Like many people, suicide has been a part of my life. My family history includes it; my personal journey also includes it. Family members have killed themselves; friends have killed themselves. It's part of the story of my life.
I've found 2 dead bodies from intentional suicide and I've found one dead from unintentional suicide. The difference seems semantic and yet it's meaningful when thinking about the people who used to live in those bodies. How people die is a big chapter in the story of one's life. It can define how we're grieved and how we're remembered. It can fuel all kinds of emotions and ideas; it can drive the direction of the survivors lives.
An intentional suicide victim? I feel they chose the fact of suicide to be a fact of their life. Did you know that when people shoot themselves, they have to pull the trigger with their non-dominant hand because they need the strength of their dominant hand to hold the trigger hand down? That's how hard the body fights to live. A police officer in the homicide division told me that.
In other words, it seems an impossible thing to deny - that person took his life. It seems to me to be a ferocious act of will fueled by horrific suffering, but a defining act of personal will none-the-less. In this regard, an intentional suicide is fundamentally different than an unintentional one.
When talking about intentional suicide, people ask, "Why did he (she) kill himself (herself)?" I have the answer. I really do. Search teams of great thinkers have swept the wide terrain far and wide for centuries upon centuries seeking the answer, little did they know an ordinary lady would hold it. It's a true answer, unarguable, and has given me great comfort when I've been driven sleepless, traumatized by my own exhausting search for "why". Here it is:
People kill themselves because they don't want to live.
That's it, it begins and ends there, it's the only answer that anyone living can live with. It's the only answer that a grieving survivor can be calmed with. I know, I've calmed many. And it's worked for me.
When my dear friend Tobey commited suicide I thought, oh God, how does one cope with this? I thought, I can be brave. I thought, I can choose not to die. I thought, how terrible his suffering must have been - how wretched and lonely and crushing - for him to have done such a violence to himself and our lives. Because Arun and I found him, because he shot himself in the head in his bed in their house on Constance Street, with the dogs and the kitchen and the toilitries, the magazines and coffee cups, the daily living life of stuff. He did it there and it was gruesome; there was a roomful of blood.
Yes, that is how great his suffering was, that he created that for us. Breathing that idea in, becoming intimate with it, pressing my lips to it, clasping it to my bosom, carrying it against my bosom as I carried his things to the thrift store, as I carried Arun through the days - that is how I have managed to build compassion for suicide victims in my life. That is how great his suffering was, that he did not want to live.
This idea of the immensity of some suffering, I didn't come up with that one; I had help from the Buddhists with that - help from Gelek Rinpoche in Ann Arbor Michigan, in fact. And it comforts me. It helps my heart soften, it softens my heart. Cuz I was mad, oh yeah. Anyone would be. Anger is one of the stages of grief? Anger is an honest reaction to something so ugly happening in your world.
Tobey's suicide took Arun away from me, is how I felt then, and I was mad. And I confess, I was mad our adventure was over, that reality had slammed down upon us and now, death. I was mad when I saw what it did to Tobey's parents - the most charming, generous, loving people I've ever known. Immense, heavy, black - there it was, the fact of his suicide and the terrors it brought down upon my people, and still: I wanted to live. Building compassion for him, forgiving him, it wasn't some idea in a book on meditation on some glossy bookshelf - it's what I needed to do in order to survive - it was really a matter of life and death.
Funny thing - there were people who wanted me dead then. Yep. One guy - an infamous redheaded Detroit rock & roll junkie - backed me against a wall at Tobey's funeral and said, "It should be YOU, dead." It's interesting, having someone wish that upon you; it brought the phrase "in cold blood" to life for me. And I had no answer to him; I just walked away. What can you do to make someone feel better about the fact that you're still alive?
So - Arun's death 2 months after Tobey's was ruled "unintentional". Yes, I found his body and yes, it was horrific. But the whole "unintentional" thing with him, that makes sense to me. Because it wasn't a month earlier that, sitting in my kitchen eating potatoes and eggs, Arun told me, "It's not that I want to die. I just don't want to feel alive." Yep, that can kill someone, too. But that's a different death, it's a different story of death.
The differences in their lives and deaths? They are significant and they are meaningless. They mean nothing to grieving parents and siblings; they mean nothing in the end. And still, I can't help but think - these are their stories, death is a part of the story of life.
