Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide: the big WHY

Robin Williams' death is affecting me more than I ever expected, and now I want to try and examine WHY for the sake of understanding. I believe that the reason a person wants to die is that living feels meaningless, and they are unable to connect to meaning.

There’s also pain and sadness involved. But I think the feeling of despair caused by meaninglessness is the primary thing going through a suicidal person’s head.

How can Robin Williams feel meaninglessness?  His career and work meant a lot to people, he was loved, he had children and loved ones.  He was both creatively successful, and successful in traditional measurements, and had people in his life that mattered to him and that he mattered to.

Usually despair comes from a lack of these things. (At least for me.)

Perhaps his existence as incredibly famous, especially as a funny person who makes people feel amazing - was also incredibly alienating and lonely.  He couldn’t relate to most people or identify with them.  He had an expectation of who he was supposed to be and how he was supposed to act.  He was not SUPPOSED to be depressed.

Perhaps he was driven mad by the fact that he couldn’t make himself feel the way he made others feel. Maybe it was the suffering in the middle east.  Maybe it was tension at home, or an inability to love or be loved as he desired.  A disconnect.  Maybe he felt powerless and unable to change or feel.  If he was able to make people laugh so easily - why didn’t it work for him, when he was alone?  I can only imagine this was maddening.  And so his great power, his gift, the world’s wonderful gift of laughter - felt empty, shallow, pointless.

His happiness was fleeting.  It left him.  He wanted to escape.

He escaped all his life.
In his performance, and in a bottle.

It was ultimately just too much.

Can you imagine what it feels like to have everything at your fingertips that SHOULD make you happy - but it’s not working?  What if you had money, freedom, loved ones, influence, fame, and appreciation AND STILL you couldn’t FEEL right?!  Can you imagine that?  I am certain that it’s not the case of him not appreciating it.  I am certain that he felt even guilty, like absolute shit, for not being able to feel good, perhaps not being able to truly feel anything at all, in spite of all of his fortune.  That’s the disease of depression.


Killing yourself is sad, but I don’t think it’s evil.  It’s something else.

The truth is, it’s a choice, as it’s a choice to stay alive, which some philosophers refer to as “the existential absurdity.”

I wonder about the sex slave’s will to live.  
I wonder about the severely impoverished and diseased people’s will to live.

Why would they stay alive?  Their life is misery and torture.

Maybe it’s not.  Maybe it’s why the caged bird sings.  

we only know darkness because we know light
we also know that we all wanted Robin to live

I think we all identify with Robin now more than ever


One of the most remarkable songs about survival in the face of trauma is Tori Amos’ “Me And A Gun” which recounts her thoughts during and after surviving rape.

The refrain is “but I haven’t seen Barbados, so I must get out of this.”
And that’s the tiny voice that Robin Williams couldn’t hear inside his own mind, the cry of survival.  The will to live.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I was a class clown.

This meant mischief, pranks, and being a big mouth. But it was always for the sake of fun. I wasn't a mean clown.

I will NEVER forget one day in a high school class when a kid named Ben, a nice but opinionated boy who played soccer, who I also never had conflict with nor too much interaction with other than casual friendliness - RAILED against me in the middle of the class. The teacher wasn't in the same part of the room when this happened so he didn't hear it.

I don't remember the specifics of what was said - but I remember that I could not figure out WHY he was saying it.
I know this:
I made a joke.
Ben tore me down in front of the room, going off on me for being a clown, yelling at me as though it was impossible to hurt my feelings - as though I didn't have any,
I remember the shock and surprise that anyone could possibly think that
I remember yelling back "how can you say that! how can you think I can't be insulted! how can you think I don't have feelings?! Stop!"

And I remember him being smug and suggesting that I don't have feelings - because I'm such a loudmouth, because I'm always making jokes.

I can't remember the words.
But I'll never forget learning that.

He thought I deserved to be taken down.

In my life, at times, I've encountered difficult people who have the perception that I can take everything that's thrown at me. I can't.

Putting yourself out there can be an invitation for others to hurt you - but it shouldn't be. We shouldn't rape people for wearing sexy clothes. We shouldn't yell at people for speaking their mind (let's exclude hate speech). We shouldn't suffocate celebrities with unrelenting paparazzi and gossip reporting.

Robin Williams' death is a reminder to all people that every living person should not ever be objectified. He's a human being beyond what you knew of him. We all just learned that our extroverted clown was sad, felt pain, and didn't want to live.

Every person you encounter has a private soul.

The comedian's desire to make people laugh is a compulsion.

When you know you can, you feed it, and it feeds you.
But it cannot be found when the comedian is alone.  

It thrives on you, on others being there.  Your presence gives permission for the comedian to escape into you.  Your presence is the ignition of the flame.  You can really feel it when the fire is out, and it takes a lot to feel good while extinguished.

And that's part of why it's hard to be alone as a comedian.
But it's so very possible.

If you can accept and embrace your life's circumstance.
Without having to lie to yourself about it.
While knowing you're trying your best because you are.
And that's certainly universally true.

People often say comedy and standup comedy is hard.
But when you are born with that compulsion, the difficulty of it feels irrelevant.  It doesn't feel entirely like a choice, it feels partly like an obligation.  Ambitions are often admired but one quality of ambition is that it's just there - you don't know how it got there.  You were born with it. You don't know why or how other people don't have it but you know it's ok that they don't because people are different and that's good.

There's a million manifestations of ambition and talent, and those born with those things know that they have this extra hunger.  This extra obligation to something they can't explain.

Why did Robin Williams need to make us laugh and act so silly while he was suffering inside?
Because he couldn't help it.  He was born with that hunger.  With his natural impulses.  

And when he was alone, he had to face his pain.  His best medicine could not be found.
He loved you as much as you loved him.  He didn't do this because he wanted to hurt you.  I don't know him, but I know this.