Now I’ll get the info in sets of three since I follow all three sources.
I like Tom Brokaw. I like him in all of the basic ways – as a professional, as a journalist, as a man, as a human. He’s a good egg.
I’ve followed Mr. Brokaw’s journey through his diagnosis of multiple myeloma at the age of 73.
I like people with issues, especially medical issues and major life crises.
I like watching people confront struggle and triumph over life’s bad badnesses.
I like witnessing the humility of life’s constant reminders that we’re SO not in control when it all comes down to it.
I like when good, reputable, professional, accomplished, successful eggs like Tom Brokaw share their experiences of real life’s ongoing struggles. It helps me to know that I am not alone in feeling alone. And it helps to give me words to define my own struggle…and ways to understand my own struggle.
Specifically, I’ve been working lately to come up with my own “take” on my message. For the first time in my life, I’m sharing the stories behind my art, none of which are lovely, upbeat or positive. My art is dark and morbid and depressing. My art is the art of depression, which is dark, morbid and depressing, at least for me.
So basically it goes like this:
I’ve spent a lifetime living with depression. I’ve created a ton of art inspired by my dark experience. The art is dark. And now I’m sharing.
The thing is that darkness scares people. They assume you’re in the dark place at the very time when they themselves experience the darkness you’re sharing, even though the darkness you’re sharing could have been inspired by experiences from ages (or hours) ago.
So I like the idea of “Learning to Live With“….because it reinforces the reality that when you experience anything difficult, you experience it on a continuum. You experience the discovery of the difficulty as you define it and identify its scope. You experience the difficulty as you have it, hate it, fight it, embrace it, and own it. You experience the difficulty as you fix it and then move on to recovering from the fixing phase.
And then you clean up. You experience the cleaning up of the odds and ends that invariably result from any life disruption.
And then, just when you thought you’ve cleaned everything up and put everything back into its proper place, you experience the fact that your normal is no longer the normal that other people experience.
And, if you have a chronic condition, the cycle repeats.
And repeats. And repeats. And repeats.
I suspect my next essay will be about the stages of living with depression…. or whatever difficulty, struggle, condition or other life reality you’re living with. Because yes, we are all living with something. And yes, we are all somewhere in the journey or process….somewhere in the stages.
And it’s life.
It’s just life.
So go live it.
And help others live it if you’re lucky enough to be in one of the easier stages today.
Thank you to the lovely Dr. Anita Auerbach for allowing me to share her eulogy for Richard Thompson. Her words met me where I was at. And for that I am grateful.
EULOGY for RICHARD THOMPSON
For some reason the brightest stars always seem to burn too briefly. Life in the end, as portrayed in a popular Jimi Hendrix song “is the blink of an eye.”
Richard Thompson came into my life very late in his. There began between us a series of meetings in which no topic was off-limits, no emotion, no thought was unspeakable. We smiled, we cried and we told stories to each other. But so often we laughed, particularly Richard laughed, guffawed really, when we reviewed some of his own comic strips and caricatures!! It was as if he was there at their inception again when he knew finally he had gotten it right. For sure, we spoke of the frustrations giving birth to these portraits: the many drawings crumbled, and comic strip concepts torn up, the garbage cans kicked to the other side of the room, the all-nighters, the half-nighters and the no-nighters!
But all of this faded away in his laughter. And this is what I want to impart to you: the extraordinary capacity of this man to retain a sense of humor, a sense of the wry and absurd, even for his own situation: the juxtaposition of his enormous talent trapped in a body that had become so frail and incapacitated, and yet the still huge capacity for laughter and delight. It was a nobility of spirit I have rarely seen, and it was ennobling just to be in the presence of it.
How did he do it? Well he didn’t do it alone and he knew it: “My girls” he would say, “my girls”. His darling wife Amy with whom he found both physical and emotional support, his daughter Emma whose antics on the elevated manhole cover in their neighborhood served as his inspiration for Cul de Sac, and his daughter Charlotte with whose quiet, gentleness of spirit he most closely identified. And Rudy, his trusted aide, whose warmth and strength combined to keep things moving and safe. Visits from his father and brother. And his remarkable colleagues, some of whom you have heard from today, were so sustaining: Nick Galifianakis, Bono Mitchell, Pete Doctor to name just a few whose frequent visits created such anticipation and delight. And when Pete dropped off the director’s cut of his brilliant movie animation Inside Out (in which Richard is mentioned in the credits) and a baseball cap of the same name, Richard proudly bestowed on me the video to view, but he never took off the cap!