And there were people after Arun's death who also wanted me dead. One woman - an infamous mousy haired skinny Detroit rock & roll junkie (a pattern!) - told me she wished I were dead instead of Arun and that she'd kill me if she had half a chance. That's something. It's breathtaking. And it's hilarious, if you look at it the right way.
Because they tried to kill me with slander and fear, and they failed. Because the events I was surviving, that I was in the middle of, that haunted my eyes and panic'd my nights, threatened to kill me with their weight, and they failed. Winters, beatings, rape, homelessness, poverty, hunger - failed to kill me. And then I spent years chasing the bottom of my own bottles, trying to not feel alive, and I failed. I have failed to commit suicide. Again, why? Eureka, I have the answer!
And it's a good one, it's as simple and brilliant as my answer to the suicide question. I've honed this answer through years of peeling bark from trunk, of threading needles and splitting hairs - I've pieced it together from shards of bloody glass and opalescent wings of things I don't know the names of - I've practiced it in the mirror, morning and night, and I've been waiting all this time to tell you:
I haven't killed myself because I want to live.
I've been thinking lately about the unfairness of life, how so many people will never know what it is to read a book or drink clean water, how so many animals will only be tortured, how many people will never know what it is to be truly loved or own a new car or a house or a mattress or even an old crappy car or a cheap ass mattress - how unfair life can be for the living. Anyone who thinks they got all their good things because they somehow did something right? Foolhardy. You can't tell me that stuff isn't random; it's just the arbitrary stuff of life.
Which leads me to thinking of death and coming to believe that it's the fairest thing about life. Every single living thing is going to die. This calms me, the impersonalness of it. It has nothing to do with me, or you or you or you; it's not going to take some people and leave others, nobody gets out alive. It's an even playing field. None of us knows how or when and we certainly don't know what happens in that immensity of the after-life. So I'm thinking, death - it comes - with its voracious appetite for all things - and the person who enacts his own death? Well, that is its own kind of bravery.
I want suicidal people to get help and to stay alive; I don't want anyone to suffer that deeply; I don't wish for anyone to find the body; I don't wish for people to have their lives shattered and hearts broken and buried and wrung. But beside all that human emotion, that natural reactivity, there's a part of me that kindof admires the man who intentionally takes his own life. I couldn't do it, that much I know.
How do you tell someone living with a chronic illness that GOD is with them, that their lives are blessed? I live with a chronic illness and I believe that GOD is with me, that I am blessed, so this question is of importance to me. How do I reconcile the reality of my suffering with the notion of a higher power working in my life? The answer, is, I think, interesting - when it comes from someone with my experience (I live with daily suffering and believe in a higher power). I don't think the question is at all interesting from someone who doesn't live with daily suffering and/or doesn't believe in a higher power. Negating something one doesn't believe in is intellectually naive. In other words, it's easy. I'm interested in what's hard.
Like waking up to another day that seethes at me from its horizon, rumbling ominously, shooting daggers into my heart. Waking to another day of sunshine that threatens to swallow me whole. A toxic bile bubbling in my veins, coloring everything radiator-fluid-green, and heavy - a heaviness in the bones that seems literally impossible to carry. Visions of violence and cruelty flash like cue cards, "This has happened to you. This will happen again. It is happening again. Don't move." Flowers, animals, fruit, bird song, clouds, creeks and campfires lose their medicine sometimes. Those times are wretched and arduous and bend the joy right out. And I pray.
I pray to be strong enough to bear it - to be strong enough to be present in it - to be connected, albeit delicately, to the idea that it won't last - it isn't real - my perception can shift - the storm can lift - it can because it has and it can again, even if it doesn't today. My job isn't to question why this happens, why me, why won't it stop, why can't I be free? I know it's not my job because I've tried to ask those questions and have never gotten any satisfactory answers. It's never produced anything worthy, only a bottomless pit of echoes and webs. There's no answers to those questions, not for anyone, ever. I learned this a long time ago, when I watched parents mourn their children who died young. When I was homeless on the bus in the Detroit winter, a teenager exposed to men who would try to kill me. When I came home to my house that had flooded with sewage and walked away with nothing but my Mother's bible (which miraculously survived). When I watched the world with its ancient histories of hatred, oppression, exploitation, deceit and greed. And so, for an empath, which I am, what sustains? What heals?
