“For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are song-like in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Divisadero

“We live in time—it holds us and molds us—but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly . . . And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing—until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.” ~ Julian Barnes, from The Sense of an Ending

Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy and absolutely beautiful, impending autumn, 71 degrees.

Tuesday night I watched a retrospective on Robin Williams on PBS. It was lovely, and the interviews really got into the man as much as the comedian/actor. I appreciated that they spent a good portion on the visits to the troops that Williams had made over the years as I had no idea that no other celebrity had performed before the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan more than Williams. The interviews were cut with selections from his last full-length interviews for “Pioneers of Television.”

But when the show was over, after I dried my tears, I realized something important:

What I had said the other day about the coda to Dead Poets’ Society being about Mr. Keating realizing a light had gone out wasn’t exactly accurate. While Keating is deeply affected by Neil’s suicide, the honor the boys bestow upon him at the end by disobeying the rigid headmaster and standing on their desks leaves Keating with hope; he has not failed these boys. Instead, he has enlarged their perspectives on the world, and if that is the only thing they take away from his class (and it isn’t), then he has made it possible for more lights to shine in the world.

Sad yes, but hopeful, so very full of hope.

To paraphrase what Pam Dawber said at the end of the show, if only Williams could have seen how his death affected the world. I continue to be amazed by the number of people around the world who are truly mourning for this once bright star in the firmament.

 


Blue Like a Desert

Happy are the solitary ones
Those who sow the sky in the avid sand
Those who seek the living under the skirts of the wind
Those who run panting after an evaporated dream
For they are the salt of the earth
Happy are the lookouts over the ocean of the desert
Those who pursue the fennec beyond the mirage
The winged sun loses its feathers on the horizon
The eternal summer laughs at the wet grave
And if a loud cry resounds in the bedridden rocks
No one hears it no one
The desert always hollers under an impassive sky
The fixed eye hovers alone
Like the eagle at daybreak
Death swallows the dew
The snake smothers the rat
The nomad under his tent listens to the time screeching
On the gravel of insomnia
Everything is there waiting for a word already stated
Elsewhere

~ Joyce Mansour

                    

Music by Gregory Alan Isakov, “If I go, I’m goin'”

“How do we forgive ourselves for all of the things we did not become?” ~ David ‘Doc’ Luben, from “14 Lines from Love Letters or Suicide Notes”

/Portals/14/EasyDNNRotator/61184/2vmm2jv5.jpg

September 8-14 is Suicide Prevention Week

“You were said to have died of suffering. […] You died because you searched for happiness at the risk of finding the void.” ~ Édouard Levé, from Suicide

  stigma_2

Monday afternoon. Stormy and cool, 74 degrees.

I’ve been holding on to the center of this post in anticipation of this week. You see, this post began as a reflection on Robin Williams, but after doing some pondering, I decided that the subject matter was so much bigger than one person. To that end, I have included lots of links that I hope may be useful to anyone just wishing to learn more, anyone looking to help a friend or family member, or anyone feeling a bit lost.

If the information I have gathered here helps even one person, then the entire reason for this blog and some of what I try to do here will have been validated.

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, and September is Suicide Prevention Month for the military. You might be surprised at the statistics related to suicide. Follow this link for a detailed list of suicide facts. Go here to learn more about military suicides, or call the Veterans’ Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, option 1.

Suicide Oncoming2

If you think someone you know may be suicidal, here are some key warning signs from AAS (American Association of Suicidology):

How do you remember the Warning Signs of Suicide?
Here’s an easy-to-remember mnemonic:

IS PATH WARM?

 I  Ideation
Substance Abuse

Purposelessness
Anxiety
Trapped
Hopelessness

Withdrawal
Anger
Recklessness
Mood Changes

A person in acute risk for suicidal behavior most often will show:

Warning Signs of Acute Risk:
Threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself; and or,
Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means; and/or,
Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary.

These might be remembered as expressed or communicated ideation.  If observed, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a referral.

Additional Warning Signs:

  • Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all of the time
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

If you are looking for a crisis center near you, click on this link.

