A single dark event in the history of the world has produced an amazing positive result. All of the media posts of the world covered the story ahead of all else, and there are some dire circumstances out there. Of greatest interest to me was that throughout the day no-one discussed the tragedy. It was, I think, too poignant, too personal to toss around. I am writing about the suicide of one of my heroes, Robin Williams. I too suffer from chronic depression and like all of my fellow sufferers around the world it was easy to recognize in this incredible man. He denied being bi-polar or clinically depressed but I can tell you that all those manic, hilarious public highs we knew him for were often matched by similar private lows. From the various accounts I have gleaned, his death wasn’t an easy one. There are much easier, painless methods of ending your life than slashing your wrists and then hanging yourself in the closet with a belt. I know. I’m 62 years old and I’ve thought about it on and off for nearly a lifetime. He was determined to go.
When I first heard the news I was shattered and immediately plunged into a manic state of grief. Williams was an icon of positive reinforcement to me, an example of turning dark energy into something uplifting and joyful. He was a symbol of hope to me. Think of the light this one incredible comedian and actor left in millions of eyes. Clearly fame, wealth, and all the available options thatcan bring, while surrounded by adoring people were not enough to stay the massive urge to self-destruct. His sense of hopelessness overwhelmed him to a point of not being able to stand his personal pain anymore.
Depression is NOT simply weakness or bad attitude. It is a disease of the brain, electrical and/ or chemical. I like to see myself as one tough old blue-collared dude who was able to out-work, out-endure extremes of pain, cold, heat, loneliness, poverty; generally a tough old sonofabitch. I took a very long time, until I was forty years old, to admit I had a serious issue with depression. I shall always feel profound sadness when I think of all the pain I’ve caused so many who have tried and those who still try so hard to love me. I’m very bright and talented and I’m no axe-murderer but it must be damned hard to believe in someone who doesn’t feel the same way about themselves. I’ve written a book about my experience with this bastardly thing called depression and all the stigmatizing that society imposes.
Writing “Sins Of The Fathers” was somewhat cathartic but putting it out there was also the toughest thing I’ve ever done. The book is available online through ‘Chipmunka Publishing.’ My hope was that it would enlighten folks who don’t understand how severe depression is indeed a tangible disease which affects many aspects of a person’s life and well-being. I also wanted to offer affirmation to fellow sufferers. A sense of utter loneliness and feeling that no-one else can possibly understand you is often part of the incredible weight you carry. If you have any of all the myriad of other human afflictions, for example cancer or a heart problem, there is a ton of empathy and sympathy. When the human brain, easily our most complex organ, and probably most abused, doesn’t perform flawlessly, the sufferer is often shunned and treated like a pariah. That only exacerbates the problem.
That is why Williams death can be used as a positive thing. He has left a lot of joy and even wisdom behind that will have lasting benefit to us all. But that someone as prominent, as adored, deified, and as accessible to help as Robin Williams was, has killed himself stunned the world. The other thousand or more daily suicides never make the news. They never will but I believe this story has raised everyone’s awareness. One of four people, have, have had, or will have some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Look in the mirror. Think about it.
Na-Nu Na-Nu Mork.
“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
I swear I have been passed on the road by a shiny Hummer with a ‘Think Green’ bumper sticker. All this enviro-speak is very trendy but when if comes to giving up personal comfort, well yeah but…! I saw a photo recently of a fat man jovially sporting a T-shirt saying “I beat anorexia.” Yeah, it’s funny, but underscores how we love our extremes. We want to drive 300hp SUV’s and also get fifty miles a gallon. People’s vehicles are bigger than ever and obesity is worn by many as a badge of well-being but I’m just not that interested in global stupidity, I’ve got a full-time job dealing with my own.
A growing number of folks are taking pride in living fully by enjoying a fresh awareness of how little they need. Perhaps in result of recent economic events, it is a refreshing turn away from our perversion for lemming gluttony. After living in a boat for years I can claim the benefits outweigh the inconveniences. Not much room for clutter here and if something aboard hasn’t proven its worth within a year; it’s gone. Use it or lose it! Forty-one feet up one side of the boat and the same down the other gives me eighty-two feet of untaxed waterfront property. I can change the view and the neighbours any time I want and, Yeehaw! You won’t find a damned lawnmower anywhere in this boat. Yes, I’d love to have a workshop aboard and I can think of other essential amenities but soon enough I could could end up with an aircraft carrier and still be wanting a little more room. Some of my happiest memories have to do with canoes and rowboats and backpacks; enough said.
