Monthly Archives: August 2015
I have written about suicide prevention in the past, and no matter how many times I say life’s too short, it is if we don’t try to save others. For more information on suicide prevention, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Life’s too short.
They are simple words, the words that had been echoing in my head for the past week before that Thursday afternoon. My hands felt unsteady on the little plastic water cup, its cool nature contrasting with the uncomfortable heat of the July day that settled into the living room with all these people. No matter how many fans were going, nothing could settle the strained bodies in the room.
The cup was eventually put down, and instead my hands were left feeling the velvety texture on top of a dark green cowboy hat. The room, filled with 12 or so people, looked at me with shell shock on their faces as I told the story of the boy I dated years ago who took his own life. I then ended it with the only words I could: “Life’s too short.”
There was Matt on the couch, cross legged in thought in his clean pressed slacks across the room. Dave’s face was solemn and quiet, not his usual social self. Danny, the man who I was proud to call my spiritual leader, was silent in the stories that the people in the room were telling, sitting on the small staircase. My friend Angela was sitting next to me, and the tears in her eyes were gnawing at me as I pulled her in close to comfort her. It was partially for her, but also for me — if I looked at her, I was worried I would fall apart.
A month has passed since that day in my office where I received a text from my friend who told me that Mark had died. I stood near the elevators, trying to figure out what had happened, forced to go back into my tiny work space, where all I could do was face my computer and try not to cry. The attempt failed, miserably. For days, I tried to write something about exactly what had happened, but all I could get out of my soul was the equivalent of wind getting knocked out of me after a sucker punch. It became even worse when I found out his death was due to a suicide. Depression had come to claim another one of my friends.
My mind was forced to think about Mark, about when I dated him three short years before. He was charming and talkative, and I felt comfortable enough with him to make love to him, with my emotions and not just my standard sex mode where I only think of pleasure. The time we spent together was great, and I remember thinking that this could go somewhere, although I didn’t know how. Then… nothing. Ghosted.
So imagine my shock when, months later, I would show up at a temple service and he was there. He had gained a substantial amount of weight in the passing months, but I knew him anywhere. My anger flushed my cheeks, flustering in a way that I never thought I would.
There were two sides of my frustration, and one of them was in watching my dating life cross over into my social life, which I liked to keep very separate from one another in the wake of my divorce. The other was Mark himself. My pride took over, because I didn’t think I was that bad to date, but obviously I wasn’t worth it to him — not hot enough, good enough, sane enough. For all I knew, he was telling everyone he had dated me and I was something awful. My social anxieties and insecurities kept biting me.
It was this pride that interfered when he came asking me for my forgiveness for his past actions around Rosh Hashana last year, that he hoped that in time we could become friends. I was hesitant to give it, although in the end I made the right decision to hand it over. In all of it, I still didn’t trust him; I figured this act was a nice way to get on my good side so he could date all my friends. Maybe we would built it one day, but I was still angry.
One night over drinks in the warm wooden paneling of the Roosevelt, I would tell Matt about this whole story. He had never known about how Mark and I met, but then said lifting up his highball glass to his lips, “Mark’s got some issues. He’s a nice guy, and I don’t think it was you. But those problems can weigh on you, and hurt others in the process.”
We didn’t know as we were sitting there in that cozy Hollywood hotel. How could we know what was to come in the months after, that we would end up with a death on our hands?
As Danny sat with his guitar, playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” his voice so clear and lovely, I thought about Mark as his favorite song cut through the sorrow. There were two other souls who were wandering with me through that whole week in dealing with Mark’s death: A friend from the comedy scene who also fell to suicide, and JT. Sweet JT, my beloved ghost who I have missed every day since he died from a prescription drug overdose at 19.
He was the boy who wanted nothing but love for me, who would hug me tight and tell me how he wanted someone to hold me close the way he did; how I deserved that. He also once abandoned me as I stood outside a Starbucks near his house in Chatsworth, waiting for him. Not because he didn’t care for me with every fiber of his being, but because his demon of depression was so powerful it can destroy everything. It was this that fueled his addiction that would eventually steal him from me. And this was the same disease that killed Mark.
As the silence fell into the room once more, my words seemed to haunt me. Life is too short, and will always be unless we embrace it and let it take us. It was why Dave and I were hugging at the end of the night when for years we didn’t always get along; maybe it was because we couldn’t see one another for the people we are until life threw us a curve ball. Nothing was worth it anymore.
It was also why I left the memorial that night to have dinner with a boy and allowed myself to laugh through City Target with him. I loved every minute he tried to tap dance on the white linoleum floor or put me into a Wookie onesie, allowing me to giggle about snipping off manbuns. By the end of the night I didn’t want to leave his passenger’s seat. Life is too short, and love is stronger than death could ever hope to be.
