My Definition of Hero

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I was going to make note of the death by suicide of Robin Williams, but so much of what I might have to say has been said in my series of posts I recently wrote here, here and here.

I cannot know what the layer of complexity of celebrity does to one’s psyche as I’ve never experienced it, nor will I.  I just know as a normal nobody that the despair and sense of nothingness and desperation to make the pain end were palpable in my case, and the selfishness this desire engendered wasn’t pretty, or rational.

Suicide touches us all – at least in the first world countries.  Really, is there a person reading this who hasn’t known someone to commit the act?  In my own case, the first suicide I knew of was the mother of a school friend, and then I knew of several other kids over the years who had parents who killed themselves – talk about selfish!  Yep.  (But hey, I’m not judging as I was in that exact position years later.)

When I got older, luckily I never had a friend commit suicide (although that is a terrible phenomena for lots of teenagers), but I remember my mother had a colleague from work who did kill herself.  My mother’s reaction was much scarier to me than the shock of it – she said she understood it and could see doing it herself if things got too bad.  Well, she’d already tried when I was eight years old, for gods’ sake, so even though she did a half-assed job of it, she wasn’t repulsed by it.

My father’s reaction to suicide is exactly that – repugnance.  He’s had tough times, too – lost two wives to death (not by suicide, but illness), lost his job and family and house.  And he tells me that he never, not once, thought of harming himself.  I don’t think that makes him some sort of hero, but it is an interesting contrast between my parents and does speak to why they fundamentally have such different world views (and are long divorced.)

As these two’s daughter, I admit to swinging both ways.  Mostly, as a former mental health professional, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for the state of despair that underlies suicide.  But I’m not quite as sympathetic to the act itself because of the devastation left in its wake.

When one is in the pit, they are usually not thinking about that devastation.  About the wife or father or child who will find the body in that state, who will panic and try desperately to revive their loved one, or have a sense of their world shifting on its axis in one horrible moment of thudding reality as they see a head blown off, or smell piss and shit from a body hanging from a belt, having let go of its sphincters.  These are some of the realities that the person wanting to just end their emotional (or sometimes physical) pain doesn’t take into account usually.

And the ripple effect of this devastation – no person thinking of suicide can anticipate this.  One suicide in a family can make others so much more acceptable and then that much more likely to occur.  Kurt Cobain had a long family history of suicide.  Not uncommon.  Probably also a long family history of depression and/or substance abuse to self medicate, too.

I, too, come from a family history of both unipolar and bipolar depression.  I’ve certainly suffered from it and so have my son and mother – well, I’ve written a fair amount about her bipolar illness.

The one thing that makes my mother my hero is the following – unlike my father who has a strong, visceral repugnance to suicide and self-harm, my mother does not.  She views it as rational, acceptable, understandable – even a release in some cases.  But up to now she’s made a conscious decision to NOT do it.  I’m not saying she isn’t still flirting with idea; she certainly is, as witnessed by last year’s contact with the State of Oregon (a tragic/comedy of errors apparently as nobody she talked to even knew what the hell she was talking about!).  But flirting and doing are two different things.  And she’s been clear – she doesn’t want to kill herself because of the effect it will inevitably have on me and my son, her grandson.

She is less concerned about me at this point, but she’s very concerned about her grandson.  I can appreciate this, as he’s quite frankly, more volatile than I am.  For one thing, he’s younger – for another, as a man, his choice of method would most likely be more fatal than a woman’s (this is only going by statistics, but I’ve talked to him about it and what he’s mentioned is no doubt close to 100% fatal.)

So my mom, my crazy and crazy-making mother who will be 80 on August 29, doesn’t want to create a family legacy of suicide.  And for that, she is and always will be my hero.  She is doing something that is, for her, extremely hard, because every time she’s in the pit, she wants to die.  Every single time – even on medication.  But she’s learned over time that her pit is temporary and if she can just ride it out, she will feel better eventually.  When eventually is may not be predictable, but eventually will come.

So that’s my definition of hero.

I do feel sad that Robin Williams couldn’t hang on a bit longer.  I do understand both intellectually and on a gut level, the despair that drove him, but I don’t think I could ever say he’s a hero, because he has either perpetuated a family history (I don’t know his family background with mental illness/substance abuse/alcoholism/suicide) or perhaps even worse, now created a legacy of suicide which is not the thing any parent wants to pass on to their kids.  His pain is over – his family’s is only continuing.



More Readerly Detours – But Not Much Writing

old fashioned woman reading 2I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately.  Also learning Spanish.  Two things that have nothing, necessarily, to do with writing.

Yep, I’ve been in a slump for the past number of weeks.  I hear my husband click clacking on the computer keys and feel . . . like picking up a book or my kindle and reading some more.  His writing output which right now is prodigious doesn’t necessarily spur me on to writing productivity.  In fact, I feel a bit depressed about the whole thing.

Oh well.

I don’t think the Spanish helps with the writing, but I suspect the reading does.  I know I mentioned that I had discovered J.A. Konrath by finding kindle bargains on  He’s a terrific mystery writer, if you like that sort of thing.  Which I do!

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries.  Yesterday at my in-laws, we got on the topic by a circuitous pathway, of where we’re headed on a quickie vacation week after next.  “Pismo Beach,” I said.  And then I remembered Joe Friday’s sidekick on Dragnet – and this was his favorite place to escape from LA., too.  Who was the sidekick?  Harry Morgan played Bill Gannon, the perfect foil for Jack Webb’s deadpan Joe Friday. But this funky memory of Pismo Beach led me to remark that I’d loved Dragnet as a child and that this probably was the reason I loved police procedurals as an adult (yes, I’ve saturated myself in the Law & Order franchise, even watching the British version, so there.)