I asked Richard once when I was meeting with him now at home, as it was clear we were very near the end, “Are you ready?” “Noooo!” was his response. “What more do you want to do?” I asked. He pointed to his favorite caricature of Beethoven behind him and said simply “Art”. Later that same day, as I stood with Nick outside the Thompson home, he said to me ”You know who that is in there [referring to Richard]? That’s Beethoven.”
We lost Richard shortly after that. But in the end, his was a death with dignity. Why? Because he died in character. Amy made sure of that. He died the way he lived: at home, surrounded by loved ones, all of the enormously prolific art of his career, and even by the characters of Cul de Sac – scenery designed and built by Amy for the play she wrote, directed and produced in bringing the comic strip to the stage.
Astronomy teaches us that there are stars we now see whose light reaches the earth even after they themselves have disintegrated. And so too for us can Richard’s bright, funny, shining memory, the extraordinary reservoir of art and talent that flowed from his hands and his heart, light our world even after he has long passed from it.
Amy, Emma and Charlotte, know for yourselves that the difficulties of his last days, from which this was his only exit, will someday begin to fade so that time heals much of the pain and all that remains is the beauty of the memories, and the love, always the love.
Eleanor Roosevelt in eulogy of her husband Franklin (FDR) said:
“They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind. In those whom they have blessed,they live a life again.”
‘So let us not cry because it is over; let’s smile because it happened.’
Surely a spirit so strong as Richard’s can endure in the hearts of those he leaves behind, so that in the words of a favorite poem:
The tide recedes but leaves behind bright seashells on the sand
The sun goes down but gentle warmth still lingers on the land
The music stops and yet it lingers on in sweet refrain:
For every joy that passes something beautiful remains.
Godspeed, Richard Thompson. Peace be with you. You did all that you could do. Your family who were like friends and friends who were like family, your colleagues and many supporters did all that they could do. Thank you for all you did for all of us. We will miss you but we will celebrate your life for the gift it was in ours.
Dr. Anita Auerbach 26 August 2016 National Press Club Washington, D.C.
What though the radiance which was once so bright Be now for ever taken from my sight, Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower, We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind; In the primal sympathy Which having been must ever be; In the soothing thoughts that spring Out of human suffering; In the faith that looks through death, In years that bring the philosophic mind.
I can talk about our conversation here because he doesn’t read my blog. He won’t know I spoke about him publicly… for however public this blog is.
But he wouldn’t mind me talking about him anyway. He’s engaged in self-discovery and committed to the value of transparency. And our conversations count as that for him – since everything counts as that for him.
This friend is a former love interest, a former partner-in-crime. But it was so many lives ago that it doesn’t even seem like it was us. I remember those years like it was something that happened to two other people.
I wonder if that’s how others my age view their past lives.
It’s just that life has happened over and over again since that time and now we are completely different people. We are the same, of course, in essence, in character, in personality, in spirit.
But we are different.
Different people with a shared past that is so remote.
So he told me about his journey in meditation.
I was happy for him. I’ve been meditating much longer and I know how it can change a life for the much better.
He told me about his work on self-discovery.
I was cautiously happy for him. I realize his self-discovery is occurring within his very narrowly established view of the world. His discovery, like mine, will be limited to what we already believe to be true.
Then he told me about his morning meditation. An inspired, hopeful, committed and dedicated affirmation about his life.
And I tripped.
It was an incantation where every sentence began with “I” or “my” – I will be this, I will be that….my life is this, my life is that.
And I realized that I’ve lost my connection to the world of self-discovery.
I used to be all about finding my true self, being a better self, and changing my self from what it was to what it can be.
I even used to motivate others to do the same.
But I’ve changed.
I no longer believe as strongly in the focus on self.
And, to be honest, I’m a little worried.
Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Or missing out. Or skipping a step.
If this is too vague, I’m sorry. I’m trying not to rant.
But I did some research into the morning meditations and they overwhelmingly seemed very “I” focused….at least to me.
I want a morning meditation that starts with “The world around me” or ‘we’ or ‘us’ or something like that. I don’t want to focus on what I am or what I will be today. I want to focus on what the world needs today.
I’m not able to give the world too much of what it needs today.
And I certainly won’t be selfless today.
I will be selfish today, dogmatic, stuck in my schedule and married to my routine.