Suicide StickFigures5

Here are a few key facts to ponder:

  • According to the New York Times, suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
  • The Center for Disease Control reports that U.S. suicide deaths now outnumber deaths by automobile accident, the rate has jumped almost 20 percent in the last decade The suicide rate among Americans 45 to 64 has jumped more than 30 percent in the last decade.
  • One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds around the world, the World Health Organization says in a new report that finds few countries have specific policies focused on preventing suicide.
  • According to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices in Education), there are twice as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS.
  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt. (AAS)
  • Each year, 1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 die by suicide.(SAVE)
  • Last year, 185 active-duty Army soldiers died by suicide, surpassing the 176 soldiers killed in battle in Afghanistan that year. The Army’s annual death toll from suicide has more than tripled since 2001, when 52 active-duty soldiers took their own lives. (Huffington Post)
fenway

“And the whole landscape seems littered
with fallen dreams.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “Possibility”

A few weeks ago, I encountered an emotional body slam the likes of which I had not experienced in quite a while when I heard of Robin Williams’s suicide, and while it may seem a bit strange that I was so affected by the suicide of someone I had never met, you have to understand that I grew up with Robin Williams, first as the alien Mork, and then later with all of his various movie incarnations and one-man shows.

To me, the comic/actor’s frenetic energy belied his incredible wit and intellect. Williams could improvise instantly on any given topic thrown at him by the audience. In the Disney movie Aladdin, Williams first improvised his lines, and then his character was animated. His performance in Bird Cage with Nathan Lane makes it one of the few comedies that I will rewatch. Williams was a throwback to the very physical comedians of the 40’s and 50’s.

Robin Williams in Las Vegas

Robin Williams in Las Vegas (Reuters)

Of course, like any actor, Williams had his hits and his misses, but even in his misses there were moments of pure genius.  It’s as if no one project could contain him, his persona always bigger than the vehicle. But I loved his turns in dramas as much as I loved his comedies. It was his face, his ability to move his face in improbable ways, and his deeply sad blue eyes. Like many people, if I had not already read of his depressive episodes, I never would have associated the man with suicide.

Yet as we now know, on August 14, the funny man chose a final exit, one from which he would never return. And that isn’t funny at all.

Of course there was the morbid reporting, the details of the death, the rampant speculation, including some bizarre claim about the Illuminati. Nothing can hold the vultures at bay. Yet within all of this were a few nuggets worth notice: Williams was talking about future projects. His family was unaware of his suicidal thoughts.

And what this means is that Williams, in death, was much the same as any other person considering suicide: how much is hidden from everyone, how much is faked, how little is actually shared—until it’s too late. Although his unrestrained demeanor was on display for the public, we can never know of the great sadness he kept private.

And that is the very nature of suicide: its two opposing faces.

“Silence. Everything here is now clothed
in strict grief; and this passion,
like bad kerosene, barely burns.” ~ Cesar Vallejo, from “Plaster”

As I’ve said, I loved so many of the man’s projects, but I stayed away from his recent television show simply because the previews seemed a bit forced. I really don’t know what I mean when I say that, only that it just didn’t appeal to me. I loved him as the killer in Insomnia, and the creepy stalker in One Hour Photo, and as contrived as it was, his turn in Jack broke my heart. Unlike many, I loved the fantasy of What Dreams May Come, and he remains my favorite Peter Pan from Hook.

But I won’t hesitate to say that my favorite Robin Williams’ movie was Dead Poets’ Society

Years ago when I was teaching an American literature class, I used the movie Dead Poets’ Society to discuss place as it influences characters. I invited the students to view the movie in a different way, paying attention to the time period in which it was set, the cloistered effect of an all-boys’ elite boarding school, and the different roles of the three main characters (Keating, Neil, and Todd) and what made them outsiders.

As Keating in Dead Poets’ Society

I always thought that casting Robin Williams in this period drama was genius. The fact that he wasn’t completely restrained only added to his characterization as the prodigal student returned in the role of faculty member; his interjections of John Wayne impersonations only cemented the fact that Keating would never really belong at Welton Academy, no matter how much he tried.

And while some of my colleagues criticized the movie for being too simplistic and predictable, I found myself loving it for so many reasons—watching the moment Todd sounds his barbaric yawp, seeing the young Josh Charles as the lovestruck teen. And who can forget the final scene when the boys stand on their desks in an homage to their captain . . .

To this day I cannot watch DPS without weeping at the ending, at the loss of the artistic tortured Neil, at the forever changed idealistic Todd, and at the tempering of the inspirational Mr. Keating for the sake of the status quo. Williams’s Keating was the kind of teacher few of us ever encounter in real life, but the one whose classroom we all wish we had sat in, even if for only an hour or two.

