RIP, Robin Williams: Let’s Stop Suicide Being An Avenue to Peace

Like many people around the globe, Monday night I was stunned to hear that Robin Williams had died at 63. Of all the celebrity deaths that have happened in the past five years – and it sure seems like we’re killing them off at a good pace – Williams actually hit me hard. I mean, jeez. This is Robin freaking Williams we’re talking about. He’s been around as a funny man for ages. I admired the man, loved his work, thought he was one of the greatest actors of my age.

And now, he’s gone. Forever.

More than the cold hard fact that he is dead, though, was how he died. The sheriff’s initial report said it was suicide by asphyxiation. Williams didn’t die from disease, or an accident, or natural causes, or – heavens forbid – foul play. No, he died by his own hand, apparently to relieve whatever pain or discomfort he was going through in his life.

Williams is not the first person in my life who has chosen suicide as a way to alleviate pain.

When I was a kid, I had one friend who was my greatest friend of all. Out of respect to his family, I will not go into many details; for this story, let us call him Richard. Richard was kind of an odd duck, but he was funny, lively, and had a great imagination. He was also one of the closest friends in my life, and in many ways shaped who I am today. But in addition to this, Richard had…issues. For some time, doctors were putting him on mental medication, for reasons I could not discern. He always complained about the doctors, had arguments with them, and to be honest to my eyes I didn’t think there was anything wrong. The only issues I could ever see was that he would have low energy, or sometimes walk around and mutter strange things. But to be honest, that could describe anybody over the age of forty, so I didn’t really pay it any mind.

After awhile, he started to get better. During the latter part of my adolescence, we were two guys who weren’t part of the social mainstream in any way, but we functioned and we continued. We had fun, we talked about serious topics, even played D&D (once) and Halo (a lot). I really thought Richard was on the up and up, and soon he would be going off to college and becoming a nuclear engineer in the military.

I was 18 when I heard the news. I was driving home from my summer job as a contract archivist. I pulled in the driveway, up to the garage door, when my mother comes running down the stairs, the phone in her hand, crying hysterically. She told me that Richard had shot himself, that he was dead, and I should probably go see his family.

He lived down the road from me, so I walked. I was just stunned. To this day, one of the things that really stuck out in my memory was that I didn’t shed a single tear. Instead, I just walked down the road with my mouth wide open, my body shaking in a silent scream. I was just so empty. I thought something was wrong with me. But no, I realized afterwards, there was nothing wrong with me. This was just how I was dealing with it.

I didn’t see his body until the service; I just saw it taken out on a gurney, wrapped inside of a bag. He left behind a note, a rather cryptic one, and all that was left was to pick up the pieces. I remember talking with somebody – I can’t remember who – that I was really surprised. “He was doing better,” I said. “Why would he do this?”

“Sometimes,” this other person said, “It’s when they’re coming up from the depths that they decide to do this. Because when they’re really down, they can’t get up the energy to pull the trigger. It’s only when they get enough to do it, that’s when it happens.”

I’m paraphrasing, but the basic point stands. You may think they’re doing better. You may think they’re “all right.” But nobody knows what truly goes on in the hearts and minds of other people. What you get, at best, is an edited simulacrum. So take the time to talk to people. Take an hour of your time and really understand them. Listen to them. Be there for them. If you truly care, then they are more than worth an hour of your life. My friend was certainly worth an hour. Hell, he was worth an entire month. I would have gladly taken that time to talk to him about his issues.

These people are trying to find peace from all their pain and suffering. That’s all. It’s not selfish, cowardly, or anything at all like that. In the state they are in, they are suffering deeply, and they need peace – and when they get to this point, suicide is the only option that occurs to them.

So do that. If someone you know is depressed, or worse perhaps suicidal – or even if they don’t appear to be at all – take a moment. Talk with them. Maybe take an entire hour, or more. Just talk with them, let them know you’re there and you want to help. That’s all. I didn’t do that because I didn’t recognize what was happening. Don’t share the same regret I feel today.

Your Life Is Worth An Hour

Above picture from the Facebook page “Your Life Is Worth An Hour“.

On the late Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks, author of the Culture novels, has passed away.

In April, Banks posted a brave message announcing that he was suffering from terminal cancer, and fellow author Charles Stross has confirmed that Banks died this morning. It’s difficult to express Banks’ contribution to science fiction, engrossing readers in the vast and complex universe of the Culture for a quarter of a century.

I read the first novel in the Culture series, Consider Pheblas, last year. It was genuinely brilliant and I have been looking forward to reading the rest of his Culture novels, though I haven’t due to dealing with Darth Real Life lately.

