovered that Thomas Disch died. He committed suicide July 4.

Disch was a professor of mine at Johns Hopkins, teaching Science Fiction Writing. I knew very little about him at the time, except that I found him difficult to please. I wrote a series of stories for him, none of which seemed to suit him. I remember his complaining that my story "Amnesiac Man," a story about a superhero who gained his powers by forgetting he had never had any (a foreshadowing of my interest in neurology?) was written "with my left hand." He then proceeded to tell me that I had a C so far, that I could write him one more story to change that grade, but that it would have to be truly impressive to have any affect. And that he doubted it would be. I left feeling very depressed.

I wrote him a story called "Finding Myself," about a woman obsessed with her clone (I have been thinking of that story a lot recently--it foreshadowed another neurological piece, which I'm currently writing, Blind/Sight). He took it and left Johns Hopkins, never to return. He never gave me any feedback on the story.

I received a B+ for the course.

Years later, "Finding Myself" is the only story I wrote for him that I like.

After college, I became slowly aware of some of his work. I saw the Brave Little Toaster, which remains one of my favorite children's movies. I worked with an actor, George McGrath, who had starred in The Cardinal Detoxes, the controversial downtown play which the church tried to close down. I read his theater criticism in various magazines. I read On the Wings of Song, one of his science fiction books.

I even played his text adventure game, Amnesia. It was set, very specifically, in New York, with each street corned defined very exactly with the appropriate landmarks. Hmmm....the Amnesiac Man...did he suspect plagarism or an ill conceived homage...

I began to feel a great kinship with his work. He worked in downtown theater. He write children's books. He was interested in science fiction. His interests were eclectic, in that they fit on many odd niches.

He lived downtown. At one point, I believe, I sent him a letter, inviting him to a play I wrote. I never heard back.

The circumstances of his death were depressing, His long time partner had died, leaving him in a rent controlled apartment owned by NYU--which NYU wanted him out of. It had been under his boyfriend's name, and, of course, since they weren't married...

Infuriating, really, on many levels.

I'm sorry to hear of his passing. And I'm sorry that, while he was my teacher, I didn't take advantage of the opportunity more.

Even if he was an old curmudgeon.

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