Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Mortality (and Why the Muppets Matter) [From the Archives: 4-4-09]

[The below article was posted on the original Muppet Freak on April 4, 2009]

Well, when i started this venture, i did say that not only would i be discussing my other areas of fandom but also occasionally touching on other stuff as well. I mentioned that sometimes it would be silly, sometimes snarky, other times serious. This is one of those times it gets very serious (and probably the most serious article that will be found here)

I'm going to warn everyone right up front. I'm going to discuss something that is very taboo to talk about in our society. And those who do talk about it almost NEVER do so in the way i'm about to because there's that much of a stigma about it. We may live in what i sometimes refer to as a "South Park" society where it seems these days courtesy goes out the window, six year olds curse blue streaks as their parents either don't care or actually encourage them, and almost any kind of talk about sex or violence is not only openly in everyone's face everywhere but the news media even seems to thrive on it. We have reached a point where the most crude things there are to discuss are always out there with no discretion, but despite all that it still remains essentially forbidden to both hold and talk about the views i'm going to express. If you find you can't take what i'm about to say, you may want to skip to the very end of the post where it ties all back together to the Muppets and the larger picture.

I recently found out that a good friend of mine from my school days died. More specifically, he killed himself. Needless to say, i'm quite devastated and my heart and best thoughts and wishes go out to his family and those he's currently close to (we haven't talked to each other since school and moving on with our own separate lives). There are of course nearly a hundred different thoughts and emotions swimming around in my mind about this all but chief among them is envy and incredible respect and admiration about his choice.

As long as i can remember, i've always questioned the world around me and often came to unusual conclusions. I remember being a little kid and always being amazed at how almost all the other kids my age (in real life and on the tv) thought the opposite gender was "yucky". One of my best friends was a girl who lived across the street and we had no problem with each other and i was observant enough to notice that at some point boys and girls eventually end up liking each other enough to fall in love and get married so i always would think "well if it happens later, why wait to be friends?" Now of course i think i can also thank Sesame Street for that since that was constant exposure to a world where boys and girls were equal and all got along and played and had fun with each other. That's just one example of the kind of unconventionalist approach i've taken towards viewing the world around me.

Well, something else that has never made sense to me is the way our society (and societies throughout history) has viewed death and more specifically self-deliverance. Here's my line of thinking. It's okay if you don't agree; i know many of you won't and this may even be the first time you heard anyone say this stuff but just because it may be "out there" or different than what you're used to doesn't make it not valid. Death is a natural part of the life cycle. It's one of the most inevitable things there are and there's never been a person born on this earth who has been immune to it. It's part of the natural order of things. We're born, we age, we die.  Always - and each and every one of us - no exceptions.  Sometimes it's early in the life cycle (sometimes not even surviving the journey out of the womb), other times people live beyond the age of 100. Some lives are taken by fate; others by natural causes. At one time or another it happens to every single one of us.

 "Life is made up of meetings and partings"

Being the totally natural and inevitable event that death is, i don't see why suicide is seen as such a horrible thing. You will meet very few people who are willing to express that they think it's okay (even if they may very well feel it is deep down, it's just not something any of us will come out and say). If we're all going to die, shouldn't we be allowed some say over when and how? Should the ability to take control over an inevitable and natural part of our life cycle not be an inalienable and undeniable right?

Now i know the automatic answer many have to those questions. Many people don't have the kind of wisdom to make such decisions, especially when we're younger. How many of us in our childhood or teens felt like ending it all over something we may now look back at as rather trivial? The kind of teen drama type stuff like "Ohmygawd, Becky told Johnny that i kinda sorta liked him and he didn't believe her or seemed to care - i don't think i can go on". True, when we're younger we don't always have the wisdom and maturity to handle such big responsibilities. That's why most countries have various age of consent laws for things like smoking, driving vehicles, drinking, playing the lottery, engaging in sexual activity, etc. If given the choice to take our lives whenever we wanted, a lot of us probably wouldn't live past our teen years.