Consider Pheblas was like reading a version of Star Wars with modern sensibilities. While I didn’t like all of it (the part with the degenerate wretches on the island on the doomed Orbital grossed me out and I thought it was unnecessary) it had the same sense of majesty, the wide open vastness of proper space opera, and even a bit of space fantasy. Obviously the tone is quite different–there’s no Force or quasi-mystical elements, at least in that book–but it was really something that I got into and thoroughly enjoyed. The man was a fantastic writer, even outside the science fiction genre, and in terms of scifi I wish it got more traction in America and help shape science fiction here. Mainly because a lot of the scifi I see these days is very postmodern introspective junk that just bores me.

He will be sorely missed.

I’m a horrible bastard, probably

Tim Carney: An awful loss, a beautiful life, a daunting task | WashingtonExaminer.com.

I’m sure, after you read the linked story above, and read what I’m about to say, you are going to think what the headline says (except I’m the bastard, not you. Probably.)

The above story is from Tim Carney, a columnist at the Washington Examiner, who is understandably conservative. The story is about his nephew, who lived for only 442 days before dying, and suffering every one of those days with spinal muscular atrophy, being just about paralyzed at birth and getting worse as the days went on.

Carney writes about the love that the boy’s Catholic parents had for him, and how he spread love by being an object of attention:

Pat and Elena are devout Catholics from strong families, but their answer to this question can’t be set aside as some teaching in the Catechism. It’s a truth written on the human heart.

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. This is our purpose. This view is not uniquely Christian. It’s understood in other religions and in secular worldviews.

In this regard, John Paul lived a superior life. He exuded love. Before he lost control of his facial muscles, he beamed smiles that made grown men sob. Babies can love those around him with the pure, unconditional love we all should show.

Also, JP drew love from others. Neighbors, relatives and strangers cooked meals and gave time, equipment and money to help the Kilners. JP’s brothers and sisters showered him with affection. And Pat and Elena sacrificed immensely to care for him.

Before the wake at St. Patrick’s in Rockville, during an observance called Stations of the Cross, we read a Gospel passage in which Christ explains our duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” the Lord says in this passage, “you did for me.”

Clearly a call to charity, this is also an exaltation of parenthood. Even moreso, this exalts the work of caring for helpless JP.

Tribulations both reveal character and form it. JP’s struggles revealed his parents’ heroic virtue and fostered virtue in others.

Pat and Elena saw John Paul as a blessing, and they generously shared that blessing with the world. They took him wherever they could, in a chair rigged with a ventilator and an IV. Elena shared wider, by penning hopeful, contemplative letters to John Paul every few weeks, which she posted on a blog.

One friend of mine, who never met the Kilners, read the “Letters to John Paul” blog. She wrote me, “John Paul’s story made me want to be a better person.”

John Paul continued shaping souls even in dying. A priest at St. Patrick’s took confessions during and after the wake. He commented afterwards that he heard some of the more honest, searching and contrite confessions he’s ever heard.

More than 500 people attended the beautiful funeral. One non-Catholic mourner was moved so much by the Mass she told Pat, “Now I understand why you’re Catholic.”

John Paul, who never spoke a word in his life, was the greatest evangelist of love, faith, virtue and hope I have ever met.

I look at this and shake my head. I don’t necessarily see love here. Yes, John Paul’s parents loved him, as any parent would, and they sacrified for him, as any parent would. But I look at this and think, “Why didn’t they just abort?”

Ayn Rand said it best when it came to abortion:

An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).

Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?

–“Of Living Death”, The Voice of Reason, pgs 58-59

Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives.

–“A Last Survey”, The Ayn Rand Letter, IV, 2, 3

Because of this stance, which I agree with, I don’t consider an embryo or a fetus to be a person like a born human, and thus am not a “pro-lifer.” (I’m willing to accept that personhood would emerge when the fetus displays cognition, or “neonatal perception,” but that’s very late in the pregnancy, and virtually nobody gets abortions at that stage.)

That’s also why, when I look at this, I think that the parents should have aborted. If they had known that the fetus was going to have spinal muscular atrophy, and therefore was going to have a short life full of suffering, why bring the fetus to term? Why increase suffering in the world?

Shouldn’t we, you know, work at reducing suffering? And if we should be doing that, then why bring to term a fetus that has congential problems and is going to have a life full of suffering? It doesn’t make any sense, and to me, it seems pretty sick to do so. Of course, I know some will retort that he wasn’t suffering, and the love he was receiving from his family was proof he wasn’t. But that’s crap. He was clearly in pain for 442 days, he was clearly suffering, there is no way around that.

