Sunday, April 27, 2008

Celebrity suicide


I didn't pay much attention when Heath Ledger committed suicide. I was aware it was shocking - he seemed successful and happy in public. What darkness lay beneath his Hollywood exterior was something that didn't interest me. Quite frankly, I've always felt that the desire to achieve stardom was inherently pathological, and so, a suicide from that quarter has never surprised me. Adulation from strangers can not fill an existential hole. In fact, from the small brush with notoriety I had when I was young, I believe that adoring fans can make the feeling of alienation even worse. People want to be with you because of your fame, not because they like you. They treat you like you are special but you are no different than you were when you not well known, so you realize the adoration is false. This, I believe, was the pain that hurt Kurt Cobain the most - being loved by those who would have beat him up in High School. It sounds trite in print, but in real life, this dilemma is wrenching.

The suicides that bother me most are those of people who have made great accomplishments. Writers, scientists, fine artists - these people, it seems, should feel satisfied with their accomplishments. From the outside looking in, it seems like their personal voids are being filled. Spaulding Gray, Mark Rothko, VIrginia Woolff, Primo Levi. . .just to name a few. . .these suicides are incomprehensible to me.

Yet, as a person who has suffered from depression throughout my entire life, I understand. Not the particulars, no, of course not. A part of me rails against these people - c'mon guys - you were functional enough to get published or get your work hung in galleries, at the very least! - but then I step back and examine my own depression.

People who have not had depression do not get it. Even I, when I am horrified at Spaulding Gray's death, for example (for his really affected me) sometimes don't get it.

Depression is irrational. It poisons everything. It doesn't care what you do. You can achieve great things or sit in front of a television set all your life. It does not matter. Just being alive is painful.

As sad as this is, I have to remind myself just what depression is. Even if I accomplish nothing in this life, if I make it through to a natural death, I will have made a great statement (though sadly, unnoticed): that you can survive depression. It doesn't have to wrap you up in its arms and smother you. You don't have to die before your time. Even if it's just the pleasure of a bird outside your window, every day holds something wonderful, and that is worth living for.

I wonder sometimes, when people accomplish "big" things, if they forget to notice that which is very small. And for myself, it is the smallest things in life that keep me from the worst act. The blooming of a flower, the smell of ozone during a summer rain, a good meal, the sun rising and setting - this is the stuff of life that keeps me going.

Art Note: I was wavering between putting up a photograph of a particularly beautiful flower and a depressing drawing by Egon Schiele. Schiele (1890-1918)won. In spite of his "paranoia obsession" and other mental health quirks (not to mention his decidedly gloomy art) he did not commit suicide.

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