But at some point, should we not be able to take an honest look at our lives and place in the world and say "there really is no more point in going on. I didn't ask to be born in the first place and this is the time for it to come to an end." It would give our family and friends a chance to establish closure and say their goodbyes beforehand. Those we know aren't taken by surprise and shock and they can be glad that the person taking their life had the good fortune to depart this earth the way they wanted. If suicide was legal and an accepted practice in our society, there wouldn't be any need for people to attempt taking their lives in reckless ways that may endanger others or are very violent and harsh or leave behind a traumatic scene for the survivors to witness. One could enter a facility where they are humanely put to sleep - similar to the lethal injections criminals sentenced to the death penalty are given. No gruesome crime scenes for police to clean up involving hangings, gun shots, jumps off buildings and the like. We can die with dignity when we feel the time is right.

It would also aid in environmentalism. Our planet just can not support a population that grows at an exponential rate. Any means of population control benefits us all and if anyone's going to talk about implementing any kind of practice in society that brings the population down, shouldn't it be geared towards those who don't want to live anymore and wish to leave voluntarily?

I've faced a lifelong battle with severe depression. I feel things very intensely and can be too sensitive for my own good. Thoughts of death have been as much a part of my regular existence as loving the Muppets or for that matter even breathing. And in full disclosure i once did try to kill myself when i was around 17 by taking a large amount of sleeping pills. Didn't even come close to working. I slept very deeply for a long time and had the mother of all headaches and felt very dizzy and groggy afterwards, but otherwise nothing happened.

When i was 28, i made a pact with myself that during my 29th year, if i honestly felt that my life wasn't improving and that i saw little point in continuing with it, i would not allow myself to turn 30; i would end it beforehand. In one of those odd twists of irony, even though i truly didn't feel towards the end of my 29th year like i should continue, an event i literally waited a lifetime to happen ended up scheduled on my 30th birthday. Despite my better judgement, i held on and entered my 30's. (Even though i still had a total nervous breakdown and came very close to slashing my wrists or drowning myself in the bathtub that weekend.)

There's been some good moments in the seven years since that i'm very grateful to have experienced. My two years with Grand Canyon Mens' Chorale and winning the "Most Outstanding Performer" award my rookie year ... or for that matter even being able to sing again when a very severe battle of bronchitis nearly destroyed my singing ability and voice. (I actually still live with a degree of non-viral bronchitis and am especially vulnerable during times of high air pollution). Having a front row center seat at an Annie Lennox concert and meeting her afterwards. Those are some of the most prominent memories i have of the last few years where i can honestly say i'm thankful i got to have those experiences.

But moments like that have really been few and far between and if i was to honestly and brutally assess my life - where it's been and where it's going, i would have to say i made the wrong choice not to end it sooner. Had i had access to a vision of my future and known what it would hold and the stuff i've gone through, i wouldn't have had any doubts that death was the better choice. I won't go into much detail but suffice to say in addition to the financial hardships that our current economy has wrought, i have endured nearly every single form of antigay bigotry that exists (with the thankful exception of physical violence) - i've been disowned by parts of my family (and looked at as a "black sheep" by others who haven't totally outright written me off), lost a home, lost employment, had property vandalized, experienced numerous forms of harassment, and have had my car messed with and sometimes actually sabotaged. Which is really quite remarkable that for someone who really has rarely dated or been with much others, that i would be as victimized as i've been. It's all been pure bigotry directed at what i naturally am and can't help being instead of reactions to specific practices or behaviors. (To put it mildly, an overweight, ugly person in his 30's who lives in poverty and desires relationships based around friendship as opposed to sex just simply is not going to enjoy much companionship!)