But I’d like to think, at least, that I’m thinking about the world.
Find me a meditation that reminds me I am small and that my thoughts are small.
Find me a meditation that says my gratitude is not the goal…just a tool in my efforts to meet my goals head on.
Find me a meditation that says today is all I have… to do things different and perhaps make a difference, however trivial.
What is your meditation?
And if it’s focused on I, it’s okay. I won’t yell at you or judge you.
And I’m sure I’ll feel a million different ways over the course of the next year.
Today, though, I can afford to feel so over it because I’m feeling good. Today my brain is cooperating and I’m ‘even’ – in terms of my ability to handle life’s combination of little and big disruptions.
Today I can focus and finish my deadlines.
Today I can think of ideas and write them down and follow through.
Today I can help other people. I have enough time and energy to do things for others.
Today I’m good.
But there will be another tomorrow in my life soon when I won’t be so good.
Unless my life is about to take a sudden turn away from its normal routine, there will soon be a day when my brain tells me that today is the day I need to end it.
Because that’s what my brain does.
My brain tells me to kill myself.
My brain tells me that killing myself is what I’m supposed to, what I’m fated to, and that everything is a sign that it’s time.
It’s what I got in this life.
Some people got diabetes. Some got heart disease. Some got cancer.
I got a bad brain.
I know, I know….you know of something I should try. I know.
Well, I’ve probably tried it.
I’ve been around the block and I’ve been dealing with this since I was a kid.
Add to that the fact that I’m a ‘fixer’ by nature. I do something about problems. I take steps. I take action. I take initiative.
Believe me….if it’s medical, I’ve tried it.
And I don’t just mean I’ve dabbled.
I mean I have devoted years to trying everything out there and doing everything in my power to help things work.
I have given everything I’ve tried a good and meaningful try.
If it’s western I’ve tried it. If it’s eastern, I’ve tried it.
Expensive? Tried it. Cheap? Tried it. Free? Tried it.
If it’s holistic, I’ve tried it.
If it’s spiritual, I’ve tried it.
If it’s hokey or trendy or popular or weird, I’ve tried it.
So, what’s my point today?
My point is shut the hell up if you have no personal experience with suicidal thinking.
I made the mistake of reading some comments to the devastated father who wrote so honestly, lovingly and bravely about his daughter who lost her battle with suicide.
And seriously, people need to shut the fuck up.
If you haven’t lived it, your opinion is shit.
I don’t care how enlightened you are, how educated you are or how inspired you are.
Just shut up.
And fuck you.
I know this post is negative.
I’m really sorry about that.
I’m not a negative person.
I’m positive. And hopeful. And productive.
I’m funny and energetic and upbeat about some things.
I work full time. And I have two syndicated properties, a cartoon and a comic strip.
I paint beautiful paintings. And I make lots of really great contributions that help others.
And, in addition to all of the great things I am, I live with a condition – just like most people live with a condition of some sort.
Unfortunately, my condition is the opposite of “life is good” –
But I’m dealing with it.
I’m managing it.
But it needs to be said that someday I might follow through on what my brain tells me to do.
My brain is powerful and inflexible at times and more convincing than the people around me.
And if I do what my brain tells me to do, it won’t be for any other reason than what I was able to do to manage my condition was not enough.
So to the reader who shared a particularly unhelpful comment, fuck you.
Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.
You’re not helpful. And you’re not smart.
You wrote something hurtful to a father in pain. And what you wrote sounded like a dare to people who don’t need to be dared.
Look, sir….I’m not asking you to change who you are.
I’m just asking you to DO NO HARM.
You can do that by keeping your mouth shut and keeping your typing to yourself.
I’m looking for an essay I wrote years (and years) ago. An essay about how, when men don’t call after amazing first dates, it’s only fair to assume they have died.
I’m looking for the essay for my buddy Jon Birger who wrote a book on why men appear to be disappearing. And why I will be alone forever.
Oops. Sorry for giving away the ending, Jon.
Along the way to finding the essay, I found another billion essays.
One in particular caught my eye because of its commitment to a recurring (i.e., SO OLD) theme: what works and what just feels like it’s working. It’s kind of like that age old question of whether you should strive for an A or strive to write a paper that actually takes a risk and explores some facet of your talent and intellect that may not guarantee the A.
For years, I didn’t fix certain things because the high of starting to fix them seemed like enough. I was an A student who just needed to get the A to keep moving forward.
