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anthony bourdain, depression, and me.

Being impacted by a celebrity death is an odd phenomenon. How strange to find ourselves grieving the loss of someone we never knew — not in the sense that the loss of a life is tragic, but in a more particular way. Our lives are impacted by a creator’s work or persona, and we feel a deep personal loss when their light goes out.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide hit me hard last week, much harder than I would have anticipated. It bored into my mind, sunk down into my chest, and rooted itself with a distracting persistence.

I wasn’t a religious follower of his work. I’d read Kitchen Confidential, watched videos of his various appearances and takes on food culture, and caught one of his shows very occasionally, but his presence in my life wasn’t daily or even weekly. Yet, here I was, feeling legitimate shock from his death. As that first day wore on the impact grew, the shadow lengthening.

The truth is that while I didn’t consciously hold him up as a hero, didn’t light candles at his altar as I do for some other artists, I realize now that his presence was significant in how I understand myself and the world. In the mid aughts, as I came into adulthood and was deciding who I would be, he was a trustworthy guide into the pursuit of life and culture as I began to realize that was a priority for me. It’s a sentiment which echoes many who have shared their thoughts about his life and loss over the last few days.

In him, I see so many of the things that make up my idea of a good life — not just good as in pleasurable, but good as in making the world better by living and being. I’d never suggest that traveling enough, or eating well enough, or experiencing enough of the world could ward off depression. Depression is often at its worst in the wake of my best experiences. However, I did hope that living a good life in the other sense would help.

Bourdain was curious, constantly learning, relentlessly searching for connection, was always creating, and most importantly to me, his hospitality was legendary. As a bonus, he also never took any shit or tolerated nonsense, so his hospitality never seemed false or saccharine. He clearly saw the world as it is, not as he wished it would be, and he found it worth exploring even while he railed against the things he saw as unfair toward the marginalized. The stories pouring out from those who only met him once reinforce that this was his way on and off camera.

He had a life filled with so much light and humanity. Yet, there was always that sharp edge. Cynicism and quiet rage were always part of the package. He had a punk rock core that added to his legend. And in part, this made it easier for me to believe that I could perhaps bring light and joy to people. There’s nothing punk rock about me at all, but Bourdain helped me believe that I might be a source of light and life for others, helping people expand their view of the world, even with all the bitterness and rage I carry around and can never truly suppress or hide.

I want to be someone who helps make the world bigger for others. I want to help people discover new things. I want to show people the beauty of what it is to be open and welcoming to new things and ways of seeing. Yet, my mental illness and the weight of my horrible insomnia mean I never have the internal resources I wish I had. I’m never as hospitable as I want to be, never as curious, patient, or kind as I wish I was. I want to be better, I want to make the world better, but I honestly don’t know where to begin.

Bourdain was a good place to start.

When I think of the reasons I’m so depressed and my life is so unfulfilling, the things that come to mind are that I am too closed off, too isolated, too limited, and that I’m not doing good creative work – or any creative work for that matter. So I was inspired by the way that Bourdain was open to the world. He was connected in profound ways to all the variety and diversity the world has to offer, with old friends or people he’d just met. He was always doing good work, telling stories and sharing different ways of seeing and experiencing the world through flavor and culture. He was living proof that we can find ways of seeing each other better if we’ll just sit down and share a meal or a drink.

And still, he decided he had to leave.

I wouldn’t say this makes me feel hopeless, but it removes one of the primary ideals in which I’d invest hope when I found it. I always feel rudderless, like my sail is ripped, the rudder is shattered and the boat is riddled with small cracks, forcing me to constantly bail water. That is the apt metaphor for my life. The better times are simply when I feel more energetic as I keep removing water from my boat one bucket at a time.

Yet, I also believed that there was land just visible in the distance, and that maybe, just maybe, I could eventually find a way to fix my boat just enough to move towards it. What Bourdain’s death makes me feel is that, all this time, what I’d believed was an island on the horizon is just another mirage. Even though my rudder didn’t work and I wasn’t sure how to get moving, I still had a course heading if I could ever figure some shit out.