One summer I read all of Raymond Chandler – even the Black Mask stories.  I must have been in college when I did that and it was an effort to find everything, since this was a few years before the internet.  Yes, I’m that old.  Stop it.

But anyway – mysteries are my all time favorite genre of fiction.  Second to that is probably the more literary fiction and third, I’m embarrassed to admit this, is chick lit.  Well, no need to be embarrassed, right?  Okay, yeah, I guess there’s a reason to be a little teensy weensy bit embarrassed.  A lot of it isn’t that great.  But a lot of genre fiction from a literary standpoint isn’t that great.  What IS great is the story.  The plot.  The characters that you learn to love or hate – or both.

So . . . one of the genres that I’ve never really been able to connect with much is science fiction.

Another detour.  About a year and a half ago my son said I had to read Game of Thrones.  I tried.  I read the first ten or twenty pages – and I hated it.  It was confusing.  It was “dark” and well, confusing.  I couldn’t imagine it as I was reading and that’s fatal for this reader.  When I pick up a book, if I’m going to be captured by it, I can imagine the scene in my mind.  I’m a pretty visual thinker, so this is how it works for me.  Your mileage may vary if you’re a more kinesthetic or auditory thinker.

Well, with GoT, I was just lost.  And the premise of supernatural stuff happening . . . I just couldn’t get it, no matter how much my son tried to talk to me about it.

Then I had occasion to see the first episode on HBO.  It was great!  For the first time, the scene was alive and visual and I decided to give the book a second try.

And this time, with some visual help from the TV show, I got into the book, and I got captured and finished all five books in short order.

So even though fantasy is not a genre I generally like – I was able to fall in love with A Song of Ice and Fire  – after some help.

Same with horror – not a genre I generally like, but I’ve found Stephen King to be a pretty decent author of it.  I started out with The Stand and again, I read that when the TV mini-series was showing (this is years ago.)  I recognized it was a basically religious story, so that helped me with it, too.

But I have very little interest in a lot of King’s work.  I’ve read Misery which has no supernatural stuff in it, and about a year ago I read 11/22/63 which has a time travel device, but is essentially an historical novel about the Kennedy assassination (in case you didn’t catch the date.)

Now I’m at the beginning of The Shining.

About six months ago we watched the Kubrick film of the book, and even though I saw it ages ago, it felt very fresh to me.  It’s an interesting film but I can also see why King didn’t like it much.  I’ve also seen the TV mini-series that was done a few years ago which is truer to King’s vision of his own story.  It was also good, but visually it didn’t pack the punch of Kubrick’s version.

So I decided to try the book myself.  And I’m loving it.  Yes, it’s got a supernatural theme in it but to me it’s the story of an alcoholic writer which in all those permutations, holds a lot of interest to me, more than the supernatural stuff actually.

So back to science fiction.  After many detours.

Because I find it fun to tool around Kindle – I somehow stumbled upon a book with the curious title of Wool.  By an author I’d never heard of, Hugh Howey.  (For some reason, that name, Hugh Howey, reminds me of Sylvester the Cat lisping “Sufferin’ Succotash” – too much sibilance, I guess.)

Wool blew me away – and it’s science fiction.  Who knew?  I ended up reading in short order the remaining parts of the “Silo” trilogy, Shift and Dust.

Perhaps it was the knitting references that pulled me in.  The author originally self published Wool in small novella-like pieces – each titled for the handling of the substance of wool – “Proper Gauge,” “Casting Off,” “The Unraveling,” and “The Stranded.”  Only the first section, “Holston” has no sneaky references to knitting.  But it was the first section that totally grabbed me and hurled me into this dystopian future.

The other grabber was that there were strong female characters throughout.  The primary character is named Juliette (yes, after Romeo & you know . . .), but even besides her there are fully realized women in the Mayor Jahn, Shirly, Courtnee, Anna, Charlotte, and others.  One negative I had with the books, though, is that the bad guys are all men with the possible exception of Anna, who we aren’t sure of (of course she turns out to be a good person.)  That’s a weakness of the story – because this is a fairly egalitarian world he’s created, it’s entirely probable that women would be just as reprehensible as men at times.

The story has a few other plot weaknesses, but overall, it’s an engaging, fun read.  There’s plenty of twists and turns and “black moments” to keep you turning pages, or swiping them if you’re on a kindle.  But in the end, although not completely positive, there’s a nascent hopefulness that gives it a satisfying closure.

Although there is no supernatural element to the story, there is the use of science fact, stretched to logical, or at least possible, conclusions.   What if nanotechnology can be used as a weapon in warfare?  What if propofol became the newest psychotropic drug, used to erase painful, negative memories?  What if we had perfected the hibernation of people?  All of these pseudo scientific elements in the near future (although Wool and Dust take place in 2345, the second book Shift brings it back to 2049) form the backdrop for the actions taken.

It’s the Waking Dead, not the Walking Dead, but both are set near Atlanta.  And the waking are not “dead” exactly, just in the deep freeze for decades at a time.  And nobody remembers their recent past, their legacy, due to their water being “treated” with the memory erasing drug.  And when a group gets out of line or threatens to – they are dispatched via nanos that attack their bodily systems from the inside with no way to escape them.

Of course, people not being robots (at least not quite yet), some of them do the courageous thing – they don’t conform, they make trouble, they get sneaky and attack back – and in these books a lot of these courageous ones die for their trouble.   Our heroine, Juliette, survives although she pays a high price with loss of friends and lovers and a new, painful understanding of both her people’s legacy and their possible future, which is left a bit unknown.

All in all, a great read, even if – or especially if – you don’t like science fiction.