Erasure

FullSizeRender[2]A couple months ago I turned 30. The big 3-0. All year I felt this impending milestone sinking on my shoulders and it made me question what I’d done with my first 30 years. Which led me to ask myself why I hadn’t achieved what I’d set out to do in my 20s, the major goals being to publish a novel and become fluent in a second language. As my 29th year burned to a close, I collected the last of the rejections on my novel and chalked it up as a loss. Which made me start feeling even worse about my other goal of learning a language. I wasted my 20s fueling a failed novel, and had nothing to show for it. All I had was a job I hated (that exacerbated the failure) and a lower than novice level understanding of Spanish, Japanese, Latin, and Portuguese.

Hitting 30 was one of the most depressing times of my life. I hadn’t done anything. And I blamed it all on the novel, on writing and how it had made me lose sight of my career and other ambitions.

It was dark times. Dark, scary times. I hit 30, totally unprepared with no seatbelt or parachute.

IMG_0769

The other side of my 30th birthday was just as dark and scary.

But shortly after, things started to get better. I revisited my second novel and let writing become an activity I enjoyed again instead of a means to an end (an end of failure slathered in sticky peanut butter and dusted in glitter). It’s got a long way to go, but Second Novel is going somewhere. And I’m going with it.

Almost exactly a month after my 30th birthday, I started a new job. This literally changed my life. My last job was emotionally draining and awful and the new one is busy and gets stressful, but it doesn’t make me feel completely awful, which is completely awesome. I have energy at the end of the day. I sleep well. I feel happy sometimes, actually most of the time — which is new.

FullSizeRenderThis newfound calm has led me to the decision to actually study Portuguese instead of just talking about it. I ordered a textbook online and was half excited and half disappointed yesterday when it arrived and I discovered the workbook was already filled in. Excited because it’s fun to see someone else’s mark on an object, and disappointed because how am I going to learn Portuguese if Sarah from Guelph already learned all the Portuguese out of this book?

Luckily, Sarah wrote her answers in pencil, so I went to grab an eraser, only to discover that I do not own a single eraser!!! When I thought about it, I realized I haven’t used a pencil at home or at work, probably since high school. On my desk at home I have a stein my sister brought me from Germany. It is full of blue pens, black pens, pens that FullSizeRenderlook like monsters, sharpies, and highlighters. Not a single pencil. My desk at work is covered in papers with pens sitting on top of them and rolling under them like snakes under leaves. My top drawer is full of a dozen backup pens. No pencils.

Throughout my school years I was something of a pencil fanatic (read into that what you will). I had an impressive collection of Yikes! designer pencils, mechanical pencils of all lead weights and materials, and many, many more pouring out of my backpack and Trapperkeeper.

I also had a collection of erasers. The boring pink trapezoids, a green one shaped like a brain (from Yikes!’ Fall 96 collection), erasers that looked like dinosaurs, and ones that sat atop my equally impressive pencils. I only used the pink utilitarian ones because I didn’t dare turn my favorites into rubber pulp. But I took comfort in the fact that I had an infinite variety of writing tools at my disposal — and also a limitless number of ways to correct any mistakes I happened to make.

In our youth we’re expected to write in pencil, to make mistakes, to have an eraser FullSizeRender[1]handy. But then as we get older there are no erasers. Time is always passing, and you come to learn that you can always make a second attempt but you can never have a complete re-do because what’s done is done and there’s no going back.

I know this now. But that didn’t stop me from buying an eraser today. I’m going to erase Sarah’s attempt to fill in the blanks, and I’m going to learn Portuguese!

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.