In the month that has passed, a lot changed. Mark has popped up in my head here and there, thoughts of him echoing through my activities. I have to remind myself there was nothing any of us could do to save him. That death happens, and it will to us all. It doesn’t make me any more comfortable it, though.
My anger has to be put on hold for the comedians who keep joking that they’re going to kill themselves when they have seen the ravages of suicide for themselves; for my past where suicidal threats were used as a method to abuse and control me; against those who think depression is a joke when it’s maiming and murdering people. It has killed three of my friends thus far, and in the tangled web of tragedy it weaves, it destroys more lives than I could ever imagine.
All we could do is tell the world that it isn’t worth it. That somewhere in the world that there will be people who will make us remember that life is an amazing journey, to not fall into the blind spots. And for the rest of us, it’s up to us to see those we love tangled in those places and be able to pull them out of there. All I know is life’s too short to go it alone.
Standing around at Los Angeles parties, dressing up to the nines with my cat eye liner perfectly in place, people ask what I do. Generally, I tell them that I am a writer. It comes in many different forms: content creator, communications professional, creative thinker, whatnot. But somehow, my writing skill comes up and settles in front and center.
When the words come out of my mouth, people say a variety of things. There’s everything from excitement (“Oh, wow, that’s so cool you can do that!”) to one-upping (“You know, I write too”) that comes into play. No matter what is said, I take them all with a smile and eventually walk away, not thinking twice about what have done for a living most of my career, let alone in my creative life.
It has been my personal expression as well as my moneymaker, whether detailing creative ideas for plays, short stories and novels or simply working on this blog. People love my work, yet sometimes I don’t understand quite why, as I can’t explain exactly how I do it. Ideas just come, words flow. It just happens.
My friend Stacy at one point said this to me, which is the closest I’m going to get to an answer: “When you write, you tell a story. And no matter what it is, you take us with you. You put us right there, in the middle of it, and you make us feel everything.”
Being a writer sounds amazing to people, and sometimes it is. Being able to translate thought and put it down on paper, with my fingers flying across the keys, is nothing short of incredible. It’s childlike and adult all at the same time — or, as one of my favorite Eminem lines says, putting “crayons to chaos.”
It began small, with me writing little plays as a child on an Apple II GS at nine years old — a strange feat for a girl who up until she was three couldn’t use language at all. I wanted to act on stage, though. I wanted to stand up and sing. I wanted to be a star, and writing would get me there.
But when I was 13, everything changed. Being groped in the hallway, and after freaking out when I saw him, I got punished by my teacher. The mouths parroted around me in school how I was a bad kid, a troublemaker, for years after that time. I would never be that star, I was too loud and opinionated. That was until an English teacher recognized in me this powerful gift of writing.
She gave me a stunning diamond, although it was in a place where diamonds were worthless. I was in a school where math and science were valued higher, and any signs of creative expansion were shunned in favor of “college preparedness.” Yet as the years passed, it was my gift of writing that saved me. I began to build muscles for poetry, essay writing, scripts, speeches and articles. In college, my talents were regularly recognized and published. I even picked up a mentor in one of my college professors.
Then came my ex. We started dating about three months before we finished college. He fancied himself a reader and an editor, not being very good at either. He told me he would love to see what I wrote, and naturally, with him being my boyfriend, I wanted to share it.
Sitting at the keys as my flicking fingers flying at a rapid pace, he would regularly make fun of how I would stick out my tongue while typing (a habit that I still have). If I ever showed him what I wrote, he would get so hung up on the wording and so-called punctuation problems he would never recognize the accomplishment on the page. He’d claim it was good, but every little detail was scrutinized, every bit questioned. It didn’t help.
Then the real world came into play, and my first job as a reporter came. About two months after I started, my boss pulled me into the side room with its big window overlooking the mountains and tell me how I was the worst writer he had ever seen, how I would have never kept my job if it wasn’t for him. This would happen almost every day. Sitting there during my performance review, my eyes darted across the page as every box was checked below average; my writing was below average. I wasn’t good enough. To this day, I’m still scared to death of office performance reviews.
After a while, I gave up on the designs of being a writer and snuck behind the editor’s desk. Although occasionally my head would peak out from behind it to write, whether through blogging or writing occasional articles, it was safer there, away from people saying my skills were subpar. But as the recession hit, editors were the first thing to go, and I was cut.
A miracle then happened, although it meant driving cross country with a guy who wasn’t my ex. My father, before I left, encouraged me to write about what I saw on the road. When it came time for my fingers to fly across the keys of my new laptop, my fear set in, commanding over the keys. I was unemployed and obviously I wasn’t good enough as a writer or an editor to make it.
After a few days and multiple states later, it seemed to fade away as much as California had, and my hands found their home again. It wasn’t an easy road, and the format of what I was writing turned out strange, as my direct memory wasn’t very strong and the timeline seemed to work better this way. But it gelled; it was an artistic piece, something I hadn’t done in a while.
