Simon Critchley writes of science and creativity—memory and morality

The New York Times  published a beautiful essay on science, creativity, human morality and fallibility by Simon Critchley this past weekend, “The Dangers of Certainty: A Lesson from Auschwitz.”  Critchley writes of his childhood memories of the science show “The Ascent of Man,” which aired in Britain in the 1970s hosted by scientist Dr. Jacob Bronowski, a Polish-born British mathematician who lost much of his family in Auschwitz.

For Bronowski, science and art were two neighboring mighty rivers that flowed from a common source: the human imagination.

[T]he moral consequence of knowledge is that we must never judge others on the basis of some absolute, God-like conception of certainty.  All knowledge, all information that passes between human beings, can be exchanged only within what we might call “a play of tolerance,” whether in science, literature, politics or religion. As he eloquently put it, “Human knowledge is personal and responsible, an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.”

The piece is thoughtful, deep, deeply moving; a rare find.

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Critchley’s essay reminded me of an interesting show I heard on NPR late last year about thinking of mathematics in creative terms and as being highly related to language, rather than in opposition to, as is often suggested in popular reference. As a reader and writer who rather likes numbers, though I left formal mathematics behind at Calculus (many moons ago), I found the discussion intriguing—both helpful and interesting to think of numbers in more fluid, relational terms.

Mathematical equations are like sonnets says Keith Devlin. And, the mathematician says that what most of us learn in school doesn’t begin to convey what mathematics is. Technology may free more of us to discover the wonder of mathematical thinking — as a reflection of the inner world of our minds. Keith Devlin began to learn this as a teenager and he’s been a math evangelist ever since….

You can listen to the piece from On Being with Krista Tippett here: “Keith Devlin on The Joy of Math and Learning and What It Means To Be Human.”

~~~~~~~~~~

Posted in Grief & grieving, Holocaust, Memory, War, Writing & Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Memories and New Stories

A new year, and there is much talk about resolutions and what lies ahead. I’ve been engaging in this looking forward too, aspiring and hoping for this or that to receive more time, energy, success….  But in the midst of all this resolving and happy hopes for what’s next, I want to take a minute to think back. After all, this is a blog on memory.

I’ve just perused three blog drafts sitting in the bowels of this WordPress site, awaiting completion and the air that comes from publication; and in rereading each one, I wished I could read to the finish, and I wished it were already out there. Out there in the stratosphere…of internet blog-land, something someone else could stumble upon too; something I had finished putting forward instead of holding it close.

So much of writing is held close: as it germinates; as we draft it; as we revise; and revise again. (And keep multiplying those revisions.) It can be nerve-wracking to let go. But of course it’s liberating too. This was one of the reasons I started this blog. It’s been not quite three years, and yet it feels longer, viewed across a sea of changes: growing children and professional engagements among them.

But in looking back, I remember what I saw as the appeal of blogs and the internet. It can be a private place to be public. This seems like an oxymoron; and yet it is this intimacy of the web that we all return too: the way we feel part of various communities, whether through Facebook or Twitter or sites we frequent. And yet it is just each of us, individually, in the moment, with the screen. I persist in experiencing intermittent discomfort with some of this; I have to resist an inner impulse towards withdrawal and self-censor when I post on Facebook, tweet, and so forth. And, like many, I still struggle to find the right balance for me—my life online and off and its sometimes oppositional priorities. Engagement often competes with the quiet necessary to write, indeed to get many things done.

And so in the spirit of both change and persistence, of looking back and looking forward, up goes this post (online!); and I am instructing myself to revisit those languishing drafts again (offline!), whether to finish and post them, as backward looks that continue to matter in the present; or to update and push them into the evolving new year. The themes there remain deeply important to me, and to my interests here on this site and beyond.

So, here’s a glimpse at the themes in those drafts—at memory and looking forward:

1) Preoccupations with war, circa May 2013. Last year, I launched a writing workshop for veterans, Voices from War, and in its earlier phases, I tried to get down some of the reasons I’d ended up feeling so passionately about the subject of veterans, war, and writing. Voices from War starts its second season later this month with many wonderful people involved, supporting the workshop and the ideas behind it. (Thank you!)

2) Meditations on memory and grief, faith and family, prompted by a reading honoring the 97th anniversary of the death of the remarkable Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem. What does it mean to be something and not be it at the same time? I’m being cryptic here, in wishing to allude to how we all feel this sometimes: at home someplace that is not our (original) home. In this instance, I circled around conversations with my then seven-year-old son about how he is Jewish; how I am not and yet how I am, whether formally converted or not. Intertwined in this family amalgam: how a Yiddish writer and a Jewish actor could overwhelm me with memories of my non-Jewish father. Embattled identities; complexities of self, and its construction; and conjoined and disparate cells.

3) The night I met Bill de Blasio—and the intense community of suicide survivors. Mayor de Blasio was compelled to speak about the death of his father by suicide last fall in the midst of his NYC mayoral campaign. Remarkably, the suicide had evaded the media and public discussion for almost thirty-five years. 2014 is the 20th anniversary year (Yahrzeit, harkening back to Sholom Aleichem and the Jewish conversation above) of my father’s suicide, which probably remains the formative event of my life. There are many hopes for Mayor de Blasio’s term; among them, for me, is the continued deepening of conversations on this fraught topic, in contrast with the intense need for secrecy, for many, that persists. I believe strongly that openness about suicide, and its aftermath, benefits everyone. Indeed, this is true for many subjects fraught with taboos, cultural, social, familial.

All of this looking back, memory itself, most often brings me comfort. Perhaps because memory offers the threads that form a story. From memory, the hardest as well as the joyful, we make narrative, and from narrative we begin to make sense.

Here’s to a year of memory; story; and looking and moving forward, while peering back.

-KK

~ My latest essay “Philip Schultz and the Perceived Conundrum of the Dyslexic Writer” is up at Highbrow Magazine—on dyslexia, writers, failure, poet Philip Schultz, his Failure and the Pulitzer. ~

~ You can also find my previous piece online, about the wonderful writer André Aciman: “André Aciman and the Writer’s Craft.” ~

~ And, January 22nd in NYC, novelist Roxana Robinson (Sparta) talks with journalist David Finkel (Thank You for Your Service) at The Center for Fiction! RSVP recommended through their site. ~

~~~~~~~

Posted in Grief & grieving, Memory, Suicide, War, Writing & Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On writing and war—voices of veterans

This morning, instead of heading out for a longed-for run in that quiet half hour between the kids’ departure for school and the forward rush of my day, I sat down to glance at the Times and got swallowed up by other thoughts: on writing, and on war.  Both of these subjects have been much on my mind lately.  I started a post last night, winding through the “why” of my recurrent interest in war (focused at present through a writing assignment and a class I’m wanting to lead).  But instead of returning to my own reasons right now, and the inward gaze it necessitated, today I want to look outward.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.  You’ve probably already read or heard that somewhere.  One of those news headlines or story ledes; we all love an anniversary, especially in the media.  It’s a hook, isn’t it?  And then we turn back to other things.  Except when it’s your life, your experience.

