The dangers of reading biographies

As we approach our mid-twenties, most of my friends are still trying to sort out what it means to be themselves, and how to best go about doing that. We live in Lynchburg, Va., a city more commonly known as the buckle on the Bible belt, and not really for the high percentage of creative people that live in its historic districts.

Many of us — writers, photographers, designers, fashionistas, painters — went to a nearby university that yea-sayers regard as the Notre Dame for evangelical Christians. We found that the lifestyle outlined in the services and lectures to be “not for us.”

So we move on. But we’re creatures of habit, and look for other sources to model our lives after. This can be a movie (how many of my generation has woken up in the morning with swollen fists and a few bruises and thought: “You are not your khakis”?), a novel, a celebrity … but all roads seem to lead to Wikipedia. And — I’m just saying — Wikipedia may not be the best place for life inspiration.

* * *

A while back, I was hanging with some friends at one of their apartments. It’s the kind of place that offers no frills, but is remarkably clean, thus attracting a crowd that may not be making a ton of money, but haven’t quite yet given up on the idea of finding a well-paying job. We had just gotten back from eating at a cheap Mexican restaurant, so we were mostly inert. The news was on the TV, broadcasting an interview with a famous serial killer.

I sat a broken overstuffed chair and extended the footrest. Not broken to the extent that it no longer functioned, but in that it made a noise like the bones of a tin man cracking and groaning with age.

Jesse, a friend I’ve had since before I could walk steadily, sat next to me and showed me a book he found on our friend’s bookshelf called Desolate Angels.

“Is this that author you like?” he asked me.

“One of my favorites.” I said.

“Didn’t he kill himself?”

“In a way, yes, but he did it over a long period of time. He considered himself a good Catholic boy, and good Catholic boys don’t commit suicide. So, he drank a lot.”

Joe was also there. I met him on my first day of college. We connected over our fondness for books, and he has been one of my closest friends (and literary sparring partner) ever since.

“Yep. I hear that,” Joe smiled at us from behind his laptop. The newscast had sent him wandering on the Internet to read about other mass-murderers.

“Who was that other guy who killed himself?” Jesse said.

“Hunter S. Thompson.” I made a gesture of fitting the end of a double-barreled shotgun in my mouth and pulling the trigger. With my free hand, I mimicked what I believed occurred to the back of his skull.

“Ahh, just like ole Poppa Hemmingway,” Joe said, still looking at the computer.

“Aren’t there a lot of writers who killed themselves?” Jesse said.

Joe and I tag-teamed to compose the grim list of literary giants who took their own way out. I explained how Sylvia Plath had done the job and gave my opinion as to why, and told him how Anne Sexton had complained that people would automatically accuse her of being a copycat when she decided to do the same; she was jealous of Plath’s brilliant career move.

“So did she end up doing it?”

I nodded.

Joe offered the final entry. “David Foster Wallace hung himself not too long ago.”

For a moment, the television’s noise filled the room.

“When I found that out, it really shook me up,” I said.

“I can’t say I blame him,” Joe said.

I gave him an uncomfortable smile but he didn’t look up from the computer.

“I kinda think I will too, after a while. Life just gets too damn depressing.”

I laughed, and hoped he would do the same.

“I’m serious — I’m already headed there.”

“Don’t be,” I said.

“Don’t be serious?”

“You know what I mean, ” I said.

“Well, that’s just how it is.”

* * *

Rest assured, Joe is still with us. In fact, he just texted me to see if I want to grab a beer later. Perhaps that’s a better trend among writers to follow (drinking) than putting down the pen for good.

My name is Marcelo Asher Quarantotto.


I am a father of three beautiful daughters and husband to the most gracious, saintly creature I've ever met. (You'll find pictures of them here from time to time.) I am also a multidisciplinary storyteller.