But I would be remiss if I did not address the elephant in the room:  the irony of the plot is not lost on me now as I write this. The character Neil commits suicide rather than be forced into a role he cannot play, and everyone is left to pick up the pieces and go on. It is the coda that we do not see: Mr. Keating walking out the door knowing that a beautiful light has been extinguished forever.

R. I. P. Mr. Williams. We are all poorer for your passing.

If you’d like to find out how you can get in involved in the fight against suicide, please contact AAS’ Central Office at 202-237-2280, email us at info@suicidology.org, or reach out to us via Facebook or Twitter. If interested specifically in making a donation to further suicide prevention, or in the U OK? t-shirt campaign, click here.

Music by Richard Walters, “Infinity Street”


                   

Post Hoc

It happened because he looked a gift horse in the mouth.
It happened because he couldn’t get that monkey off his back.
It happened because she didn’t chew 22 times before swallowing.
What was she thinking, letting him walk home alone from the bus stop?
What was he thinking, standing up in the boat like that?
Once she signed those papers the die was cast.
She should have waited an hour before going in; everyone knows
salami and seawater don’t mix.
He should have checked his parachute a seventh time;
you can never be too careful.
Why didn’t she declare her true feelings?
Why didn’t she play hard to get? She could be out at some
nice restaurant right now instead of in church, praying
for the strength to let him go.
It all started with that tattoo.
It all started with her decision to order the chicken salad.
Why was he so picky?
Why wasn’t she more discriminating?
He should have read the writing on the wall; listened
to the still small voice, had a lick of sense. But how could he when he
was blinded by passion? Deaf to warnings? Really dumb?
Why, why, in God’s name, did he run with scissors?
If only they’d asked Jesus for help.
If only they’d asked their friends for help.
If only they’d ignored the advice of others and held fast
to their own convictions, they might all be here, now,
with us, instead of six feet under; instead of trying to adopt
that foreign baby, instead of warming that barstool
at the Road Not Taken Eatery and Lounge, wondering how it might all
have been different, if only they had done
the right thing.

~ Jennifer Maier

 

 

“One of the first people I interviewed described depression as a slower way of being dead, and that was a good thing for me to hear early on because it reminded me that that slow way of being dead can lead to actual deadness, that this is a serious business. It’s the leading disability worldwide, and people die of it every day.” ~ Andrew Solomon, from Ted Talk (October 2013)

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis Hymn III 1906 tempera and oil on paper

“Hymn III” (1906, tempera and oil on paper)
by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

 


Andrew Solomon Ted Talk: “Depression, the secret we share” (October 2013)

I’d like to share a wonderful video a ran across recently on tumblr. In light of recent events, I find that Solomon’s talk discusses the realities of depression in a clear, compassionate manner. In particular, I like Solomon’s discussion on alternative treatments.

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.” In a talk equal parts eloquent and devastating, writer Andrew Solomon takes you to the darkest corners of his mind during the years he battled depression. That led him to an eye-opening journey across the world to interview others with depression — only to discover that, to his surprise, the more he talked, the more people wanted to tell their own stories. (Filmed at TEDxMet.)

 

(Click here for transcript)

Music by Soledad Bravo, “Violin De Becho”

 

 

“My soul, embalmed in ink . . .” ~ Elton Glaser, from “Dirge in the Chalumeau Register”

Jan Sluyters Moon Night

“Moon Night” (before 1911?)
by Jan Sluyters


“One can sometimes
touch, in the distance between two people,
a moment of another person’s endless dream.” ~Yves Bonnefoy, from In the Shadow’s Light

Wednesday afternoon. Sunny and hot, 90 degrees. Too hot to think clearly.

Jan Sluyters Sunrise oil on canvas 1910

“Sunrise” (1910, oil on canvas)
by Jan Sluyters

Too many thoughts to be cohesive:

  • We wish for something so deeply only to have the reality of it be so disparate from our imaginings.
  • We write songs in our heads about all of the things we lack, but the words never quite fit the melodies.
  • My brain is replete with complex yearnings, yet I am unable to find a way in which to fill these chasms.
  • What we are is so very different from who we are.
  • Need is identified by the individual, leaving little room for insincere attempts to placate and pacify.

