Sabrina Strong, who runs the new and rather fascinating Waking Up Alive House in New Mexico, recently passed along a letter from a man named Clifford Williams. He’s a philosophy professor and author, and he’s collecting interviews with survivors of suicide attempts for a book he’s planning. I spoke with him this week. He asks two questions: What led up to your attempt? And how have you dealt with your life since then?
It’s interesting. I didn’t do anything to get to know Cliff before I spoke with him, aside from confirming that his other book of interviews, “One More Train to Ride: The Underground World of American Hoboes,” is indeed listed on Amazon and that he is displayed as a faculty member at the college mentioned on his website. But if he wants to sit back and let people tell their stories, I didn’t mind helping.
“Yes, I would certainly use people’s real names if they so choose,” he said in an e-mail before we talked. “Each story will have a two or three sentence introduction, and that can be the place to state the person’s identity. My reason for telling interviewees that they will be anonymous is that I am assuming that they will tell me more if they are anonymous.”
He added, “How did I get into this? About thirty years ago a student came to my office wanting an extension on an assignment because that morning she had been to the hospital to have her stomach pumped because she had tried to kill herself. I had no idea what to say to someone who had just tried to kill herself, so I asked a doctor friend. He said, ‘Listen.’ When the student came back, I listened. And I started listening to other students who came by, and after awhile I had droves of students I listened to, in my office, at lunch, after they graduated, anyplace I encountered them. (I gave the student an extension!)”
If you’d like to participate, you can find him here.