What got me going this morning, wrestling with reaction and words, instead of running alongside the river, was a reader’s comment on a NYT blog.  The blog itself contained three short pieces by veterans, the fourth such entry in a six part series.  I had been fortunate enough to hear these three writers (Phil Klay, Mariette Kalinowski, and Colby Buzzell) read from their work, along with the editors, Matt Gallagher and Roy Scranton, of the collection in which they appeared, Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, over the course of two recent events featuring the book, along with two other of its contributors, Siobhan Fallon and Jacob Siegel.

The aggravating comment on the NYT site seems to have been removed, a tangential yet somewhat interesting detail.  The comment suggested that the writing about war experiences was romanticizing war and the writers were benefiting from atrocity, and that any ‘benefit’ should be returned to victims, such as those in Iraq.  While I strongly took issue with the gist of the comment, most particularly an assigning of blame to soldiers instead of to politicians and civilians who elect them and/or perpetuate policies, I would not have guessed that the offending words would be taken down.  They had the effect of spurring debate (from other readers), and forced me to hone in on some of the thoughts on my mind.  I’m going to share my comment here – and then I hope you’ll go read the pieces, where the real stories begin.

Writing is a brave and arduous task, when taken seriously, which these three have done. In a few hundred words, each of them has given a small glimpse into different facets of what it means to be a soldier and what war looks like up close. Certainly, there are many more angles, opinions, and emotions that could be added; likely even contradictory ones from the same person.
 
Ignoring the voices of veterans – indeed the voices of any difficult and complex experience or issue – is to wallow in the comfort of ignorance. As to “gaining” from their experience as soldiers: everyday isn’t this what all of us attempt to do – move forward, whether from a difficult place or a comfortable one, trying to build on what we’ve learned? We don’t blame a college student for looking for a job after finishing school, using his/her experience. Why should we blame a vet for writing about experiences, whether we would wish them for ourselves or for anyone? It is too easy to devalue the importance of written accounts and to ignore the value of throwing aside silence and secrecy, for individuals and for society as a whole.
 
Thank you to these men and women, and their comrades, for the difficult task of examining what they have seen and been through, and making the brave attempt to craft those experiences into essays and stories that have the potential to bring us all closer to understanding – what we do or don’t want, and what we might wish we didn’t have to understand.

~   ~   ~

~ Also on the subject of war: my first piece for Highbrow Magazine came out last week…

“Reading Aleksandar Hemon: Where Biography Meets Fiction”

~ The war in Yugoslavia during the 1990′s has long been of deep interest to me, just one of the reasons I have turned to Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon’s fantastic stories, novel, and his new non-fiction book, The Book of My Lives.  I hope this chance to think intently about Bosnia again will continue to spur edits on my earlier novel, Down the Street a Building Burned.  But I am also just pleased to share thoughts on Hemon’s work, and the fascinating themes woven into his fiction and essays. ~

~ I am now a Contributing Writer for Highbrow Magazine and look forward to having more work there throughout the year. ~

~   ~   ~

Posted in DOWN THE STREET..., Memoir, Memory, War, Writing & Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Jam in my purse—and unsticking the novel

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“Jam…”

Rule number one, never put jam in your purse, even if you think it will come in handy for the Dramamine your son needs in order not to throw up.  When it comes down to it, would you rather have some vomit to catch in the car (not that this is really the choice), or a purse compartment glued together by jelly?  Keep in mind, this is your new purse, the one you shouldn’t have bought, but is both practical and pleasing.  More than you can say for the jam in its once cute little plastic rectangle.  Now: crushed.

The wrong things are gluing together.  Sticky and troublesome.  Time consuming.  But this is what it means to have children, a family!  No, no, you certainly don’t wish that away; but just a little less jam.  To be a little less jammed up.

Sometimes life serves us up the perfect metaphor.  Here’s what I’m taking from this (today) in terms of both writing and life:

  • Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be over-prepared; to be thinking of each item’s possible utility “down the road” (yes, pun conveniently attendant).
  • Ordinary things can glue us down, put us in unintended, unproductive, sticky spots.  Don’t save each little thing for later; use it now, or let someone else use it.
  • Your purse is yours, not for the conveyance of every little thing for the kids—well, okay, this can’t really be the case right now—at least, be pickier about what you try to prepare for others.
  • Keep things nimble, and don’t let the words and stories—your time and energy—get caught up in a side pocket (full of congealed jam).

And for my characters, well…an earlier “stuckness” (a sticky spot with revisions on my “Yugoslavia novel”) got Countries of Lost Things started (and now “finished”) because I couldn’t get the revised entry-point right for Down the Street a Building BurnedDown the Street might be unsticking…and now some new jam has gotten into the pages of Countries.  Next question:  Will I have to rip apart the purse lining?  (Only one pocket?  A whole side of the purse?)  Or do I just need to unstick my own resistance to letting go?

Now I’m ready for the fortune cookie.  (But then there will be crumbs….)

~  ~  ~

From the archives…

a child’s curiosity prompts a tour through history (and a children’s book):

Tell me a story—about war

~  ~  ~  ~

Posted in COUNTRIES OF LOST THINGS, DOWN THE STREET..., Memory, War, Writing & Reading | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Superstorm Sandy—grains of sand

Power returns, for some

Lately, I’ve been composing more blog posts while running by the East River than here in the tangible world of type and technology.  Today, I want to try to bring them back together.

This weekend I returned to the East River, Manhattan’s eastern shoreline, a tidal river, after a week’s absence.  The difference between the previous Sunday, October 28th, and Saturday, November 3rd, remains difficult to convey.  You can see it in pictures of Staten Island’s wreckage, in the burned out blocks of houses in Breezy Point Queens, in the battered Rockaways, in decimation, families without power, on Long Island, in New Jersey and Connecticut, in the patches of destruction and debris in downtown Manhattan.  That list begins to tally, yet still says so little.  It doesn’t tell us about the sand, moved in buckets or grain by grain, that sifts through our fingers, real and metaphoric.

