Frantisek Kupka The First Step 1909

“The First Step” (1909, oil on canvas)
by Frantisek Kupka


“. . . I would sit down, still dizzy from the day’s sun, my head full of the white churches and chalky walls, dry fields and shaggy olive trees. I would drink a sweetish syrup, gazing at the curve of the hills in front of me. They sloped gently down to the sea. The evening would grow green. On the largest of the hills, the last breeze turned the sails of a windmill. And, by a natural miracle, everyone lowered his voice. Soon there was nothing but the sky and musical words rising toward it, as if heard from a great distance. There was something fleeting and melancholy in the brief moment of dusk, perceptible not only to one man but also to a whole people. As for me, I longed to love as people long to cry. I felt that every hour I slept now would be an hour stolen from life … that is to say from those hours of undefined desire. I was tense and motionless, as I had been during those vibrant hours at the cabaret in Palma and at the cloister in San Francisco, powerless against this immense desire to hold the world between my hands.” ~ Albert Camus, from “Love of Life”


My birthday is soon. I cannot begin to tell you how much I am not looking forward to this. You would think that it would be the opposite, that I as get older, I would welcome each birthday as an accomplishment, as a mark that I am still here, and yes, I am glad that I am still here. That is not the issue. The issue is the birthday itself. You see, I have never like having a birthday; this goes back to my early 20s. There was just something so depressing about the whole thing—yet another reminder that I have not set out to do in life what I thought I would do. I have done much. I have borne four children, lost one. I have loved and lost and loved again. I have attained degrees, yet not the one that I most desire. I have published, yet not the book that I know is hidden somewhere within me. I have received awards, met some wonderful people, discussed poetry and writing with some authors I truly admire, forged friendships that have made me a better person. I have much to be thankful for and much on which I can reflect and say, with some pride, “Yes, I have done this.” So you must wonder why I am still so dissolute, still so unfulfilled. I truly don’t know. I look at my life and think of all that has yet to be done, and wonder if I will in fact ever do it. I look at my life and see so many failures, so many shortcomings, so many regrets. Yes, I can temper all of that with successes, and achievements, and milestones. I think that it is just my temperament that I will never be truly satisfied with what I have done in life. I exist on a wafer-thin plateau of hope and regret, always, always wishing that somehow I were more, that somehow I had done more, said more, written more. You must think me vain and selfish. Perhaps I am, but I don’t really think so. It is human nature to what we we don’t have. I’m not talking about people, or even things. I’m talking about . . . markers. Notches on my walking stick. I so very much do not want to be this way, yet I am. I have been so many places throughout the world, sampled cuisines, seen vistas. I have read a bounty of works, and written more words than I have record of. And yet . . . who among us can say that she or he has done everything we set out to do? Few, very few. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot still dream, does it? No, I’ll never have Dr. in front of my name, or PhD after it. More’s the pity. I have no one to blame but myself, and that is true for most things. And yet . . .


Music by Jake Owen, “We All Want what We Ain’t Got”


Nights on Planet Earth

Heaven was originally precisely that: the starry sky, dating back to the earliest Egyptian texts, which include magic spells that enable the soul to be sewn in the body of the great mother, Nut, literally “night,” like the seed of a plant, which is also a jewel and a star. The Greek Elysian fields derive from the same celestial topography: the Egyptian “Field of Rushes,” the eastern stars at dawn where the soul goes to be purified. That there is another, mirror world, a world of light, and that this world is simply the sky—and a step further, the breath of the sky, the weather, the very air—is a formative belief of great antiquity that has continued to the present day with the godhead becoming brightness itself: dios/theos (Greek); deus/divine/diana (Latin); devas (Sanskrit); daha (Arabic); day (English).
—Susan Brind Morrow, Wolves and Honey

