Genie, You’re Out! (or Reflections on the Death of Robin Williams)

BuzP7p0CMAE3_-cI am devastated about the loss of Robin Williams, as are the millions of his fans, and more so by the fact that he took his own life.  Despite all of his money and all of his available resources, depression reached its bony fingers into his life (and dragged him to an untimely death as it certainly has for millions of others.)  Drugs and alcohol are certainly a part of his story, but make no mistake…this is a story about the savage blow of depression.  The pills and booze were only a symptom of this man’s sad demise.  Depression was the death blow.

Anyone who has never suffered from the savage effects of deep depression will find it hard to comprehend his decision to take his own life. Depressed people don’t kill themselves out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life isn’t worth living. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. Depression is an invisible agony that for many reaches a certain unendurable level where life and death are near equal terrors and death becomes a lesser terror than living.

For those who decide to take their life, they spend their final days and hours in much the same way a trapped person  eventually chooses to jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.  For the depressive suicidal, it’s not the desire of death, it’s the terror of living. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

In this same way, a person who doesn’t suffer the agony of depression will never be able to understand the torments and terrors suffered by those afflicted. Never. Just as depression is an invisible agony, so, too is the understanding of true depression invisible to those who do not suffer it.

We can, and should, have a conversation about depression, but unless you’ve ever stood on a ledge with flames coming closer and closer, you will never truly understand the agonizing decision to jump.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams..your Genie is out.

Defeated

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Like most people, I am caught in the web of learning  to navigate the constantly changing twists and turns of today’s fluctuating societal ups and downs.  It seems every day someone achieves their dreams while another is blown to bits by a terrorist’s bomb.  I celebrate a birthday with friends at the same time a mother buries her child.  This insidious balance of good and evil renders me near catatonic with a mixture of soaring joy and abysmal despair.  It just doesn’t make sense, and I am completely lost in a world I no longer understand.

The shooting at Sandy Hook and the resulting flood of grief as Death descended on this sleepy community left me in tears and shaking with sorrow.  No sooner had the bodies of these innocent children been pulled from their classrooms then I found myself out shopping for Christmas gifts in anticipation of a joyful family reunion. I watched the mix of loved ones waiting at the finish of the Boston Marathon, full of love and pride as their champions crossed the finish line, suddenly blended with the explosions of hate that laid low the lives of three people, one, a child who now joins the bitter fruit withering on the vine of life, not yet fully blossomed.  I have found that I am incapable of processing this confusing blend of despair and bliss.  My psyche is not wired to route the neurons of my emotions bouncing back and forth within my soul so randomly, and my mental landscape is muddled beyond words.

I am left feeling that I have personally failed in my journey upon this earth, this blue-green marble that spins wildly on a shaky spindle.  I don’t know how to proceed. No sooner than I fall on my knees in prayer that word comes of another senseless act of violence.  Is this how God answers desperate prayers for comfort and understanding?  Am I a fool to think that a simple act of Divine intervention might be suggested amongst all this violent loss of life?  So I stop praying.  God must be a sadistic voyeur for the silence of His absence in all of this is deafening.

My life does not slow down, however, to properly mourn, for no sooner than my heart is laid low by the killing of a dozen Syrian children, then the phone rings and I’m invited to a party celebrating the engagement of my best friend.  What cruel and atrocious mocking of life this all turns out to be.  Where do I find understanding amidst the laughter and the tears?  How do I proceed with any semblance of balance?  I retreat into the only sanctuary where I find an ounce of control: my writing.  But as the words pour out upon the page, my sadness and confusion only becomes more evident.  I start to write of hope and love, and in moments my words become dark and sullen.  I am the world I live in. And like that world, I am confounded  in both mind and body.  My pen stops and weeps uncontrollably.  My writing is exhausted and no longer makes sense.

I am caught in a bubble devoid of clarity, floating mindlessly through each demanding day. I cry out,  “Please, someone, pop the bubble!”;  explain this senseless woven tapestry of life so that I can chart my course, so that I can find meaning in this tower of babel.  To God and His perfect plan I say “Fuck You” – this pain is no longer bearable.  I cannot trust the joys I know when lurking behind the next corner is just another tragedy waiting to crush my spirit once more.  I need to get off this see-saw and find shelter.

