Gary Farber (firstname.lastname@example.org) Here:
I regret that the need to get this news out to fandom with all immediate speed is subversive of my desire to have more time to give more consideration to this letter. It seems necessary to risk a misstep here given the rampant communiques currently shooting across fandom. A few of you saw an earlier draft of this letter yesterday. This version contains some minor, though significant, changes.
Such as -- DISCLAIMER: what follows is an account of my meeting on November 5th (my birthday, hey, and I'm 38 now). I make no claims as to the veracity or accuracy of anything Abi told me. I am not her lawyer, nor do I play that role on the Internet, tv, at conventions, parties, nor anywhere in fandom, in this universe, nor in any other universe. My role here is and was as investigator, and no more. Readers are free to come to their own evaluations and conclusions as to Abigail Frost and her TAFF Administratorship. I am not defending her actions. I would have thought this disclaimer unnecessary, but prudence and early experience suggests it is. Naturally, I'm as distressed and appalled at what happened under Abigail Frost's TAFF Administration as any other fan. Duh. END DISCLAIMER.
The names on the cc list, since I know you are wondering, are among those in Rob Hansen's e-address book. I don't presently have access to my own list so:
This is an open letter to fandom, and may be reproduced in whole by any who desire so long as I am notified of said republication. It is also written in haste, under a severe deadline of getting this information out to fandom as rapidly as possible. All responsibility for misunderstandings or errors herein are mine, and mine alone.
I will grant permission for it to be reproduced in part, or quoted from, but I do this in hopes that quotations will be used in a fair manner.
Given that this letter would be reproduced otherwise, I encourage it being sent to all newszines, sources of gossip, etc. If I had more e-mail addresses accessible, particularly including Mike Glyer's, I'd use them now. If it seems appropriate, I'll post it to Usenet and/or mailing lists.
It's about as good as the news can be, folks, okay?
Mind, all I am able to do here is relate my conversation with Abigail; obviously, I can make no predictions as to her future actions, or ability to follow-through on her word, nor do I offer any guarantees as to her future acts. I merely relate what she said, and I'll relate some of my evaluations of that.
I called Abigail Frost from Avedon and Rob's phone yesterday afternoon; this was the first opportunity I had to do this since my arrival in Britain last Friday evening (notes for report on all that are well in hand, incidentally -- it's been quite a busy and wonderful journey so far, and that promises to continue).
I began leaving a message on her answering machine, but as soon as she heard my voice, she picked right up. She enthusiastically responded to the thought that we get together the next day, and we set a plan to meet at her Tube Station, Whitechapel, at 11:00 a.m., this morning, with the idea that she would show me a bit of the East End, and then head off towards the British Museum. Not a word was said by either of us yet about TAFF, but of course we both knew it was on the agenda.
We spent a bit of time wandering the byways of the East End as Abigail pointed out various sites where victims of the Kray Brothers had been murdered. I contemplated whether we would soon be seeing her murder site added to the tour, but said nothing.
When we got to Spitalfields Market, where I decided I wanted a spot of food, I thought, as she clearly did as well, that now that we were seated, relaxed, and comfortable, that this was a good time to bring up the previously unspoken baggage we had with us.
I munched my lamb kebab, and we began.
Abi could not have been more cooperative, straightforward, and, apparently, honest.
She leapt to plead her guilt, to state that she deserved everything she had coming, and that no one owed her anything but condemnation. She could not have been more harsh on herself. She made no excuses. She asked for no mercy, and sought no forgiveness.
We began to discuss her account of what had happened. I'll render it as best I am able, given that I'm again writing under conditions of only 1.5 hours sleep in the last 36.
Abi brought up all the facts with no excuses or hesitation. The owed money is approximately twenty-seven hundred pounds (£2700.00). I have a check in hand from her, made out to Martin Tudor, for two hundred pounds (£200.00), which I will post to him in the morning. She will make payments of eighty pounds (£80.00) a month, beginning in two months, which should pay off the debt within thirty-six months (three years), if all goes as planned.