Now I see that’s not the case. The things I thought might save me never will.

I still believe I need to open back up. I still believe it will help if I start working creatively again. I know there are things that help me feel better when I practice them consistently. But now I also know, more than ever, that even then it will never make things better. Nothing fixes this.

Depression is such a dangerous predator. It adapts to the changes we make. It waits patiently and pounces on every weakness, often attacking viciously in the wake of our best and happiest moments, turning even our triumphs into a mockery. So often, you hear family members and friends say of a loved one who took their own life, “They were so happy last night, we had no idea they were in such a dark place.” That’s because the quiet, lonely moments after we let ourselves be happy are often the darkest and cruelest, when we pause and notice that fetid scent on the air and know what’s waiting in the shadows for the lights to go out.

Depression is an incessant voice in the mind, force-feeding the most poisonous lies again and again until they seem like truth. It is also like the hackneyed murderer from slasher films, always returning for the next installment in the franchise no matter how final the victory seemed the last time around. Chop it up, burn it, sink the ashes to the bottom of the sea, yet still it will return, and when it does, it’s going to be pissed.

It can take away the best of us, and too often has. Even badass tough guys with high emotional IQs and a ceaseless appetite for good food, good company, and amazing experiences.

Goodbye, Chef. The world will be darker without you.

[[Also, let me make it clear that I’m ok. I’m neither suicidal, nor in danger. I just want to be honest about where I am. I’m usually hiding the extent of my troubles. Only Emily sees what my life is really like, the constant struggle and futility. This is appropriate to a degree, but I think I may hide too much at times, and it is stifling. This was simply an honest, mostly stream of consciousness processing of my feelings concerning Anthony Bourdain’s passing, and the surprising depth of feeling it elicited.]]

The end

i’m in love with movies. [five things 1.9.12]

This five things is movies I’ve seen lately that I think you should see, too. I haven’t had much chance to write lately, but I wanted all of my friends out there in the internets to have some recommendations from me. Here are movies that have a whole-hearted seal of approval because they enchanted, inspired, moved, and entertained me recently.

1. The Adventures of Tintin

This is the best adventure film I’ve seen in years. I loved every second of it. The motion-capture pushed past the uncanny valley and into truly compelling, beautiful visuals, with great performances by the actors being captured. If you’re in the mood for a detective adventure, skip Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and go see this instead.

Granted, there was a speech in the movie that felt like it was written in response to a conversation I had with Emily four or five days earlier, making the film deeply personal, but I was enjoying the hell out of it long before then.

I can’t believe that fucking Chipmunks 3 is making tons of money while this is floundering and failing. This is why we can’t have nice things America, this is why we can’t have nice things.


2. Another Earth

A new planet appears in the sky on the same night that a young girl makes a life-shattering mistake. The rest of the film carries on from there in a slow, emotionally suspenseful film that kept me on the edge of my seat far more than thrillers and horror movies do.

I always think it’s funny when people praise some piece of SciFi, most often Battlestar Galactica, by saying “It’s not like most SciFi, it’s more about people and politics and life than anything else.” Those people clearly know absolutely nothing about real SciFi. Classic (read ‘good’) Science Fiction is always using aliens, or robots, or spaceships to talk about something else. Asimov, Bradbury, Dick, Vonnegut, etc. etc. etc. It’s always about people, relationships, politics, the human condition. This film is a story that uses the big, exciting premise that another earth appears in our sky to tell a small, painfully human story about a girl who just wants another chance.   


3. The Secret of Kells

This movie is available on Netflix Instant, so most of you can watch it whenever you want. Please do. It’s a remarkably beautiful movie. The animation, which is rooted entirely in the aesthetic of Celtic spirituality and mythology, is reason enough to watch the film. Every frame is carefully crafted to illuminate a story which is itself about illumination.

