To life

A famous actor died last month. He committed suicide after reportedly suffering from bipolar disorder. Like a lot of people, it hit me hard. Unlike a lot of other people, it was difficult not just because he was a much-loved actor, but also for more personal reasons.

First, there’s a myth that creative people are more prone to mental conditions such as depression. But research doesn’t support that. If anything, those who are creative (and productive) show higher levels than the general population of psychosis and hypomania. Keep in mind, everyone has these traits, it’s just a matter of the degree expressed.

But in our popular culture, depression, melancholy, etc, are more commonly associated with writers, artists, actors, and other creatives. As someone who’s gone through a deep depression, I can attest that it does NOT enhance creativity. When you’re going through it, the last thing you want to do (or can do) is use your imagination to create something positive. Depression is the enemy of creation. If there is an upside, I’d say that having gone through depression makes you more empathetic to the human experience. It’s a tough trade-off.

Now back to the famous actor. While none of us can know what was going on in his head, I have great sympathy for what he went through. It’s not a cliche to say his death was tragic.

What really offended me, though, was the reaction. Many commented that he was finally at peace. One tweet specifically used the words “you’re free.” And anyone who dared to question this line of thought or point out the negative repercussions of suicide was attacked as heartless until they retracted their position.

I am not here to attack the actor for his suicide. What I am here to do is attack the idea that suicide is a viable “freeing” option for those who are in deep depression. Depression and bipolar are not a choice as much as a brain chemistry problem, but the act of suicide is a choice. And a final one. My heart breaks when I hear of someone committing suicide because I know the pain that led them to that point, and I know that the finality of their decision cuts off any hope of recovery. I’ve had friends who committed suicide. The tragedy rested in their pain and in their choice.

And it was a choice.

Suicide is seductive. When I heard of the actor’s death it awakened long dormant feelings that I thought I’d left behind forever. I hadn’t. What counters that voice—then and now—is the realization that life is pretty damn unique. Whether you believe it’s God-given or whether you believe it’s a random act of the universe, the fact that we exist, the fact of our awareness, is nothing short of a miracle.

Suicide should not be romanticized or glorified as a freeing act. It should be portrayed for what it is: a choice, a final action that is a rebuke to existence.

 

Pictures worth a thousand words

I’ve never been drawn to the visual arts. My life’s vocation is crafting words into stories that relay emotions, moods and experiences. But thanks to the vastness of the world wide web, I’ve discovered visual artists whose works are as vivid as anything the best wordsmith could create.

One of these visual artists is a photographer, M. Funk, based in Germany and France. I came across his website by accident. I’m glad I did. His photographs capture a moody eeriness that I could only hope replicate with words.

Take a look at a sample of his work below, and be sure to check out his website for more.


TEMPÊTE-4

 

AIR-DE-LA-NUIT-11

IT-WAS-A-SUNNY-DAY

 

UNREAL1

(Images courtesy of M. Funk)

Fun with skulls

I’m not a macabre person by nature, but I like skulls. I’m not talking about actual human skulls, but representations: drawings, T-shirts, liquor bottles, candles, etc. Sure, it’s a cliche by now, but it’s still fun.

skull-art-prints-by-Gerrard-King

(Image courtesy of Gerrard King)

Where did my affinity for skulls start? Who knows? Maybe from the image of Hamlet holding up poor Yorick’s skull and talking to it. I always got a kick out of that when I was a kid. (Here’s a picture of Doctor Who‘s David Tennant as the moody Dane.)

Tennant Hamlet Yorick

Obviously I’m not alone. Skulls are everywhere in pop culture, and not just American culture. For instance, the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) holiday is a festival that recognizes the dead, and similar traditions can be found throughout the world. Though the Mexicans seem to have perfected the imagery.

400px-Catrinas_2

My own theory: these representations of skulls are a safe way for us to reference our own mortality. We can observe it at arms’ length, poke fun at it, while still acknowledging it. Sure, some people choose to avoid anything that will remind them of death, while others seem to revel in it. For most of us, we can acknowledge it, have a laugh, and then move on.

And now I’m happy to be adding a skull to the pop-culture pantheon. My soon-to-be-released novella, House of Flies, will feature a skull on the cover. House of Flies follows Alec as he battles a fly infestation that drives him to the brink of insanity. It’s a psychological horror story about suppressed grief and the avoidance of death, hence the skull. I can’t describe how cool I thought this imagery was when my designer first showed it to me.

House of Flies

It turns out that there have been more than a few skull-themed covers. The website Science Fiction Ruminations has compiled a collection of skull covers from the recent era. Here are a few funky examples — check out the site for more.

Philip K. dick

Robert Heinlein

Harlan Ellison

 

 

Nightmares reimagined

From sleep disturbances to disturbing art.

When I was younger I suffered through night terrors. I would be in the grip of a nightmare, screaming with my eyes open. It took a lot for my parents to bring me out of each episode. To this day I can still remember the theme and feeling of those nightmares.

I grew out of them. But I still have random incidents of what’s called hypnopompic hallucinations. Occasionally as I’m waking up I’ll see fantastical, otherworldly insects crawling on my bedside or dangling from the ceiling. The first couple of times it happened I scoured my bedroom looking for the centipede with a thousand legs and razor-sharp spines. I soon realized that they were leftover fragments of dreams. Now when I see these creatures I just close my eyes again.

I’m not alone in my sleep issues. Nicolas Bruno is a photographer who has dealt with sleep paralysis since he was 15. Sleep paralysis is pretty much what it sounds like: the body is weak and immobilized either when drifting off to sleep or waking up, and the person experiences strange and terrifying dreams or visions. As Bruno told 1o9.com:

“I have experienced bone chilling hallucinations and extreme terror during these dreams. Faceless silhouetted figures, embraces from shadow-like hands, warping of reality around me – all while [feeling] completely paralyzed.”

What did Bruno do with these terrifying experiences? He turned them into art. He’s created scores of photographs that reconstruct the content and mood of these dreams. Below are two of my favorites. Check out his website here for more.

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(Both images: Nicolas Bruno)