I would hazard a guess that this has been a rough week for most people. This article is not about Michael Brown or Robin Williams but I will refer to them occasionally to assist with the meandering path I’ll be taking to my point. Bear with me.
This was a week filled with mixed emotions for me. It started last Thursday, when I spent my workday teaching in a windowless basement classroom for the second day in a row. My day job is not usually spent this way but I was drafted along with another willing colleague to help the class facilitator. I work in a place that is open to the general public with an emphasis on the word general. We see all types here, and because we serve the public it’s part of our job to make sure they don’t hate us.
One of the subjects I was teaching our staff was on positive language. In a nutshell, I was sharing how you might turn a “No, you can’t do that” into an “Unfortunately, that won’t work but how about this,” replete with PowerPoint slides and role-playing demonstrations.
Despite the dog & pony, I enjoy these particular training sessions because all the staff are invited which means anyone — mailroom to boardroom — could be in attendance. It’s fun seeing groups of people together, who only see each other in the halls, put in a room where they really have to interact. It gives the acronym POV a whole new meaning, if you catch my drift. What I like most about it is that we laugh with each other much more than we do in our office spaces and the corridors. We find out nice little things we didn’t know about a person (although sometimes you can see the hairy underbelly of someone’s personality too.) One overarching theme in the class was the two things a person wants most from others is to be acknowledged and respected. Remember that for later.
I’ve been told I’m a good teacher. Why? Because I don’t mind public speaking and I’m exuberant when I’m comfortable with my subject. The latter makes me seem more dynamic than I actually am, so people don’t want to go to sleep when I’m talking (most of the time), not even in windowless basement classrooms. Teaching is one of the two things in my life I’ve occasionally felt a real calling for. You know, a calling, like that thing you feel naturally talented at but you really need a backbone in order for it to become a reality in your life. The only other thing I’ve ever felt that way about is writing.
Speaking of which, last Thursday I also got it in to my head that I would finish my book that weekend. I do most of my writing on the weekends because I’m a busy girl (nuff said, if you read my posts). With five or six chapters left to go, I decided that the only way for me to make this happen was if I wrote non-stop for 3 1/2 days. So I did, pretty much. My schedule was basically stay up writing until midnight, wake up at 4:30am and write until 7am, shower, then café hop from 8am for about twelve hours. My loved ones tolerated my absence and were for the most part supportive. One night, me and the laptop got tucked in — when discovered seated on the couch, hands to keyboard, snoring loudly (Living with people nicer than you has an upside — I would have taken a picture of me.)
The end result is that by midnight Sunday night, I finished a draft of a full length novel for the first time. Yay me! VERY exciting. Then three things happened almost immediately following my happy dance. One, I trashed the last two scenes and decided the last ten pages of the book needed a rewrite. Two, my eyes, back, and knees felt so strained from the literary hibernation I had to take some Alleve. Three, I remembered Michael Brown.
I gave up reading newspapers a while ago for many reasons. News shows or radio news don’t get much play with me either. I stay informed through the NY Times online and other online media sources when I seek them out. I do news that way because I choose to be selective about what horrible things I’m going to hear about on a daily basis. I have a spongy nature; soaking in toxicity on purpose is a recipe for disaster for someone like me.
Still I believe in knowing the evils of humanity so I seek it out eventually, especially when the evil is perpetuated on children or young black men and women. Michael Brown’s murder leaked into my consciousness on Saturday through Facebook. But choosing to keep it at bay in deference to my weekend writing goals meant that opening the door to what happened would be a matter of time and inclination.
By Monday morning, I had no choice. I had to know what happened but finding out wasn’t as easy as you might think. After reading a lot of diatribes and only one news account that sounded somewhat objective, I decided it would be another day before I got at the truth.
It was only a few hours later I got a text from my daughter that Robin Williams had died from an apparent suicide.
I wasn’t going to rewrite those ten pages that night.
See I knew Robin Williams. Two decades ago I’d had several conversations with him and I really liked him off the TV and movie screens as much as on them.
I worked at Lincoln Center Theater when he starred in Waiting for Godot with Steve Martin, F. Murray Abraham, and Bill Irwin. Their dressing rooms were across the hall from my office. I’ve never, ever been star crazy but being observant I had a field day. One of the things I remember best about him in particular was that he was exactly as he seemed to be. He was authentically zany, sweet, dark and so, so brilliantly aware. He used to make a joke whenever he saw me. Part of my job was in operations managing the events, merchandising, and concessions for the theater. Behind my desk were shelves and shelves of booze. That’s where I kept the inventory, right behind me. He would stick his head in everyday to let me know that I was the most important person in the building as far as he was concerned. I think he’d been dry for about 4 years by then. It was pretty funny. Mostly it was remarkable that he had the ability to laugh at his vices and make me laugh with him. That’s why he’ll be so missed. You could see all that fragility in every joke he told you and because he was a genius, you wanted him to win the good fight.
Ironically I was pretty depressed after finding out Robin died. But that was nothing compared to what I felt when I finally saw a picture of Michael Brown the following morning. That kid’s baby face took my breath away. Imagining him holding his hands up and pleading for his life is heart wrenching and infuriating.
I’ve been depressed a few times in my life, once clinically (I think). I’ve never been to a psychiatrist or taken meds for it. I tried therapy once or twice. I got bored. However I know that depression is real having seen it in loved ones periodically and I know it can be a killer. I’m glad we’re all talking about it. I’m glad and while I didn’t know him well enough to speak for him, I think Robin would be glad that was an outcome of such a tragedy.
A doctor once told me that depression is anger internalized. I didn’t ask him but I should have. What do you call it when anger is externalized?
I don’t have a lot of hope that the various causes for depression or externalized anger will evaporate, especially if we humans can’t seem to get our brains around the simple concept that the two most important things that anyone wants from anyone else is to be acknowledged and respected.
The facilitator for the class I helped with taught us a phrase I hadn’t heard before: gracious assumptions. She said it meant “assuming the positive.” I realized that without knowing how to articulate it I had employed the concept as a fundamental in my life for a long time. One of many ways that I keep the blues on the other side of the gate. That, and exercising my callings.
I wish it were enough.