"I am a con artist and cancer is my final con."
January 7, 2020 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Author Elizabeth Wurtzel has died at 52 (WP) (Daily Beast), following a struggle with cancer. Her 1994 memoir Prozac Nation and her fierce style opened dialogue about clinical depression and Gen X women's lives, despite the derision her celebrity and occasional self-absorption inspired. Wurtzel previously: 1, 2, 3.
posted by Countess Elena (41 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
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as a woman turning 52 in a few months this hits the feels, for sure. she was a contentious but interesting public figure and an emblem of certain aspects of the Gen X experience. RIP.
posted by supermedusa at 9:24 AM on January 7 [8 favorites]


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posted by crush at 9:29 AM on January 7


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When I read it Prozac Nation had a huge impact on me. It was the first thing I read that really seemed to capture what it felt like to be depressed.
posted by Ampersand692 at 9:31 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


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posted by jj's.mama at 9:37 AM on January 7


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posted by benzenedream at 9:40 AM on January 7


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posted by shiny blue object at 9:43 AM on January 7


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I know she rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but her writing spoke to me on many levels.
posted by sperose at 9:49 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


. and fuck cancer.
posted by jzb at 9:53 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


I loved every minute of reading her writing, even though I disagreed with her 95% of the time, and you could feel in everything she wrote how much she loved writing it. I wish I could have even just one more piece full of completely infuriating, hilarious arguments from her. This is awful and devastating and not fair.

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posted by sallybrown at 9:58 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


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As a Gen X woman with depression who has often believed herself to be too loud, too needy, too emotional, too whiny, too much ... I'm feeling a lot of things right now.

I know she rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but her writing spoke to me on many levels.

This.

I'll give the last words to Ms. Wurtzel, interviewed in 2007 by The New York Times upon the occasion of her graduation from Yale Law School:
“It seems so distant,” she said of her wilder days. “Obviously it’s the same person, but I don’t know who that person was. You know that Lou Reed album ‘Growing Up in Public’? There it is. At least I grew up.”
posted by virago at 9:58 AM on January 7 [12 favorites]


There's something about chronic mental (or physical) conditions that seems to make sympathy or empathy for the person a bit elusive. Maybe it's a survival instinct so we don't get sucked in to depression ourselves? I mean, nobody tells someone who is on fire Why is it always about you? when they are screaming for help, but the long slow emergencies seem to get that reaction. I guess if you confuse depression with sadness maybe it's less clear how necessary to survival it is to be self-absorbed?
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:05 AM on January 7 [34 favorites]


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posted by lepus at 10:11 AM on January 7


I mean, nobody tells someone who is on fire Why is it always about you? when they are screaming for help, but the long slow emergencies seem to get that reaction.

I like to imagine accusing someone in the dentist's chair for a root canal of being self-absorbed
posted by thelonius at 10:21 AM on January 7 [9 favorites]


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posted by riverlife at 10:24 AM on January 7


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posted by Cash4Lead at 10:30 AM on January 7


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posted by amanda at 10:31 AM on January 7


Damn. I found her writing halfway infuriating, but I got to argue with her in person a couple times and was briefly infatuated.

Bummer.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:50 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


I knew her. I wouldn't say we were close friends, but we were friends in that GenX way of not seeing each other for a long time, then dropping an email or a call and talking for a while, then not talking for a long time sort of way. We were late 20th century friends, I guess. I liked her. She was terribly interesting, and we both grew up to be radically different humans than we were when we met in the 90s.

I am saddened by her passing, and wish for peace and comfort to her friends and family.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 11:05 AM on January 7 [30 favorites]


Please understand: I live specifically, with intent. The intent is, I know now, not at all specific, except that I have no ability to compromise. Most people say that as a statement of principle, but in my case, it is about feeling trapped when I am doing something I don’t like, and it is probably more childish than anything else. I likely do the right things for the wrong reasons. But it has also meant that I have not disciplined myself into the kinds of commitments that make life beyond the wild of youth into a haven of calm. I am proud that I have never so much as kissed a man for any reason besides absolute desire, and I am more pleased that I only write what I feel like and it has been lucrative since I got out of college in 1989. I had the great and unexpected success of Prozac Nation in 1994, and that bought me freedom. And I have spent that freedom carelessly, and with great gratitude. Why would I do anything else? I did not expect, not ever, to be scared to death.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:06 AM on January 7 [17 favorites]


That essay about her breast cancer diagnosis is really poignant:

Everyone else can hate cancer. I don’t. Everyone else can be afraid of cancer. I am not. It is part of me. It is my companion. I live with it. It’s inside of me. I have an intimacy with cancer that runs deep.

Cancer is so much like health – it is too many cells – that it is hard to cure without also extinguishing life. Cancer is excessive. It is growth run amok. It is a disease I understand.

posted by borborygmi at 11:09 AM on January 7 [11 favorites]


I really liked reading Bitch, for what that was worth.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:24 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I'm still processing this. But one thought I have now is that we won't be able to read anything by her as she writes about growing older. That's a bummer. Because how she wrote about cancer was just really raw and for lack of a better word, inspiring.

I, too, was sometimes taken aback by her boldness and "wildness" after reading Prozac Nation. Knowing what we know now and the shift in zeitgeist, she was just raging against a machine, I think, and breaking through somehow. I was a bit younger than her so hadn't reached some of those "fuck all" stages of life, and also came from a totally different background. Yet, I totally understood parts of it and I felt some solidarity with her.