I recently bought a teardrop trailer and that has led me onto some interesting paths of research. There is a quiet trend toward downsizing homes, vehicles and RVs with folks taking pride in learning how little they realty need. That path helped me discover the tinyhouseblog.com which is a site dedicated to compiling stories about people who are discovering the joy of living in as small a space as possible. Boats, trailers, gypsy wagons, yurts and small buildings are all there. Not only are many designing, building and living in sensible homes, they are joyfully discovering the freedom of shedding the burden of being owned by mountains of “Stuff”. It is a trend which I hope gains momentum and flies in the face of consumerism. That is an insidious religion we have all been programmed to embrace. We worship in the malls and plazas that are our mosques and cathedrals. Blind consumerism is as evil and deadly as any other fundamentalist dogma.
For years I have noted some folks stepping backward when they learn that I live in a boat. I can almost hear the thought at times, ‘He’s one of those!” That’s fine, your waters are too shallow for me; I doubt we’d have become friends anyway. This old boat hippy does however firmly believe that the price of freedom is responsibility. No-one has the right to impose their personal preferences on others. I maintain my boat so that it is always tidy and seaworthy and self-sufficient at all times. There’s no point expecting respect from others unless you demonstrate you have some for yourself. I’m also learning that perhaps it is better to do big things in a small boat instead of little things in big boats. It is too easy to lose sight of the plan if you starting getting bigger boats and acquiring more stuff. Soon you are buried in a hole where your possessions own you. I know all too well! Not so long ago entire families went off to see some, or all, of the world in boats that were seldom over 30′ in length. Now the average cruising couple often has a boat at least 40′ long. Interestingly, each day’s dead reckoning is still calculated at a speed of 5 knots.
Minimalism offers the joy of being able to go now. The encumbrance of stuff and where to keep it all, and the associated debt, is gone. I have wasted a huge portion of my life preparing boat after boat. Many of those have gone on to sail away over the horizon with a new owner. The first boat I owned could have taken me anywhere. I can’t openly admit any of the excuses which have kept me tied to the dock and which I thought were so important at the time.
“When in fear or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out”…Tristan Jones
Emotional depression is an epidemic in the Western World. Sadly it is, I believe, a symptom of a huge malady relating directly to our consumerist culture. We all feel inadequate if we don’t look like this, smell like that, drive one of those, live in a faux castle and surround ourselves with other similarly deluded souls who desperately try to maintain a facade of bottomless wealth. Of course we can never catch up to those expectations imposed on us by a lifetime of spin doctors and marketing wizards. So very many of us become bogged in a swamp of despair because we have been convinced that we just don’t measure up. Rising crime rates, fiscally foundering governments? It is only an emulation of the mindset so prevalent in our own homes. If you have no self-love, it it is damned hard to respect and love anyone else. If the nation’s individual personal finances teeter on bankruptcy, how is it surprising that we have a national deficit?
I’m bending toward people who live in so-called third world conditions. There is a lot to learn from them. For all they don’t have, sometimes not even shoes, they have dignity and self-esteem. They can look you in the eye and actually smile. They understand, because they live so close to the wire, that you only have the moment. They are not emotionally constipated by worrying about investment portfolios or many of the problems of the future. They have not bought the myth that they are somehow immortal. If they can feed their children today that is their best expectation; feeding them tomorrow, a bonus. Most of the world lives like this; we are the privileged few. If only we could remain aware of that single fact as our middle-class erodes.
People who are not busy trying to build a personal empire have a lot more time and mental space to be philosophically and spiritually aware. A documentary I recently enjoyed, ‘La Camioneta’, is about the new life of a recycled American school bus as it moves from an auction yard in the US to a new home in Guatemala. A man there, who has a small business refurbishing buses for local commercial use is asked why he decided on his particular career. I paraphrase his reply in part, “The thing about a bus is, even if the passengers are not all friends, it is a place where for a little while, people share their journey through life together.” That thought is profound. Consider that the whole planet is a place where we must share our journey through life. There is so much we can do to make our journey together better for each other.
