For this week’s Member Pick, we’re excited to share “My Body Stopped Speaking to Me,” a personal story from GQ writer and National Magazine Award winner Andrew Corsello about a near-death experience. The piece was first published in GQ in 1995. Corsello explains:
I was circling the drain in the spring of 1995—convalescent, out of money, literally within days of quitting the business—when David Kamp, a friend from college who’d become a senior editor at GQ, called to ask if I’d be interested in a staff-writing job. ‘You know I’m damaged goods, right?’ I asked. He didn’t, but made things happen anyway. The day I arrived at GQ, David introduced me to the mag’s longtime editor, Art Cooper, an old-school manly man’s man who’d have insisted on christening my arrival with a hard drink or three (even though it was 11:00 a.m.) had David not preempted it. ‘Now, Art,’ David explained as Art took my hand, ‘you can’t take it personally when Andrew declines the drink you’re going to offer him—he’s been told by doctors he can never drink again.’ Art asked why. Over the next 15 minutes, I told him the bizarre story of my near-death from liver failure six months before. ‘Wow,’ he said. ‘That’s your first piece for the mag!’ At which point I reflexively wondered, ‘But what’s the angle?’ And, answering myself, said, ‘How about, “If I were in an HMO, I’d be dead”’? Before I could finish my next sentence, Cooper said, ‘Nah, just write the story.’ But what about, you know, the health care angle… ‘Huh?’ Cooper said. ‘Forget that. Just…write the story, like you just told it.’ But what about… We went back and forth several more times, with me burping up inane buzz-crap like ‘nut graf’ and ‘policy relevance’ and Cooper saying ‘Write the story.’ Finally, half laughing, half pissed, he growled, ‘Just write the fucking story.’ So I left his office, sat at my new desk, created a new file, sat staring at the screen for several minutes and then realized: The story was already written, and written as well as it ever could be (at least by me), in my journal. Creating this piece, which Kamp edited, was almost entirely a matter of splicing journal entries together.
Even now it amazes and annoys me: that until the moment Art Cooper told me to write the fucking story, it had never even occurred to me to use in my published work the voice in which I had been speaking to myself for years. That is, it hadn’t occurred to me to publish work…in my own voice. How stupid is that? All this is to say that this story, or rather the editorial injunction that birthed it, taught me that a vivid writing voice is less a matter of talent—far less—than license. Dave Kamp’s headline for this piece plays at multiple levels.
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Illustration by Kjell Reigstad