Passport Update

The first renewed passport that was issued in June finally arrived! My identity is safe!

On my vacation at Lake of the Woods last week, I found a copy of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls in the house. I don’t read much nonfiction, but I am a Sedaris fan, so I picked it up and enjoyed the read. I particularly enjoyed the pieces about life abroad, but one essay mirrored my own recent passport fun in that unsettling and enlightening way only good literature can.

“A Cold Case” is about Sedaris’ experience having his passport stolen when he was a permanent resident of England, and losing that document with the passport.

Here are my favorite parts:

When hassled by Border Security: “Who was I to feel at home in another country, to believe that filling out forms and scoring high marks on a test guaranteed me the same sense of belonging I take for granted in the United States?”

When he tries to get a new passport:

“Nobody likes having a problem, but having a convoluted, bureaucratic one is even more galling. When I explained it to people face-to-face I would see their eyes glazing over, and when I explained it over the phone, I could feel them turning on their computers and checking their retirement accounts.”

“I hung up thinking there were worse things than being deported from England. What’s with a country that takes six months to replace a sticker in somebody’s passport, this when it’s all right there on the computer? Then I thought of other things I don’t like about the place…There are problems everywhere, of course. It’s just that without my passport I can’t adequately appreciate them.”

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So here’s why I’ve been trapped in Canada for the past 3 months…

My passport was to expire this month, and since I live in Canada now, I had to renew it by mail. Sending in the form was easy enough. But it all went downhill from there. I had to send my old passport with the form, so I was basically stuck in Canada without it. There are worse fates, but when possible, I prefer not to be stuck anywhere.

Here’s where things got fun. I checked the status of my new passport online, and it was processed and shipped within the allotted 6 weeks. I was told I would receive it by June 17. June 17 came and went with no passport. As did June 18, 19, 20, and so on, well into July.

I called the passport center and was told that they have no way of tracking passports mailed to Canada and that they couldn’t say for sure what happened to it. They had “no way of knowing” where in the world my passport was. Good. Great. Awesome.

I saved the passport center’s number into the contacts list on my phone so I could easily call them on a daily basis. But the fun part was, this wasn’t the office that actually processed my missing-in-the-mail passport. That office did not have a phone number and could only be contacted by mail. Yes, good old gets-there-in-7-to-10-days paper mail.

These calls went on well into August. I was eventually told to file for non-receipt of passport. (More snail mail.) Then once the form was received, I was contacted by the real issuing office! But they told me the policies had changed in the months since I sent in my old passport and they now required a photo copy of an ID to process the non-receipt form. Oh, good.

Long story short, they let me fax in a copy of my Canadian driver’s license. And just two days later I found my new passport on the doorstep. Yes, they sent it next day and let it sit there on the doorstep all afternoon. I could have had two lost passports out there. But I got it. It’s a fancy new hardback book with pictures of American history throughout. And most importantly, I’m free! The only problem is, somehow they’re holding me responsible for the still-lost-in-the-mail passport and I need to follow up on it. Stay tuned for updates…

 

A Life of Many Roles

I have to begin by saying I’m usually not moved by the death of a celebrity. Of course it’s horrible when anyone dies, but I just don’t feel a personal connection to people I experience through the barriers of the screen. People who are removed yet again by becoming a brand or a product.

But for some reason, when I read that Robin Williams had died, I felt a personal loss. I’m still trying to figure out why exactly that is, but here are some of my thoughts on his life and death:

How could someone as funny as Robin Williams be so tortured that the punchline of his life is this horrible?

Mrs Doubtfire.jpgI had a discussion with some coworkers the other day about how maybe comedians are the most tortured of us all. There is some strand of the dark and perverse in the things that make us laugh. To connect with what makes us laugh, you have to be familiar with what rips us apart. Which came first, the loss or the laughs? At a certain point we need humor to help us through the awful, like laughing through a funeral. Life would just hurt too much if we didn’t let out the parts that wound us deeply.

He wasn’t “just” a comedian.

Comedians are analysts of the human condition, and their job is not easy or superficial. Yet, Robin Williams was more than humor. He was fun, family friendly characters like in Aladdin, Hook, Jumanji. He was of course, hilarious characters like Mrs. Doubtfire. And often forgotten, he was creepy characters like 24 Hour Photo and Insomnia. (Wow, I just realized the Robbins on a boat meme photo is a shot from Insomnia.) And he was inspiring, like Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting, and my favorite, Dead Poets Society. (And also wonderfully unclassifiable movies like Toys.)

He was more than just one role or one anything. He occupied all these facets of our lives. What makes us laugh, what terrifies us, what comforts us.

Depression

I’ve had my own, often thankfully short bouts of depression. So I respect and understand his struggle. I don’t think it was right or wrong of him to take his life and I can certainly understand the void of depression that could lead someone with a full life to see the world as hopeless. Depression turns even the best things in our lives into black holes that consume the very universe we live in. It tears them apart and only leaves an absence behind. Not even a desire for what was, but a hole.

So hearing that Robin Williams killed himself made me all the more depressed, because it made me feel that struggle and that pain. I’ve heard several people say he inspired them to pull out of their own depression. But for me it just echoed my own dark moments. A reminder of how it could have gone. I don’t really have anything positive to say about this. There isn’t anything to say about depression or suicide. It is terrible.

Immortality

Thanks to the interwebs, the moment Robin Williams died, he was all anyone talked about. Like a larger than life rockstar burning out only to explode in the allure of their tortured too-soon-death, the man became a legacy at his death. Instead of a man, we now see him as a culmination of his roles, of his personality, his public life and deeds.

Maybe it’s just because I grew up in a conservative small town in the American South, but I only heard bad things about Michael Jackson; he was a deviant, a pedophile, until he died and suddenly became not his actions or his life, but a culmination of his art. A memorialized piece of culture and revered cultural icon. So it is with Robin Williams. His films will live on. His legacy will live on. His commitment to his family and to causes he believed in will live on. His awesomeness will live on. (He named his daughter Zelda, after the videogame, so he was the best kind of geek.) He is now all of these things at once, not a man, but a life and a memory that permeates the consciousness of everyone he’s moved and laughed and nudged through adolescence and their own dark times.

Looking back over what I’ve written, I think what strikes me most about Robin Williams is his range of characters. He’s so easy to identify with because life is a series of many roles, and we need the full arsenal if we’re going to get through.