A day before the storm, I paused by the East River, standing by my favorite spot where, at low tide, an illicit urban beach forms below the cement walkway and barricade.  Maybe ten feet out are rocks and poles of old wood (the ghost of an old dock?) held by thick bands of metal, the rocks poking out from the water.  At high tide, the rocks are surrounded, the beach invisible, the rocks a shrinking island.  On that Sunday before Sandy hit the eastern seaboard, the jutting rocks were as diminished as I’d ever seen them, and the water lapped maybe twenty inches below where I stood.  I made a point of noticing this, noting, remembering.  I often think about a character in my “next novel,” Pavel, who, in a scene not yet written, perches there, cold, wet, alone, the wintry water surrounding him, the shore, its walkway, so close and yet unapproachable.  Now, in real life, pre-Sandy, already the water felt momentous and ominous.  A quarter-mile further down, the distance from walkway to water slightly greater, I could still imagine without difficulty how that water would surge, hitting the walkway, from there jumping the second low wall onto the FDR causeway, which it soon did.

My family was lucky.  I keep feeling this; and somewhere in there, in that feeling, is the root of my disorientation.  For the better part of a week, we were without electricity; cold water emerged from the taps then stopped, then started again, stopping again, re-starting….  Water!  Electricity I found I could live without out, shaky as that reality felt.  But water.  To have water return after its absence was like finding light and hope again.  But still, there were the pitch-black halls and stairwells, down ten flights in the dark, save our meager flashlight, leading two small children and their grandmother, my husband having left earlier in the morning with the other flashlight to walk to his office.  The contrast in that sentence.  Twenty-five blocks north, the city continued, almost as though nothing had happened.  My small posse of dark stair marchers—child, child, adult, adult—walked north or northwest each day, occasionally packing ourselves onto an over-crowded bus, thus able to eat a prepared meal and find further sustenance for our dinner, by candlelight (doesn’t that sound romantic? In its own way it was, yet menace lurked, fragility ever-present).  Each afternoon, we returned before dark.  News came through those stolen minutes on wi-fi (generally stolen from the expiring good-will of small children, tired from our journey to the still-functioning portion of the city), or from my husband when he would return, after dark, or sometimes from my bright yellow Sony Walkman, a relic from the 1990s that, with prompting, and a perch by the eastern-most window (don’t ask me why) would tune to NPR.

After the first full day without power, Tuesday, I stayed up late (by which I mean, here, after 10:00 p.m.), writing by candlelight—on my glowing netbook screen.  The incongruity again, between pre-modernity and post-.  It was peaceful, relaxing after the stresses and uncertainties of the day.  That first day, I left the apartment alone, walking, walking, trying to find the loop big enough to land me in the side of the city with electricity.  Near Macy’s, 34th Street and 7th Avenue, a Duane Reade drugstore had light, shelves emptying, and I suddenly wondered what I needed that would not require refrigeration, that I did not have, besides the sold out spare flashlight and working radio I most coveted.  Peanuts, coffee, 9-volt batteries.  Everyone in the store and on the street, whether working or waiting, appeared patient, stoic, steadfast.

Afterwards, a friend mentioned memories of post-9/11, an echo I heard again a morning later on the radio, and I felt relief: others felt this too, a difference that was still there.  In a day (a night) reality changed for those hit by the superstorm.  Back in 2001, we felt change, most immediately, here in the city and surrounding areas, but then the nation, and the world, experienced a paradigm shift with us.  Now, here around New York City, our nation’s second capital, things again feel different.  Damaged, unsettled, disoriented.  Millions have been immediately affected, through damaged homes, loss of electricity, loss of life.  But we were (are) cut off, whereas, soon after 9/11 the world seemed to explode open.  Not only in frightening ways.  In the years since, with our ever-increasing hyper-connectivity, the distance between Ohio and New York and London and Moscow and Damascus…has shrunk.  How strange it felt for that scope to recede to a pin-prick.  Friends and family hundreds, even thousands, of miles away knew better than I did what the flooding three blocks from me looked like, how far it had spread inland, before I did.

At home, during the storm, the landline stopped functioning soon after the electricity failed.  Cell phones mostly refused incoming and outgoing calls; by the second day, a text could usually be sent after several tries.  But batteries drained faster, the phone seeking service, scanning, scanning, where no signal existed.  We retired early, and slept longer.  The boys, normally dependent on a night-light and “noise machine,” slept in the silent dark without incident.  In our room, if the buzzing hum of the generator disappeared, replaced by a new kind of silence, I knew our water supply would disappear with it.  The sky was dark.

When the lights returned to our building on Friday night, I could see a building from our bedroom window, recessed from the others, large, its windows still black.  And that darkness hurt, like the ache of what it means to be without power, not just without electricity, but powerless and left in the dark.  I keep thinking of those who are there still, even while the lights around me return, some still missing heat and hot water, and further afield still missing much more, wondering what, now, does normal look like?  And what do we most need?

~  ~  ~

 ~  Here is a link to Occupy Sandy and to another blog (The Literary Man) with a list of resources and ways to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  (Last night, the effects of Sandy were compounded by a ‘Nor’easter,’ winter storm Athena.)  ~

Be well.

~

Posted in COUNTRIES OF LOST THINGS, Grief & grieving, Memory, Motherhood, Writing & Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memory—my mom’s story of motherhood & Joe Queenan on books (beautiful books)!

Biting the Moon, by Joanne S. Frye

I want to share the wonderful review my mom (Joanne S. Frye) received this week from Literary Mama (great site for lovers of writing/reading) for her memoir Biting the Moon: A Memoir of Feminism and Motherhood. Check out the review (and the site), if you haven’t already!

From Marilyn Bousquin’s review:

To escape “the threat of a life constructed for me by others,” Frye overcame not only the daily challenges of single motherhood, but also her own psychological challenges. As Flannery O’Connor once said, “Human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” Replace grace with consciousness and you have Frye’s transformational arc. Feminism challenged her female conditioning which did not relent without a fight—an emotional backlash, if you will—as she wrestled a new perspective for herself. At times the ensuing self-doubt brought on tears of rage and despair. During one such episode her then two-year-old daughter asked, “Saying ‘Fuck,’ Mommy? Are you crying, Mommy? Are you sick, Mommy?” Yes, change is painful.

