SUICIDE IS PAINLESS!
This morning I did cry for Robin Williams. Not for long, I didn’t know the man except through his acting and performance persona.
But he was such a familiar fixture in my tube zone from the 70’s onwards. First as the alien Mork who merely by being an SF element on mainstream TV made me an instant fan. it was a silly show but reeked of that 70’s innocence I would pay hard currency to recover.
It was a memory and then I grew older and so did Robin and he became a hyper-ventilated, hyper-active, hyper-real stand up and I related to him.
By the time of Good Morning Vietnam, I knew and loved Williams as part of the anarchic fraternity that embraced him, Andy Kaufman, Eddie Izzard, Lenny Bruce, Groucho Marx: that fearless plunge into the surreal. Riding what we considered normalcy into its logical outcome: the absurd; he surfed that beach, skated that ice. Late,r I grew to like him less but forgave the absorbing amoeba of Hollywood we succumbed to; he deserved success, what of it? The drugs made him seem dangerous to me; that was atttractive once and then repulsive. Now I’m more indifferent. If I had been in his shoes, doing his career; sure, I’m sure I would have been a coke head too. And the Alcohol? I’ve got my own ghost stories to tell.
What made me cry for Robin Williams was that occasionally, during his film work or talk show appearance, he would let the Harlequin’s mask slip and we would briefly gimpse this quiet, very contemplative man, honing his sense of attack, thinking his next line . . . the timing. And I recall distinctly that look of vulnerable humanity and I felt touchd by him, like he would be someone I speak to if in the same room. It was this Robin Williams I wept for, because I knew exactly what he was feeling as he took his own life.
Or maybe it was nothing like what I felt when I took my own life at 16.
I felt bad for Robin because I could imagine the moments as he decided, as his intent hardened to resolve, and the long run off the short cliff of the emotional, psychic plunge that he took. I felt I was there with him like a ghost; out of reach, trying to connect—trying to just have a word with him.
I took my own life with a cocktail, over dose of my mother’s medications including lithium and barbiturates. What my father’s doctor had prescribed her for her anxiety and perpertual angst from living in a perfect suburb.
I say I “took” my life even though I am still alive writing this (barely). Because the intent was there. I was not pretending. I was not seeking attention.
I waited until my mother had left the house to go shopping. I crept upstairs to her medicine cabinet, took out all her plastic jars of pills and empied them into my mouth. Just what the doctor ordered. I then went downstairs to the den where my teenage years were to end. Lay down on my bed, crossed my arms and prepared to die. My typewritten note still in the manual typewriter on my desk. I was prepared.
Then my mother came home.
She had forgotten something and then noticed that I hadn’t done the dishes.
Se knocked on my door.
I ignored her.
[I’m dyng here, for chrissakes!]
She banged on the door, yelled at me and then came into my room. She wasn’t going to leave me alone to die or anything else. I was still her child, her responsibility, her burden of karma.
She made me get out of bed and go do the dishes.
You had to listen to my mother or a metal spoon might find your bottom; or the back of your neck might attract an open palm slap. Once my other slapped me full in the face in front of others. When I asked her why she told us that she didn’t like the look I had given her. My mother has always lived the intuitive life, dangerously.
I started to wash the dishes, laughed and then woke up in hospital.
That’s what it seemed like at the time.
It was my mother’s insistence on engendering my self-discipline that saved my life. That, and the unwashed dishes.
I so deeply regretted my stupid, solipsistic, life-changing attempt to die, that I subsequently trained and worked as a suicide counsellor in San Fransisco in the early 80’s, while I attended SFSU.
A saw a notice on a board and I answered it.
I used to work shifts in a call centre-like set up near the Haight. I would spend 4 hours taking calls. Random calls. Calls from women mainly, but then there would be evenings, usually Saturday nights when it would be nearly all male voices. Long, lonely voices. Soft voices. Tearful voices. I took it all in. I was a young man but I had been where they were and I figured I owed dues. I owed dues to my mother, to my sister and to the ever loving pack of hairless apes that share my cage on this muddy spinning marble. I oed dues to the life I had so nearly come so close to squandering.
At first I was shy and repeated the same “I’m Listening” cues, over and over. But the one woman who’s husband came home each afternoon and beat bloodly her in front of her toddler. The patient dying of cancer. The executive who stole money. The teenager, like me: hurt, confused, in pain; not knowing where the pain is coming from.