Gravel paths on hillsides amid moon-drawn vineyards,
click of pearls upon a polished nightstand
soft as rainwater, self-minded stars, oboe music
distant as the grinding of icebergs against the hull
of the self and the soul in the darkness
chanting to the ecstatic chance of existence.
Deep is the water and long is the moonlight
inscribing addresses in quicksilver ink,
building the staircase a lover forever pauses upon.
Deep is the darkness and long is the night,
solid the water and liquid the light. How strange
that they arrive at all, nights on planet earth.
Sometimes, not often but repeatedly, the past invades my dreams in the form of a familiar neighborhood I can no longer locate,
a warren of streets lined with dark cafés and unforgettable bars, a place where I can sing by heart every song on every jukebox,
a city that feels the way the skin of an octopus looks pulse-changing from color to color, laminar and fluid and electric,
a city of shadow-draped churches, of busses on dim avenues, or riverlights, or canyonlands, but always a city, and wonderful, and lost.
Sometimes it resembles Amsterdam, students from the ballet school like fanciful gazelles shooting pool in pink tights and soft, shapeless sweaters,
or Madrid at 4AM, arguing the 18th Brumaire with angry Marxists, or Manhattan when the snowfall crowns every trash-can king of its Bowery stoop,
or Chicago, or Dublin, or some ideal city of the imagination, as in a movie you can neither remember entirely nor completely forget,
barracuda-faced men drinking sake like yakuza in a Harukami novel, women sipping champagne or arrack, the rattle of beaded curtains in the back,
the necklaces of Christmas lights reflected in raindrops on windows, the taste of peanuts and their shells crushed to powder underfoot,
always real, always elusive, always a city, and wonderful, and lost. All night I wander alone, searching in vain for the irretrievable.
In the night I will drink from a cup of ashes and yellow paint.
In the night I will gossip with the clouds and grow strong.
In the night I will cross rooftops to watch the sea tremble in a dream.
In the night I will assemble my army of golden carpenter ants.
In the night I will walk the towpath among satellites and cosmic dust.
In the night I will cry to the roots of potted plants in empty offices.
In the night I will gather the feathers of pigeons in a honey jar.
In the night I will become an infant before your flag.
~ Campbell McGrath

“Can I never escape this interminable mourning for myself?” ~ Susan Sontag, from Reborn: Journals & Notebooks

Valentine Cameron Prinsep Il Barbagianni aka The Owl 1863 oil on canvas

“Il Barbagianni (The Owl)” (1863, oil on canvas)
by Valentine Cameron Prinsep


“. . . it is best to leave some things unsaid, or else I shall get confused again. Within this irreparable little crack decay has set in – ah, I think I shall yet be able to express it all—the dreams, the coalescence, the disintegration—All my best words are deserters and do not answer the trumpet call, and the remainder are cripples.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov, from Invitation to a Beheading

Saturday afternoon. Partly cloudy and cooler, 56 degrees.

This dream went on and on: My staff has turned against me and is spreading slanderous rumors. They are unaware that I am in the process of transitioning to a different department to a new position. I have a meeting with the deputy head, during which we are interrupted constantly by members of my staff who want to make themselves heard. I find the whole thing both sad and amusing. At some point, the deputy remembers that he needs to find a physicist, and I remember someone who has been overlooked. There is a meeting with legal. One of the staff members is someone with whom I was friends in high school. I have not seen her in years and years, so why is she in my dream spreading lies about me? Another staff member is the boss’s daughter, but she is not trustworthy. At some point, Laurence Fishburne appears in character as Morpheus. There is a large-fanged tiger that is ripping the faces off people. There is an escape pod from a shuttle. The dogs awaken me mid-dream, and I am completely discombobulated . . .

“But the heart has its own memory and I have forgotten nothing . . .” ~ Albert Camus, from The Fall

So I wrote a poem, or a sequence of poems. As with all of my poems, I am reluctant to share, but my need to voice overcomes my need to hide. The words were burning my fingers, a hard scrabble to release them. I have written them as a sequence, but I am unsure if they belong together, yet when I reread, I cannot imagine them individually.