I have only felt the presence of GOD a few times in my life - the real, omnicient, pure light of love that transcends time and space and petty human concerns. I have felt it, though, and I have been obliterated by serenity, sunbeams shooting out my pores, weightless, a part of something much much greater than me. Or was I just drunk? I might've been, one or two of those times. But I haven't been drunk for a long long while and in my time of sobriety, I have felt it. I have felt buoyed and blessed and refreshed and linked. I have felt nothing but love in my heart and I have exhaled with peace. More often than not, though, I haven't. I haven't felt anything.
Or I have felt the despair of feeling nothing. I've felt this mortal coil to the point that I suspect its burning me from the inside out and all that will be left of me is a wisp of smoke. Ordinary, dire, arthritic, fading, faltered, frozen, numb. I have felt the hopelessness of hopelessness - I have fallen to the floor sobbing; I have preteneded to walk amongst the living, all the while, the cord's been cut and I'm in space and you're wherever and we shall never touch again.
It's pretty horrible. I don't feel the presence of GOD, I don't feel a part of something larger, I don't feel valuable or necessary or worthy in any way, shape or form. Most of the time. Such is the nature of my illness and such is the nature, I think, of some phases of life. And you know what? I still believe in GOD, I still believe I am loved and blessed and I still believe my life matters. Even in this wasteland, even from my cave. I can do this because of the nature of my faith.
Faith, to me, is itself when there is no proof that what I have faith in exists. Faith, to me, has nothing to do with material situations - quite the opposite. And what I have faith in is accessible - I do not believe GOD gives me good days or bad days. I don't believe GOD keeps me from getting a flat tire on the freeway or from being raped or from burying my best friend or from someone being rude to me. I also don't think GOD makes days magical and carefree, waving some glittery wand across the sky so that I find $20 on the sidewalk and can take my pals out for cupcakes. I don't believe GOD opens doors or closes doors. I think doors are material constructions with their own energy; I'm either in sync with them or not. And if they close, who's to say that's an indication of being out of sync? Maybe that's exactly how it's supposed to be. I would hazard to say, yes - my mother died when she was 50 because she died when she was 50 - and because it happened, it was meant to happen. It's in it having happened that I believe in fate. Up until that moment when it happens, though, it doesn't exist - who knows what will happen? I don't have a crystal ball. Though I have good instinct, and have been able to sense some things here & there in life, I really can't say what will or will not happen. And once it happens, well, what of it? I can make of it what I can make of it. And faith, in something bigger than me powering this whole turning, gives me the ability to be ok no matter what. Without strings attached, without the burden of proof, it's possible to turn anything into something meaningful. If I don't require my higher power to do things for me, I won't be disappointed in my higher power.
Sometimes I can't make much of anything. It can take all my energy to just make the bed. Not to mention get dressed, bike to work, work, bike home, take care of animals, pay bills, clean house. Mountains of impossibility, those simple tasks can be. That doesn't mean I'm not fulfilling a purpose or in a great stream of things. Perhaps my experience of suffering is serving a purpose, teaching me mysterious, tender, to-the-core truths about life and death. Perhaps it's building my compassion, and giving another person the opportunity to practice compassion toward me. I can't presume to know the purpose of the reality of things. As I wrote above, I've tried and that leads me nowhere. I need intellectual room - I need to feel I can spiritually expand - and deadends aren't roomy or expansive. It's entirely possible that I'm learning and growing through my pain and loneliness! Believing that produces a much nicer day than believing the opposite, period.
So yes, I suffer and yes, I believe GOD is working in my life. Especially because I can't feel it. Because I'm just a human being, my ability to conceive of the reasons of things is very limited, who am I to say? I can't be humble and presume to know anything. I can't feel the love of GOD if I'm putting terms and limitations on how that love is expressed. I woke up today, I'm breathing, I hugged a neighborhood elder who makes money dragging a garbage can around to collect cans. He's so thin, he's had a lifetime of hunger. He calls me "baby" and says, "As long as you're ok, I'm ok!" And that, my friends, is all the proof I need.
(there's so much to write on this subject, and I don't think I'm even writing well on it now, but it's important to me this morning so be it
Why, 9 years after the levee breaks, is the free & public beach on Lake Ponchatrain still closed? I hear all the time about the progress we've made post-Katrina; it seems to me the only progress that's worth anything to the media & the general public at large is the kind that benefits rich people.
That beach was the only place in New Orleans where families, lovers, pals, pets could hang out in the sand and kindof cruddy water on a summer's day or night. Lots of fishers, bbq'ers, kids and radios, laughing, staring out at the sailboats. There was shade and shells and sunsets. I loved it cuz it was the opposite of Audubon Park - there were all kinds of people, people of color, and food and rowdy and fun. Folks kissing under trees and men fishing for supper.