I can no longer play His celestial game of ping-pong.

We Are the Mercy We Seek…

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

Krystle Campbell. Martin Richard. Lingzi Lu.
Three orchids withered on the vine this week.  They never had a chance to fully bloom.

This week, a nation grieves after having once more stared into the bloody, gaping maw of death and destruction visited upon the city of Boston.  Promising lives and futures were swallowed whole behind a cowardly and senseless act of terrorism, and the survivors now begin their struggle behind the unanswerable “why?”

As a nation, we will rally around the families of the dead and maimed and will embrace our brothers and sisters in Boston with action, thoughts, and prayers.  And despite their heroic efforts, the first responders will need our support as the floodgates of emotions finally catches up with them. We will be there for them as well.  But what about us?  What does the average person across America do to navigate the hopelessness and despair we feel in connection with these continuing acts of horror?

What can we do but personalize it?  To extend our support and love to those within our own sphere of influence.  While there is little most of us can do to directly help those who were caught up in the actual nightmare of Boston, we can certainly look around us and see ample loss and suffering in our own communities.  We can take that sense of hopelessness and turn it around, extending our compassion, our strengths, and our love to those who can use it best.  To feel a broken, aching heart for the victims of the Marathon bombing, yet remain blind to the suffering and pain of those closest to us is a cheap, selfish emotion.  We are better than that.

I had a back and forth with a writer friend of mine this week, before the bombings, about the need for each of us to take our gifts, whatever they may be, and assume responsibility for confronting the evil that is so prevalent in our daily lives.  She made what I thought at the time to be a defeating comment about how little we could do to combat all the evil that surrounds us.  I responded to her, perhaps a bit more harshly than I intended, that to accept that and do nothing was, in my opinion, an even greater evil.  She is a powerful writer with a gifted, compelling voice, and I reminded her that with that gift comes responsibility.  She already knew that…but I think my words caused her to stop and reflect for a moment on how powerful her gift really was.  Through the power of her writing, she can galvanize and motivate others into action.  She can do something!  And I know she will.

I often turn my own readers off when I chasten them not to look to earnestly for God’s mercy in times like these.  It isn’t that I don’t believe in God. I do.  I just don’t think He’s as merciful as we are lead to believe.  I believe He expects us to be the channels of that mercy.  But too often, we convince ourselves that falling on our knees in prayer is action enough, and nothing could be further from the truth.  We keep searching for God’s mercy while withholding our own.  And the acts of mayhem around the globe march steady on.  God has no stake in this, or at least none that my weak mind can discern. And if I spend my time looking for his tender mercy in these horrific acts, I’ll be spending most of my day walking in circles.  His mercy is not evident.  But ours can be.

Wow!  As I write this, the radio news channel is reporting a massive explosion in the city West, Texas.  15 people, including first responders, are dead.  Entire city blocks are leveled.  There are over 150 people wounded, and the count has just started.  Say a prayer, if you must, but once you get off of your knees, take then a step toward just one person whose life you can impact and do something.  If you want to honor the victims of far off tragedies, do so by embracing and helping those in equal dire circumstances nearest you.  Figure out what your “gift” is…and extend it to others.  Then, and only then, can we each do something about the relentless evil that invades our lives.

For Better or for Worse: I Am a “Dark” Writer

dark writer

For better or for worse, I am a dark writer.

It isn’t something I wanted to be as I grew up…it is more something that had to be done to give my inner grief a voice so that the pain and suffering did not overwhelm me. The events of my life have consumed me like maggots feasting on the carcass of a dead child. Have you ever wondered why the best of Irish writers are so dark and depressing? It is because they were flayed by mental anguish  They were compelled by lives lived in abject poverty, disease and general disrepair and despair. Bram Stoker, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Frank McCourt, …all suffered from severe moral disintegration, from morbid ideations brought about by the unrelenting ugliness that this so called “good life” thrust upon them.

