“The moment that you feel that just possibly, you are walking down the street naked exposing too much of your heart and your mind … that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” “Sometimes life is hard… and when things get tough this is what you should do… Make Good Art”
– Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts 2012 Commencement Address
I may not make good art now, but I am definitely walking in the middle of the street exposed. Many of my friends and colleagues have watched me recently and been unable to recognize me. I have wondered too. I have heard the whispers behind my back… even when I am alone. What has happened to Bryan? Granted, he is usually a little socially awkward, but has he lost it? Well, yes. I had.
And I did not know how TO FIND IT. On Sunday while wandering through a bookstore, I found Neil Gaiman’s book about Making Good Art. I found his commencement address online and replayed it several times. It was what I needed. You may not want to read this, even if this is good art, because it can be jarring to see a naked vulnerable man exposing himself on the street. You may want to turn away. This might be a mistake.
I have combined several blog posts into one. (I still do not know where I am going.) I started writing about my birthday. Then I wanted to discuss my father’s friend who died more than 40 years ago. Finally, I wanted to understand why turning 45 caused so much turmoil. Oh yeah, and my dad committed suicide. I thought I had processed the suicide thing until some annoying muse continued pecking at me until I fell apart in the middle of the street naked, exposed and disoriented. So now I have a new direction, starting with a message to various parents.
A Letter to Fathers Considering Suicide in the Digital Age
1. There are no GOOD days to kill yourself, but some days are worse than others.
2. If you must end your life, avoid days with historic significance. You can check the “famous deaths page” and the famous birthdays page. You might want to check the Saints Page too. Holidays are also probably bad, but other days can be just as problematic. April 20th is not a good day. December 14th will be a bad day. Any day with a mass murder suicide is a bad day.
3. If you pick a day like say, August 16, you would think you are pretty safe. (Nothing happens in August) Except somehow Elvis Presley and Babe Ruth died on that day, and you may have noticed that some singer named Madonna was born on August 16th. Those people will remain popular as long as your children are alive. Madonna’s name would be enough to cause problems, but her videos connect to many famous American icons. Babe and Elvis also have popular nicknames … and homes. There is the “House that Ruth Built.” Paul Simon (still alive and born on October 13) even sings about “going to Graceland.” So if you chose August 16, you can kinda screw up Paul Simon and Simon and Garfunkel too. And baseball. And your son’s favorite number, which you probably remember he wore on the back of his first jersey because it was Babe Ruth’s number.
4. In the digital world, people will send pictures of themselves with shirts and the number 3 on the back and your children might become confused. Your child might wonder if the sender is torturing your child or if the sender is tortured. When another person quotes the movie Babe, (“that’ll do pig.”), your children will wonder if you intentionally sent someone to ruin all of their good memories. Your kids can’t watch kids movies or old movies or the American pastime without somehow thinking about you… and not in a good way.
So choose your day wisely… not that there is a good day.
5. There are no good times for your children to receive the call or find your body, but some times are worse than others.
6. Do not wait until your son has a 6 month old baby and he is really happy. You will have sabotaged his chance at creating a stable home. Your son and his wife, while at a delicate time, will never recover whatever they had worked their whole life to create. You will destroy it. Your child will try to save what was left of your family and your son’s wife will try to save herself and your grandchild, but it will not be enough. It will not be the same.
7. Your children and grandchildren might learn to cope, (although I suspect if you are considering suicide, your children already know how to cope), and your family might even become better and stronger people after you kill yourself, but they might have done that without you killing yourself. They will never know. They do not need to know.
8. If you think that you will not be missed, you miss the point.
9. Few counselors will know how to deal with this type of trauma. Couples counselors will not be able to identify the real problem until it is too late. Your kids might find support groups. Friends can sing to each other about how everyone has bruises. Your children will not get fixed.
10. There are no good ways to end your life, but some ways are worse.
11. If you decide to shoot yourself, do not give your child a gun before you die.
12. If you give him a revolver, do not call it a 26 caliber, especially when it is a 38 Special Colt Cobra 45. At some point, he will be ready to open the box and start asking questions.
13. In the digital world, people will email photos of women wearing jeans with horseshoe prints. Your visually literate child will become confused and see the world through suicide lenses. He will search horseshoe, the number 28 and the city location wondering about the secret code. “Is it the Colt’s. Why Colt’s?” He will ask this question sometime before Newtown. Then he will open the box and find a Colt Cobra 45. He will not consider that the horseshoe was a sign of luck, because he has not felt lucky lately. Your son will see two beautiful women, horseshoes, jeans and think, GUN!
14. He will remember that you told him the 26 caliber was a family gun, so he will wonder if 26 meant “last letter.”
15. If your son played the Beatle’s Revolver album, do not give your son a revolver as a going away present and shoot yourself, because he might spend too much time looking at the track list afterwards. There are already enough songs like Jeremy, for your son to remember suicide without your help.
16. If you kill yourself when you are 63, do not think your child will still enjoy the song, “When I am 64.” He will not.
