Lee Davy continues his confessions series by delving into the difficulty of writing about the passing of a member of the poker community.
Death has been on my mind a lot recently. I’m 40, and as I age so does everyone else. For many years I avoided the Grim Reaper. My Mum turned 60 this weekend, and my Dad is only 63. They are mere pups in my eras demographic of parents.
Both my mother and father are not exactly pillars of health. Until very recently, both have smoked for many years, spent enough hours in the pub to make me worry about their alcohol consumption, lead very sedentary lifestyles, and eat a lot of the wrong things.
By contrast I am the complete opposite. I don’t drink, smoke, lead an active lifestyle, and am a vegan. I also coach people to change their lifestyle habits, so they can give themselves the best chance of having a long and healthy lifestyle. But try as I might I cannot influence my parents one iota.
My mother has recently quit smoking. I am so proud of her. My father also quit for two months, but has recently started again. I am also proud of him for trying. He has a terrible cough; it’s the reason he tried quitting, and when he did quit, the cough dissipated. This morning I heard him coughing once more. I came downstairs to find him sitting at the kitchen table with a cigarette in his mouth.
Unless he changes quickly, the smoking will culminate in an early death. I get angry at the thought of having to clean up his mess after he is gone. I get angry at feeling that way. I want to show him love and compassion, but I am fighting an internal war with this one. It’s not coming easy to me.
I think about what I will say when he dies. There will be a funeral. It won’t be religious. I am the eldest child. Will it be expected of me to take the podium and say a few words? When I think about my obituary I am in a quandary. I would like to stand there and say what a wonderful man he is. To give him a tumultuous send off. But it’s difficult to find the words.
He is a very private man. He is a northern man. He is a man’s man. He loves people, but he doesn’t show them. There are no kisses. There are no hugs. At times he acts so insensitively that you are sure he doesn’t care. But he does. You don’t get much from him. A few words and you are lucky.
I want to stand there and tell the truth. Perhaps, his death, and my subsequent painting of a man whose life was cut short by a society that encouraged people to smoke, drink, and eat gut-rotting shite, will help at least one person to change?
Or I could ignore those things. I could talk about the fact that he adopted me when I was a few years old. How he dedicated his life to his work so we had food on our tables; how he was never home because we needed clothes on our backs.
It’s a tricky son of a bitch.
As a poker writer you have to get used to death. Poker players die and when they do it’s our job to inform the general public of this. It’s a difficult task, and one that could cost you dearly if you get it wrong
I once wrote a short article about the passing of Johannes Strassmann. At the beginning of the article I mentioned how social media was responsible for incorrectly spreading word that Chad Brown had also passed away. A poker player didn’t like the way I covered it. He believed it read in a way that you would think Chad Brown had died prematurely. I was deemed to be insensitive, inappropriate, and incapable of doing my job.
I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. I re-read the sentence numerous times. I also asked others to read it for me. Nobody believed there was anything wrong with the way that I had written it. The intention was sound. But for this one man, who was close to Chad Brown, the intention read very differently.
I found out the hard way that leaning on social media, as your information source in such matters, could lead to a nasty fall. This same problem occurred with the passing of Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott. My advice would be to ignore social media. Only cover the news when it’s come from an official source. I understand some people’s urgency in breaking the news first, but this is the passing of someone’s life. This is different gravy. Keep it in the pot.
The passing of the Devilfish also brings me to the problem I alluded to at the start of this piece. There are people who would have loved the Devilfish and people who didn’t. His beliefs, values, and behavior, would have gone down like milkshake for some, and a rose bush for others.
So how do you write about a man who divides opinion so clearly? Do you just stick with the facts? Do you write about your opinion, warts and all? Do you write about your opinion with a pinch of bias?
I think your line depends on your relationship with the deceased. In my opinion, a personal story, attached to the passing of the person, is the best way for the sad news to be reported. If there is no personal touch to be added, then straight up facts are the best way to go.
I once wrote about a man who played in my local home game. He was called Turkish Kurt. He was the biggest fish in the game. He died prematurely of cancer. When I wrote about him, I made sure I covered all of the wonderful aspects of his personality, but I also made it real. I covered the fact that he had a gambling problem, and that he was one of the players we preyed upon in the game. I received a wonderful letter from his daughter thanking me for writing such a heart-rending article about her father. It could have easily have gone the other way; such are the fine lines with these things. You have to have confidence when writing things like this. If you don’t possess it, don’t touch it.
Two recent articles, about the passing of the Devilfish, make for great learning points on how to write about the sensitivity of this topic. One is a great way to approach the subject, and the other is the complete opposite.
Des Wilson, in The Independent, wrote the first article I want to talk about. The tone of the article is all wrong. Whilst there may be truth in Wilson’s words, they are inappropriate given the circumstances, and it’s the tone he uses that makes them inappropriate. It feels like a personal attack, rather than a conveyance of truth.
The article written for PokerNews, by Jesse and Mickey May, was a much better way to cover the sad news. The way the tale followed a pictorial angle was great. The tone of the article was humorous, and the May’s even managed to write about some of the less desirable antics of the Devilfish, but by the time they had reached that point, the tone and presentation of the article had softened things perfectly for us.
It’s tough to cover the passing of anyone. But if this is how you want to earn your coin you had better get a grasp of it. I urge you to read both of these articles and learn from them. Not only will it make you a better writer, but it will also reduce the likelihood that your pen will cut deep at the worst of occasions.
As William Blake once said:
“A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.”