I’ve been melancholy lately, realizing again how short life can be.
A friend of mine passed away suddenly. I got the call last Wednesday night and I sunk into the booth at work, feeling like this wasn’t real. It was an out-of-body experience. I heard the words, and they made logical sense, but it was hard to believe.
I met Scott in 2009. We worked together at the same awful place. We started around the same time and bonded over being new, having no clue what we were doing and receiving no help. Then we started talking shit about people, the place co-workers eventually end up. We both left that job within the year.
I was sitting in my cubicle at PayPal when I got a call from Scott. They had an opening at his current employer, fighting unemployment claims like he and I had done previously at that awful place. PayPal had announced they would be moving their HR dept to Salt Lake City that year and I knew I had to make a move sooner or later so I did sooner.
Scott and I shared an office then. We talked shit about our new co-workers. We talked about what we were writing. He wrote, I worked. I did most of the work for the two of us, honestly. But I didn’t mind. He was one of the few men I have met in the workplace that didn’t demean me for being a woman. In fact, he championed strong women. He was married to one, he said his mother was one, and he wrote about them. In fact, in everything of his I’ve read, a strong woman has been his central character. Scott was a male feminist. He would tell our bosses I was the brains of the operation, even when they ignored me and spoke only to him. He wrote a countdown on the whiteboard of how many more days until he put in his two weeks’ notice. He would point at it anytime one of our chauvinist bosses came in and pestered us.
I absorbed his job when he left and demanded a raise and the VP gave it to me, astounded and impressed, I like to think. I started presenting in the meetings, without them having a male option to choose. All the while, Scott and I stayed in touch. He would email me long narratives on his current projects (he always had quite a few – he was a person of many passions and talents). He would ask me about my writing. He would encourage me to finish something. For many years, he was the only person who did this for me – talked to me about my writing, made it feel to me like something more than a hobby.
When I applied for grad school, I asked Scott to be one of my references. He wrote terrific things about me, he said. And then he asked me to edit a book for him. I hemmed and hawed about it, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t feel qualified without any past experience. He talked me into it, saying he knew I was the person for the job:
That is EXACTLY why I thought of you. I’ve been searching for a good editor and I know you would put your all into it because you’re very detailed. I also want someone that will cut through the BS, but also make it constructive to make writers better in their craft. These are qualities that would make for a good editor. I also like the fact that you have a viable education behind you that lends credibility to the editing process.
So I agreed. I finished editing his book the first month of grad school. Completing that project gave me skills and confidence I needed for grad school. I was able to see my own work with a more critical eye. I was able to take criticism, now having given it. I knew the time involved in completing a novel (even if it was only as the editor), and resolved I could finally do it.
I have a folder in my hotmail dedicated to Scott and his long emails. He was my penpal. He was the only local writer I knew before grad school. He always encouraged me to keep writing, asked for samples, and read my blog. We met up twice at coffee shops to discuss his novel and the meetings spanned entire afternoons. We had a lot to say to each other, having shared two jobs, one passion, and one book.
Scott had been waiting for cover art on that book of his that I edited. He had just got it back on Sunday and was planning to release the book in April. But then he died on Tuesday, suddenly, unexpectedly. He was 49.
It’s funny the way people come into your life when you need them most. Scott gave me something I needed: a belief in myself, a drive to pursue writing seriously. He saw my “no BS” attitude as a positive, not a negative and made me realize its advantages. He was an optimist that saw the best in people, believed in the good. He shared his opportunities, never hoarded. He believed in abundance theory rather than competing against people.
I am a better person for having known him. I’m also just a bit of a mess in realizing that just like that, our lives can end because his did.
Write or paint or dance or sing or do whatever it is you’re passionate about.
Find yourself a cheerleader like Scott.
Don’t quit. One day you won’t have the choice anymore.