Let Me Help Your Cancelled Friend. For Free.
Twice in the last three weeks, and four times since May, I’ve gotten a variation on the same message. The latest read the same as the previous three, and the many before that:
A friend of mine has recently undergone a very public cancelation. Might you be available to chat with him? If not, no worries.
I started to get texts, emails, and Facebook messages along these lines not long after the inception of the #MeToo movement at the end of 2017.
It’s obvious why folks sought me out. Even my casual acquaintances know the outline of my story. They know I lost my teaching job, my writing gigs, my marriage, and nearly my life after I confessed to a series of extramarital affairs with my students. It’s all on my Wikipedia, and it’s what you find when you Google me. There are plenty of times I wish that my Wikipedia was less salacious, or that the articles gleefully detailing my sordid, self-absorbed fall from grace would disappear.
And then I remember: I cannot change my story. I must instead use it to help people who are going through the same thing. In 2013, Internet takedowns and Twitter meltdowns were still a novelty; in the past five years, they have become weekly, if not hourly events. The famous and the microfamous and the genuinely obscure have been called out, rebuked, shamed, and cancelled.
This is not a post about cancel culture. I hate it, some of you think it’s necessary, and we will continue to disagree. This is a post to tell you one thing: if you ever have a friend, man or woman, who suddenly finds themselves under unrelenting attack for something they did (or were merely accused of doing), think of whether I might be able to help. It doesn’t matter whether the accusations are true or not. It doesn’t matter whether what’s alleged is racism, or sexism, or sexual misconduct, or domestic violence, or financial impropriety. I’ve been accused of all of these, and I’ve helped men and women accused of each of these, and worse.
What matters is that when Twitter is blowing up with gleeful, hateful accusations, and when your friends are distancing themselves from you, and when your livelihood is threatened, you might want to talk with someone who has been through all that, lost nearly everything, and somehow found a way to survive and thrive. There’s no substitute for the empathy born of bitter experience.
I have been, at times in my life, astonishingly and embarrassingly indiscreet. Yet just as I honor my non-disclosure agreements with ghostwriting clients, I honor the privacy of the newly cancelled folks who reach out to me. Some are far left; some are far right; some are American; some are British; some are men; some are women; some are straight, some are not.
Some of them have done things that are genuinely criminal, but many have not. All have done something or been accused of doing something that social media has found unacceptable. The common thread is they each are experiencing trauma. And I know that one of the reasons I went through what I went through is to learn how to meet them in that trauma.
I am not interested in whether someone is guilty or not. Sometimes, we talk about what happened, and I listen to bewildered defenses of what struck the canceled person as innocuous behavior. Sometimes, I listen to bargaining, to despair, to hopelessness, and to rage.
Some of these folks think they did nothing wrong; others are incapacitated by shame and guilt, knowing full well they have done real harm. My goal is simple: I want to help the person stay alive, and then, develop a plan to endure and rebuild in a way that makes sense for them. I want to walk alongside them, at least a little of the way, through whatever reckoning they must face.
Some friends who know I do this “coaching for the cancelled” are indignant, worrying that all I am doing is “helping bad people justify their badness”. They tell me I should be sternly holding these wretches to account! I reply that the chorus demanding accountability and repentance is deafening already, and I don’t intend to add my reedy baritone to the cacophony of contempt. Everyone at their worst moment deserves sympathy, because before you can face what you must face, you must know and understand you can survive it, and that you are worthy of survival.
I do not charge for this, and I am not using it to write a book. (I mean, I might someday, but that’s not the current plan.) I have children, a bride, freelance gigs, and a regular job. I make the time for this because this is my calling, something for which I am, frankly, almost uniquely prepared. I am not a therapist, I am not a lawyer, I am not a private investigator, I am not a rabbi. The cancelled may have need of some or all of these, and I can nudge them towards that sort of assistance. What they get from me is a non-judgmental ear, absolute discretion, a gameplan for survival – and, if they are in Los Angeles, a cup of tea, coffee, kombucha, or perhaps a taco.
I write this today to say yes, I am busy, but I am never too busy to do this particular work. If you have someone in your life who is experiencing cancellation – someone who feels beleaguered and frightened and defensive and alone – please give them my name. Have them email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll go from there.
Please remember this letter – because, alas and alack, there will be so many more cancellations before public sentiment turns at last against the excesses of our censorious era! Together, however, we shall endure – and not merely endure, but rebuild. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to do that.