Then, I got good at it.
I left the Suicide Center script behind and began to ask my own questions; harnessing Socrates and my own empathy and expereince of suicide to try and connect. I spoke to suicides from the place of wanting to kill your self, not trying to talk you out of it. When I left the center, the director gave me a certificate, a thank you and shook my hand in front of the team. He looks like Alan Watt’s in my mind’s eye, but I’m sure that I’m confusing images. He shook my hand and said “We are all fortunate to have had such an old soul amongst us”. I had no idea what the hell that meant.
Suicide is never a cold, calculated choice. But it is a choice.
I’m sure there as many reasons as there are suicides; but the step that one takes across the line from intent into action is a huge ascent. It takes every fibre of ones will to align onesself to a task that goes against ones own body, one’s being. This is precisely what is so incomprehensible to non suicides ; that the act of taking ones life takes such a great force of will. If will is Life how can it will its own end? Your body will fight you every step of the way; *it* wants to survive. You, on the other hand, can think of better alternatives to merely surviving.
There are classes amongst suicides and we don’t rate religious or insane self-immolators at all. In fact we think they’re chicken-shits. They tell themselves a story or someone does and next thing they know, they think they’re getting off at 25th street when it’s actually the upper east side. KA-BOOM!!!
No. That’s not real suicide.
Real suicide is when you know absolutely that you have no idea what happens next. THAT’s the step into the abyss that takes a force of will. A will, an intent borne into action more often than not as an alternative to the fact of ones existence: A bully, a spouse, a bank statement. How can I describe the agony of hating the world? Chasing the orbit around the source of the confounding pain round and round like a mad dog chasing its own tail. Try chasing your own tail for year, two years, five years in agonizing concentric circles of self loathing and pain and self-repulsion and then tell me how selfish suicide is; ok??
Most of us contemplate or will contemplate suicide at one time or another in our lives.
But when’s the last time you shared any of your darkest thoughts with anyone? What’s the matter, scared you won’t get an invite to the Prom? Well yes, precisely.
You may be thinking about it right now as you read these words.
It can just cross your mind, a wandering Jew of a thought. A casual, whimsical speculation that takes shape and form into something viable, no: necessary. Necesssary to allieve the agony of this existence.
It’s time to speak out about this.
It’s a good thing.
it’s a natural thing.
Yes it is, it’s a natural thing to contemplate killing yourself; people have been doing it for thousands of years.
It’s part of the process we go through in becoming human beings, in gaining a greater depth of understanding of what it is that we are so willing to chuck away. Life and Death are a mirage; it’s just 2 sides of the same deal, baby.
But what exactly is the deal, huh?
Do you know?
No, neither do I so who are you to tell me that you understand the value of my life better than I do?
I’m happy to reveal what so many of us hide from their own polite eyes: that we are deeply unhappy with our lives, that we do not know why and that we are suffering, mostly in silence. So many of us. So many of us continue and persevere; so many of us don’t. That’s the way the cookie crumbles
I am fortunate that I can translate some of these dark thoughts, impotent cries of anguish into words, poems that might invite you to open your heart and reflect: on your self, on your life, on your neighbor. What’s his or her life like, I wonder?
But I am just one lonely poet.
An obnoxious one, at that.
This existential torment I describe is the privilege of the intelligent, the sensitive, the insightful, the visionary, the artist, thinker, the Artist: All High Suicide Risks. Robin Williams was an artist and an artist uses their metier not so much to exorcize their demons, as uncover them. Williams crafted his art, I’d like to think, as a shield, as his own private shelter against the raging cold of indifference that surrounds us.
But we who lurk at the center of the cyclone, where our care and concern huddle at the tranquil center, are perplexed and confused. “He had so much to live for”.
That is why I try and describe these thoughts and ideas and sensations as best as I can, I do so not out of exhibitionism; on the contrary, I’ve kept these facts about myself secret for some time; I want to inform anyone who has been affected by suicide, either someone you knew or a loved one, or in fact yourself, what kinds of thoughts may cross your mind that make you want to take your own life. If this gives some small respite or comfort to someone in their moment of profoundest grief, then it is no chore on my part.
It may seem displaced; it may even seem selfish and insensitive; but there’s an arrogance to the suicide that does place us one step removed from the lives you are living. Impulse and sheer clumsy stupidity aside, the intent to take your own life, with all the thought that that act entails, is not an easy course to stay.
