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Oh what a night

published: 2010-06-26

Location: the only remaining bar in Amsterdam that allows smoking.
Occasion: monthly Friday drinks for writers.
Flashback to four months ago: I met a colleague writer. His debut novel had sold 100.000 copies. He was now fighting depression. His second novel had been dismissed by reviewers and sold only a fraction. He was fighting anxieties and seeing a shrink. What struck me most was his following sentence: “the disloyalty hurts. From readers, from reviewers. But especially from colleagues. They seem relieved.” I myself felt good that evening: I was about to release my second novel and felt satisfied for having completed it.
Last week, this colleague’s debut novel won a prestigious international literary award. Not a single Dutch author has ever won this prize before. Pahmuk has. And he. I was happy for him and I wanted to tell him this. Why? Maybe because my second novel has just recently been released and it indeed feels awful. Never believe a writer who claims the contrary.
A different man entered the bar. Is this what recognition does, I wondered? I decided not to think these thoughts. He had shared his emotions with me, that’s all that mattered. It is, in fact, the main reason I go to Friday drinks. To find a connection with colleagues. Talk about Aristotle all night, for all I care.
I told him how his words had struck a chord and asked how he now felt.
“Wonderful,” he said, “I am so relieved.”
For a moment, I was disappointed and hated the existence of prizes. But I was making hasty judgements. He went on to explain, “the depression was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Because of it, I have finally been diagnosed Asperger’s. And suddenly everything makes sense. My entire life. Me.”
“I see,” I said and smiled. I repeated that I was happy for him and suppose I was somehow expecting him to ask about the release of my second novel.
He didn’t, so I slipped into what I wanted to avoid: small-talk. I asked, “so what is the main symptom of Asperger’s?”
“I can’t seem to care about anyone else.”
I downed another beer, smoked three cigarettes in a row, smiled and laughed some more, chatted about soccer with another few colleagues. Then went home still feeling miserable.

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