Monday, August 18, 2014

In Memory of Robin Williams

For this blog post, I had originally planned a heartfelt remembrance to Robin Williams, detailing everything he’d done and what it meant to me.  I’d even gone so far as to write the vast majority of it.  The problem was, nothing I could say accurately portrayed what he meant to so many of us.  Sometimes even words fail.  So all I can say is this:

Mr. Williams, you will be missed.   The darkness seemed to stay at bay a little bit longer with you here among us.  You were proof that we could be more than we seemed. That we should always cherish the kid inside us, no matter our age.  That just a number.  You’re only as old as you feel.  Your humor guided us through good times and bad.  Goodbye and rest in peace.

It's imperfect and I accept that.  My deepest sympathies go out to those who knew him best—his friends and family.  Thank you for sharing this man with us.

But, all things considered, there’s one thing left to say. Robin Williams, comedic genius that he was, suffered from depression.  It seems impossible that someone who brought such happiness to others could suffer from such a debilitating illness.  But it only goes to prove the opposite.  ANYONE can suffer from depression.  NO ONE is immune.  And we cannot act like it can be locked away in a corner and never spoken about.  That’s the one way we can damn everyone.

I know plenty who suffer from depression, both in private and in public.  It's nothing to be ashamed of.  Talking can help.  It may not be a solution, but it's a start.  Begin.  Speak to your friends and family, to your loved ones.  They would rather have you here with them than be left with just a memory.  Someone out there cares.  


Monday, August 4, 2014

Failure is . . . Wait—What?

Lately, I've seen a lot of blog posts and articles about failure.  No matter what we do, everyone is aware of it.  It’s a constant risk, but one that we live with every day—in every aspect of our lives.  Should writing and publishing be any different?  The thing is, some people seem to be taking it to an extreme lately, including a blogger who expounded on the idea that “failure is our muse.”


I hope you had the same reaction to this as I did.  It’s defeatist and makes no sense.  Talk about pessimism.  Have I ever experienced failure?  Oh God, yes.  Every time I try to run a mile, eat at Chili’s, or try to get a tan.  But calling failure my muse?  No.  I’m sorry, but if failure is your muse, then you are in the wrong fucking profession.

If that seems a bit harsh, think of it this way:  Does failure serve as inspiration for a surgeon whose patients die under his knife?  What about the mechanic whose newly-repaired cars blow up?  The architect who designs a house that collapses? 

The concept just doesn't fly with me.  It doesn't work.

Now, in the author’s defense, I understand what he was trying—but failing—to say.  Not muse, but motivation. (used since I can’t seem to find a copy of the OED without driving five hours) defines muse as verb meaning “to meditate on.”  There are other definitions as well, including “to comment thoughtfully or ruminate on” as well as the noun form of the word in reference to classical Greek mythology.  But not one of them means inspiration. 

I can’t think of a single instance when it is a good thing for anyone to meditate on failure.  Reflection?  That’s good.  We all need time to stop and look back on what we’ve done.  Time to see our path and correct our course.  But meditation implies a focus to the exclusion of everything else.  And where would hope and success be but with the all inclusive everything else? 

Ask a scientist what makes us human.  Depending on the field, the answer differs.  Opposable thumbs.  A developed brain.  The ability to create tools and adapt the environment to our needs rather than we to it.  Ask an artist, the answer differs just as much.  Ask yourself.  What makes us human?  For me, it’s a one-word answer:


Sure, we’re the culmination of so many adaptations that it’s impossible to narrow down humanity—and what it means to be human—to just a single concept.  And I would agree with that.  I agree with the opposable thumbs and the concept of self.  But for me, hope is the single theme running through the lives of untold trillions who have walked this earth.  That’s why it’s such a terrible thing when someone loses hope.  And what is the antithesis of hope but failure?  Or at least musing on failure.

Honestly, I am no better than anyone else.  I muse over failure much more than I should—much more than is healthy.  It’s part of my psyche, embedded there like a rusted nail.   But I can’t let it rule my life.  None of us can. 

Using failure as a motivator?  Sure, I can understand that—saving that patient, building the perfect house, creating a better vehicle.  Writing the perfect sentence.  It won’t ever happen, but it’s a goal.  My goal. 

But hope isn't my muse.  That would prohibit my understanding of the darker sides of life.  I wrote a murder mystery, for crying out loud.  I need those aspects in my writing.  If I focused solely on hope, then the story might look something more like this:

“Who killed Andrea?”
“I don’t know.”
“Man, I hope she’s all right.”
Andrea sits up.  “I’m good.  It’s ok, (REDACTED), you didn’t have to shoot me.”
And everyone lives happily ever after.

That would sell a lot of books, wouldn’t it?  To be a writer (or anything beyond an automaton), you need to understand the many different facets of humanity.  We can’t just focus on hope, or failure, or charisma.  It simply doesn’t work.  Imagine a rainbow of just one color or a forest that’s slate grey in the fall.  The bark, the leaves, the plants and animals—all just grey.  Boring, right?

Instead, we must take everything as a whole and notice the subtle differences.  Like when each of us looks at a picture and sees a slightly different image. 

So sure.  Use failure.  To avoid doing so would only make you a failure.  Failure is how we learn.  But don’t let it rule your life.  Motivation I can get, but a muse?  Hell no.  Rather, I would argue to avoid muses; focus instead on the wide world of color around you.  Notice how it shifts and changes within each person at different times.  None of us are red all the time, but can flow into yellow or blue at a moment’s notice.  And don’t forget the subtle shading.  Is that sports car the same color as the apple you ate for lunch?  No.  And we are the same way.

Unless you’re two years old.  Then your apples and sports cars can be the same color. 

Gloriously so.