Now, of course, as with most things, the high of an A isn’t high – it’s just a way to forestall anxiety about not getting the A. So now, at the tender age of way-too-old-for-this, I’m trying hard to fix some of the fundamental conditions that invariably result in pain.
Enjoy the read, if you choose to read. This essay would have been written around 2010.
Reply All Observations of the information age, where everything evolves quickly. Except people
“What else should we talk about?” I asked the therapist.
We were only five minutes into our session when I ran out of material. I had already briefed him on the weeks of my life since our last visit. I reported my success in managing workplace stress and how I could now get through a day without a bottle of Tylenol. He, in turn, praised me on my follow through.
Good doctor. Good patient.
So now we were free to talk about anything. But nothing came to mind. I had sought out his guidance after experiencing one migraine too many and now the migraines were gone. I was running and meditating and breathing lots of fresh air, all quite conducive to relieving the pressures of a typical professional life. In my book, we had accomplished our goal.
“What would you like to talk about?” he asked. He was finished writing notes in my file and appeared ready for some good old neurotic entertainment.
The truth was I didn’t want to talk. It was a beautiful day and I had many other tasks that needed my attention. I wanted to be excused. But I didn’t want him to think I was using him only in times of crisis – even though that’s exactly what I was doing.
I decided to talk and to see where my innermost thoughts led.
“I was really mad at my mother last week,” I offered, trying a little to remember her offense.
“What happened that made you upset?”
“I don’t remember. But I was definitely mad,” I assured him.
“And did you confront your mother about your anger?” he queried with only the slightest hint of interest.
“Of course not!” I laughed. “I told her I was tired of hearing her talk. She said ‘fine, I won’t ever talk again.’ And then we went to CostCo.
“And now? How do you feel now?” he insisted.
“Feel about what?” I mumbled, completely confused about whether we had even chosen a topic with which to soak up the remaining time.
I should have explained to this very nice man that I didn’t care about any issue unless it was immediately disrupting my life. I grew up in a house where nothing was allowed to fester for long and any hint of misery was quickly nipped in the bud. At the earliest indication of upset, anger, confusion, frustration or anxiety, my mother would descend with a heavy bang and yell “What’s wrong? Something is wrong.”
After the required dysfunctional dance of “nothing’s wrong” and “I don’t want to talk about it,” my mother would reach deep inside of our throats and painfully pull out the problem by its roots.
A tearful and emotional intervention fit for reality television would ensue. And then, my mother would matter-of-factly say “Let’s talk to someone about this!” Emotional issues were nothing more complicated than leaky faucets or creaky doors. The key was to find a professional who owned the exact set of tools necessary for a quick and final fix.
My mother would race to the phone, conducting a full-on aggressive campaign to identify the best expert for the job. She was inspired and determined as she explained the urgency of the situation. Within hours we would be in the car on the way to a highly recommended specialist.
“Just tell us what to do,” my mother would beg, perched on the edge of her seat with her stenographer’s pad ready to capture every audible sound.
It was rare that we visited a professional more than once after that first consult. More often than not, we returned only to report on our prideful success in carrying out the expert’s strategy. Again and again, we heard that we were incredible and that we would do very well going forward given our outstanding performance in the current challenge.
Whatever the problem, we were always fixed in an hour or so. Low self-esteem? One hour. Trouble focusing in school? One hour. Confusion about whether to put off college for a year? Thinking of murdering a sibling? That would be one hour. I was completely spoiled, convinced that we could fix anything with one phone call and an office visit.
But I wasn’t as efficient once I left home. I remember my first visit to a university counselor. I divulged an enormous and disproportional anxiety about turning in papers that were less than excellent. Within five minutes, she had resolved my episodic perfectionism and was searching for more interesting fodder. Perhaps I was obsessive, she opined? Did I find myself testing the lock on the door more than twenty times before being convinced it was secure? I tried to thank her and get out before she discovered real problems, but she tricked me into staying. She said she could help find the real me. It turned out that the real me was a comedian who visited her regularly for a year, regaling her with funny stories of how I talked myself down on a daily basis.
I didn’t return to therapy for many years. I was busy working and loving and learning to get through the normal burdens of an independent life. But when I went back, so many years later, I was convinced that I finally had enough conflicts to fill up an hour.
I was at a critical point, personally and professionally. Should I stay or should I go? Should I fight or should I flee? Rent or own? Boxers or briefs?
“I am easily a once-a-week patient,” I commended myself.