~

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Artist: Serge Bloch
“People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version, believe that the objects themselves are sacred.” – Joe Queenan

And, while I’m at it, Joe Queenan has a fantastic essay about his love affair (many of ours!) with books in the WSJ, “My 6,128 Favorite Books.”

Here’s a taste that presents the ways in which books (actual physical books, though one can certainly argue that the words therein hold similar power) evoke powerful memories:

Books as physical objects matter to me, because they evoke the past. A Métro ticket falls out of a book I bought 40 years ago, and I am transported back to the Rue Saint-Jacques on Sept. 12, 1972, where I am waiting for someone named Annie LeCombe. A telephone message from a friend who died too young falls out of a book, and I find myself back in the Chateau Marmont on a balmy September day in 1995. A note I scribbled to myself in “Homage to Catalonia” in 1973 when I was in Granada reminds me to learn Spanish, which I have not yet done, and to go back to Granada.

None of this will work with a Kindle. People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version, believe that the objects themselves are sacred. Some people may find this attitude baffling, arguing that books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague and your kids and the Sistine Chapel.

~

Now I’ve got to get back to my own sick child, who’s watching Curious George on a continuous loop; and it’s a fair bet that my son won’t be the one to put an end to the monkey’s antics. Yep, I should be reading him a book instead.

Posted in EXIT WOUND: Suicide is Not a Love Story, Memoir, Memory, Motherhood, Writing & Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t go get a gun—anger, hope, and compassion are more powerful

To the grieving families of Aurora, Colorado:

What happened in that movie theater a week ago, the anguish of losing loved ones in such a swift and horrible way, watching the injured suffer and survivors grieve, is wrenching.  Like so many across the nation, I am grieving with you.  I cannot imagine your anguish right now.  And surely your anger too.

I lost my father to a gunshot eighteen years ago.  One never forgets those immediate feelings of stunned grief.  The world has been turned on its head; its axis irrevocably bent.  Anger rushes our bodies with adrenaline, then mutes and dies away.  You are grieving now.  Grief is largely private.  It will not end next week, next month, not even next year or a decade from now.  But it will soften, and it will change.  Your daily lives will return to something like normal.  You will be sad again, you will be angry again.  What can you do with that anger?

Sales of guns in Colorado went up after last Friday’s tragedy in Aurora.  This is one approach to anger, even more so to fear.  A gun feels powerful.  It is powerful.  Look what the accused, James Eagan Holmes, accomplished with a gun in a darkened theater, its inhabitants relaxed and at leisure.  A gun changed that, and much more, in an instant.

The gun had help: a man.  Without the gun, without the man, this particular tragedy would not have occurred.

What next?  Let me explain, by telling a short story of violence and depression.

I live in New York City, where guns are no friend.  I have lived in Britain where many police officers, let alone citizens, do not carry guns.  And, as I mentioned, my father suffered from a fatal shot, to his head.  That was in Indiana, with a gun purchased in Indiana or Texas, both states with lax requirements.  I support more advanced gun regulation.  But stricter screening and registration would not likely have saved my father’s life.  The shooter had no prior record and was an upstanding citizen.  The shooter was my father.  Guns are an ally of suicide and of homicide.  How rapidly life is snuffed.  The aftermath for survivors is gruesome.  You know.

My father suffered from major depression, perhaps bi-polar disorder, probably for his entire adult life.  This went unacknowledged, largely unnamed.  Little public dialogue then existed.  He died in 1994, before the incredible expansion of information and its access, via the internet.  He was afraid to seek help, thinking it would change or weaken him.  No help arrived unasked.  His doctor abetted him in thinking things would improve.  I would not describe my father as a violent man.  He was an intellectual.  He was a professor.  But I know of two instances in which he pointed a gun at an intimate.  I have written this elsewhere, and yet this remains extraordinarily difficult to say.  It seems unreal.  And indeed it exists, like his suicide, outside of daily lived reality.  As does last Friday’s shooting, incredibly real though it is.

You may think I have digressed too much.  I have gotten away from my point.  You are grieving.  You deserve our sympathy, our prayers.  You are angry too, or soon will be.  What of that anger?  Should you go buy a gun?  Should you seek the death penalty for the shooter?  You might feel better.  I don’t know.  But I think you will not, and you will have done nothing to prevent future tragedies, just as in the aftermath of Virginia Tech and Columbine and Tucson.  You will have retreated from the problem that injured and killed innocent children and women and men on July 20th.  This would be understandable, the attempt to retreat from pain.  But what could you—not alone; you and so many others—do instead?  Two things with meaning.

One, advocate for improved mental health supports in this country, better awareness on the part of individual citizens and better structures to support early diagnosis and assistance of minds in trouble.  While yet knowing little about James Holmes, I fully believe that a combination of psychological and pharmacological help in earlier months, even weeks or days, could have changed last Friday’s outcome.  He was troubled, the details still scant; and he wanted to be known.  In caring about the senseless violence inflicted on Aurora’s victims, we have to care about James Holmes.  Who was there to see James Holmes withdraw, not only from school, but from the conventions of normal life?  Who watched and might have cared?  At minimum, there are professors and university administrators, students and employees, who could have participated in intervening.  I am not blaming them, now, in full hindsight.  But the reason to look back now, on what did not happen and what did not work, is in order to look forward.  We need greater public awareness—not blame and censure, but knowledge—and fuller support for psychological assistance.  Schools and universities are one place to start.  Individuals as well as institutions share a responsibility.  Not through guilt, but through compassion.

Two, we need stricter regulation of guns.  This is the second most powerful thing we can learn from James Holmes.  Who needs to purchase four guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition within a four-month period?  This is not Syria.  We are not a nation teetering on the brink of government over-throw; nor should we think of ourselves as such.  There is no legitimate reason for most citizens to own a firearm.  (Here one could make an exception for hunting and farm life, fine.)  Guns kill family members more often than they serve as meaningful defense.  Guns are powerful.  We feel more powerful having one.  Look at the decimation a gun’s bullet wreaks on the human skull, and think about whether this is a power we need to support.  Registration should be stricter.  In addition, a central database could focus on tracking the frequency of gun purchases, and, just as significantly, quantity of ammunition, and issue an automatic alert if purchases were considered high.  This need not infringe on, nor drastically curtail, the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.  James Eagan Holmes’ purchases, and the tightness of their time-frame, should have set off alarms.  Somebody should have been paying attention.

