Lately I have been so busy that I haven’t had much time to blog. However, the tragic loss of Robin Williams has led to me talk about his life – and his death.
Genius and Insanity are sometimes close bedfellows – so they say. I am sure I am not the only one on this blog that has been profoundly affected by his death. People on the news talk about his “demons” and other bloggers use this opportunity to bash his failure to get help. They say – He had all the money in the world; all he needed to do was get help! Depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation are NOT demons. Money, fame, power, love and family do NOT stop the sometimes terrible progression of depression.
Depression is a disease. Period. Final. Addiction is a co-morbid factor to a disease like Depression. You might as well ask – which came first…the chicken or the egg. Some people who deal with depression also deal with addiction. Sure, they may be different types of addiction, but it is still addiction. No, I have never done cocaine – but I have done alcohol. Although I have mostly stopped I do occasionally consume alcoholic beverages, mainly in a social manner, because I know that I can’t let myself drink too much. I can’t go there again. Of course, speaking of addiction – I stopped in the middle of this to have a cigarette. I hate smoking – and I love smoking…it eases the tension.
I have been devastated by his death because I felt a real connection to him. Not just his ability to do great film, television and standup – but because we had some things in common. His story of being bullied as a child and using comedy to make friends touches me so deeply. I was viciously bullied from kindergarten all the way through my senior year of high school. I sat at the lunch table alone for years. I played alone on the playground. Sure, I would have my one good friend who usually was in the same situation I was. Then they would change schools or move away and I would be alone again.
I wrote to deal with the loneliness and the desire to be anywhere but school. My brain wouldn’t allow me to keep still in class so I had a teacher that introduced me to the wonderful world of writing. When my work was done she would give me a “story starter,” a simple piece of paper with the first paragraph of a story that I could take and work on. I could spend days on a single story. What should have been finished in three or four paragraphs would take ten or twelve pages. She always took it and read it, made notes and wrote wonderful words about my talent or my imagination. She would make suggestions, corrections to spelling and grammar and the next one would be better. I thrived on writing.
In my 8th grade year, three of us wrote a little play called “Doctor Duck” and we won a spot in the school talent show. I was hooked – people laughed so hard! This boy I had a bad crush on (he was a senior) chucked me on the shoulder and said, “Nice job – you’re funny!” Talk about melting. The next year I won another spot doing an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
People who had never spoken to me suddenly wanted to ask me why I wasn’t in the school play. I wasn’t popular enough; you have to be really popular to get a spot in a very small school.
I discovered humor and improvisation. Did speech contests, wrote constantly about everything and continued to audition for the play. The lunchroom became my own little stage as people who usually laughed at me joined me for my lunchtime performance. I was still a target for the bullies – but at least I no longer ate lunch alone.
I took writing classes in high school. One time, a substitute teacher that I adored, gave me an F on a poem with a big note in red pen that said, “SEE ME.” She accused me of plagiarizing from Edgar Allen Poe. We went through every poem written by Poe when she turned around and changed it to an A. She apologized and was concerned because the poem was so dark she believed that it had to be Poe. I admit, I like the dark stuff, I always have. It allows the darkness to come out.
I went on to do Community Theater – including leading roles like Driving Miss Daisy. I loved the spotlight – I still do. My favorite place in the world is a packed elevator – they are, after all, a captive audience.
I admit I had a bit of a crush on Robin Williams; it was his piercing blue eyes. They were so deep and they sparkled; but every now and then, when the laughter ended, I could see the sadness in his eyes. I do the same thing. I will do a routine at work that will have my closest co-workers rolling on the floor. Just goofing around, talking about this or that, whatever strikes me as funny or can be turned funny. I am in no way as talented or as amazing as Robin Williams is – but I know the sadness when the laughter is over.
My favorite role of his was Dead Poet’s Society – I loved him as Mr. Keating. I think it is because he combined two of my favorite things; teaching and writing. In fact, the night he died I sat and watched some of it – just to hear his voice and feel his energy.
I think that what is most devastating is that if depression can take a man like Robin Williams – it can take any of us. So I would say to you, please don’t give up! Words and ideas can change the world – your voice is powerful – so much more powerful than the depression that we live with. So to this end I would like to finish this with a poem by Walt Whitman that you will recognize from Dead Poet’s Society. It is from his Leaves of Grass collection. I believe that it is truly fitting at a time like this; it is a poem about depression about the struggle to live each day – to get up – to walk among people – to maintain faith.
Oh Me! Oh Life!
Oh me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless traines of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish
than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the
struggle ever renew’d
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I
see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me
The question, O me! so sad, recurring–What good amid these,
O me, O life?
That you are here–that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Finally – if I may be so arrogant as to post my own verse in the same page as Walt Whitman – my little tribute to Robin.
Oh Captain, why have you gone,
The farce of your laughter,
The truth of your tears,
The darkness above your door.
The mask you wore,
It choose you.
The brilliance of mind,
And brokenness of heart.
A mask of comedy,
Tears of laughter.
Eyes of radiance,
A heart of tragedy.
Rest your soul now,
In the gentle hands of God
May your sleep be sweet,
And your heart’s song,
Will drown in tears no more.
Peace – and special prayers to Robin’s family.