17. Whether you shoot yourself, hang yourself, or get hit by a bus, your child will begin to notice suicide references. He or she will watch baseball and listen differently to the “suicide squeeze.” He will notice that television programs include suicide on every show (well, it seems like every show.) People “drink the Kool-Aid,” without realizing the reference to 900 people dying. If you commit suicide, your children will notice.
18. Your children will become socially awkward, not so much from shame, but from self-preservation. Sometimes it is better to stay quiet. There are no real good days to talk about suicide, but in the digital age, your child will have friends. (Don’t think this makes it OK. Sometimes it leads to more crazy behavior.) Someone is always tweeting about suicide or posting about the next event. Your child will not escape it.
19. Do not leave a mess.
20. It is impossible to commit suicide and not leave a mess, so try to avoid secrets. Your children should not discover misdeeds years later. Do not leave a letter either. Letters can create more problems. Clean up your mess first before you create the biggest mess you have ever created.
21. Your child will probably have an unhealthy need to save people. He or she will risk his own health and career if he believes someone is in danger. He will search for lost souls hoping to save himself and other families. Your child will understand why misery loves company and he will love those who are feeling misery, but he will struggle to feel loved.
22. If you were a First Responder, you probably should be extra careful about committing suicide. Your child already learned from you to save people. Your child also valued your service. Now he is even more conflicted each time he hears a siren or sees a peace officer. He will also want to save First Responders.
23. Your child will not learn how to save himself until he least expects it.
24. Your child will know that love is the answer, but he will not know the the question.
25. What your child wants most of all, TRUST, he will not know how to accept.
26. People who are still upset at their parents about some minor event will tell your child “to get over it.” Before you kill yourself, you should know that this is what “getting over it” looks like almost nine years later.
If you are still reading (or jumped ahead), I originally titled the piece above, “For You.” I thought it sounded purposeful, but it wasn’t. I was inspired by people I knew and by people I did not know (I will admit it, Sara Bareilles and her Brave video got to me.) I was also touched by some things I did not know. Since my dad died almost nine years ago, technology has changed. When I search for something, my search results are based on previous searches. I often work on depressing topics, so the more I searched for information about death and guns, the more I would find information about people who had suicide in their background. I would try to relax by running, but my music selections were informed by my search results. I could not escape. I did not realize that I was bombarding myself until it was too late. I may have lost my mind and a good friend. I still do not know about either.
Last November, I spent International Survivors of Suicide Day with someone who became a good friend. Whether God became involved or someone tricked me (it HAD TO BE one or the other), I learned how to trust. I also learned that I do not know how to trust. I have already exposed enough of myself that I do not need to reveal how crazy I became, but I want to write, because I think it would MAKE GOOD ART. I also know it is my pathway to understanding myself.
Who knew 45 would be so difficult? I just celebrated my birthday on the middle day of May. I think the day fits my personality. I try to inhabit the middle ground and listen to people who have different perspectives, but this year, I feel a little more stuck in the middle. And I seem less reasonable than the clowns to the left of me and the jokers to the right. Have I reached middle age? If a right angle is 90 degrees, I have sliced it down the middle at at 45 creating an arrow to madness? When I was a kid, we played singles on record players. They were called 45s, because they were played at 45rpm’s. How many words are in the First Amendment? And then I found my dad’s service revolver… a 1963 Colt Cobra 45.
In case you are wondering, I finally called the Alameda County Sheriff after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings and asked if I could give the gun away. I planned on bringing my son. After I explained how the gun had been in our family, I learned that I was legally allowed to have the gun. I cried. (Thank God for small favors.) I could even register it. I did not learn it was a 45 for another few weeks. So I sent in the paperwork and I will probably remove it from the house until I know what to do with it.
I usually love my birthday, because I love my birthday story. I was adopted when I was six weeks old, so I am aware that my life began with a sacrifice and continued with shortly thereafter with my parents coming to save me. That has always been my story. My father was a police officer and highway patrolman who responded, even knowing the risks. That was my story. If I could meet my birth mother and father I would want to thank them for their sacrifice. For many years, I wanted to introduce them to my mom and dad. My dad killing himself complicates the story.
My dad’s death does not stop me from seeing life positively… or differently. When I listen to Maroon 5 sing Daylight, I do not hear a romantic love song. (The Playing for Change version might be better.) I hear a woman singing to a tiny child who was born early in the morning… and who would be on his own for six weeks. Your interpretation could be right too. Mine reminds me that I am connected to a larger world and that I am right to continue reaching out to people. I just might want to take better care of myself while doing so.
The title of the blog post comes from the concept of the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly can flap its wings in one part of the world and cause a hurricane in another part of the world. (Some people also use the term in relation to time travel and the extinction of dinosaurs. Really.) The Magic of Kindness by middle school teacher Orly Wahba is also worth watching. Small changes send ripples into the future.
Lastly, The Fray’s video How To Save A Life, combines everything — The Butterfly Effect, Loss, Survival, losing a friend, staying up all night, music and how to save a life.