Ask yourself why neither presidential candidate will take on this issue, giving us platitudes instead.  Yes, we can learn from grief.  We can increase our capacity for empathy; we can learn of inner strength.  At the same time, we can commence a meaningful national dialogue on gun ownership and on mental illness.

I can point to two emerging leaders on these issues, each from different vantage points: one, a New York City mayor and financier, the other, an investigative reporter and writer.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Dave Cullen (author of Columbine) have both spoken out in thoughtful, meaning-filled ways.  I wish their voices would be heard and that others would join them.

I wish your voices, those of you who will forever remember the anguish of those gunshots, the carnage and loss after, I wish your voices would rise and proclaim how we might learn from loss.  I think of you, your pain; I think of that gunman and what could possibly send him, a promising student, down this path; and I remember my father.  I think of how we do not know the depths of the inner lives of those around us; the pain.  I cannot say: That man could have been my father.  I can say: My father was the victim of depression and a gun.  How suddenly life changes, for those gone and for those who remain to mourn and remember.  What can be done in their name?  Not vengeance; not the urge to violence stemming from fear.  Introspection, assistance, attention—before disaster and before loss.  Look back, not in order to stagnate, but in order to remember.  In order to make sense from the senseless, in order to look forward.

In sympathy,

Kara Krauze

~  ~  ~

Interesting references and information…

 

Posted in EXIT WOUND: Suicide is Not a Love Story, Grief & grieving, Memory, Suicide | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tarzan—in the jungle we call home

So, I’ve had a post half-ready to go for more than two weeks now.  I don’t suffer from writer’s block; can’t even say I have its cousin, blog block.  (I’ve written several posts in my head, in addition to the one on paper.)  I could tell you that other writing commitments have legitimately kept me “too busy”; family demands too.  But these are excuses.  So let me tell you what that languishing post was about.

Each year near the anniversary of my father’s death (quite annoyingly taking place on July 4th, the symbolism not lost on me, or, I’m pretty sure, on him), I get swallowed up.  Swallowed up in several ways, but most particularly, and most succinctly, in silence.  A cloak falls over my metaphorical bird-cage, and I can’t speak.  In part, I’m afraid I will be too maudlin, or, the flip side, too irreverent.  I lose trust in my reactions and my perspective, my compass thrown off.  Doesn’t this happen near the Bermuda Triangle?  I remember being fascinated by this as a childthe mystical void; the rational world at a loss to explain loss (grief) and its reasons.  I’m still attracted to such thingsattempting to explain, what is hardly explicable.  Certainly the subject of suicide falls into this box.  Or, I want to say: this void.

But when I began this post I wasn’t planning to dwell on the subject of silenceI’ll save that for another timebut instead its cousin, the desire to be seen.  Which is really the desire not to be invisible.  A gentleman by the name of Tarzan got me thinking about this.  Let me explain.

I often prefer to work in public spaces.  I have my favorites.  Sometimes, said spaces fill up with distractions, but most often my focus improves in the company of background activity.  When distractions do interfere, I try to find them redeeming.  Writing is isolating; to be reminded of the lives of others is a blessing.   I really didn’t need this blessing this morning.  But then in came Tarzan.

Tarzan often frequents the neighborhoods around Union Square, a hub of activity.  The area has been much gentrified in the last two decades; yet still it invites a diverse population.  Tarzan is among the more stand-out citizens of the area.  Tarzan is big: not just tall, which he is, but broad of shoulder and chest, his musculature enlarged, as you would expect from his name.  Huge biceps, pecs like a movie superhero, chest bared to the world, much as though his shirt simply could not contain him.  Some weeks I see Tarzan almost every day; some weeks not at all.  I have not spoken to him.  In all honesty, the thought has inspired the New Yorker’s equivalent of fear: bravado.  The assured gait and I’m-too-busy expression, combined with the common sense to avoid the sort of proximity that might produce a need for either party to interact.

Lately, Tarzan has been visiting, with greater frequency, my coffee shop, my second home.  I like this second home because it bustles, yet often remains calm; people come and go, and I can stay; I feel anonymous, despite being known.  There is frequently an unusual array of visitors, most of them equally, if not more, comfortable in this setting that manages to be simultaneously bourgeois and urban.  I have arrived at the view that a methadone clinic must also be nearby, and several groups of regulars are here because of this.  Needless to say, our lives are quite different.  But I like that here we are, all sitting at the same communal table.  It is humbling.  And a reminder of the humanity, the struggles and the normalcy, of those we would consider different from ourselves.

Tarzan is pretty easily the most standout of all of us, perhaps seconded by his saucy, take-no-prisoners, hyper-buff girlfriend, who comes in to read.  Yes, she usually has a book with her.  Yes, of course, I’ve looked, when I can, what it might be.  Thick, hardcover, sometimes laminated as from a library, on several occasions something steamier than my usual fair: romance or erotica.  But I digress.

On this morning, Tarzan asked to use someone’s phone.  I barely heard the request and (see New Yorker above) stared more intently at my computer which was at that point operating as though powered by molasses.  The saucy woman across from me, a regular who usually speaks too loudly but was fairly quiet today and who does not like even the slightest appearance of being talked down to or given any sh-t, said something.  Apparently, Tarzan does not usually speak to her—read, deign to speak to her—so she sure as (ahem) was not going to lend him her phone.  But his girlfriend does talk to her, she proclaims.  The girlfriend had left in a huff, followed briefly by Tarzan.  They could be seen earlier arguing on the street; not the first time.  Tarzan re-entered and the girlfriend did not.  A blonde man came in.  Looked like a typical laptop user.  But I did not stare; always best.  Tarzan asked the man to call his phone for him; he wanted to find out where it was.  The man said, “Sure, Tarzan.”  I gaped.  (Invisibly.)  All this time I had no name for Tarzan.  He was just the big-crazy-huge-muscled-half-shirtless-man you sometimes see around Union Square.  Yeah, the one who looks like the incredible hulk; more hair, gentler eyes, not green.  Tarzan did not kill the blonde man.  They continued to speak; the man told him the phone call went to voicemail.  The man called him Tarzan again.  (Again, invisible mouth agape over at my end of the table, intent on my laptop; also not talking to the sassy, maybe methadone-dependent woman across from me.)  He is truly called Tarzan!  Little work transpired after this point.  (Remember, my computer was slow as molasses….)

