When I first met Jay Lake, I thought he was a pain in the ass.
He was angry and driven. For whatever reason, I wrote him off as loud, obnoxious, full of himself. Maybe those were parts of Jay, but I didn’t bother to see what else was there. Maybe I just felt threatened by someone so big.
Jay and I clashed on a number topics in our writing group. We were on the opposite side of a hugely contentious group split about our group’s age cut-off.
The final straw came when he wrote an influential rebuttal to what to me was a cartoonish strawman version of my arguments, ignoring my real points in favor of winning. Regardless, it worked. I dropped the whole thing, mostly because I felt fed up with the group. I dropped out for a few years. After that I told myself that my life would be better without Jay in it. I assumed he felt the same about me.
Around the time I rejoined, I was accepted into the Clarion writing workshop. I was unemployed and almost completely out of money. After a hard look at the costs and my dwindling finances, even after receiving a scholarship it was obvious I couldn’t afford to go. I was heartbroken.
As a final effort to pull together enough money, I sent a donation request to my friends, family and, of course, my writing group. My request had been out less than an hour when I got my first response.
Jay, quietly and without fanfare, paypaled me two hundred dollars. He just gave me the money.
When I thanked him, he said, “I never got to go to Clarion. It’d be a tragedy if you couldn’t go just because of money.”
I realized then that the guy who I’d written off as loud, obnoxious, and full of himself, was an intensely complex and thoughtful person. I’d been strawmanning Jay easily as much as I thought he had been me.
I brought the whole thing up years later, and Jay didn’t remember the fight or giving me money. Jay had moved on. It was probably the strongest and simplest lesson anyone has given me.
Who the hell cares who was right? What good does it do to carry our resentments and good deeds around like prizes? I wish I had thought to thank Jay for the lesson.
From reading his incredibly vulnerable online writings, I knew Jay was almost always fatigued, in nearly constant pain and deeply afraid, but the Jay I saw in person over the last few years was kind, open, thoughtful and curious.
The last time I saw Jay, we were presenting ostensibly different views on science, politics & religion on a panel. Jay has always been very clear on his beliefs and very good at articulating them. I was struck by how the Jay, who years ago might have savaged other people’s beliefs, now made a point of saying that just because he disagreed with someone didn’t mean he didn’t need to be fair in presenting their side. At the end of the panel Jay gave me a hug before moving on to his thousand other important obligations.
Jay was good people. I’m honored to have known him.