In December, after my driving partner came back to California, he read what I wrote. Sitting across from me at a wooden table of a café in Orange, the smile on his face as he scrolled down on my laptop softened his typically hard features. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, with no critique or judgment. Just pure love.
As he gave me back my computer, he gave me back my gift, and I began working studiously. No one could take it away again, not even my ex, who I left a year later. My writing gave me clarity to understand where I was, and being able to use it freely gave me the strength to leave.
As time went on and my hand was dealt with the ramifications of leaving my marriage, my fingers began flying faster. My writing became better away from someone who was constantly criticizing it. I wrote practically every day on a personal level, and then became an editor where I was writing professionally.
And yet there was something growing uneasy in me. I could see it in the companies that I was becoming affiliated with, how they didn’t want to hire a writer. Instead of permanent positions, contracts were offered. I became disposable when someone on the team would think, “Well, I can write! And she makes it look so easy! What do I need this person for?” There was a certain amount instability my professional life, and it was weighing on me with every job I took, especially being single.
Monday came around, and I was back to work as a content writer after an amazing self-help weekend. During the workday, I was being pushed to write, and my paws were getting tired on the little hamster wheel the bosses were sending me up to keep pushing forward with quotas. They would scream don’t talk, don’t make jokes. By the end of the day after my long commute, I’d crawl into bed tired.
I wanted to write a blog about that life-changing weekend, talk about how amazing it was that, for the first time in three and a half years, I was no longer feeling like damaged goods from being a divorcee. That life had put me in the right place and my heart was singing the songs of living in the present. That I had stood up for myself and was possibly going to start a new chapter in my life. How there was this great hope for my future.
Yet there I was sitting at my computer. The white page was blank, and there was nothing in me to give. Writing all day and being forced to stare a computer screen for someone else made me ache for human faces and voices, so much so that Netflix and phone calls were the best options. As my body laid back in bed, crying from the exhaustion, I realized what this was: This was pure burnout, the great destruction of myself. And it took away the joy that came with my words.
In all the years that my ears heard that writing was my greatest gift, I never thought about what I wanted, about applying my other assets: Social skills, networking, building relationships, determination, managing a team, quality assurance and control — all these skills I had accumulated over years of working and just being. They were powerful and profound, and were just as special as the writing and needed an outlet too. And it was time to rethink my path.
The other day, I put up a Facebook status about my friend Robyn who I had dinner with. You think it would be simple, but it made me see so much and it was great being with her, and with all my friends throughout that day.
When I wrote it, she sent me the sweetest text message talking about my writing gift alongside my courage and my bravery throughout my life. And in her own words, I realized what my writing and words meant: Being a writer wasn’t just the fact that they were words on a page. They were me, my very core on a canvas. Each part of my universe and my thinking would find a way on the pages, both inside and outside of me to create a lovely symphony. Every blank document was new, and I would smother it with my paints, my beloved words, using my fingers as the brushes.
Being a writer is more than just words. Anyone can pick up a pen, but what are you going to put into it? Are you going to just jot some words down and pray that someone notices, or is your full heart going to give it everything it’s got?
If I was going to be the writer, every part of my being had to come into play to make a happier life. After all, how was I going to see the world if I could barely see past myself?
August 11 was the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots, and my Facebook was silent. Same for the death of Julian Bond the other day, who was a civil rights activist alongside Dr. King, a calm and quiet man who fought against inequality until his very last breath.
I didn’t see articles or anything about these things. Just the silence that creeps under my skin and makes me wonder about my world, and why we can’t get recognize our evils and try to find the goodness to repair the problems. And my mind goes back to my afternoon in Watts. Back to the towers.
Simon Rodia, a construction worker and tile mason, spent over 33 years building the Watts towers with steel rebar, concrete and wire mesh. He embedded it with pieces of porcelain, tile and glass, making a mosaic of spectacular artistry with everyday pieces such as Canada Dry bottles.
He left his masterpiece behind in 1955, ten years before his towers became the epicenter of a battleground. The home of the infamous Watts Riots of August 11, 1965, that forever marked this neighborhood in the Los Angeles lexicon as dangerous.
In late August 1965, a 23-year-old college student with black hair got into a Volkswagen bus with a bunch of his fellow theater buddies. His friend Peggy was in the back in a green suit to play Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, of which they were going to perform a selection of scenes from the play. The rest of the actors, including James Whitmore, had already donned their Shakespearean costumes in the back. There were jugglers and entertainers, various innocents of 1960s mischief and merriment, who were driving straight into a war zone.
The student didn’t tell his parents where they were going. After all, there were still policemen on the street corners in riot gear and broken glass from looted storefronts. All they knew was that they were heading to a recreation center in Watts, where children were being kept safe from the horrors outside.
