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“What I’m doing right now is so much more interesting than what happened back then,” Ryan Boudinot told me shortly after we first met.We were sitting in a coffee shop on 15th Avenue in Seattle—the kind of place with cold brew and kombucha on tap—and, frankly, I didn’t believe him.
They circled above me for a while, and then began to dive bomb, pecking at my head.
This early, tentative disapproval felt like the terns circling.
I recorded my reaction, and when I listen back now, I can hear myself say, “Jesus Christ. Before everything fell apart, Boudinot was a writer and teacher.
He’s written two novels, two collections of short stories, and a collection of essays, and for a time, he was an instructor at Goddard College’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.
After it was published, his defense of Justine Sacco and others was cast by some as an assault on social justice itself, as though by taking a stand against call-out culture, he—a cis, white man—was, in effect, silencing marginalized voices himself.
He wrote about getting dog-piled after an excerpt of his book was published in the : “I remembered a time I was on a beach in Scotland and a flock of terns singled me out.He was dragged all over social media, people posted open letters denouncing him and calling for interviewed one of his former students.Someone, he doesn’t know who, bought the URL of his name and used the site to post criticism of him. He’d recently edited an anthology and Sasquatch, the publisher, told bookstores that Boudinot wouldn’t be at the readings if they’d rather not host him.You’re either born with talent, or you’re not—and most of his students, he wrote, were not. “No one cares about your problems if you're a shitty writer,” he wrote in the essay’s most pointed section.“Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable.I handed them over, and he plugged them into his i Phone. “Just listen.” Boudinot pressed play, and all of a sudden, I had the uncanny sense of being in a puddle. This is not where he would have envisioned his career landing just a few years ago, but then something happened that derailed his life as he knew it.“Very few people have heard what you’re about to experience,” he said. It sounded like water dripping on leaves, but unlike traditional audio, the sound seemed to move around in space. He lost his friends, his colleagues, his career, and he became a pariah in the community he’d spent decades as a part of.Punishment is one thing, but punishment in front of a crowd is a whole different animal.Ironically, writing a book about public shaming led to Jon Ronson’s shaming as well.People were, quite literally, put in stocks in the town square.Eventually, this went out of favor—not because it wasn’t effective, but because it came to be seen as simply too cruel.