UPDATE: In this case, the parents didn’t know…which means a great part of this is moot, for this case. In this case, continuing with the pregnancy is completely logical and understandable, and thus giving all you can for the child is similarly logical and understandable. Thus, a huge chunk of my blog post is irrelevant, and so I’ve deleted it. But I still stand by the idea that if a fetus has mental and physical problems, you should still head off at the pass a life full of suffering. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Thus I won’t take down the rest of the post.

Even some pro-life people think it is okay to have an abortion if the baby is going to be born with severe complications:

Over one-quarter of pro-life individuals think that abortion should be legal if the baby may be metnally or physically impaired. And for good reason: they don’t want to increase suffering.

Let’s actually try and reduce suffering as much as possible in this world. Stop with the displays of “care,” “compassion,” and “love,” the ones meant to make yourself look good, and actually do something. I’m not perfect–I myself need to take this up–but we can all start. And maybe one of those places is not bringing in infants into the world who are very clearly going to live only in pain and suffering.

Yes, that probably makes me a bastard in many people’s eyes. But so be it.

On the dangers of “Art”

Art is a funny thing. Many people chase after it, unhappy with their works because it is not truly “art,” and they are not yet “artists.” But what is art? Quite frankly, I find a lot of art to be crap. And now its starting to get dangerous.

In the literary and dramatic world, I’m sure a lot of people–or at least a lot of literary critics–would label novels like Ethan Frome and plays such as “Waiting for Godot” to be art. But what are they? Godot is nothing–I mean, literally, nothing. Some snobbish twits talk about how its about existentialism and how nothing matters and how life is meaningless. What it is is a couple of guys sitting around doing nothing and waiting for nothing. There’s no big philosophical discovery there, which you could only extract if you’re a believer in extracting blood from a boulder. And Ethan Frome–well, I’m sorry to use indecorous, unparliamentary language here, but its the only way to explain it properly–is one of the most boring piece of shit novels ever written, and I go further to add it is certainly the most boring piece of shit novel I’ve ever read. There is absolutely nothing of value in it.*

This is why I hate literary fiction so much, because in the pursuit of “art” and literary excellence, they kill any story that could possibly be written.

But at least that meant that “art” was only boring. I’ll take boring over this new tripe that’s coming in any day.

First off, we have a museum that has dedicated an exhibit to graffiti. Now, I wouldn’t be, prima facie, opposed to such an exhibit. Graffiti exists, its out there, you can study it if you want to. The problem with this exhibit is that it completely ignores the vandalism, property violation, and coercion inherent in graffiti, and just treats it as harmless “art”:

But the core of Art in the Streets is a timeline of graffiti history that snakes around the discontinuous walls of the Geffen Contemporary. In a show devoid of explanatory wall essays, the timeline provides the best insight into how Deitch and his guest curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose conceive of graffiti and its social and civil context. In sum: vacuously. The timeline picks out such allegedly memorable moments in graffiti history as the emergence of bubble lettering on the New York subways (1972), the contributions of subway vandals Blade and the Crazy Five in 1974, who did “more damage than any other crew in the 1970s” (way to go!), the first defacement of freeway signs in Los Angeles (1988), and the start of the sticker phenomenon (1989) that allows greater speed and thus wider geographical coverage. All of these developments are presented with utter seriousness and, more importantly, without the slightest hint that they are crimes, that they appropriate and damage property without permission, and that they destroy urban vitality.

Over the last three decades an uncontested body of knowledge has evolved regarding the poisonous effect of graffiti on neighborhood cohesion and safety. You cannot responsibly present a show on graffiti without engaging with this body of knowledge, if only to reject it. Even Banksy mentioned the Broken Windows theory of public disorder in his book Wall and Piece (he predictably mocked the theory). And his publisher, Random House, at least wanly tried to distance itself from crime, with the ineffectual disclaimer: “This book contains the creative/artistic element of graffiti art and is not meant to encourage or induce graffiti where it is illegal or inappropriate.”

But Art in the Streets has no response to the argument that graffiti is a scourge on cities, because it simply chooses to ignore any idea that contravenes its simplistic celebration of property defacement. I found only three highly oblique acknowledgments in the show of graffiti’s illegal and destructive nature. The timeline notes that in 1972 the Philadelphia transit system began the country’s first anti-graffiti initiative. The timeline also ruefully acknowledges that in 1989, the New York transit system declared victory over graffiti (though, in an effort to keep hope alive, the timeline adds that the system failed to “stop writers such as Ghost”). That these transportation agencies would even try to eradicate graffiti comes as a complete surprise, since nothing in the show has hinted that graffiti is anything other than a productive pastime and delightful urban amenity.