I woke up yesterday morning in a new year. The world was still here and so am I, not even hung-over or under. Again today, it is the usual drippy, grey dawn where thick darkness gradually gives way to medium gloom. By mid-afternoon the day will slowly slink back into a palpable darkness which invades your being a bit more with each breath.
So in this new year I have a great boat and a little trailer with which I intend to use the remains of my little existence to go unravel some of life’s mystery and rediscover basics we have left behind. (“Something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to while doing no harm”) No matter how much philosophizing and analyzing one does, a balanced life can’t be refined better than that…. in my opinion. My little odyssey will be described in part through this blog. In some small way, I hope my discoveries help enlighten others. The journey began long ago. Soon I must shut-up about “Gonnado” and actually leave town. The blogs will continue. Bring some good boots along if you like but, no bigger than you need.
I’m writing at the moment entirely for my own sake. Truth be told, that’s why most writers write but that’s another story. Any creative effort is an affirmation of life and hope. Home is where the boat is and tonight I’m aboard without even my beloved dog for company. It’s dark out and it is cold. It seeps into the boat and into my bones. I wonder if I feel the cold because I’m getting older and arthritic, or if it is a psychological issue and I have a sense of coldness.
Certainly there was a time when cold was nothing to hold me back. I once hitch-hiked around Northern Ontario job-hunting in January. All I owned was in my pocket and in my backpack. That’s the time of year, in that part of the world, when it can warm up to minus forty degrees and then blow a days-long blizzard. I have interesting yarns about that ordeal and how I lived to talk about it. Let’s just say I truly understand being cold, and being hungry, and feeling utterly alone. Thank God for a few kind people.
I was the guy who always tried to prove he was tougher, be it about cold, or heat, or endurance of long hours, moving heavy objects on my own and generally taking unnecessary chances to prove how manly I was. I should have been dead at least ten times before I was twenty-five… that I’m willing to remember. I didn’t expect or want to live into senior years. Others were too wise to attempt similar feats of stupidity and quietly went about managing their lives and their finances so they could enjoy an easier life time in later years. Of course, I finally understand that I was merely demonstrating a monstrous insecurity. I am now suffering physically and financially for all that younger recklessness. That empathy does not relieve the price I continue to pay for those days. Sadly, those who have loved me have had to share my misery. I will always carry a guilt above those whom I have hurt.
I’ve declared at times that I’m not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of not living. To paraphrase some lines from a movie I recently saw, the protagonist said that there’s a place somewhere between living and dying where some folks get stuck and it’s not a happy place to be.
I know what he means. I’ve also said that the greatest distance any sailor can travel is the six inches between one ear and the other. Tonight I wonder if I have actually made that crossing.
Other quotes have to do with how living one day as a lion is better than spending a thousand as a sheep and how the moment is all we have. Keeping your “Pecker up’, as the British say, is the key to surviving but damn! It’s hard some days. Bad attitude brings bad luck which inspires more gloom until one very quickly finds themselves in a deadly spiral.
I know many other people have bouts of melancholy and regret, especially in winter. I wish I could offer magic words which could be an instant anecdote and at least bring contentment during the dark tunnels of life’s journey. All I can say at this point in my life, when I have more years behind me than ahead, that nothing is forever. This gig we call life leaves the station and constantly accelerates toward an inevitable wreck. The journey becomes a blur. Suddenly events of a half-century ago seem like mere weeks past. One day, somewhere, a clerk asks if you qualify for a senior’s discount. Shocked and horrified you go home and spend a long time peering at the wrinkled physog in the mirror. What a dark epiphany!
Then soon, you resolve that time and tide do not wait. You begin to capitalize by asking for senior’s discounts. Sadly no one asks to see ID. You really DO look that old! But, if you don’t like the look of things today, try missing a few. Sadly one absolute realization that comes with getting older is the value of seizing the moment. Friends and acquaintances start to fall ill and die ever more frequently. Time is of the essence.
I’ve spent the last year with my head down doggedly determined that I will realize my dream…..now. I haven’t yet, but things are a lot closer than if I’d done nothing and yet it has never looked bleaker. One wisdom of becoming an older bull is that you understand how often things look the most impossible just before they begin to fall into place. Sometimes you’ve got to stand your ground.