“We look up at the same stars, and see such different things.” ~ George R. R. Martin, from A Storm of Swords

Jan Sluyters Morning Glory 1909 oil on canvas

“Morning Glory” (1909, oil on canvas)
by Jan Sluyters

I continually find scraps of paper with snatches of words and phrases, but no context, so I don’t know what they mean, much like life.

  • So many weeks of being alone and lonely and having no idea as to how to ameliorate the sadness only to have the sadness become a permanent attendant.
  • Loneliness is ephemeral, yet incongruously, it can seep into the edges of moments in which we are not alone.
  • We traverse the deserts of our lives, travel these landscapes looking for the familiar, the taste of water on our dry lips.
  • The heart is a self-fulfilling prophet of despair.
  • When talking becomes too tangled, the only victor is silence.

“I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.” ~ Edward Thomas, from “Lights Out”

Jan Sluyters Full Moon on the Water 1912 oil on canvas

“Full Moon on the Water” (1912, oil on canvas)
by Jan Sluyters

I grow weary of the open-ended nature of life, would that it could be seen in advance.

  • How can two people stand side-by-side beneath the same night sky and be unable to share the same brief snatches of beauty?
  • Horizons become limited by our myopic views of life, death, and love.
  • Love is a word heavy with deceit, laden with misinterpretation.
  • I had believed that my viewpoint had merit in your eyes, mistakenly so, it seems.
  • The veins beneath the skin, the heart’s steady beat, a map to what we are—yet so many of the blue lines are false horizons.
  • I do not understand this reality—its labyrinthine truth is too twisted to discern.

“Between one being and another, there is a gulf, a discontinuity.” ~ Georges Bataille, from Erotism: Death and Sensuality

Jan Sluyters Landscape by Moonlight II 1911 oil on canvas

“Landscape by Moonlight II” (1911, oil on canvas)
by Jan Sluyters

I am so tired, weary to the bone, and I do not harbor enough energy to bridge this gulf.

  • The joy of life lies hidden too deeply to be found most days.
  • There is no corner large enough to hide me, even when I am this small.
  • Oh how I long for earnest conversation, the honest camaraderie that once was.
  • We all hide our selves from the light, no matter how much we may deny it, because darkness is so much easier to enfold.
  • True north is impossible to pinpoint when two people come to it from such different points on the compass.

“I do not know whether to be joy-white with my spirit
Or rent-gray with the blown remnants of my mind.” ~ Maxwell Bodenheim, from A Man to a Dead Woman”

Jan Sluyters Forest Trail 1910 oil on canvas

“Forest Trail” (1910, oil on canvas)
by Jan Sluyters

I failed to notice that I and my opinions had become irrelevant, much to my own chagrin.

  • Longing is the most pregnant of two-syllable words, followed only by heartache, so intricate are their definitions.
  • Betrayal is a complicated word, one most people are unable to identify as betrayal is like smoke—dense at first, transparent later.
  • The weight of words drags us down to the silty bottom, yet it is only through words that we will be able to float above the water line once more.
  • The translucent nature of my need offers you a map easy enough to follow to my heart, yet you spit upon my fire.
  • Silence of the heart comes from suffering of the soul, and neither are easily repaired.
  • Apology is a word heavy with incomprehensible implications.

All images are by Dutch artist, Jan Sluyters (1881-1957).

Music by Night Beds, “Even if We Try”


                   

Bioluminescence

  1. Candela

The eggs burn softly
in the earth, and when glow worms
hatch out, ravenous, each one comes with a tiny
bright square of light like the view-hole to a
furnace notched in its belly.
Can you feel their heat? Their hunger for the tender
moonstruck flesh of slugs and snails?

  1. Lambert

Sometimes at night, fire
flies are startled by lightning,
the tympani-drum flutter of thunder rumbling the storm
home, and they all flash at once in surprise—a quick
blinking open of sleepy
green nocturnal eyes, a phosphorescent murmur:
Go back to sleep. It’s just rain

  1. Lumen

How vulnerable
we would all be if longing
shone through our bodies, if our skins were translucent
lanterns flushed with yellow flame leaping in the strange
and unpredictable winds
of our desire, like the neon Morse code fireflies
use to brazenly flick the night.

  1. Luciferin

You are a dusky
angel drawn to the gleaming
beam of my porch light, a brief embered orange blaze
from your cigarette, sizzle of sparks splattering
the asphalt of my sidewalk.
Your touch like sooty moth wings, and I glow, suffused
with your heat, your scent, your light.

~ Lee Ann Roripaugh