The French poéts maudits; François Villon, Baudelaire and Rimbaud? These were simple men forced to live their lives outside or against society, awash in the abuse of drugs and alcohol, insanity, crime, and violence. They all died pitiful, painful deaths. Or how about the Americans? Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Bukowski…each caught up in what life does best…grinding their souls to dust in the absence of any lasting hope until the merciful fist of death grabbed each by the ankle and pulled them under.

You may think I’m just cynical and indulgent…but I tell you, for every ray of sunshine you can conjure, I can show you ten bolts of lightning that rip and destroy. I am glad others have happiness….but I myself was pushed through this veil of insidious despair without my consent, and I’ve learned to navigate life in the absence of hope. And yes, I find some comfort there. It’s what I know.

People are always saying, “try and look on the bright side,” and to them I say, “ Look around you, for fuck’s sake!” There is an ocean of pain, agony, and suffering washing over the majority of the earth’s population…and you think platitudes and sweet rejoinders make a difference when the crows peck the eyes from a dead child who has starved in the Sudan? Or when 20 beautiful innocent children in Sandy Hook have their precious lives snuffed out, or when entire populations are being systematically wiped off the face of the earth for political expediency? Get real. Take off your rose-colored specs and take a deep look around you! Evil flourishes upon a people’s unwillingness to see. They are blinded by their blazing sunshine and forced optimism.

Yes, we live in the same world, but I see the shadows where you see the light. I don’t write this kind of crap because I have something to say…I write it because something which must be said has me to write it. My apologies for the rant…but I get so ill in my gut when people say, “there, there…the world is a beautiful place. Just try harder to be happy.”

The world is obscene and delusional. And it hurts.

The Case Against “Fluff” Pieces on WordPress

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I might safely estimate that well over 80% of the material I have read on WordPress is what we writers might call “fluff” pieces. A “fluff piece” is a news story or pieces of writing which are essentially feel good op-eds.  The writing is meant to be cute, funny, or something like that. For example, if a writer does a story about kittens, it is a “fluff piece”.  Stories about kittens are essentially unimportant (oh, I can hear the hate mail churning!) The writer chose to write about kittens, not because it was important, but because it is cute and may help his/her viewer stats.

Fluff may take on numerous guises.  Aforementioned kittens?  Fluff.  Family travel logs?  Fluff.  Best make-up products on the market?  Fluff.  But to me,  the most offending piece of fluff on the WordPress market today are the countless stories that try desperately to convince the reader that the universe we live in; the planet we inhabit; the relationships we take shelter in – all of these somehow rotate within and upon some essentially pleasing spindle they call “goodness.”  Mostly, this goodness online is ego-defined as some omnipresent benefactor lovingly watching over us, raining upon our precious little heads measures of good fortune, benevolence, and unconditional love.  Yeah…fluff!

You have to travel far and wide into the ether of WordPress to hear an opposing viewpoint to this endless vomiting of “goodness.”  While the writer of such pieces may feel justified because he or she just can’t contain the fact that something made them happy, they have to purposefully put on blinders so as not to disturb their nirvana with snapshots of the truth.  The world is not essentially “good.”  Fluff is fleeting.

More than 5/8ths of the world’s population live in impoverished and violent conditions, whether that violence is nature driven or man-made.  To them, this vaporous concept of “life is good” is like a fleeting but violent wind that passes over them and cuts them sharply to the bone.  They are as aware of the “goodness” showered upon the fortunate few as we are willfully ignorant of their pain and suffering.

If you are fortunate enough to own a computer and have the luxury of spending your free time posting online, chances are these people live in the periphery of your vision.  You only glimpse them briefly on sensationalized news channels that can be quickly turned over to a “fluff” program like American Idol.  It just “feels better” not to notice.  Don’t lie…we have all been guilty of looking away to ease our conscience.

Yet there they are…the majority of the earth’s population starving, dying of treatable disease, buried to their necks in the fire-ant-ridden blazing sands of poverty and violence as the majority of us munch away on cheese-laden nachos while watching the Super Bowl.  It just feels better not to notice.  We need the “fluff” in our lives with which to stuff our ears and block out the infernal screams of our dying brothers and sisters.   By the way, if the term “brothers and sisters” offend, I’ve made my case.