I am hovering above Nietzsche’s abyss, as it were. Be kind . . .

Notes from November 7

The Bitter Taste of Love

Be with me now great warrior
whose strength depends solely
on the favours of a woman. ~ Leonard Cohen, “The Next One”

He smells like leftover whiskey
and salt, sweet with a hint of fire
and tears and I would lay bare
every inch of my soul
to be near him once more,
would offer up my heart
to a ravenous raven
ignoring the deep fissures left
by its hooked beak,
all—all of it,
again and again,
if only to taste
the barest hint,
the memory of salt’s coarse grains
that he leaves on my lips
after he is done with me

Baying at the moon

And when they tell you
that it’s done,
you will leave by the door from which
you entered,
step away from their insistent pandering
And when you have at last found
a silent hall,
you will unfurl a howl
like the savage animal within you,
the one that bites and rends and
leaves nothing for no one
After, much later,
you will walk back through the door,
untroubled, as if their sobering words
never touched you

Calendar Girl

One-inch square on the page,
within it, a single name
Year after year you turn the pages
knowing this number awaits you
as another year nears its end,
poised like a beast
who has caught the scent of fear,
and smirking through jagged teeth,
anticipates the moment of the kill.
And though you try to contain it,
make it but a caesura,
the space around it widens
like a crack in the walkway
rent by incessant pounding rain.
Would that you could rub it out of existence
this infernal remembrance,
but it lingers like the blood on Lady Macbeth’s hands,
thick and viscous—
impermeable to desire
or prayer.

Dogs of War

…and my need for closeness outweighs my sense of self-preservation. ~ Virginia Woolf

“well, what do you think it means,” she asks, just a hint of a smile on her lips
and you know, know,
this woman has seen inside you, senses your lies before they leave your tongue,
is not fooled by the ways you try to steady your breathing
in your failed attempts to appear calm,
and anyway,
what harm could it do now
to let the lie leave your lips,
utter the three words
you have come to associate with your truth,
for how can you know, really, what any of this means
the wicked ways of the world,
how you have been left stranded
in a café somewhere on the east side of town
with just enough coins for a cup of their burned coffee,
but no money for the sweet roll you so desperately crave,
the sweetness that is so lacking in your veins,
and so you look down and give life to the lie
because it is all you have left
“i don’t know”

The Weight of all Things

ad pondus omnium

You find yourself thinking of the man who is gone,
the one who stood in the room next to you,
the one who left for truer love,
and you wonder how he has greeted the day,
but you must never ask,
never let on that he is anything more than memory.
After all, the sliver of your soul that he erased
has been remade by another,
one who does not leave you gasping
on the cold white tiles
of your bathroom floor,
multi-colored pills spilled around you
like perverse tic tacs, ready to freshen
your final breaths.
So you do not call, and instead
let your fingers slide across the letters,
spelling out three words so banal
they make you blink in shame:
how are you
when what you want to ask
is if he remembers the sterility of the room,
the constant hum of the white noise,
if the memory still slips into his consciousness,
if his pain is as present as yours
if he ever thinks about death, about dying
about her.
You let your fingers hover but a second
before you obliterate the words,
go back to pretending
his existence, like the past,
was merely a handful of ashes.


Music by Mree, “You Are” (featuring Jared Foldy)


“Life might be brief and transient, scrawled in the sand. But death was written in a much harder alphabet.” ~ Stephen Booth, from Dancing with the Virgins

No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, from Invisible Monsters

Tuesday afternoon. Sunny and 83 degrees, yes, 83 degrees . . . whatever . . .

It’s supposed to be “Two for Tuesday,” but I’m pushing Tuesday to Wednesday because I was up until almost 6 a.m., thinking about words, words that I wanted to say, but I kept myself away from the keyboard because I knew that once I began, it might be days before I stopped. Days, hours, it matters not.