May she rest in peace.
posted by jj's.mama at 11:37 AM on January 7 [11 favorites]


I knew her a long time ago. She lived a complex life, much of it in public. R.I.P.
posted by AJaffe at 11:57 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


I did not read any of her books but I did read her 2018 essay for New York magazine about discovering that her father was not who she thought he was. Which is to say, her mother had lied to her for 50 years. I love that essay so much. I would link to it if I were not on my phone.

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posted by Bella Donna at 12:05 PM on January 7 [8 favorites]




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posted by homunculus at 1:37 PM on January 7


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posted by From Bklyn at 2:02 PM on January 7


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I loved all her writing. My favorite was More, Now, Again; many people close to me have had substance abuse problems and her work helped me figure out addiction when I was a young adult.

She and I were diagnosed with early stage breast cancer at the same time. Mine didn't spread - at least, it hasn't yet. The capriciousness of life, the random cruelty of cancer. This is a very upsetting loss.
posted by something something at 2:44 PM on January 7 [10 favorites]


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:54 PM on January 7


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posted by Don.Kinsayder at 3:57 PM on January 7


it is probably more childish than anything else

It was, though. If you long for autonomy that deeply (and this is actually something I found profoundly sympathetic about her), you have to learn how to take care of yourself. Otherwise—assuming you’re an attractive white woman, at least—all you end up doing is wandering around depositing your messes on anyone sucker enough to take them. Wasn’t that the essay where she said she had no retirement savings even despite her Boies Schiller sinecure years (ie, steady and significant income) because starting a 401k was just too much of an imposition on her spirit?

Of course, Manhattan is full of children of great privilege effectively doing the same thing and not even writing readable prose, so.
posted by praemunire at 6:04 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


I was in the middle of some terrible drama with a friend while at an Elizabeth Wurtzel book signing, that led to said friend running out in tears while I got her book signed, along with my copy of Bitch. The inscription to me was, "For *loriginedumonde's real name*, may your name make you tough."
posted by loriginedumonde at 7:36 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


Cancer sucks. I hate that she didn't get longer. But as much as she struggled with depression at times, it's a small comfort that at least she got to play out the string her body gave her.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:05 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Otherwise—assuming you’re an attractive white woman, at least—all you end up doing is wandering around depositing your messes

The truth is, that isn't one one-hundredth of what she ended up doing.

her writing was not reducible to a plea for sympathy, no matter how attractive you think she was.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:39 PM on January 7 [10 favorites]


If you’re going to be a professional confessionalizer, you can hardly complain when people take note as you present ugly parts of your personality as though they were mere quirks or even admirable. (Being attractive was clearly part of her chosen brand.)
posted by praemunire at 9:51 PM on January 7


Wasn’t that the essay where she said she had no retirement savings even despite her Boies Schiller sinecure years (ie, steady and significant income) because starting a 401k was just too much of an imposition on her spirit?

posted by praemunire at 6:04 PM on January 7 [+]


She sure got the last laugh then, didn’t she?
posted by Violet Hour at 1:09 AM on January 8 [16 favorites]


I am sorry to say that I never read her book, but the title, the concept, of "Prozac Nation" ... very, very few people get to put a bullet dimple in our collective stainless steel wall of attention the way she did.
posted by Chitownfats at 4:09 AM on January 8 [6 favorites]


full of children of great privilege
Not for nothing, but she wasn't a child of privilege. "Grew up in NYC" parses that way NOW, sure, but for someone her age (b. 1967) it absolutely does not.

From this piece that ran at The Cut:
Because I grew up in Manhattan, people assume I must be from a wealthy family, which is seldom untrue today, especially now that hedge-fund managers trying to avoid each other have taken over even the downtown enclaves. No one seems to remember New York City in the seventies, during the era of “white flight,” when Zsa Zsa Gabor was famously mugged in the Waldorf-­Astoria and Felix Rohatyn had to be mustered to rescue the municipality from financial ruin because Gerald Ford did not think it was worth federal funds. During the Abe Beame years, you could buy a three-bedroom apartment on Columbus Avenue for $15,000 and worry that you were getting ripped off.

My parents were divorced, my mother had many part-time jobs over the years to support us, and I grew up in HUD housing, first in the West Nineties and then not far from Lincoln Center. I went to private school on scholarship and worked extremely hard because I wanted to grow up and not live near rodent-­infested playgrounds, where we clung to the handlebars crossing the horizontal ladders to keep our toes from touching rats.
She made lots of money from her book, and that opened lots of doors, and yeah you could say she was open about making bad choices with those windfalls, but at the end of the day she was a poor kid, not a rich one.
posted by uberchet at 10:35 AM on January 8 [16 favorites]


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I'm a millennial who took comfort in my worn copy of Prozac Nation, purchased nearly 20 years ago during an incredibly painful young adulthood. I have some personally poignant feelings surrounding her death, as much of her writing due to our age difference felt like having an older (but still young) relative lead me and get me through horrible experiences. She made me want to write, to value honesty and put myself out on display for everyone else to deal with.

I am not BRCA positive but I have a family history that puts me at twice the risk of an average woman, as my mother died in her late 30s from this same disease. This week I had to go in for a follow up diagnostic mammogram, which they'd read and decided that the spot they'd called me back in over was in fact normal dense breast tissue. A great relief. But the news of her loss reminds me of my mother's and of so many others, and takes me back to the crushing isolated feelings that precipitated my adolescence.
posted by autoclavicle at 3:15 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


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posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 6:05 PM on January 8


By way of comparison, here’s the obit you get when you’re a rich, self-absorbed, charismatic white man struggling with substance abuse (from The Guardian):

Robert Bingham IV.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:38 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


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