You need proof?  Admit it.  Most of those who started reading this post have surfed to another WordPress freshly-pressed site about kittens, or dating advice, or how-to-be happy sites because, well…it simply “feels better.”  We need our goodness fix.  We need our fluff.  The only people who will read this through to the end are the artists and poets who understand that life is anything but benevolent and “good.”  They recognize, in their works, the crush of human apathy and indifference toward the brutal suffering of the “least” of our brethren.  They know because they don’t run from suffering…they run toward it.  Not to shun it, but to embrace it and evolve as human beings.

It appears the editorial staff of WordPress is complicit in the spewing of “fluff” when you consider that poets and artists are freshly-pressed much, much less than the feel-good article writers.  You won’t read this on WordPress because it feels “bad.” It probably isn’t a conscious decision on their part; it’s basic fluff survival 101: who wants to read depressing shit?  It just doesn’t sell!

The artists and poets of WordPress may be less visible, but they are there.  Shame on WordPress for making them enter in the dark and through the back door.  They struggle in vain to instruct a worldview that is ultimately a call to action.  They use their words to scatter the razor-toothed rats that gnaw on the emaciated bones of the poor, the hungry, the murdered masses. Poets and artists know there is goodness out there…they truly do. They see “goodness” descend upon the more fortunate, while the bulk of humanity suffers in despair and agonizing isolation.  They just refuse to wear the blinders.

For myself, I no longer really give a damn about this fleeting goodness. I’ve been shot, stabbed, robbed, and violated in a thousand ways that more than fill one lifetime of despair. And yes, in case you’ve ever read my writing, I have buried my grief and pain in ample cups of amber absolution and beneath the press of fentanyl patches.  I, too, am a coward. If there is goodness in my life, it is only there to mock the other 99.9% of my existence so far. I’m not happy, that is true. But I’d rather spend eternity locked in the pages of Baudelaire and Rimbaud than spend another minute reading about your “kittens.”

Perhaps that’s why most of my postings are poems.  Poetry allows a writer to scream invectives to an unjust, unhearing, apathetic God (who, in my opinion, is the ultimate piece of “fluff)  I’ve seen others (Sandy Hook, Aurora, Iraq, the Sudan comes to mind) who have seen their human potential snuffed out by either extreme violence, (human against human) or natural disaster (famine, floods, disease).  I’ve seen the children of Syria and Libya and Somalia, and, well…spin the globe and press your finger upon it.  It will almost certainly stop at one of these hellholes devoid of human compassion.  The majority of the world’s populations are simply ground to dust by the merciless millstone of life.

I am happy for those of you who believe the illusion that “evil” is the transitory state of humanity and that “good” is the true, permanent human blessing. WordPress appears to exist so that you can dine on a steady diet of “fluff.”  I just don’t see that wide-eyed gorging of “feel good” backed up by facts.  I’ll continue reading your fluff because people like me are more in need of a laugh than just about anybody. I just can’t join you at that particular ”hallelujah” table.  Enjoy the fruits of this “goodness”, but never forget that even more of your brethren have never known such feel-good promise in their lives…and “fluff” just won’t fill distended bellies or bind up the bleeding wounds.

Is God a Heavenly Voyeur?

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History is strewn with the wreckage of broken lives of those foolish enough to believe God really gives a damn.  There are those who fall to their knees in silent, unheard prayers when suffering threatens to consume them.  In the absence of reasoning, they fall back on a blind faith, a belief that there is some higher meaning behind their loss.  But their faith has never been anything more than the posture of not pulling the alarm when the fires of evil begin to spread. They relinquish their involvement or complicity, their grief, to the dark void of a silent, impassive God.

Waiting for God to intervene is both foolish and tragic. Like many people, I have been struggling to align my faith (or lack thereof) with all the insidious tragedy in the world today.  How is it, we doubters ask, that a compassionate and loving Father (God) allows an endless flow of hate, violence, death, and destruction to inundate our world?  Where is the omnipotence conveyed in the Bible?  The promises and the facts just don’t seem to come together.

