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Chapter 131: The More I Don’t Know

May 11, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Even though I’ve been writing Emmett Wilson’s chapters on and off since I found him back in 2013, and I feel like I know him fairly well, there’s still new things I’m discovering about his story that trickle in now and then. I feel pretty good about whatever new information comes in at this point, because the things I’ve discovered don’t change my fundamental understanding about Emmett.

Of course, I still may encounter something that changes that understanding. I do my best to maintain objectivity and open-mindedness, which I seem to have a better handle on as I’ve aged (matured?) along with Emmett’s research.

For example:

When I look at my notes on Emmett’s research for 2013-2014, there’s an urgency to know all about his friends; specifically, love interests. Yes, I admit it: I was in love with Emmett, this handsome, long-dead guy who seemed so tragic, and yet, as a fellow alcoholic, so responsible for his choices (good, bad, boring, stupid, ad infinitum).

Stella Avery in 1901, a sometime girlfriend of Emmett’s. Photo: Pensacola Historical Society.

I dug all around the names associated with Emmett and his social activities, and his professional life. It pleased me that the possible love interests’ names that showed up most frequently revealed homely types, old maids, and the like. Of course, I told myself, Emmett couldn’t possibly have felt anything like love or romance for these gals, thank goodness….

…but I don’t know this at all. Eventually (within a few weeks, thank goodness), I came to the understanding that feelings we have for others cannot be categorized, or charted. Knowing the people Emmett hung out with was a good exercise in that the descendants could be helpful sources, but my feeling jealous of women long dead who had a romantic relationship with Emmett was illogical. The angst I was feeling had more to do with something missing in my own life.

On reflection, I want to share that I find Emmett’s research project has given me more in terms of psychological, emotional, and spiritual growth than I could ever have estimated. The gifts of studying Emmett’s life are more that the story of what happened to a young man who was in way over his head, both personally and professionally. I’ve gained so much not only in the research process itself, but in empathy and understanding of the research subject.

I’m not ‘in love’ with Emmett anymore, but I do love him and the research project as it continues to unfold, if that makes sense. Maybe this what they call mature love. I’d much rather have this than the crazy, obsessive urgency that I had earlier in the research project. One benefit of that earlier urgency is is that it fueled my deep dive into different sources of information, and you need that kind of energy to keep digging when you are just getting started into the information-gathering process. And now that I’ve calmed down about Emmett, so to speak, I have a clearer understanding of the man and his life/life choices.

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I’m still coming across interesting sources for context about historical attitudes towards alcoholism and addiction. Here’s two new acquisitions that, although are academic, read easily:

Altering American Consciousness is a series of essays about the history of drinking and rehabilitation; Never Enough is written by a neuroscientist who explores the complicated field of addiction. Photo by the author.

Likewise, although I recently celebrated a sobriety anniversary, and I feel as though I work a fairly good program, I like to stay in the middle of the material; i.e., I root around for new (to me) research and perspectives on alcoholism. The thing I keep discovering is that the more I learn about Emmett and alcoholism, the more I don’t know, and the only thing I can do is to just keep coming back.

Picking up my 14-year chip at WAIA. Photo by Mr. Tell My Story

Categories: Addiction Book Research Status The Writing Life

jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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