My friend, the wonderful Sue Tindel, of the Jackson County (Florida) Circuit Clerk’s Office, used the title of today’s post to describe someone she knew once, who ironically, was also an alcoholic (but in recovery).
The person she was describing was also, ironically, the same age as Emmett when he died of said disease.
I like this description, as I think it really sums up Emmett’s character. Emmett was an extremely talented, blessed, fortunate individual. Some newspapers (specifically, The Pensacola Journal), called him “brilliant.” Emmett had everything going for him.
And yet, his tragic character flaw was that he was self-destructive.
He had opportunities literally given to him; opportunities attached to money, prestige, fame, fortune, all of the things he wanted desperately while he was slogging away at the telegraph key as a teenager, and in law school, working his way through.
It is frustrating, sometimes, as I look back over the notes and the outline of the book. You can see the train wreck before it happens with Emmett! Of course, it is easy to recognize problems 100 years after they’ve happened, but I have to believe that his close friends and advisors saw (at least) some of the warning signs with Emmett before they became full-blown crises. Emmett had some good advisors; he had some crummy ones, as well; maybe that was part of his self-destructive nature, in that he chose badly.
See, here’s the thing I’ve come to understand about Emmett:
He was an entirely logical thinker when it came to his work and his career. He wouldn’t let anything or anyone distract him from his main goal in life: The Florida Supreme Court bench. If it (a personal connection, a law case, a social event) would further his career, he would go for it.
Once he set a goal for himself, he threw himself into that goal, mastered the project or case, and then — and this is the odd part about Emmett — got bored with it. Next, he’d detach himself from it — mentally if not physically.
True, he understood that everything he was doing along he way was simply a set of milestones on the way to the Florida Supreme Court bench. But it seems like he couldn’t tap into the psychological stamina and patience to bear it (even when the going got boring), to find a way to enjoy it, make it his own without an external stimulant.
Was Emmett Wilson ‘brilliant’?
No. (Sorry, Emmett.)
If Emmett were truly brilliant, he’d have had more emotional/psychological maturity. Some of this wasn’t exactly Emmett’s fault: He was, according to several sources, being pushed up the political ladder faster and at a younger age than anyone before (for example, he was the youngest District Attorney in the United States in 1907), and, it was also reported, before he was ready. Emmett wasn’t quite ready, but he was listening to the crummy advisors, and doing their bidding.
If Emmett were truly brilliant, he’d have seen this, too. He’d have seen that he was being pushed beyond his experience and education.
I think Emmett did see this, now and then; that he had moments of clarity with regard to the heights he’d climbed politically, socially, professionally, with not much of a safety net beneath him, other than whoever it was manipulating the puppet strings of his life. Those moments of clarity scared the hell out him.
If he screwed up, there would be definitely be hell to pay, and his dream of occupying the same bench as his revered grandfather, would be dashed.
Emmett had the talent, definitely; he could do the work he was given. But he was mostly acting the part he was assigned.
Emmett was also, most definitely, mega-talented. He could play the role he was given; he was a good lawyer.
He wasn’t brilliant.
But he was definitely self-destructive.