I don’t need a bucket list; I have the same ambitions now that I have held for the past thirty years. Nothing has changed there. I know I’m missing too many joys of the moment for the hope of delayed gratification. Then I think about the utter waste of abandoning several decades of denial and singular focus. It’s a frustrating balance of perspectives and I wonder if I’ve learned anything.
I had a buddy with whom I learned to fly when we were in our teens. We would regularly try to twist the wings from whatever we were flying, as happy to be inverted as right-side up. Once we returned to the rental base with a two-foot piece of tree-top stuck in the fork of the nose wheel. When I last saw him I was recovering from heart surgery and lamenting about how I’d squandered my life flitting from one adventure to another. He had enjoyed an illustrious career as an airline pilot and had then become a successful businessman. Yet he said he’d trade histories in a minute. It’s the ubiquitous tale of far-away pastures looking greener. He’d had decades of boredom and thought I was the one who’d had all the fun. Go figure!
Well I’m now finishing up this blog on the morning of December 1st. Time is going by so fast I’d best confirm what year it is! Work on the boat progresses according to the weather. A set of folding steps is slowly rising toward the masthead. I go up and dangle in my bosun’s chair whenever it is not raining and two or three more steps appear. I’m almost to the spreaders. It’s a job I’ve been avoiding since I bought the boat and once finally done will be the last of the major projects
The interior in the little Cheoy Lee is beginning to take shape and my teardrop trailer will soon be ready for me to head south. So like the thin light and warmth of a winter dawn, the dream burns on. Best wishes and bright dreams to all.
Sometimes the enormity of life is overwhelming. My last blog described the gormless sense of self-entitlement some people demonstrate in their frantic quest for distraction from the drudgery of life. I realized that a symptom of my own flaws is when I find annoyance at other folks trying to celebrate life. When I’m in a ‘Ha, Bumhug’ mood nothing will cheer me up.
Yes, this crusty old barnacle admits to having fought a lifelong battle with, what the medical bunch describes as, chronic depression. One of my books, ‘Sins Of The Fathers’ deals with the darkness of living with bi-polar disorder and overcoming the weight of this much misunderstood condition. I’m not sure I did a good job of enlightening those who don’t understand the illness or of helping those who do. I’m not about to make an effort to further those interests here except to say that regardless of what many people think, it IS a tangible illness, it is NOT simply a matter of bad attitude, self pity or negative thinking. To survive a lifetime despite the instinct for self-destruction is a very positive achievement on its own. To find occasional joy, to pursue creative interests and to cling tenaciously to a goal, no mater how remote it seems, is a triumph. I’d be happy to discuss this subject person to person. (Or even sell you copy of my book)
“Keep yer pecker up!”
This past week has been one where dark demons have been shaking my tree and I’m plodding out of it ever towards the shimmering mirage of a dream I’m determined to reach.
It occurs to me that depression is not merely a personal cross. It is the unacknowledged epidemic running rampant through Western society and is the root from which so many other medical and social illnesses grow. To consume has become our reason to be (See my link to ‘Story Of Stuff’) and none of us can live up to the demands of all the advertising imposed on us incessantly. None of us are good enough, pretty enough, wealthy enough, drive a fine enough car, go on enough exotic vacations, have a good enough sex life, have happy enough pets…… The pressure is relentless and insidious. Is clinical depression a product of nurture or nature? Yes!
When I was a child the world you were born into was believed to be the one you would inhabit. It was reasonable to think that the world had parameters and you could actually be educated and prepared for a place in it. How do you prepare children now for an environment that is evolving so quickly, no one can comprehend it or what the future holds? Think back five or ten years to what the world was like and how it is now. Honestly, did you have any idea? Without the sense of security of a tangible existence and future, no wonder we’re all a bit anxious. No wonder so many people have substance abuse issues, or can’t keep functional personal relationships or spend so much time in pursuit of distraction.
The headline for this blog is a quote from a man I was interviewing for a job; now many years ago. Those words are his description of the meaning of life. I’ve since found nothing more eloquent; a few words from one simple blue-collar working man.
Meanwhile, work on the preparations of ‘Seafire’ continues, one screw at a time.
I’ll close out this musing with the following quote from Marianne Williamson which was used as part of Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech.
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful, beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, ”Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that
other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is in everyone, and, as we let our light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.