Amanda Lauren’s tagline on her website reads “I write things that become a thing,” and boy does she! This week two pieces of hers received an influx of attention and response—a Your Tango essay called “Staying Hot For My Husband Is ESSENTIAL To A Successful Marriage” and a now-deleted xoJane essay titled “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing.” In the latter, our focus here, Lauren expressed relief over the death of her estranged former friend, whom she had seemed to decide was a lost cause by looking at said friend’s Facebook page. My first impression was, “What was she thinking?” So I called her up.
Over the course of our 40-minute conversation, Lauren used the word “overwhelmed” to describe herself at least half a dozen times (at one point, she warned that she felt like she was going to throw up), defended herself against the pile-on of backlash she’s received (including, she says, death threats), and attempted to explain her instantly notorious essay.
“I wrote this story because I have been touched by mental illness, not just by the person who I wrote this about, but with other people as well, people in my own family,” she told me about the piece that includes lines like, “It sounds horrible to say, but her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was,” about one “Leah” (a pseudonym). Leah was a friend she met in high school and had a rocky friendship full of backbiting and Facebook-blocking. Lauren was initially friends with Leah’s sister, but Leah’s sister died of cancer at 19.
“Maybe if someone is not doing well and doesn’t know how to help themselves and reads that and thinks, Oh my gosh, it could come to this, maybe I should talk to a therapist, or a psychiatrist, or, Maybe I should do something to help myself, that was why I wrote it,” Lauren told me. I suggested that in describing her friend’s death as a blessing, in writing sentences like, “This girl had nothing to live for,” in effectively writing off Leah as a lost cause, a reader might read it and think It’s hopeless for me. If I were dead, someone would probably write that I’m better off this way. I might as well not get treatment. Might as well just die.
“People can see it that way, but I know for me there are times when I know...I hope that we can see this as a cautionary tale,” she told me—quickly adding that another cautionary takeaway for her was not to put her name on potentially offensive work. xoJane initially ran the piece with Lauren’s name on it, but later anonymized that at Lauren’s request. The original post remains viewable via the Wayback Machine.
Throughout the piece, it’s clear that Lauren is concerned only with herself; there’s no attempt to empathize with a mentally ill woman, no attempt to intervene in her “former friend’s” clear unraveling. There is only Lauren’s concern with herself.
“I tried to help her many times, but I also realized when I had discovered this that there was nothing I could do to help her,” said Lauren in response. “I am not as powerful as that illness. I have other stuff going on in my life twenty four hours a day. I really thought about helping her, but I also realized this was not going to be a battle I was going to win.”
Reading her piece, I was amazed by Lauren’s callousness—that she could take it upon herself to decide the death of an estranged former friend (one she hadn’t talked to for about five years when Leah died) was a “blessing,” that she included details about her friendship with Leah that would selfishly underscore the relief of Leah’s departure (“She blatantly tried to hookup with a guy I had a crush on,” she referred to Lauren as her “frenemy” on Facebook). But after talking to her, my opinion shifted slightly, particularly when I heard Lauren say the following: “I just feel so bad that her life was so filled with suffering and I just hope she’s in a better place. That’s all I meant.”
It was clear then that Lauren really could have used a better editor to help her tease out a complicated idea that needed a tremendous amount of nuance and humility to be pulled off. I suggested that she was being hyperbolic for effect and that what she was actually saying boiled down to: Leah’s existence was so difficult that death is better, which only goes to underline how grave her situation was.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” she told me. If only she had the editorial aid to help her actually say that. (Note: I reached out to xoJane’s parent company, Time Inc., this morning for comment on “My Former Friend’s Death Is a Blessing,” and as yet not have heard back. I will update this post if and when I do.)
See, I get Lauren’s writerly instinct. I believe that many—if not most—subjects worth writing about should be challenging, and even morally complicated, lest I preach to the choir and devote my job to pandering. That’s why I wrote a piece earlier this year about feeling relief at the death of my cat. Dead-animal tributes are a dime a dozen; the only way to make publicly exploring something like that worthwhile is to say what isn’t being said, and often what isn’t being said are uncomfortable truths.
Granted, my cat was a cat, not a person, he wasn’t living with any mental illness I was aware of, and he didn’t quit a job I worked at to make me look bad. In fact, his being a cat made it much easier to explore a potentially taboo topic than it would have been had my subject been a human. I don’t know if I have the ability to persuade an audience that the death of any private citizen is a blessing, and I’m positive that Lauren didn’t.
Still, she stands by her story, even after she requested xoJane remove it from their site.
“I would have taken my name off it because I’m receiving death threats and I am being bullied,” she said regarding what she would do differently. “I don’t think bullying me helps at all. I’m being harassed over the internet and it’s really unfair. It’s really just beyond. I would have done that, I would have changed the title.”
“What would you have changed the title to?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” she said.
She offered an apology and caveat to those who found her piece to be triggering. “I’m sorry if this triggered anyone, but I feel like…sorry I’m just so overwhelmed right now,” she said, interrupting herself. “I feel like if you read a headline like that and you’re easily triggered, maybe don’t read the article.”
This is sensible. And even if her piece was worthy of the amount of scorn it received, death threats and personal attacks are unnecessary. Plus, Lauren thinks she’s being evaluated unfairly.
“You can’t judge someone as a whole human being based on some of the stuff they wrote,” she said. I pointed out the irony of her saying that when she judged her friend Leah, whom she hadn’t seen in five years, based solely on her Facebook.
“I saw what was there and I thought it was a clear indication that she was a sick person,” she responded.
“But isn’t that what people could say about you?” I asked.
“But I knew her in real life. That’s the difference. These people who are sending me death threats don’t know me in real life,” said Lauren.
That’s fair. Lauren told me she’s just experienced the craziest 24 hours of her life and she just wants to go back to bed. But she has engagements planned—a spot on Fox and Friends and one on Dr. Drew’s radio show. I wondered if she was going to be talking about her Your Tango essay on the latter, or her way more notorious xoJane post. She said she was as yet unsure.
“I have to talk about it with my publicist,” said Lauren.