I drove out there today, hoping for some change. The fences, stanchions and locks remain. On the other side of all that authority, the grass is trimmed, the trees are loving, the water laps at the quietness and I miss what used to be.
So we've got an endless crop of small plates restaurants, artisan doughnut shops and even a storefront where you can lay in a chair & get plugged to an iv to "rehydrate" with precious electrolytes to "recharge" after a late night at the funky dive bars or from a long work week. There's more grocery stores than there have been for a long time: a new "co-op" nobody in the neighborhood can afford to shop at, a new Whole Foods nobody in the neighborhood can afford to shop at, and so on. The rents have skyrocketed and wages haven't. My neighborhood has become achingly hip, flooded with white people in sharp clothes who don't say hello. And the protests to gentrification are comprised of hysterical zealots who think tearing down trees and dumping trash in rich people's front yards is an effective form of protest. And still, we can't swim in the lake.
5 years ago today my home filled with water. I had no bed of my own; my life was cardboard boxes. I survived off the kindess and cruelties of strangers and friends. My dog Annie died in the FEMA hotel. It was me and my cat Cody at night, blinking. Some things are breathtaking to remember.
I was blessed and I knew it. From each temporary respite, moving around like a firefly, I was lucky for a roof (even if it was the car's) and for the crisis that opened up such opportunity for me. Opportunity to create, grieve, release. I'm still breathing, after all.
The 40% who've not been able to return home, the over 4,000 people who died, the countless cats and dogs and birds and rabbits and more who drowned, the lost businesses, the lost rhythms - I honor them. That's what I am lucky enough to be able to do today.
(Evie eats my pancakes) A sudden and clear urge to run on a beach just consumed me. Was it the memory of the beach with Jonuel, misty and water-swept, resurfaced, that triggered this? Or a photo of Matthew McConaghey (sp?) running his idiot body with his dogs on some tropical sandy shore? If so I really must stop visiting E.com because it's only making me want things I cannot have. I mean I could go run on the Lake Ponchatrain beach but when I was there last week all it did was depress me with it's fenced off sand and creeps creeping piles of trash. So there's that, wanting something while not being able to attain it and what am I going to do about that? First a morning with Odem at our Blue Fence and then a drive to the country to hang out with the Donaldsons particularly Evie whose youth and beauty are like a beach to me, I'll run on her if she'll let me.
I think most people drive around all day being vexed by images of mortality and vitality. All they're wondering about is how they're going to die and who they're going to sleep with, or variations on that theme - what job they're going to have, whether they're tall enough or skinny enough or smart or fast enough or make enough money, all of it plays into these two bookends.
Our culture is the first in a couple generations that attempts to have funerals with no bodies. We just disappear them. If you read the death notices in the paper today you'll notice that most of them are going to involve some type of memorial event, sans body, sans corpse. Also most likely without the gloomy stuff that comes with having a corpse in the room. But the way to deal with mortality is by dealing with the mortals. And you deal with death, big notion, by dealing with the dead thing.
We're very good when it comes to cats and dogs, we just don't have a clue when it comes to our people. We have them disappeared without any rubric or witnesses or anything like that. And then we plan these "celebrations of life", the operative words du jour. These celebrations are notable for the fact that everybody's welcome but the dead guy. This, to me, is offensive and I think perilous for our species. There is an intellectual - an artistic and moral - case that can be made for not only fruit and flowers in a bowl on a table but also a dead body in a box.
men who will treat you differently than they do women they don't want to fuck. Or vise versa. These are the men who do not know how to be a friend to women and no matter which end of the spectrum you're on ultimately a man who can't be our friend can't be trusted as far as you can toss him. On top of that they're usually pretty dumb as they think they're actually putting one over on us - thinking we don't notice how attentive and kind they are to girls they think are hot, how preoccupied and short-tempered with girls they don't. It doesn't matter how kind you are to him, how connected you are, how much in common or how compatible - if he doesn't want to fuck you you won't be his friend.
Women, I dare you to purposely make yourself unattractive and see how different the world is, see which of those "pals" of yours stops calling, stops telling you how amazing you are, stops coming to your gigs or posting flirty shit on your Facebook wall. I dare you to gain weight, be poor and unable to buy new clothes, be angry, be tired. Of course you won't - who wants to live in a world where men don't curry to our needs? But the dynamic is toxic, it's transparent and depressing and it will catch up to all of us and men, they'll just keep on with the artifice and pretty women will keep catering to it, happy to be on the winning end, and less pretty women will suffer and the game will never end. This is even true of "ugly" guys too, by the way - they ALL think they're god's gift and they all treat women in accordance to how fuckable they think we are.