Tarzan left, off to look for his phone.  The girlfriend returned.  The blonde man reported his exchange with Tarzan to the girlfriend.  Two new pieces of information emerged.  The blonde man is homeless right now.  (Oh!  And, yeah, he knows Tarzan somehow.  Fellow citizens of the street; well, sort of.  Just wait.)  And the girlfriend is not the girlfriend.  Tarzan is her husband.

The girlfriend, I mean wife, who by the way is wearing black short-shorts, is quite buff herself, and whose breasts are busting out of her bustier; no I am not looking.  So, the wife, she leans onto the table, the seat next to me, to talk to the sassy, maybe methadone-dependent, woman across from me.  This woman has several friends with her now, also regulars.  And I keep busy not listening.  (I have work to do!)  Fully aware that if I start getting engaged I will have even more difficulty appearing not rude when I stare at my computer screen—really, I do need to stare at that screen, though the reasons have blurred.  So, they get to talking.  Then the sassy woman asks the woman on my other side, at the table’s head, where’d your purse go?  And, indeed, her red purse, very recently sitting on the table next to my over-stuffed folder, is gone.  How the f–k did that happen?  I am equally puzzled.  The purseless woman is sure the sassy woman has taken it, out to make a point.  Everyone looks around, wonders, starts to worry.  I look around too, the invisible shield further opened.  All of us truly puzzled; well, almost all.  Purseless woman, not unkindly, tells sassy woman that she’ll rip her ponytail off if she has it.  Everyone is still remarkably calm.  I’ve seen most of them more riled up about apparently far lesser problems: a presumed affront by the manager, say, who has seemed to unwittingly become a participant in some archetypal scolding mother, rebellious son dynamic; where the son has done good, but the mother remains all-powerful.  Here, I may be exaggerating, but that’s the subtext anyway.  And, look, there’s really no room to exaggerate anywhere else in this account.  (I love NY!)  So, sassy woman calmly suggests to purseless woman that purseless woman’s friend came in before and took it.  Was there money in it?!  No.  Just cigarettes.  So purseless woman goes outside and, indeed, visible through our window is her friend holding the red purse.

Conversations continue.  I email my babysitter.  My screen barely moves.  Tarzan’s wife explains why she’s worrying about Tarzan.  I miss a few beats, but come to understand that Tarzan used to date so-and-so’s sister.  This was seven or eight years ago, before the wife married Tarzan.  Tarzan’s not-yet-wife had a fiance, equally buff; Tarzan was her last fling.  Turns out they were more than that.  He broke up with his girlfriend; more abruptly than seems to have been in character.  Now, turns out this girlfriend o.d.’ed.  Here, I’m not sure if this is a new event, new news, or old news and ancient history.  Doesn’t really matter.  Tarzan feels bad; feels like he somehow played a role in this.  When I hear about someone’s overdose, my brain can’t help but go to the question of suicide.  Depression and drugs are no stranger.  Some easy examples: Amy Whinehouse; Whitney Houston; Marilyn Monroe.  Ambiguity accompanies excessive drug use; ambiguity accompanies suicide.  Addiction goes hand-in-hand with those drugs.  Questions of suicidal behavior (para-suicide) trail behind.  So, here I am, right there with Tarzan and his fears, thinking how bad he is feeling inside about playing a role in someone’s despair, lamenting, mourning, along with him, this feeling of loss.  Wondering what if.  Tarzan, poor Tarzan.  Growing more humanized by the minute.  Tarzan’s wife says how he’s like that, a sweetheart, worrying about people, not wanting to hurt them.  This is the man who has borrowed the name of an ape-man, strong and frightening, the man who on the street in months past has seemed to carry a wild, unpredictable menace, in large part by his sheer size.  And turns out he’s a puppy dog when it comes to those he might have wronged.

Of course, there’s more to it.  Always, there’s more to it.

Why does he need to be so strong?

Hold that question.  Now, back at the table, someone says how so-and-so (a different so-and-so) says Tarzan’s wife married Tarzan for his money.  Yes, that’s right, his money.  Let’s discuss.  My tablemates don’t say this, but this is what happens.  Yeah, that’s right!  Tarzan’s wife laughs; she suggests, quite candidly, some other reasons she might have married him.  And then she explains how she’s forty-years-old and she gets an allowance.  The gall, I think, Tarzan gives her an allowance!  Nope.  Tarzan’s mother gives them an allowance.  And they give her a grocery list; she buys the groceries.  And so on.  Yes, Tarzan, or his family, is rich, but he can’t touch the money.  The silent participant, too obvious for Tarzan’s wife or sassy woman to need to articulate, is Drugs.  Don’t know which ones.  But, yes, it comes back, this is part of what made my body tense as Tarzan walked past; what led me, when possible, to change sidewalks.  Not so much the muscles; but the awareness within the muscles, of hunger, of need, of intoxication, whether intoxicated or not.  There is what we call, in rather different circumstances, muscle memory.  The muscles, the body, the self: they remember.  What they have had.  What they want.  What they fear.  What they want to be.  Shirt spread, muscles bulging: the force and mass of potential, trying to burst free.  Of fear and need, trying to be strong.  Tarzan is not a metaphor.  He is real.

Ok, take a breath here.

I feel like I have revealed someone’s secrets.  I will pretend you were at that communal table too.  We all are.  Doesn’t everyone need to be seen, just a little bit, somehow, somewhere?  Who doesn’t want to feel strong?

Posted in Grief & grieving, Memory, Suicide | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How shy are you? – Some thoughts on thoughtfulness

the city that never sleeps – but lets you find solitude in multitudes

These past weeks I have been mulling over the need for solitude.  Why do we need it?  When do we need it?  Does everyone need it?  What do we even mean by solitude?  What do I mean?  Sometimes we stumble across something so obvious it catches us by surprise.  Perhaps it is something we once knew but have lost track of.  Perhaps it is recognition of something we’ve grown accustomed to existing below the surface, just out of reach of consciousness, just beyond words.  We need words to make things visible, to make a sensation, a thought, communicable.  This is obvious.  And yet there is a path to what seems obvious, which it is easy to forget.  Walking that path reminds us why something is important.

Here are two definitions of “thoughtful”:

1)      Given to careful thought; reflective.  Engrossed in thought.

2)      Having or showing heed for the well-being or happiness of others and a propensity for anticipating their needs or wishes.

The definitions are distinct; and the circumstances can exist independently.  And yet they each rely on the other.  Like husband and wife; like parent and child (child and parent); like two sides of one’s self.  If one is gone too long, the other suffers.