I don't think i can really say there hasn't been a day since my 30th birthday that i haven't thought about death, wanting to die, suicide, or any combination thereof. Maybe at most, i might have been able to go 48 hours without such thoughts, but that would be the maximum. Like i said before, they're just simply as natural a part of my existence as sleeping and eating (which i sure as heck do a lot of. That's an advantage of being overweight. Animals get fat in the first place so they can survive stretches of time when they don't eat including hibernation. So if i have a couple days off from work and don't have to be anywhere else or have any other responsibilities, i'll "hibernate" - literally go to bed and stay there and not feel or think anything and be at as much of an "at rest" state close to being dead as i can get while being alive.)

I've done a huge amount of research on self-deliverance. I have no doubt that unless fate beats me to it, that i will eventually die by my own hand. The only variable is whether it ends up being four days, four weeks, four months, four years, or four decades from now. Unless my research brings to my attention a better method, i already have it planned out how i'll do it. I live in a constant state of amazement that i haven't already quite honestly. And when i hear of people like my old friend who actually have taken their life, they have my deepest respect and envy. People often use the word "cowardice" when discussing suicides. Personally, especially considering humans have a natural survival instinct and reflexive drive, i think the ability to face death and embrace it willingly the way and time one chooses is one of the bravest things a person can do. Those who take their own lives should be seen as heroes, not victims. They took control over something that was a natural inevitability.

So the big question is why exactly am i still here? What has kept me from doing what i probably should have done a very long time ago? There's really three things when it comes right down to it.

(1) I have no fear of dying. But what i DO fear immensely is surviving a suicide attempt. For someone who has tried it once and not really experienced any major consequences, i got off very dang lucky. But my greatest fear is that i would try to take my life and not succeed and then be forced to spend the rest of my life even worse off as before - perhaps with severe injuries to my body, brain damage, loss of limbs or senses. This thought terrifies me like no other and in my almost daily ruminations on death, i often feel "If i'm a failure at every single other thing in life, why would i expect to be a success at self-deliverance?" If all else is going wrong, how could i be so arrogant as to expect that would be the one thing to go right? Therefore i endure and struggle through for fear of a worse alternative.

(2) Respect for my family. As i mentioned earlier, most of my family has not been eager to accept the reality of my being a gay man. To say that i'm close to any member of my family would be a big exaggeration. Holidays are always awkward as i'm expected to sit down and eat with people who i know really don't want me there and fearing that either my food or my car will be messed with by a certain individual (both of which have actually happened). Nonetheless, i do recognize that one of the very worst types of pain in the pantheon of human existence is when a parent outlives and has to bury a child. Both my parents are still alive (up there in years and could go at any time, but still alive regardless.) If i can at all help it, i will not put either one of them through that experience. As unwanted and uncared for as i may be, i still feel i owe them that level of courtesy and respect. Not to say that one day, the drive, desire, and need to finally end things won't eventually overtake that sentiment, but much more likely than not, i will most likely wait until they're both gone first before i make my departure. (Of course, it's always possible that all this is total b.s., and just my way of rationalizing living in an effort to avoid reason #1 above.)

(3) What Tomorrow Brings. And here we get to the Muppet-related part of this post. No matter how much i may long to be at eternal peace and rest and non-existence, the fact remains that as long as i'm here, i have to have something to hold onto. The older i get, the more i realize that "Hope" is not that thing. As the economy gets worse, and i struggle to pay bills and survive and hold on to a place to live and basically just exist to work as much hours as i can to afford the costs of living, there's little time, expense, or chance of other pursuits that we refer to as goals or dreams. I need some major miracles and if anything i've learned that "miracles" are not the type of gifts that someone like me receives. (I have my own metaphor about religion that i have but out of respect for those with different belief systems, i won't express it here - suffice it to say, it's analogous to someone continuing to be kicked when they're down.) So if "Hope", "Dreams", "Love" and other such concepts are out of the running, what's left?