Of course there are exceptions. Gregory Good is one, Andrew Donaldson another. I know a few more here and there - men who really listen, who truly care. The rest? Silly boys, women of merit won't ever trust you and what that means is you'll get your heart broken because frankly those hot chicks? They're as base as you are and if you fall out of favor, well - you're out. Unless of course you look like Brad Pitt and they'll all fall all over themselves to get to the top of your list so it works both ways, doesn't it? Sad ...
1. The traveling, where or whenever, a gift
2. Welcome to my cedar shake
3. The Watermill Center
4. Schizophrenia/avant garde
5. Swimming pool
6. Chocolate mint
8. Cold white wine/soprasetta
11. Yesterday's chicken/Fresca/drums (African and Brazil)
12. Leading to the sea, the sea, the sea, the pull and salt, rocks and shell bits, surf, children, dogs
13. James Taylor's in the Crab Shack
14. A lobster roll perhaps?
15. Sacred native burial ground, where we found the swamp and lily pads, look! Deer!
16. Grey Gardens
17. Pollack's studio
18. and perhaps more swimming
19. Daily om, green grasshopper in the crook of my arm
20. Hummingbirds fly to Jonuel
21. Following the sun/Caetano Velosa
22. Fire/transition/conversationings plus a Barry Manilow dance-off
23. Gravel and grass
24. A small warm beach with candy-striped umbrellas, heiresses biking, let's hit them!
25. Hydrangea, crab, lemonade, melon
26. Steinbeck wrote here
27. Allan Kaprow's "GAS" 1965 here
28. A baseball game, balloon ascension, a buffet, a poetry reading, nature walks and a tea dance
29. Ross Bleckner, violet sky and wild waves pulled me off my feet
30. I found my true love, is it really Andrew McCarthy???
31. Leaves and spiders, I skimmed the pool
32. The Hamptons Jitney, not my favorite thing
ahh, inhale. What I have been doing, and writing on paper again, preferably with a pencil no less. I rarely miss writing here - this life in now is so physical. Simple in its truth, stretching in morning light, every evening walks on broken abandoned wharves to the cool honeysuckled river banks. Except the honeysuckle's pretty much out of season now, how clean and sweet in my face every morning and twilight, even with a face full of tears, those buttered petals were before they bowed.
My Crows came back with Cody's passing - my partner, truly, that cannot be sniggered at - no, not "just a cat" but a deep soul and seer who watched me for 17 years - so many photographs I have of him watching me - cool and straight - he is becoming surely something even more magnificent - perhaps the man who will save the world from other men. I rest easy in his absence because I have no regrets - he and I loved eachother deeply for 17 years and we both knew it - what more is there than that?
And the crows came back strong - and the copper pennies as well. The work I am doing is as intimate as a copper penny between index finger and thumb, rubbed. My new series of photographs tell that story - and the pennies themselves tell another one - there's endless streams of information flowing - I immediately think of Burroughs - and my winter walks with him around his grandparents' building in Detroit - finding that wooden pallet with his last name stenciled on it, blasted away in the center by a shotgun, I'm serious, I found that. And covered it with blood red red and left it behind when I left.
Lighted masts pass over my window, the river's right there and that is a glorious thing. Especially now as a train pulls in the opposite direction. My musics are real and free. For example at twilight the air burst out in song as the calliope wheezed through "Wonderful World". How do I not stop and cling to the fence peering up river at the whirling waters and cathedral spires? I didn't did not and then improvised my own lyric, "Plastic bag in grass, dog's wavy tail, barbed wire sky, train on the rail - and I think to myself - wonderful world." I live in the city where Louis Armstrong wrote that and that is no accident.
Then there's Portugal and Jamaica - my second and third homes - and then eastern Poland with her mothers and gardens, still Russian in demeanor - and then the river cutting through Prague, the rivers of people in Barcelona. These are my places but more than ever I'm aiming for India. Yes, India, where I migrated I've been told, after Greece, where I made sense of crow's wings rhythms to tell the people something. We become what we are still and I like this becoming I am. "YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL" he tells me in all caps at least once a day. And you are.