She will forward the records of who voted, etc., to Martin, forthwith. She has them, and feels there will be no problem in now getting that information to him.
Naturally, I suggest that Martin call her again, immediately, and in non-aggressive manner, ask her to please post those records to him immediately. If she does not respond in speedy fashion, I suggest that he continue to communicate this request to her.
Now, naturally, you are asking "how and why did all this happen? What is Abi's explanation?"
The answer is not only exactly what I expected, but she was utterly honest in offering it up without the least hesitation or attempt to plead any excuses whatever.
Abi had a mental breakdown. She's now under medical treatment, and taking prescribed anti-depressants. She was most forthright in describing not just the crippling clinical depression that I had expected was the case, but in confessing that she had, in the past year, moved across the border to, in her words, psychotic breaks.
She described, in terms that I recognize from my own knowledge of mental illness, a chilling set of delusions that she had experienced, the self-recognition of which had led her to seek treatment, though the self-recognition of being in a delusional and psychotic state does nothing whatever to relieve one of the subjective experience of the irrational delusions.
She described, in horrific terms, her subjective experience of seeing simple page numbers turn into Meaningful Messages which were telling her Secret Things. She hallucinated; she became delusional; she lost ability to deal with reality or cope.
This was all in the context of the past year. I'll give some chronological context here, and report her account of her perceptions of what happened.
She feels that her own sense was that an insurmountable financial crisis was upon her and her management of the TAFF funds about this time last year -- winter, approximately November, 1995. This was when it struck home to her.
It was then that she recognized that she was in deep trouble, and it was then that her depression was so severe that she became so totally dysfunctional as to be unable to bring herself to talk to anyone about it, to ask for the help that would, of course, have been forthcoming. In her now more sane state, under the influence of anti-depressants, she, of course, recognizes the depths of her insanity over the last year. She minces no words about it, and offers no excuses to avoid her responsibility. Over and over again, without melodrama, or the use of her acceptance of her responsibility as a tool to avoid reprimand, she stated numerous times to me "I'm completely in the wrong -- there is no one to blame but me, and I deserve all the condemnation I receive." She pled for no mercy, played no metaphoric violin, nor engaged in any false attempts to engage sympathy, to the best of my perceptions. She expressed considerable amazement that I would go to the trouble to investigate this matter, rather then leave her to her deserved fate.
She gave me a long detailed account of the precise set of financial disasters that struck. I'm afraid you'll have to bear with me that I did not take detailed notes of every in and out on that, but jotted down only the major bits and the broad outline. However, as she expressed complete willingness to answer further questions from me (and implicitly from others) in future, and I do plan to speak to her by telephone again in the next few days, I should be able to report back with said further details if that seems desired and appropriate.
The relevant gist was that work she thought guaranteed, including long-standing commitments, fell through. Several and various expected jobs were lost. Most significant was a thousand pound (#1000.00) piece of work she had counted on, which disappeared. Her creditors unexpectedly closed in. She was threatened with legal action to have her house mortgage foreclosed. Her bank account, if I understood correctly, went hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds into the negative.
It was then that the stress, she reports, overwhelmed her ability to cope, and the psychotic interludes began. It was then that she began cutting off contact with fandom out of utter inability to deal with reality, or to function in any reasonable way. She stated most directly that she hid from fandom, hid from her friends, and hid from fannish meetings. She volunteered this information.
It will be very difficult for people who have little knowledge of mental illness to understand the subjective experience of it. I, myself, come from a family where my father was quite severely mentally ill for decades, and was unable to function for the last fifteen years of his life. He more or less died as a result of this, in the end. My family was severely damaged by his earlier insanity. My parents were also both mental health professionals, as were most of their friends,and I grew up with something of a lay education in the area. I've also walked close enough to the edge, myself, at interludes of my life, to have peered over, and briefly clambered into, a bit of the abyss, sufficiently to have far more understanding of what it is like to not be able to respond to reality in an appropriate or remotely functional way, to not recognize a genuine account of a genuine mental illness when I see and hear it.