I have lost track of whether it is a truism that a parent needs time to herself in order to look after others.  Is this so obvious it no longer needs saying?  Has it been said too much?  And yet we forget.  We need time to reflect, in order to reflect (back) what others need.  This is not to say a parent needs (only) to go think about her children; but rather she needs time to think, to let the brain wander, in order to return to others.  Of course this is true of writers.  Perhaps this is why we write, because we need so much solitude, so much time for reflection; perhaps we need it in order to write.  It’s the old chicken or the egg question.  But writers are not unique in this, even if we employ it differently.

In February, The New York Times Book Review ran a review of a book on introverts, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  (Now you can see how long I’ve been sitting on this post.  Coverage has continued.)  Judith Warner, the reviewer, in the end cared little for the book; she found it overbearing, perhaps even too heedful and laudatory of the introvert personality; the author overstating the embattlement of introverts in contemporary life.  Warner’s discussion was engaging; and at least for this reader a reminder of things I’d forgotten.

As a child, I not infrequently described myself as shy.  I believed it; and yet I also understood that there was something inconsistent with this external descriptor when it came to my inner self.  Though I often seemed quiet and withdrawn to those around me, I somewhere realized that this was not how I experienced myself on the inside.  And indeed I was far less quiet with those who knew me well.  I read voraciously until high school, when schoolwork and some tick of adolescence I still haven’t fully analyzed shunted books to the side too much; certainly they weren’t driven entirely away, but they were able to hold onto less space.

I continued to be “shy” through college and into my twenties.  Then my father died, when I was twenty-three, and something began to shift.  Not suddenly.  Grief may hit in one big wallop, at first, but the lasting changes it is capable of producing are more gradual.  By my later twenties I had learned, through repetition, that a question about my master’s thesis, or later the book I was working on, or about my father—a question that would result in the word “suicide” emerging, brought out by me—wasn’t going to kill me with embarrassment or a surfeit of attention.  Gradually I forgot I was shy.  And then, gradually, I forgot too that I am an introvert.  Introversion and shyness had grown synonymous for me.  So, if not one, then not the other too.

Since having children, I “beg, borrow, and steal” to find time for myself—which has become synonymous for me with time for writing.  It took this random review about introverts (and therefore, Cain’s book) to remind me why I need this quiet time—and even to re-validate it for myself.  People come in different stripes, as it were, with different quirks and needs.  My stripe is introverted (is that a deep purple? a charcoal grey?).  But even extroverts need a moment to catch their breath.

It is sometimes annoying, even frustrating, to need to be by one’s self (a state which is actually possible with others around—while reading a book, while sitting in a café—but more difficult if those others are intimates rather than strangers).  If we demand, or take, time without anyone, then it follows that we are not with each specific person who gives us pleasure in his presence.  By now, we all know there simply is not enough time…so in allocating time we see and feel what we are not doing as painfully, sometimes even more painfully, as the pleasure with which we can engage in what we have chosen or been given.

It is difficult to remember that thoughtfulness, in both senses, requires solitude; even more difficult to demand it.  In order to look after others, to be considerate, we need time for reflection (time for self), time to think.  The need for solitude feels selfish, un-valuable.  When, in fact, it is invaluable.  And not just for introverts.

~

Hanif Kureishi makes a related argument in an Opinion piece for The New York Times, “The Art of Distraction“: sometimes we need to do one thing in order to do something else.  I take issue with part of how Kureishi gets there—he slams Ritalin as an annihilator of thought; suggesting that if we kill the brain’s need to wander, we kill off creativity.  While I believe wholeheartedly in the value of a wandering brain (off-topic is sometimes more on than we think), an inability to focus is not the same thing as allowing the mind to wander.  Control can be wrested from the thinker such that intervention may return the ability to think, rather than remove it.  Modern pharmacology, when used responsibly (dare I say thoughtfully), has the ability to save lives, both literally and figuratively, and to improve their quality, sometimes drastically.  But back to the sound points in Kureishi’s piece.

I appreciate Kureishi’s reminder that avoiding what some inner instinct may press upon us (room for thought, say), can prove more detrimental than following that original need: “many people have spent their lives being distracted, keeping away, often unknowingly, from that which they most want, thus brewing in themselves a poison of disappointment, bitterness and despair.”  People have different abilities and strengths, which Kureishi illustrates with the rudimentary nature of his own jump-roping skills (a recently acquired evening activity) in contrast with his son’s fancy twists and turns of the rope, while singing no less.  He uses this same son’s difficulty in learning to read, belatedly given a diagnosis of dyslexia, as an odd stepping-stone into his arguments about medication (Ritalin) and creativity.  He expresses relief at the diagnosis of dyslexia but then belittles it.  I too am a writer.  I too have a son who showed early difficulty with reading, and received a diagnosis of dyslexia.  Certainly we don’t want our children to be defined by their “deficits” but early pinpointing of a problem, particularly with dyslexia (for which different reading strategies can make a huge difference), allows for assistance.  And too often we perceive deficits without similar acknowledgement of accompanying strengths.  (For one such argument, see “The Upside of Dyslexia,” by Annie Murphy Paul in the NYT; and the Letters that followed.)

Returning to the “thoughtfulness” with which I began this piece, the value—the necessity even—of time for the mind to roam (now that we’ve roamed into Kureishi’s other arguments), here is Kureishi again:

In the end, a person requires a method.  He must be able to distinguish between creative and destructive distractions by the sort of taste they leave, whether they feel depleting or fulfilling.  And this can work only if he is, as much as possible, in good communication with himself—if he is, as it were, on his own side….

I like to think of it as the family—or social—ecosystem.  With one out of harmony (or, better yet, in), the others soon follow suit.

~   ~   ~
Happy Memorial Day, day of remembering.  This day of loss has become a marker of summer’s beginning.  We associate summer with time of greater light, movement, rest from some of our cares.  Inconsistent as these two meanings seem – day for remembering the dead (originally, and still most prevalently, veterans) and day for beginning vacation and time of light – they are less incongruous than they first appear.  Remembering, in times of loss, is about sadness and grief; also it is about memories of joy, gifts of a person’s presence.
This week I’ve been saddened by the losses of friends, death arriving too soon, in one case by suicide.  I am reminded of how horrible and numbed those early days of grief are.  I am reminded of the many phases that follow, moods shifting, sometimes too suddenly.  And I am reminded that it truly does get easier; that we grow from hardship; that pleasures return; and that, even when some memories contain sadness, the act of remembering can in itself be cathartic, joyful, comforting.
During this long weekend, may each of us find the activity, communion, or solitude we need.
~  ~  ~

~  If the next post is slow in coming, please poke around in the archives.  A few places to start…  ~

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Posted in Grief & grieving, Memoir, Memory, Motherhood, Suicide, Writing & Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Of secrets, silence, and despair—veteran suicides, Russian teens, the power of the novel

I’ve had my head in the sand as much as possible this month, a rather nice (and terribly necessary) place to be as a writer.  But emerging for air—or simply to attend to surrounding noise—tends to create something akin to whiplash or vertigo.  This was my experience this morning when I came across Letters (“Risking Death in War, and Back Home”) in the New York Times reacting to (supporting) an Op-Ed by Nicholas Kristof this past weekend drawing needed attention to issues of suicide among veterans.

