An oldie but a goodie
This article by Art Kleiner touches on various aspects of suicide in America - crisis centers, how people choose to make their attempts, what happens when they don't succeed. Originally publiched in 1981 in CoEvolution Quarterly. I found it via MetaFilter - a community of thinkers and overthinkers like you and me. Posts run from the political to the poetic to the eclectic and strange. The MF commentary on the Kleiner article, however, was especially haunting.*Coleman's, one of the Top Ten Irish pubs in America (unsubstantiated) locate right here in Syracuse started brewing their green Irish beer at 7 AM. Maybe if I were 100% and not just 50% Irish, that would sound appetizing. Happy St. Pat's, all.
What's on today's blogroll docket?
Herding Cats. On the list of blogs to your immediate right, you'll see it listed as "Cats, Herding" - mainly because my nomenclature system demands it. Junebee's a mom and Sapporo enthusiast living in Florida with two cats, two kids, and a husband known - somewhat significantly - as "The Citizen." It's good reading. I can't repay her patronage of and enthusiasm for this site with any kind of real compensation, but all the same the very least I can do is send people to her little corner of the web, where nosebleeds are quickly patched and phone solicitors are roundly denounced.
Off to work
Kristin Kate's dad said last night that if you're an underpaid New York City schoolteacher and haven't been able to get all of your report cards done due to a variety of strange, unlikely troubles and bureaucratic incompetence of various stripes, then taking a day off from that school in order to catch up on your schoolteacher's duties in truth does not amount to taking time off. You actually are off to work, even when you're not going to your place of work. When I was in Oregon doing the MFA I would say things like "Time to make the poems" to whomever was sitting at the breakfast table or dinner table or post-prandial cocktail table. That really was work then: to go into my room with a candle lit and a blank page folded open and Yo La Tengo's "I Heard You Looking" was good, valuable, accredited time well spent. It still is, of course, but such time was more easily understood as "work" back then: now I have to remind myself that it's work and not play. But I, unsurprisingly, digress. Here was one of my places of work this lunchtime hour: It's the weight room in the basement. It's in good shape now, mainly, considering the amount of stuff that had been there previously. When Jon's stuff came home from Colorado, Dad and I (mainly Dad) stacked it around the various equipment. For the last few weeks I've been working out with the other equipment. Now however his stuff's been sort of stair-stepped down - also my father's good work - so that much of it's now put away or hung up or at least removed from the canvas bags and duffels in which they came home. The poetic resonance of having Jon's physical stuff around the bench press seems too obvious to even comment on, much less use in a poem, but there you go. * I had a bit of a, no, I had a huge Jon-related affliction at work yesterday. I didn't use my time in a valuable, beneficial way yesterday morning. Napped, lounged, read a bit. Didn't maintain my Good Ground discipline. Didn't even write a poem (for me, that's a big problem). As a result, my trip into the Big Top of Capitalism seemed even more meaningless than usual - yesterday's post was penned right before I had to leave. And it all dovetailed in the worst possible way with thinking about Jon, because that feeling of aimlessness seemed to produce a thought pattern that was cousin if not brother to the feeling that gripped Jon that Saturday morning. There's a real paradox in here. Because I feel that if I had maintained my schedule - written my 2,000 words, written my poem, jotted off my emails, prepared applications, and generally just been the man of letters I succeed in being in my best moments and days, then I wouldn't have drifted into the pessimistic what-could-it-possibly-all-mean frame of mind that had me crying my way down the blustery 690 and had two separate people ask immediately on seeing me if I was alright and if I wanted to be somewhere else. All that could have been avoided, is Notion #1. Notion #2 however is that failing to check off all of the checkboxes on yesterday morning's to-do list - or today's, or tomorrow's - effectively leads to an unexpected affinity with Jon. I realize that this is a scary thought. It's similar to if someone contracts, say, the Ebola virus, and dies, and one of the family members says "Hey. I miss my deceased Ebola-victim brother so much, I want to feel what he felt," and then goes and gets himself bitten by an Ebola-carrying rhesus on purpose. That's admittedly weird. Luckily, that's not what I'm advocating. (And here we can see the benefit of similes and metaphors - in hashing out how they sort of do but largely don't apply, we might begin to make sense.) So no. Instead Notion #2's about inserting these opportunities for you to stop and confront the new fact in your life. Not in a public, social, "Yes it sure is sad; yes I'm sorry too" sort of way. But in an off-the-rails, "My whole body is shaking as I cry and isn't that funny that I'm glad for it as it's happening" sort of way. It's similar to what I began to theorize some months ago, when I was debating coming home from Brooklyn or not. The eventual decision was that coming home would afford those opportunities more so than remaining in New York would. That being here would allow me to handle his rusty machete - where did he get that thing? - and try on one of his collared shirts (too big) and hold the urn in my hands late one night when everyone else had gone to sleep (far far heavier than you would think it would be, given its size). So Notion #2 - in short, "hurting" oneself by failing to observe traditional thought-patterns of fulfilling To-Do Lists and going to work in the traditional Seven Dwarfs sense - isn't really at all like giving yourself a fatal shot of the depression that seems to have beaten Jon. Instead, it's an inoculation. George Carlin has a bit in his "You Are All Diseased" concert series: it's involves how the habit of living in antiseptic air-filtered homes actually creates or exacerbates asthma in certain communities because people haven't had the same exposure to basic airborne germs and mites and dust. Since he's been a Irish Catholic youth with all manner