How do we accept the “free will” argument of devout Christians who, in lieu of a meaningful discussion, always fall back upon stories in a Holy Book as evidence that God does not interfere in the affairs of man.  The good book is full of examples of Divine intervention.  He saved David from the Philistine Goliath, Daniel from the Lions, and Jonah from the whale. But He simply could not find the time to save 20 young first graders from the wrath of a scrawny, disturbed young killer in Newtown this past December.

Newtown victims

If intervention exists, why did the children of Aleppo, Aurora, Columbine, Iraq, Syria, Chicago, Los Angeles and Joplin, MO, and even the children of the  Holocaust, perish in such horrible deaths?

GermanyHolocaustChildrenPoland

Why the continual absence of settling answers? Not having answers certainly does not disprove the existence of God.  However, it certainly begs the conclusion that if there is a God, he is neither merciful or compassionate.  If His sole purpose is merely to sift through the wreckage of mankind and pick up the pieces,  this would seem to suggest that He serves more as a melancholy janitor and not the all-powerful deity we are urged to embrace through prayer and communion.

Faith requires that we enter into a relationship of God as Father and we as children.

God-The-Perfect-Father

I have to reject that offering.  A true Father figure allows his children to grow by painfully sitting back and letting his loved ones learn  through their mistakes, Yet he intervenes when the child is on the verge of mortal consequence. In that moment, I, as a father, would give my life to protect my children from lethal harm.  But God, it appears, sits back and watches, up to and through the bloody end of it all. Sure, He sacrificed his Son, His most precious gift, so that whoever believes in Him might one day know peace and love…just not today!

Christians are quick to point out that it all comes back to the miracle of faith.  They claim that to know is irrelevant and a false journey, and the only thing that matters is that we “believe” there is a sound celestial reasoning for the evils we encounter as we journey through this life. But it just doesn’t add up.  Believers respond that the reason I cannot find an answer to this and similar questions of Divine indifference is because of my lack of faith. I would argue that my lack of faith stems from clear evidence that God, in allowing such horrific events to shape our lives offers a  path toward reconciliation that is too great a burden for any of us to bear.

Ask the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy.  Ask the Mother of the child killed by collateral damage in a drone strike in Pakistan.  Ask the orphan who not only loses his biological parents, but is then placed in an abusive foster home.  The examples of pain are endless.   The examples of God’s alleged compassion can fit in one book.

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More importantly, believers argue, while we may openly seek understanding and purpose, it is only through the power of prayer that we can even begin to approximate resolution.  On bended knee, we utter our fealty to our Creator, accepting without question that He knows what’s best.  We should leave off our incessant whys. And so many, including myself,  refuse to accept tragedy through supplication and prayer, and continue to stand up and question.

no-prayer

It is somewhat patronizing to suggest that God is tolerant of our doubt and ultimately forgiving of our lack of faith.  He cannot be both the architect of this grand design of free will and demanding that we surrender it at the same time in order to achieve a more perfect union with Him. 

free will

If in fact we are flawed from the cradle due to the original sin of Adam and Eve; if we are offered salvation through the sacrifice and blood of a crucified Son, why then not completely deliver us from evil today rather than offering a rain check for peace and happiness only once we expire?  How is that compassionate or loving?  Why do we call Him Father and not the great Procrastinator?

Proverbs 21:30 offers, “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” I don’t enjoy struggling with faith.  I wish I could take the easy path and just turn everything over to His “voyeuristic” style of non-intervention.  But I can’t. More than anything, except truth, I want to believe that this all means something. Yet, I would rather confront the evils of this world from a position of knowledge and sympathetic understanding than to close my eyes in prayer and call that a day.

Our Creator put us in a scientific world but left us with an instruction manual no better than the Ikea assembly sheets that serve only to baffle and confuse.

science vs religion

I do not believe, or want to believe that He is nothing but a heavenly voyeur when it comes to our pain and suffering.  Unfortunately, that does seem to be where the evidence points.

I can already anticipate a Christian response for my questioning the “wisdom” of God.  I will be counseled to seek Him in prayer.  I’ve done that, to no avail, for 40 years.  How about instead of my falling to my knees in prayer, you Believers fall to your knees and help a parent mop up the blood of his/her slain child.  And please, don’t ask why.  Just have faith that somehow He knows why.  Your job is to accept and live with the pain.