It’s a wonderful film, which at times is dark and tragic. Yet, it has to be, because it is a story of the power of beauty, art, and faith to be a light in the darkness. This film genuinely was a light in my darkness over these last few weeks. I’m pretty sure it became another of my ‘once a year-ish’ movies.


4. The Artist

Sweet Lord. This film is pure, unadulterated cinematic joy. Almost entirely silent, and when it isn’t silent it is very intentionally and carefully done. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus is: “A crowd-pleasing tribute to the magic of silent cinema, The Artist is a clever, joyous film with delightful performances and visual style to spare.” I couldn’t agree more.

I was already in love with Jean Dujardin from his turn as OSS 117, but this seals the deal. If I ever meet him I will kiss him right on his french lips. That’s right folks, you read it here first. I want to kiss Jean Dujardin on the mouth. And Bernice Bejo, who was also delightful in the OSS 117 film Cairo: Nest of Spies, isn’t too shabby either… wee-ow!


5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The other films on the list were inspiring. This was just well-crafted bad-assery. It was simply flat out cool. I wasn’t as big a fan of the books as many, but watching this film I think I got it and felt what I’d been missing. For many, I think this story connected because deep down we wish there were violent champions for the weak against the villains and monsters.

Rooney Mara was absolutely electric.

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how i got over. [the bandwagon.]

Oh, The Roots. Why doesn’t the world seem to understand what they have in you?

You can’t nail The Roots down in any way. Stylistically, artistically, content-wise. Led by the remarkable ?uestlove, they are always changing, always growing, always experimenting. Their newest album, How I Got Over, is no exception.

Whether they are sampling/collaborating with Monsters of Folk (Dear God 2.0), or at once making fun of auto-tune while also using it to its fullest potential by using the much maligned (and rightly so) effect to create the melody for a beat out of a baby crying (Hustla), The Roots are up to their old tricks again.

Lyrically, spearheaded by the amazing skill of their emcee Black Thought, their work always cuts to the heart of the cultural milieu, or, to use Black Thought’s own words, they / talk sharp like a razor blade under the tongue /

Black Thought always seems to see the world as it actually is, and pulls no punches in commenting on it, whether the subject is something huge like racism, something commonplace like romantic relationships, or something potentially touchy, like calling out their counterparts in world of Hip Hop.

It is more of the same on How I Got Over. However, there does seem to be a major difference this time around. The album is enormously hopeful. Not that their music was hopeless before, far from it, but this time it’s the primary theme I come away with after listening to the CD.

The album lives up to its name, it really feels like a document of how to get over whatever is in your way. The title track, featuring Dice Raw, chronicles how desire can survive inner-city life, where everything truly is against you. Everything seems to / teach us not to give a fuck / Yet, somehow these guys survived, and it seems like holding fast to hope is what did it.

Like U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, which were both creative ways of saying ‘Love,’ for me this CD uses the same titular device to say ‘Hope.’

How they got over, was ‘Hope.’

Not just the evangelical, pop-mart, bullshit sort of hope. Real hope. Hope in the face of hopelessness is how we get over. Hope against reason. Foolish, irrational hope. And in the context of this CD, hope rooted in honest and uncertain faith. It’s hope by a group of men who continue to see the world as it is, who are still struggling to understand why we suffer so much, and why the world can be so ugly if it was created in God’s image.

Talent wasn’t enough to get The Roots over (although they have it in spades). It was enough to get them out of the setting described in the title track, but as the antics of 50Cent and Lil Wayne make clear, you can get out of the economic hardship and smothering systemic injustice created by poverty and racism and still not truly ‘get over.’

The Roots really did get over, never leaving behind the context they grew up in, but offering something beautiful out of it.

Personally, I tend toward cynicism and pessimism. I have trouble believing the world can get better. It’s painful to hope, to desire a better world, and pessimism is easier, safer. With this CD, The Roots have offered me a reminder that, / that type of thinking can’t get you nowhere / someone has to care /

The end