Odilon Redon Closed Eyes 1890 oil on canvas

“Closed Eyes” (1890, oil on canvas)
by Odilon Redon

This is what kept me awake: My mother was the one who realized that something was wrong with Caitlin. Not me. She did. She took one look at her and said, “What’s wrong with her eyes?” She said they were bulging. I didn’t really see it, didn’t want to see it, shrugged it off as my mother being overprotective of her granddaughters in the same way that she was overprotective of me.

She was right.

That phone call I received at my very first faculty meeting? That one? It was because my mother had put Caitlin in the car and had taken her to the pediatrician’s office and made them look at her eyes. You see, after the ER doctor had said that she had a virus, I had taken Caitlin to the pediatrician and said that my mother thought her eyes looked funny. The one doctor, the one I never really liked, poo pooed the comment.

My mother was right. I was wrong. The ER resident was wrong. The pediatrician was wrong. It took my mother taking Caitlin to see the other pediatrician in the practice, the gentle one who listened to every word you said—it took that for someone to finally pay attention and send Caitlin to the Children’s Hospital, the hospital that found the brain tumor.

My mother was right.

How children think of death is how the shadows
gather between trees: a hiding place
for everything the grown-ups cannot name.
” ~ John Burnside, from “The Hunt in the Forest”

Odilon Redon Ophelia

“Ophelia V” (c1905)
by Odilon Redon

Look, you’re probably wondering why I’m going over this yet again, but all I can say in way of explanation is one word: fall. Autumn is my best and worst of times. I love every natural aspect of the  season, yet the way in which my emotional well-being goes into free fall more often than not leaves me tortured. Nietzsche said it best when he said that autumn was “more the season of the soul than the season of nature.”

Example: Yesterday, after getting my fasting labs done in the early morning, and then having my six-month checkup with my PCP, all I could think about were curly fries. Weird, I know. So I had to maneuver the hell that is a major thoroughfare that it still under construction to get to the nearest Arby’s. My timing was lousy as the nearby grade school was getting out at the same time. Parents in their cars lined both sides of the streets. No one would let me turn into the narrow street. The resultant snafu left me in tears.

Yes, tears, as in crying in the car, which, if you’ve ever been in the car with me, is completely uncharaceristic. Crying over curly fries, crying over curly fries that I couldn’t eat once I had ordered them. Then yesterday evening as I was trying to force myself to post something, I came across the story about a journalist who was beheaded by ISIS, and again, I cried.

Bed. Yes, bed would make it better. But bed, not so much. No sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother and Caitlin’s eyes, which leads me to this moment.

“. . . how come sorrow is as heavy, lumpen and impenetrably black as an anvil?” ~ Agnès Desarthe, from Chez Moi

November will rear its ugly head in just a few days, and with it I have to confront once again the losses of my daughter, my father, my friend, and yes, even my dog. Isn’t it time to let go, past time, you ask?

Odilon Redon The Yellow Cape 1895 pastel on paper

“The Yellow Cape” (1895, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

Beh. Of course it is. But that’s for normal people, people who do not obsess and obsess and obsess over perceived failings. Example: I did not clean the portal lines that had been inserted into Caitlin’s chest the day that I had taken her in for a follow-up MRI. Why do I remember this? Who knows, but I remember vividly doing a haphazard job of inserting the flushing material in the waiting room at CHKD before they took her into the MRI suite because I wanted to make sure that I had done this one thing for my daughter that I was tasked to do on a daily basis.

Did that failure to use a one-inch square of alcohol on a gauze pad lead to infection? Who knows? Possibly? Probably? Probably not?

The point is that I REMEMBER. I cannot forget. Just as I cannot forget that I did not go back to the hospital that night before my father died even though I had promised his unconscious body that I would come back and spend the night at the hospital. Exhaustion and relief at being away from the white noise of the ICU gave me a false sense of relief, and so I went to bed, and he died in the middle of the night alone.