Yuck.
You call this "art?" (David McNew/Getty Images)

This is ridiculous. Are we going to start classifying dirty phrases written on bathroom stall doors as poetry? Really, now. Let’s completely forget the fact that a graffiti “artist” is nothing more than a vandal that forcibly imposes his or her “artistic vision” onto another person’s property, whether that property belongs to an individual, a family, or a company (just because a company owns a property doesn’t make the graffiti permissible, either, else you’ll open a huge can of worms that essentially makes anybody you don’t like lose all of their rights, which can just as easily turned back upon you.) It’s like if I chose to write a novel upon your roll of toilet paper. Now, I could certainly write a novel upon a roll of toilet paper no problem, but that’s your toilet paper, which you’ve bought with your hard-earned money, and, well, you’d kinda like to use it now, wouldn’t you? But I’m afraid you can’t, now, because it’s “art.” (Or I may end up letting you use it, with the, ahem, indescribable activities destroying my writing and calling that art. Which is still some kind of insanity, but doesn’t justify taking your toilet paper without your permission.)

And this is before we get to the very subjective opinion I hold that graffiti is ugly. I have seen only two or three instances of graffiti in my life that were anything other than “grody,” and those are questionable, as they were likely commissioned by the city on abandoned buildings that stood out right next to a big boulevard. (I don’t have concrete proof, mind you, but that was the most likely outcome.) Those obese, gaudy letters, shaking and quaking all over their anointed real estate, bursting at the seems to get your attention, more like being puked up there by a very sick individual. This part is, of course, entirely my opinion, but I don’t see graffiti as being anything other than that word I used: “grody.”

But at the very least, graffiti harms property, not individuals. Some forms of art do.

Take the instance of a young man stabbing himself to death at open mic night.

An Oregon teenager shocked a crowd at a coffee shop last week when he stabbed himself to death on stage after singing at an open mic night.

Kipp Rusty Walker, 19, took the stage at Strictly Organic Coffee in the town of Bend, Or. on Thursday to perform a song he called “Sorry for the Mess.”

When he finished playing, he pulled out a knife with a double-edged 6 inch blade and stabbed himself multiple times in the chest in front of a confused crowd of roughly 15 people.

“It was really unclear at first what was even happening. Because, you know, it is an open mic and it’s a performance,” the shop’s co-owner Rhonda Ealy told local television station KTVZ. “People at first thought it was some sort of theatre.”

Some sort of theatre.

DEAR GOD YOU MUST BE KIDDING ME.

And yet, this is where we are now, to where “art” or “theatre” is now a form of “death.” Now, I can’t say whether or not the boy in question killed himself in order to make a work of “art,” but the idea of death or killing being art is not unprecedented. I read a comic once, where the artist took over a spaceship that is effectively an art museum, and for her latest artwork decided to blow it up and everyone else inside. I laughed at that, thought it was funny, thought no one would do that in real life, hence it was funny…not so funny now.

If this is what art is being turned into, I want no part of it. Rather, I would like to just tell cool stories and make a lot of money. That seems the more reasonable, the more sane, the more ethical way of doing things.

*Unless you want to use it as toilet paper.

Progress, sort of

There is some good news available, if anyone is actually interested in my writing progress. I decided not to junk everything and start over, so much work was saved. I did, however, write out a scene and then realize that it made no sense. So I had to alter that, but the joy of writing something new, going off in an entirely different (well, not entirely, I suppose, as they both lead to largely the same conclusion) direction, was quite palpable.

Of course, that might just have been the Alter Bridge, Sick Puppies, and Pseudo Rebels music I was listening to. Yes, I listen to crazy, eclectic things. Specifically, I was listening to Alter Bridge’s “Isolation,” Sick Puppies’ “Maybe,” and the only Pseudo Rebel’s song I’ve ever heard up, “Shut up and Party.” The first two are the kind of rock music that I really enjoy–along with Idiot Pilot’s “Retina and the Sky”–with this powerful, deep beats and an uplifting feeling at their core. The kind of music that would belong in a major motion picture (Idiot Pilot’s was going to be in the first Transformers, but was cut and only appears on the soundtrack CD.) That’d be the kind of rock music I would put front and center in the soundtrack to my movie (or heck, my life). It’s good music for spurring the fingers to write.

What isn’t good is nearly dying twice; a slip in the tub and the near collision with a hatchback (while I’m on foot, natch) almost spelled the end of my career. Alas, I didn’t get much writing done over the weekend.

But nobody’s looking now…