Spalding was such a terrific story-teller. I always admire artists such as Spalding who can't be easily defined or labeled. He was a great influence on me as an artist, especially when I began writing.
When I finished my first collection of stories and poems I sent them out to a few friends (and I included Spalding whose name I found in the Yellow Book). I received a 3 page critique from a professor who was a colleague of mine going into specifics of how terrible and immature it was.
I was set to retire as a writer forever. A few weeks later I came home to a voicemail Spalding left on my answering machine letting me know that I should keep it up because the writing was a lot of fun. It was a shot in the dark so I was astonished he made the effort to call me. I'm left forever wondering what it would've been like if I had been home for the call but it really helped me learn how to keep things in perspective.
I was truly saddened by his loss when I heard out about his suicide. I happened to be in a workshop a few months later with Amy Arbus (a photographer who photographed Spalding for the book Monster in a Box) her mother, the photographer Diane Arbus, also committed suicide. She really changed my perspective on suicide a great deal because she expressed the torment that depressed people live with and the struggle their friends and families deal with. There seems to almost be a sense of relief that the pain for these very depressed people is over.
I've always told my students that I don't believe in suicide, I believe in going to Hawaii. I'd always though that the beaches in Hawaii are a better alternative to the severity of death. I mean, the weather is always great so I'd rather just drop out of society and live on the beach all day. I still believe that in some sense, but I now also understand that it's not the same for everyone.
I went to see Stories Left to Tell (the Off-Broadway play based on his last works) a week ago and I found it really moving. I still have the old answering machine with the message on it.