“How long it takes me to climb into grief!
Fifty years old, and still held in the dark,
in the unfinished, the hopeful, what longs for solution.” ~ Robert Bly, from “A Ramage for the Star Man, Mourning”

Enough, you say. Stop this madness, you say. No, not nearly . . .

When I left my mother’s room that Thursday afternoon, I secretly congratulated myself on making such a speedy getaway, leaving my mother to talk the ear off the social worker. I had work to do. I needed to get her house ready for her to come home. There was snow to be removed. And so I had a brief visit, long enough for her to bitch at me, and then I left, and then she died the next morning, sometime, they are guessing around 9, alone.

Odilon Redon Closed Eyes c1894 oil on canvas

“Closed Eyes” (c1894, oil on canvas)
by Odilon Redon

And did I mention that that best friend I lovingly wrote about years ago in my Vale et Memini series, the one who had a brain tumor and survived? Her? Did I mention that she died and I didn’t find out until a few years later, that I never even went to the funeral because I didn’t know that there was a funeral, and the other night it suddenly came to me that hell, I was her eldest daughter’s godmother, a sacred honor that I had completely washed from my memory.

And that other anamchara friend, the one who I always thought I’d be bonded to in perpetuity? I haven’t corresponded with her in years, other than an obligatory Christmas card. Yes, I am a careless friend, the kind of person who withdraws so completely that the only interactions I still have with friends occur in the midst of troubled sleep.

And then there is the nagging curse I imposed upon myself when Corey and I first got together: I had been so certain that he wouldn’t have to be burdened with me for years and years because I never wanted him to see me get old, and so I had this feeling, this sense, that I would die when I was 56. And you hear of people who have feelings that they will die young, in their teens, who do, and people who have a feeling that they will not live to be old, and they do not, and so what have I done to myself.

“Endlessness runs in you like leaves on the tree of night.” ~ Anne Carson, from “TV Men: The Sleeper”

Listen, if you recently subscribed to this blog because you found it amusing and slightly entertaining, or if you enjoyed the art or the poetry or the music, if that was your reason? Well I’m sorry. Because this post is really what this blog is about. This endless cacophony of doubt, and blame, and grief, and sorrow, and pain.

That other person, the one who offers up stuff from Takei’s tumblr or other such sites? She’s a phony. She is neither glib nor witty. She masks all of the pain behind little ditties about animals and absurd abuses of the English language because to do otherwise would be peering far too keenly in Nietzsche’s abyss, and we all know what happens when you do that.

Odilon Redon GIrl with Chrysanthemums c1905 pastel on paper

“Girl with Chrysanthemums” (c1905, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

The only good thing about this post is that I did not get out of bed at 4 a.m. to begin it. Had I done so, I am completely certain that the maudlin factor would have been  even worse, if you can imagine that.

I always, always know when the words are going to come fast and furious, when there is no stemming of the onslaught. It has always been this way, since I was but a child, hiding in my room, trying not to let my mother see that yet another book had reduced me to tears and heartache because her solution, of course, was to think happy thoughts, and for a soul such as mine, one might as well say something along the line of “you could be happy if you just tried.”

Oh, but if you only knew the truth of my esse, my life force, that tortured, tormented, and torrid do not begin to encompass the four corners of my heart.

More later. Peace.

All images by French artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916). I am intrigued by how many of the subjects in his paintings have closed eyes or eyes narrowly opened, to which I can relate: going through life with eyes closed, surrounded by beauty . . .

Music by Will Hoge, “When I Get My Wings”


Consider the Space Between Stars 

Consider the white space
between words on a page, not just
the margins around them.

Or the space between thoughts:
instants when the mind is inventing
exactly what it thinks

and the mouth waits
to be filled with language.
Consider the space

between lovers after a quarrel,
the white sheet a cold metaphor
between them.

Now picture the brief space
before death enters, hat in hand:
vanishing years, filled with light.

~ Linda Pastan

“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

~ 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”


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


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:


 I  Ideation
Substance Abuse


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)

“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, 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”



  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