But the fact is that I was worse than before. I had become expert at resolving my life issues. I could easily anticipate what a counselor would say and I just wanted to get busy on following through. With useful tools like acceptance, meditation, Diet Coke and Dr. Phil, I could fix myself. Counselors were quickly becoming the middle man with high rates for overhead.
“Why are you here?” a new therapist asked?
“I don’t remember,” I said. “I made the appointment last week when I was upset, but now life is good. I have nothing to say.”
And for the first time ever, a therapist earned my trust.
“Well, then…life is fine! You should be happy! That was your goal, right?”
I agreed. I was fine and I was happy.
And then I set up a meeting for the follow week. I may not have a problem, but I’m not stupid enough to dismiss a therapist who works that fast.
And I know someone who knows someone who can find someone who knows how to deliver the painting to Leo D.
When I began painting seriously (i.e., obsessively but sans talent or training) a few years ago, something told me to send a painting to Leo D. Something told me he would like my paintings.
Because he loves art.
And because he loves beautiful women.
I like Leo DiCaprio.
You might be thinking I’m obsessed with him, but I’m not.
I think he’s gorgeous. And I think he’s ridiculously talented. And I like that he appears to be pretty cool in real life and not too into himself.
But I’m not obsessed with Leo D. or in love with him.
Well, maybe I am just a little.
But I swear I just really think he would like my paintings. Something in me says he would like them as much as I do.
And here’s the thing….I need to move to the next level with painting if I’m going to be able to paint more. I need to start showing paintings or selling paintings or both.
And I really, really, really want to move to the next level.
There. I said it out loud.
I really want to do more with painting and less with my day job.
Leo DiCaprio was in one of my all time favorite movies, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
WEGG came out in the spring of 1994, which means I would have seen it in the spring of 1994.
In the 1990’s and the two previous decades, I waited for movies like people wait for mail. I paced and anticipated and counted the minutes and then obsessed for hours and days about what had been delivered.
I was a bit of a movie snob back then, limiting my movies to foreign or at least mildly confusing or deep American films.
So Gilbert Grape was right up my alley.
Gilbert Grape was deep and dark and real and raw.
Even better, Gilbert Grape dealt with disability and mental illness.
I LOVED disability and mental illness back then.
I still love disability and mental illness. I just do a better job of balancing those passions more better with my other passions.
In 1994, I had just started my law practice. I was focused on all things related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and I was intent on forcing the world to think about disability issues.
I was angry and frustrated and inspired and hopeful and I knew what I was doing was important.
Now I just want to paint.
And make funny cartoons.
And, if I can, I’d like to help someone avoid some of the pain I lived.
Because it took me way too long to learn how to live with pain.
So I fantasize about giving a painting to Leo DiCaprio.
And Leo gets the painting and loves it.
And he buys another painting or two from me.
And then he says, “Did you always want to be a painter?”
And I say, “No, Leo. Actually, I really just wanted to die. Because I have a messed up brain that feeds me bad messages. But I kept working and focusing and I stayed independent and now I’m ready to trade all of that for painting. First work kept me from making plans to die and now painting keeps me from making plans to die. See how helpful the arts are to those living with challenges? Everyone needs to support the arts….for those art saves.”
And Leo says, “You know, I’ve played a host of characters living with challenges.”
And I smile and say, “I know, Leo. Playing characters living with challenges helps those living with the actual challenges. You have no idea how much, but I do. It’s really important to show the world those characters…and to help the world understand that living with challenges is just another way of living.”
And then I add, “You should know that What’s Eating Gilbert Grape really helped me. It came out at a time when I needed something to help me get by. It helped me get by.”
And Leo blushes because he’s pretty humble.
And he says “You know, I just played that character. I’m not really challenged.”
And I say “Yes, but you cared enough about the part to live in that character and learn to understand that character. And then you shared that character with lots of people who hopefully saw a bit of themselves or their son or their neighbor in your portrayal. Hopefully they connected with the character and realized how human the character was. Hopefully they saw that the character was living with a challenge…not just beating a challenge. You can’t beat every challenge.”
And Leo says “You can do that with your paintings. You can share your characters with others who need to connect.”
And then I let Leo it was his idea.
Speaking of sharing stories, I’ve been watching I Am Jazz with my nieces.
It’s a must watch. For everyone.
It’s well done.
And it’s important in many, many ways.
And it’s heartwarming. And heart hurting. And sweet. And personal. And relatable.