of sicknesses and feeble periods and then eventually got into more vigorous rough-and-tumble periods and won himself some scars, Carlin's joke asserts that whereas we're diseased, he will never die. (I think also of Teddy Roosevelt and the gym his dad built for him.) That's sort of what's going on here. Exposing yourself to what might hurt you. But then there's an immediate rejoinder to #2. It's a Cultural rejoinder, the old Bootstraps rejoinder and the need to Pull Them Up. Gad. Even as I write this I think of my own daily To-Do list, which has 2 out of 6 things on it crossed off. Notions #1 and #2 the poles I feel myself trapezeing between. * It's a larger, talkier way of saying that the chicken-scratched words I wrote on the upstate-bound Amtrak on December 18th - the word SOLIPSISM with bright-light lines surrounding it, and the word SOLIPSISM with a big Ghostbusters / public-service-announcement style "No" symbol through it - well, the tension between those two pictograms persists. Because I feel better having written this: me, I, myself, DJ Lobko. SOLIPSISM with the bright-light lines. But Jon's spirit's somewhat hard to feel in me at this moment - not generally; just at this moment - which makes me want to cross out and excise the SOLIPSISM. Self and Other, WML and JRL: it's hard to balance my thoughts and my heart between those two because I'm one of them. * Arthur's brother in Autopsy of a Suicidal Mind (see last post) was older. He was also more of a natural in school, was more socially adept, was physically bigger and stronger, teased Arthur harshly and for years, and generally shone so brightly that Arthur didn't begin to shine in his own right until he was into high school. It's obviously difficult to read this and compare. I did enjoy school more than Jon; it did come simpler to me. I did seem to have an easier time with friends, although I maintained an all-around reserve, a certain Lobkovian tendency to limit the radius of my circle of friends. I can't remember teasing Jon. I'm glad about that fact. I'm saddened by the implication that there were middle-child kinds of issues at work here. There's a lot I want to say but can't or shouldn't on this matter. But in the weight room I remembered reading that an athlete of good all around ability should be able to bench their body weight. I'm getting there. I also remembered that Jon was benching 3x what I'm able to bench. 3x. He outshone me. Once I spotted him when he was up there at the limit - 350 lbs or so - and I like to think that he took my expression, a sort of dazed, amazed smile as he pushed the weight up - as a recognition of what he could do that I couldn't.
The good stuff
I'm reading this: Autopsy of a Suicidal Mind by Edwin Shneidman, who basically invented the field of suicidology in its modern incarnation back in 1960s L.A. It's not an actual autopsy he means, but rather a psychological evaluation of one case of suicide. "Arthur", his subject, was a 33 year old man who went through both medical school and law school and finally overdosed on pills one Sunday night. Shneidman interviews Arthur's mother, father, older brother, one of his two younger sisters, his best friend, ex-wife, girlfriend, and psychotherapist. In addition, basically everyone who's ever been president of the American Society of Suicidology gets a chapter to evaluate Arthur's case. These women and men are literally at the top of their fields - sociology, psychology, psychiatry, so on and so on - real A-list physicians all around. And yet when Shneidman, our de facto Ted Koppel-type guide through all of these interviews, asks the question "Could Arthur have been saved?", each one hems and haws between saying "Mmm, meh, maybe," and "With more deliberately applied and sustained psychoanalysis, with proper therapy, with medication, then likely yes." While Arthur's case is Arthur's case, and while I'd be remiss to extrapolate overmuch from his experience and demise, I've been surprised to see the residual uncertainty that even experts in this matter can't dispel. There is a fundamental lack of answers. But then simultaneously and on the other hand there's this faith in therapy and medicine - given the culumative weight of all of these experts' degrees, I have to agree with that faith. I share this information about the book and Arthur's case also in part because I've felt myself sliding into world-withdrawal type behaviors. This behavior takes only two forms really - I'm not holed up Howard Hughes-style with my milk and Hell's Angels on loop. These two forms are a failure to email or otherwise be in touch with others, and a failure to use this site for the purpose I set it up for. I debated, on my run just now, posting an "It's been fun but who knows when I'll post again"-type post. I decided that that would be selfish and indulgent. The hard thing to do right now is to have faith in the meaning of the things I see, feel, invent, hear, and think. The hard thing to do right now is to chronicle these things which ever since December 17th have threatened to topple over into real meaninglessness. The hard thing is, I think in this case as in many others, the thing that must be done. Arthur would have discussions with his brother about the meaning of life - "What's the point of it all? I just don't see the point" - discussing in a fairly abstract but still generally down sort of way their approaches to life. The brother admits that that's when he began to realize that Arthur was on a different level altogether than he was; the brother had to admit that yeah, life's point is really nothing more than what you yourself decide it is. What I don't have a struggle with now is an absolute lack of meaning and importance: Good Ground is doggedly coming along. Job applications are in the mail, as are poetry submissions. I'm going to a wedding soon with a woman I'm in love with. The remainder of my family is as well as can be. But the real upshot here's that I'm struggling with finding the meaning in everything else. It's been hard to do that on this online forum, despite the fact that in the final analysis it's helped myself and others. Surprisingly, it's been very hard to maintain DJ of late, because it demands that meaning be found in those things that get posted - and that meaning is sometimes something I doubt. I suppose I only wanted to reassure everyone that I am trying my best to find that meaning and remain in touch: with others, with what's worthwhile in life, with all that good stuff.