Head buried in sand (or paper), I missed Kristof’s valuable piece, “A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame.”  While I don’t have time for a full reaction now, I want to at least draw attention to the article and a few of its points on suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the (often ignored) costs of war, all subjects I’ve addressed here previously.

For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.

A brief perusal of the comments (and there are many) following Kristof’s piece, shows gratitude for light shed on this shadowy subject, and, of course, some criticism of the handling of this or that, or the spotlight shone in a different direction than a particular reader wants to look or focus on.  One point that stood out for me, is that these numbers likely include all veterans, not just those from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If this is the case (which does seem likely), perhaps it should be made more clear; and yet it serves to illuminate and intensify the force of Kristof’s arguments, rather than diminish.  Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide are long-standing issues, reactions and complications of war that precede current conflicts.

My first exposure and readings on the subject arose in studies of World War I veterans, studies that went on to prove useful in treating traumatic experiences in the aftermath of the Holocaust and World War II.  The long-standing reality of traumatic effects of war makes the issues no less insistent in their need for attention right now.  Recent research illuminates the added complications and terrors of traumatic brain injury in the pool of concerns.  (Similar to football injuries, as discussed in an earlier post about Dave Duerson, “‘See that my brain’—a suicide note’s mixed message.”)

Novelist and playwright Kate Wenner, writing and producing material on this under-presented topic, had an excellent Opinion piece last month in the Times (“War is Brain-Damaging“) on traumatic brain injury as it relates to current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a toxic mix when combined with post-traumatic stress disorder,  shedding light in particular on the tragic case of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, accused of killing sixteen Afghan civilians, a story which has been much on my mind.

Here is a brief explication of traumatic brain injury (TBI) from Wenner’s article, how it occurs and its effects:

These vets suffer from a particular kind of brain damage that results from repeated exposure to the concussive force of improvised explosive devices — I.E.D.’s — a regular event for troops traveling the roads in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s Russian roulette,” one vet told me, “We had one guy in our company who got hit nine times before the 10th one waxed him.” An I.E.D. explosion can mean death or at least a lost arm or leg, but you don’t have to take a direct hit to feel its effects. A veteran who’d been in 26 blasts explained, “It feels like you’re whacked in the head with a shovel. When you come to, you don’t know whether you’re dead or alive.”

However we may feel about the validity of the conflicts, the soldiers serving shouldn’t be the ones penalized for American involvement.  As Kristof notes,

We refurbish tanks after time in combat, but don’t much help men and women exorcise the demons of war. Presidents commit troops to distant battlefields, but don’t commit enough dollars to veterans’ services afterward. We enlist soldiers to protect us, but when they come home we don’t protect them.

And then we all suffer.

~   ~   ~

On a related topic, suicide rates for Russian teens, already high, have seen an uptick in the early months of this year, as discussed in the recent NYT article, “A Spate of Teenage Suicides Alarms Russians.”

Though growing prosperity has tamed Russia’s high rate of adult suicides, the rate of teenage suicides remains three times the world average. Experts blame alcoholism, family dysfunction and other kinds of fallout from the Soviet Union’s collapse, as well as the absence of a mental health structure and social support networks to help troubled young people.  [...]

But Kirill Khlomov, who heads Crossroads, a Moscow center that provides counseling for at-risk teenagers, said that the problems run deeper. “When the media talks about suicide, it always sounds like the answer’s right there,” he said. “Just shut Facebook and then everything will be fine. It is just not so.”

Mr. Khlomov pointed to the vacuum left by Soviet youth organizations like the Young Pioneers, which used to provide social structure for adolescents.

Mr. Khlomov said Russian parents and teachers all too often dismiss teenagers when they express suicidal thoughts, treating such talk not as a cry for help, but as an attempt at manipulation. This further isolates young people, he said, reinforcing the conviction that no one will ever understand the way they feel.

Russian media has been grappling with how to cover the topic, as they’re faced with “copycat” suicides.  I’ve previously written about media guidelines for suicide coverage (along with coverage of football player Dave Duerson).  My own take is similar to Mr. Khlomov’s above: we do harm by ignoring suicide and its precursors, but it needs to be clear that suicide is not a solution to a problem (depression, grief, feeling cornered and without choices).  Suicide ends all choices.  The underlying feelings and problems demand discussion in order to prevent the horrible loss, and wasted life, that suicide produces.  The wounds that precede suicide only beget more wounds if left to isolation, pain, and silence.  Preventive measures are essential.

~

I’ll wrap up here with a few lines from Countries of Lost Things, the novel I’m editing (finishing, interminably working on, sick of, reveling in…), some of which immerses in Russia, as icon, as place of mystique and longing.

But I was taken by the stone figure: a life-like woman, naked, one leg stepping onto a small box, a pedestal of sorts.  Her body was smooth, well-curved, its solid expressiveness arresting.  Maybe it came from being made of stone—her force and solidity were awesome.  Her right hand was raised, her mouth half open, as though about to speak.  I circled her, admiring the smoothness of the line of her waist, her buttocks, the detail of her spine, tendrils of hair near her neck.  How did one do this?

I heard David’s dry laugh off to the other side of the room. ….

. . .

Secrets are the fertilizer for despair.

Yes, these are some grains of the sand my head has been buried in.

Enjoy that spring weather!

~   ~   ~

~ Need a good book to read?  Last month, I sped through far to go, by Canadian novelist and poet Alison Pick.  If you never thought you’d find a page turner about the Holocaust (Czechoslovakia, 1938), here it is: a beautiful and moving novel with a compelling story and much to think about. ~

~

Posted in COUNTRIES OF LOST THINGS, Grief & grieving, Holocaust, Memory, Russia, Suicide, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment