“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”

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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

 

 

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“It’s often said that we’re haunted by memories. Sometimes I think it’s the other way around: we’re the ones who do the haunting.” ~ Will Boast, from “Where It All Went Wrong”

#6 UTA Flight 772 Desert Memorial 16.864841, 11.953808 Sahara Desert, southern Ténéré of Niger
This image strike me as being incredibly poignant

“I think you wear the dusk like a thin veil. I think
your voice rises from the deepest caverns, your touch
settles like the darkness I try to hide inside.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “Self-Portrait As Window”

Arthur Boyd Nebudchadnezzar, Rainbow and Waterfall 1967 oil on canvas
“Nebudchadnezzar, Rainbow and Waterfall” (1967, oil on canvas)
by Arthur Boyd

In the first part of the dream, my mother-in-law is dead but she hasn’t been cremated yet because Ann wants to give everyone a chance to say goodbye. By the time we get there, it’s been a week, and I pretend that I do not smell the smell of decay because I do not want Ann to get mad and throw me out. My father-in-law is looking at his coin collection, and I suddenly remember a piece of fabric that my mother-in-law said that I could have. It is an ornate brocade.

In the second part of the dream, my mother is alive when she’s supposed to be dead, and I know that I will have to tell her that she needs to die. She take me to a Chinese restaurant where she knows everyone, and they let her order anything she wants not on the menu. The owner, a tiny Asian woman, takes me back into the kitchen to let me sample desserts. While I am in the kitchen I realize that I will have to tell my mother that she can’t stay. When I go back into the dining room, the place is filled with American tourists. While I was gone my mother went to campus to pick up Brett, and I see that he has gotten a haircut, half mohawk in the front and mullett in the back. I decide not to say anything.

My mother tells Brett to order anything he wants, but he only wants chicken nuggets. I apologize to the owner, who has just cut the head off a very large fish. I look at my mother and realize that she is very tired. She nods to me, and I know that she is ready to go, but I want to stay in the restaurant longer. I want to stay in the company of these people. It feels like home.

                   

Take a look at the story of Dillie the Deer

                   

All Days Lost Days

Living
in and out of the past,
inexplicably
so many things have died
in me.

In and out like a tide,
each tear
holds a tiny hologram.
Even this early
I am full of years.

Here are the little gravestones
where memory
stands in the wild grass,
watching the future
arrive in a line of big black cars.

All days
lost days, in and out of themselves
between dreaming
and dreaming again and half-
remembering.

~ Carol Ann Duffy

 

 

“We’re each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark.” ~ Ursula Le Guin, from The Unreal and the Real, Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin Volume 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands

                     

Today when I begin writing I’m aware: something that I don’t understand drives this engine.” ~ Donald Hall, from The Paris Review, The Art of Poetry No. 43

Wednesday afternoon, windy and cold, 47 degrees.

Two days ago it was in the mid 70’s, now this. My body is so confused, and everything hurts, right down to the cells.

I’ve spent the last two days trying to do taxes, the operative word being trying. Even with the online program, I realized two very important things: First, I did last year’s taxes wrong, and second, the people who write the tax codes went to the La Sade school of pain.

Evald Kallstenius Fir in Moonlight c1930 oil on canvas
“Fir in Moonlight” (c1930, oil on canvas)
by Evald Kallstenius

In between doing taxes, I have allowed myself to go on an art hunt for image of the moon, and I have come across some lovely new ones, so many that I will perhaps have to divide them among two posts.

Ah, me. So much to do still, and so very little of the wherewithal to do it. Yes, I am hovering somewhere near the bottom of the lowest lows, for far too many reasons to elucidate, so I decided that I will do a random thoughts post, mostly because I haven’t done one in a while, and also, I have a lot of random thoughts jostling for space in my brain, and if I don’t put them down, either my brain will explode, or it will reset itself, and I will have nothing but a reformatted hard drive of a brain, which, if you don’t know, means I will be completely empty.

“If I am not central to the world, then it fails
to make any difference whatever I feel.
The universe is large: to be eccentric is to be
nothing. It is not worth speaking of.” ~ William Bronk, from “Of the All With Which We Coexist”

To begin . . . what do I love?

  • Storms. Yesterday when the rain rolled in, and I heard the wind whipping the wind chimes, I found the sound to be completely soothing, so much so that I paused in my tax-induced catatonia, and took a shower, and then later, I took another shower once it was dark.

    Eugène Jansson Riddarfjarden in Stockholm c1898
    “Riddarfjarden in Stockholm” (c1898)
    by Eugène Fredrik Jansson
  • Bathing in the dark. I have always loved to do this, and with our glass block window in the bathroom, I have nothing but moonlight as my backdrop. It calms me in a strange way. Freudians would surely say that it is a desire to return to the womb, or some such blather.
  • Fog. Living near the ocean and the bay, we get wonderful fog, but not nearly enough. I know that fog is supposed to be one of those things in nature that can have an adverse effect on moods, but not for me. I love fog, the denser, the better.
  • Lightning. Not the same as storms. Storms can have no lightning, but when they do, it intensifies my desire to just sit, listen, and watch. Odd that I am calmest during nature’s furies.

“It isn’t given to us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world. They will not be cured by our most efficacious drugs or slain with our sharpest swords.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from “The Freshest Boy”

What do I hate?

  • Sanctioned bigotry. You know, the kind at work in organizations such as police forces and religions, the kind that perpetuates the whole concept of us and them.

    Charles Guilloux Acqua-di-fiori
    “Acqua-di-fiori” (nd)
    by Charles Guilloux
  • Condescension. When a man talks to me as if I don’t know the difference between a spark plug and a radiator. Really? Still?
  • First impressions. These are almost never accurate, and what I hate most is that I do this all of the time. I make snap judgments even though I know better.
  • Weak handshakes. See condescension. I don’t need my metacarpal to be crushed, but don’t give me a limp fish.
  • Greed. When is enough too much?
  • Emptiness. I can be alone without being lonely, but what slays me every time is when I feel empty, hollow.

“We move so easily from light to shade
and always in pursuit of something else:”— John Burnside, from “Vi Knonos”

Color my world:

  • Purple, in all of its hues. Reminds me of fields of lavender, something I have yet to see in real life, and one of the reasons I so wish to go to Provence.

    Maurice Prendergast The Ocean Palace c1895
    “The Ocean Palace” (c1895)
    by Maurice Prendergast
  • Blue. I find that I am inexorably drawn to a work of art that is predominantly blue, everything from van Gogh to Rothko. Again, psychoanalysts would have no problem equating this fascination with my state of mind, but it goes beyond that: consider how many variations of blue exist, not just in art, but in nature.
  • Yellow. I used to abhor this color, mostly because somewhere in the recesses of my mind someone had once called my skin yellow, and I allowed that ignorance to affect me. Now, though, I find it to be one of my favorite colors in a work of art. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly; it’s just one of those things.
  • Black/white. Not color and all colors. It’s the extremes of both that draw me in. Truly, have you ever noticed how many ways black can be depicted in a work of art? My fondness for white tops—sweaters, blouses, t-shirts—is completely ill-advised, what with the dog hair and my tendency to spill, but I probably have more white tops than any other color. Again, what would Freud say, that old misogynist . . .

“Rhythm is just this oscilloscope of the soul. We come from a place that has always been inside us. Our words migrate helplessly. The world reflects only itself. Which is why we have to create our own memories . . . Why do we think our metaphors will save us? The world is only itself. Time is just our way of imagining it.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “About This Poem”

Things that bother me too much:

  • Bad grammar. I’m not perfect, and I really hate it when I mess up because I have no excuse, but I need to bear in mind that not everyone has English degrees.

    Oscar Hullgren Moonlight nd
    “Moonlight” (nd)
    by Oscar Hullgren
  • Bad driving. At least go the speed limit, for god’s sake. Yes, I’m always in a hurry, and I’m an aggressive rather than defensive driver, but I’m careful, and I’m safe, and some days I feel as if I’m driving an invisible car.
  • Lack of compassion. Some of the things that I read on my tumblr dash really get to me, like the young people who cut themselves because they are hurting so much, or the girl who was spit at because she was overweight. Who are these people who really feel that they are so much better than everyone else?
  • The NRA. Look, they have a right to exist. I don’t question that. They also have a right to protest or to gather or to speak out. Again, not a problem. What I have a huge problem with is their power with Congress. How many more mass shootings, or random killings of targeted groups are we going to have before anything changes? Will anything change? I fear that it won’t.
  • Congress. At one point in my life, I seriously considered going into politics, running for state senate. I’m so glad that I didn’t. Politicians in this country are the scum of the earth, as far as I’m concerned (see three and four above).

“Things happen all the time, things happen every minute
that have nothing to do with us.” ~ Richard Siken, from A Primer For Small Weird Loves

What I’m feeling lately:

  • I never truly realized just how hard it would be when my mother died. I think that I believed because our relationship was so hard, that it wouldn’t bother me, but it bothers me, every second of every minute of every day.
Edvard Munch Moonlight
“Moonlight”
by Edvard Munch
  • What bothers me the most is how much I feel I failed her.
  • I grieve too keenly, too intensely, for far too long. This, I know, yet I am completely unable to do anything about it. I still have dreams about my father that I awaken from completely shaken.
  • I have wasted my life. I never got my PhD, even though I always, always wanted one, always told myself that I would do it someday, and now someday is here, and I have done nothing, and it’s too late.
  • Time is passing much too quickly. It’s the bottom end of April, and still, here I sit, paralyzed by my own fear and loathing. How did I get to this point?
  • I am far too old to have another child, and in this, I have failed Corey. When we first got together, I had absolutely no fears that I would be able to get pregnant again, and then there was that tumor on my ovary, and then all hopes of that were dashed, and this vital young man was stuck with an older woman who could not give him the one thing he would give anything to have: his own child. Do not think that this does not creep into my mind at least once a day, that it does not hover around the periphery of every cross word between us, that I do not fear that one day, it will all be too much for him.

“I should like this sky, this quiet water, to think themselves within me, that it might be I whom they express in flesh and bone, and I remain at a distance. But it is also by this distance that the sky and the water exist before me.” ~ Simone de Beauvoir, from “The Ethics of Ambiguity”

What I am not good at:

Winslow Homer Easter Point Light 1880
“Easter Point Light” (1880)
by Winslow Homer
  • Living in the moment
  • Letting go
  • Moving on
  • Forgiving myself
  • Figuring out who my friends are, if any
  • Keeping up with my obligations
  • Following through
  • Stepping aside at the right time
  • Staying neutral
  • Not reacting
  • Not overreacting
  • Handling stress

“I am not good. I am not virtuous. I am not sympathetic. I am not generous. I am merely and above all a creature of intense passionate feeling. I feel—everything. It is my genius. It burns me like fire.” ~ Mary MacLane, from I Await the Devil’s Coming

Etcetera:

Emil Nolde Moonlit Night 1914
“Moonlit Night” (1914)
by Emil Nolde

Look, I know that I’m not a bad person, but I’m not the best person that I could be. I give when I can, but not enough. I do some things, but not others. I don’t go far enough with my writing. I love my family too fiercely, so that sometimes it’s smothering. I treat my dogs like children. I berate myself constantly for not following through, with my publishing degree, with postgraduate work, with writing workshops, with writing projects. But I stop just short of moving on. I harbor deep resentment, and I hold grudges, if only in my mind. I awaken from these nightmares, and I wonder how I got here, how I can go on, how I can do the right thing, whatever that is. I judge the actions of others when I have far too many foibles of my own.

Isaac Levitan Fog over Water c1895 oil on canvas
“Fog over Water” (c1895, oil on canvas)
by Isaac Levitan

I should be happy with what I have, my spouse, my kids, my granddaughter, but I cannot still this unrest in my heart, this feeling that I am not doing something that I need to do, that I am not going to the place that I need to be, but do not ask me what or where or when. If I had any answers, do you think I would do this day in and day out? The only thing that I know for certain is that I know less and less with each passing hour, and it leaves me feeling left behind. I am fallow and hollow, and my soul is the color of coffee dregs. And no matter how much I try to brighten my face or paint my nails, there is a hardness beneath, and yet that hardness is but a veneer, and below that is quicksilver, a mercurial being that is willful in one moment and utterly fragile in the next.

Enough. The floodgates must be closed. I knew that this wasn’t a good idea.

More later. Peace.

Music by Janel Drewis, “In the Pines (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)”

                   

The Other Day

1

The other day my wristwatch
came apart – not the time
but the band, not the beginning
but the end. The sun did not
shine, but it had not shown
itself for a handful of days.
Night came on early, but it is
that part of the year, at least
here, where night does that.
One friend says
“you can take my word
for the sun,”
misunderstood this as:
some sentences are like
sun and the moon,
some moon or sun,
some night only but
near night or far
night – consolation
in either case.

2

Wish friend had said
“take my friendship
for the sun”

Am missing the sun – but the
orbit or a human closeness
over time begins to resemble
the misshapen stand of a watchband,

or the case of moonlight
held only in the hands of
illusion / accompaniment –
the moon is moving a few
feet (or is it inches)
away from the earth every
year – whether “it” collided
with us (thus forming)

is beside the point. The
moon moves away like
our lives from ourselves.

~ Michael Burkard