It is not, to the suicide, a real choice. In the Camus-like sense of choosing every day to either commit suicide or NOT commit suicide as an exercise of free will. To NOT committ suicoide is of course to choose Life and whatever else happens to you that day as something you have willingly chosen. No, the existential blanket is often clung to but the act itself requires more desperation than merely a wanting to know how to live.
The same with the code of honor or Bashido that motivated both Yukoo Mishima, Japan’s greatest post war poet and the executive in charge of compensation to the 400 families of the Japanese Boeing jet that went down in the water with no survivors. The verdict was pilot error and the compensation payments were in the millions. After filing the paperwork for the 400th claim, the airline executive neatly arranged his desk and then committed ritual seppukaas his personal apology to the families. In this way the samurai, the man of honour makes his entire life a gesture, a conscious act of volition in ending it. He knew what he was doing.
I did not.
I was a child growing up in 70’s San Diego. Down the street from me was the school where the shootout that gave Bob Geldof Why I hate Mondays. And of course there was Danny Alstadt.
I published my first poem entitled UNDER THE GIZMO in the California State Education Poetry Anthology describing my experience when my French teacher, a former Playboy bunny, discovered my poetry journal that had my imitations of Baudelaire and Nerval. She called the school counsellor who called my mother who then got browbeat her into taking me to a child psychiatrists. Upon the first ten mintues of meeting me and suggesting that a French Symbolist’s lifestyle was not compatibel with an academic career, he prescribed medication. Apparently, a 14 year old with a morbid interest in late 19th century French Symbolist poetry does not conform to the cirriculum standard and I was sentenced to be drugged.
Fortunately my father had returned from his conference and was able to intervene where my mother’s English could not.
So I wrote a poem about the dehumanization of the state educational system.
So the state educational system published it in their journal state-wide.
My long term social alienation had been augumented by my parents disintegrating marriage.
It was the summer of 1975 that my father moved out and it was later that summer that I took my own life.
When I went to 10th grade, before I was expelled for organizing a student demo (another story), I fell in with a group of older students who seemed to appreciate SF, poetry, classical music and art as much as I did. They adopted me as a sort of odd mascot and I took pleasure in finally have found a social niche I felt welcome in.
B became my best friend and it was B who enthisiastically invited me to the library after school one day to introduce me to S, his new girlfriend. I had never met anyone like S before; half Armenian, half Jewish; S was the girl I had been dreaming of since I first started dreaming about girls. And she was my best friend’s girlfriend. And beautiful. And intelligent. And she new everything about Matisse!
Needless to say this fated triangle would not hold. That summer was a Shakespherian torture of frustrated libido, yielding to honour. Eventually B “gave” S to me. It was during one of those ridiculous emotional roller coaster rides that S had called me to tell me that she had reached a final decision and was choosing to stay with B.
We were all children at 16 and 17. Children playing with fire.
I accepted this, hung up the phone and sat down to my typewriter to write my goodbye.
When I awoke in hospital, stomach pumped, having endured the enagelism of an all night Christain nurse wo kept waking me up to tell me how much I had disapppointed Jesus.
[HE”S disappointed? I would shout at her now.]
When I awoke to the pair of clear blue confused yes of my little sister looking at me, anxious and scared I realized like a freight train what my life was really worth. At the time, it seemed like the only thing to do. That morning, I hated myself and when I looked at the hurt confusion in my mother’s eyes, I knew that this could never, never ever happen again.
These days it merely takes a split second of my daughter’s face in my mind to assure my immortality.
But I’m with Robin Williams. I know what that step entails. I know what it means to make the final choice. And it is something we must air out. It is something we must allow to enter the public sphere. We are all masters of our own destiny and the ability to choose to take our own lives is an act of assertion; an act of identity. To label it as weak or sick or wrong is to deny your own awareness of your own identity and the need to control and detmin who and what it is that you are on your terms. There are many things worse than death and there are at least a billion living it. But is life is deemed to be precious, indeed the only value there is, then that value must be defined by its limits.
It is my life to choose to live it as I choose and to choose to die as I choose to.
Robin’s chocie may be tragic to us, but it is also a reminder that death rests waiting on all of our shoulders. There is no way out, is what we all share in common.
Peace, and an ease to all suffering.