I believe Abi in this regard. Make of that what you will. I may, of course, be naive, and have been taken in by a performance, if so, Abi can easily make the money back in a week as an actress, so there should be no trouble at all, if so. More seriously, I can't vouch for a word of what she told me; I'm just reporting it. If readers conclude, based on their own experience with her, that she lied like mad to me, and put on a complete performance, I can't argue with that and have not the slightest intent to try to.
She continued her account of how she began to hide from fandom, how she refused to answer the phone, and it was implicit that fear overwhelmed all her attempts to seek help. She, at another point, under questioning from me, described abortive attempts to try to bring herself to confess to a couple of specific fans, and her collapse and inability to get the words out. She described without excuse how she fled. She accepts full responsibility for her repeated failure.
She repeatedly told me that she expects and desires no sympathy, no mercy, nor forgiveness, nor anything but condemnations. She feels she deserves it, and all the villification that any and all will and have heaped upon her. She heaps quite a pile on herself. She's still fairly blind to the concept that people were willing to help her at an earlier stage, if only she would have and could have been able to ask for that help. She's still not exactly out of the mental unhealth woods, and is quite honest about it.
I recognize the signs of crippling fear and self-hatred; I've visited this land in my own past. Those who feel it is appropriate to hang her from the highest yardarm will do so -- how you want to react to all this is up to you, reader.
Whether Abi is realistic in her expectations of being able to begin the payment schedule to TAFF of eighty pounds a month, beginning in January, I cannot say. Time will speak to that. Personally, I'd note that the track record of people in similar situations tends to be rather poor. However, we can hope for the best. Similarly, she felt there would now be no problem in forwarding the records, and she even felt strong enough to speak of beginning work on her trip report, with the idea that this would bring the various monies promised by fan organizations, such as SCIFI and MCFI, to TAFF. Again, time will show whether we will see this happen or not. Other TAFF Administrators have been known not to complete reports, I hear tell, though.
Meanwhile, Abi's expectation is that, more or less, no one in fandom will ever speak to her again, or desire to see her again, save to give her the punishment she feels she deserves.
She's presently working a night telephone marketing job, and seeking other employment opportunities.
This entire account is my words, and she should not be held accountable for my subjective choice of terminology, my evaluations, conclusions or opinions. The possibility of transcription errors from my memory and sketchy notes is high. I do intend to speak to her again before I leave Britain on December 1st, as time allows, to try to nail down some specifics I didn't press her for yesterday, such as on what day she will mail the TAFF records to Martin, and so on. I will able to receive e-mail care of Avedon Carol and Rob Hansen (use Rob's e-mail address, please, with a copy to my home address at email@example.com -- remember that I likely won't see mail only sent to my home address for quite some time, please) through Thursday evening. I'll be visiting David Langford later in the month. Pam Wells can likely get messages to me sooner or later. E-mail should be copied to firstname.lastname@example.org, but I'm unclear when I'll have access to telnet, and it may not be for many days. I mention all this in case there are important questions I have left unanswered here, though I make no guarantees that I'll be able do a great deal more about this as I travel through December 2nd. I am a tad busy.
I hope that we've seen the worst of this regrettable affair past now, and that some of the fears as to what controversies these events would engender will prove false. I hope that now that the cleansing light of public revelation has been turned on, at long last, that fandom as a whole will surprise those of us who cast a cynical eye on fandom's ability to sort out controversy.
Wouldn't that be a pleasant, and surprising end to all this?
Gary Farber, 11:24 p.m., November 5th, 1996, revised 12:58 a.m., November 7th, 1996
And now I desperately need some sleep.