Dear Mr. David Schwartz,
I recently became aware of your situation when the novelist and one-time Bob Dylan interviewer called Jonathan Lethem posted a news story about you on his Facebook feed. As you know, the headline of that story was, STUDENT’S EMPATHY WORKSHOP AT ZOO CANCELED.
Mr. Lethem remarked dryly, “Hate it when this happens.” I immediately shared this link and remarked in a more maximalist fashion, “Is there to be no hope for the future?”
The article revealed that you were expelled from your masters program in family counseling for “lack[ing] empathy.” And that you then proposed an empathy pit in a vacant bear pit at the St. Louis Zoo.
I commented on Mr. Lethem’s post that the headline was funnier than the story, and he replied pithily: “Agree, except you’d have missed the word ‘pit’.” It was to be a Polar Empathy Pit. But canceled.
This was the first time a literary figure of Mr. Lethem’s merit had ever responded to me, let alone briefly agreed with me. Needless to say I walked about with chest puffed for the next couple days. But sadly, most of the people I told of this were painfully ignorant regarding one of the major constellations in today’s literary solar system.
Anyway, let me explain how this involves you. Your proposed Ursidaen empathy pit was declined by the zoo (in fact, prohibited), but you still need to extend empathy in order to prove your program’s administrator wrong, and because you yourself admitted to only needing the zoo because who would show up for an empathy workshop otherwise, I am going to tell you my problems.
For the past year my chest has hurt. When it finally stopped hurting my left side started to hurt. These, I believe, are the locations of the heart and left kidney. My doctor says I am fine but I pass through life in the dreadful grip of hypochondriasis.
Then there is the matter of my online fiction career. Though I have been published in many online publications, no one comments when I post the links on Facebook anymore. When my first story appeared I received seventeen comments (many of which were admittedly my own to spark up conversation, and at least seven others were from a deranged crank). Now I don’t get a solitary like, even when a story is published in a prestigious quarterly like Mud Hut.
The initial commenters now experience donor fatigue and simply don’t care. I experience this myself when someone I know say begins a rap career and is posting all these rap songs and I know she’s just dying for the comments and likes to amass, but some resentful part of me, even though I have no rap aspirations myself, this resentful part prevents me from charitably liking any of her rap songs.
Also, I really like going to strip clubs but I don’t have enough money to go as often as I’d like.
I am clumsy both physically and emotionally.
My dog’s teeth are rotting and he’ll require like a $600 vet visit with anesthesia to have them cleaned because he bites anyone who tries to touch them because they are so sore. Otherwise he does not bite. He is a good dog. Here my own empathy is called upon in a troubling way.
I am often seized by guilt and shame when without cause I suddenly recall some horrible thing I’ve done in the past.
I was cursed with the bone structure of William Seward Burroughs.
I love to make tuna and would eat it once a week but my girlfriend dislikes the smell and will make a big production if any tuna juice, even a drop, spills on the counter, so I can only make it while she is away.
I am only 28 but I feel like my best year was between 17 and 18 and it’s been more or less a steady decline ever since.
Should you care to address my concerns empathically and are effective in doing so I would be happy to write a letter of recommendation to the administrator who gave you the boot and implied you weren’t that nice and shouldn’t be a therapist. Pretty much branded you as a sociopath and showed you the door. And really, doesn’t this reveal a deficit of empathy on his own part? You’d think he’d try to work with you on building those empathy skills and it shouldn’t have fallen on me to teach you how to care.