It's my areas of fandom that literally keep me going. The little pleasures in life like seeing a new Muppet Movie or hearing a new Pet Shop Boys album are the ropes i cling to that keep me from letting go and falling into the abyss. Those are the things that bring me my rare moments of happiness (or anything approaching it). That no doubt may sound very pathetic to those who don't understand the idea...that out of anything else, a new Muppet project is what keeps me going. But one has to hold onto something and that's what brings me joy. And no, it's not "just" another Muppet special per se, but all the things in life i love, be it entertainers and artists, certain foods, my favorite type of weather (when there's light scattered rainclouds but they're at an angle where it rains and sunshines at the same time). In fact, even more than the Muppets, throughout my life, anytime i've been in the process of listening and/or making music is the time i'm at an emotional state that can best be described as happiness. When i sing and i'm at my best and there's no physical limitations holding me back (bronchitis in check, voice fully warmed up, full access to complete range, no soreness of throat), it's like i enter a portal to another place; a total different zone of existence that i otherwise can't describe except for being at total bliss and harmony with everything else. Maybe areas of fandom seem like a very small and very desperate thing to cling to. But it's what i have out of a limited number of options and it works more or less to some degree.

Your thoughts on self-deliverance may be very different from mine. That's okay. But all of us have our darker moments and personal storms - to some they're scattered flurries and to others of us, they're the overwhelming norm. Whether they're small passing fancies or continual non-stop companions permanent as any tattoo, i encourage everyone to hold on to those things you love and bring you joy when you need them.

And for those like my old friend who recognize that the darkness of existence is far greater than the joys or benefits of holding on, i salute your courage to approach your life with that amount of honesty and the rare ability to be proactive about taking complete and total control over one of the most natural and inevitable parts of life. I can't begin to express how much i envy that. You should be honored, not pitied; celebrated, not mourned. Should the time (i use the word "should" instead of "when" simply because fate could always intervene in the meantime and strike me before i have the chance to do anything myself) come when news of my own self-deliverance is reported, i just want people to remember that i had the blessed opportunity to embrace my mortality the way and time i wanted and wish no pity or mourning (not that i really would expect the mourning anyway). My choice, my time, my desire. That should always be considered and respected as enough.

[Originally posted on April 4th, 2009, this was my first post to cover the subject of self-deliverance; i refer back to this article several other times in later posts as it became more clear that i was indeed planning on going through with taking my life before my 40th birthday.  Even though i held on and kept going (with the only reason to do so being for the things i covered here:  fandom related things that i didn't want to miss out on, including a project that i had spent a lot of time and energy on fighting to make sure it ended up happening and wanted to see how that turned out), that "hibernation" state i mentioned essentially made up my life since turning 40 - staying in bed every moment i could get away with.  Working on Muppet Freak's at least given me something to force myself out of bed and doing something and in the process i've started getting back into some regular habits i'd abandoned for a good three months such as checking emails and going on Muppet forums.  Even though i may no longer have a date or "deadline" in mind, i do know that my time left is short whether that means less than a year, over a year - i simply don't know at this point.

Continued battles with chronic bronchitis again destroyed any chance of singing anymore; this was all written before everything really went to hell in 2010 in regards to work/employment/finances (i.e. i could still afford to eat regularly) - every day i wake up in the morning and get out of bed is filled with much pain/regret and wondering "why do i continue to DO this?   Is the rare moments of joy my areas of fandom bring ultimately worth it?"  Sometimes i can't in all honesty say they are.

Yet for some reason, there's this weird feeling inside me that i still have an "unfinished mission" before i embark on my suffocation/pills combo:  that there's still something important i need to do first - but i don't know what it is exactly.  But i'm keeping my eyes and mind open as to what it may be and in the meantime, i keep doing the only one thing left i'm any good at - being a Muppet/Henson fan and taking that fandom and turning it into something that can be shared with others.  I said in my introductory post that at that time i didn't know if this would eventually be just a new place to archive the old articles or if it would become a full "return" - i think it's safe to say at the moment with the mix of new articles among the reprints, that Muppet Freak is "back"...but since it's own existence is linked with mine, i can't say how long for - but during whatever amount of time i have left. i hope to make it something valuable to the greater Muppet/Henson fandom community. ]

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