Now that student is 73-year-old man with graying hair and two daughters. I am one of them.
“We sat around for weeks, wanting to do something,” my father said to me when I asked him about that time his life. “This is all we could think of. A distraction, something worthwhile. Art.”
It was the story I thought of as I got out of my friend Audra’s car on a muggy Sunday in Los Angeles, as I saw them up close for the first time. The Watts Towers, reaching as high as 99 feet in the air. Images that I had seen in quiet, wood floored galleries and art books were now alive, right in front of me.
As an Angelino, Watts is mentioned in hushed whispers of fear. You don’t go there at night, you don’t walk around alone, you don’t, you don’t, you don’t. Gangs are often referred to as vengeful spirits and ghosts, anger brushed over with horror reserved for a slasher film. Yet every time I would see the towers when I took the Blue Line metro rail down to Long Beach, my curiosity had always been piqued. I wanted to see the towers up close, just once. I wanted to know the art that can last through the fires with my own eyes.
We had missed the tours of the towers for the day we arrived, but my breath was stolen from my body even from afar. There was magic and an unearthly set of wonder in the presence of these structures, with its brightly colored mosaics and cement drawings. The muggy air seemed to be sprinkled with bits of heaven. That’s one of the many feelings that only good art can create.
We were in an oasis in the middle of one of the harshest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Steel bars lay in front of every tiny little house nearby, the storefronts bright colors of orange and teal against the gritty gray sidewalks. People didn’t walk around that much on the streets. It was an unearthly quiet. The riots were more than 50 years ago, and the war that was waged on these streets still seem to haunt the people who live there.
As Audra and I wandered the grounds, we were greeted by friendly staff members who showed us around with bright smiles despite the harrowing neighborhood. They were consumed by love of this place, and it was intoxicatingly contagious. It swept over me like an ocean, consuming every part of my being that not only loved art, but loved Los Angeles.
One of the ladies led me into a small gallery with breathtaking art. Cartoons, surrealist paintings, sculptures and photographic collages of African-American art greeted my eyes. They were stunning, better than even some of the pieces I had seen in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and probably even more haunting than anything I had ever viewed on Wilshire Boulevard.
I stood over a tabletop structure, made of blackboard, of a man struggling as if on a cross. Next to him in chalk were names. Most were young men, although some women and older men were peppered in there. Some I recognized, such as Oscar Grant, 2009. But many I had never known. Wish I knew. They were all victims of police brutality. As a Jew, it made me think of the names of Holocaust victims, of the families that have to carry on without them and hope to preserve their legacy. To not fall into the abyss of forgetfulness.
It made my mind drift back to a friend of my dad’s, Richard, from college. He was 6’4 with a shaved bald head and the most beautiful cocoa brown skin I had ever seen. My dad had been very active with him in black theater in the 1960s, which was odd for a very pale Jewish boy. So I asked Richard how it came to pass.
“I remember some of my Black Panther buddies asked him that too,” he laughed. “Got rather pissed at him, confrontational. But then your father stood there and explained the history of the Jewish people, about the Holocaust and pogroms. Made us understand that our struggle is the same against hatred. And every person in that room immediately respected him.”
Can it be too much to ask for someone like me to take up the fight against racism and hatred, even in the tiniest ways? To remember what had happened and try to figure out what we need to do now to solve it, whether through combating income inequality or general stereotypes? I am not a great politician and can only do so much. But I have words, fingers and a mind. Can’t I dedicate them to creating hope for my people, all the ones that make up this great human race?
Fifty years after Watts, we haven’t finished this racism struggle in America when it should have been dead and buried forever ago. We were standing in Los Angeles, a city of haves and have nots, where it is more often those of minority upbringings who suffer the plagues of poverty and other societal-soul-sucking forces. It is them who are forced into corners of the city where other Angelinos whisper they shouldn’t go there. Who are trying to find a better life when they are finding a harder struggle for the American dream, which is currently comatose.
No matter how much I love my home city, where I was born, this is the darkest truth about it: That we live in a city of both insane, bright shiny wealth of BMWs and $10,000 watches, and the people who wish they could afford simple pleasures, like a bike for their children to ride around on and the safety of a place without steel bars. There is no in between, no where else to go, and there is no excuse for it.
As I stood over that sculpture, I thought about that night my dad drove a bus down to Watts to comfort, fight and build again in the only way he knew how: Through art. As I came home, I began to research that night, trying to find information, but it was limited at best, and it upset me more. There was more focus on the events and looting, not the people who were trying to heal the world, even with menial band-aids. It focused more on what had happened and analyzing it, and less on what we are going to do to solve it.
Although I had steered away from it in the course of my career, my inner journalist was hungry again. I had to tell the world that that night existed, that in Los Angeles somewhere in 1965 a bunch of theater kids drove in a bus to try to do the slightest bit of right in a crazy, messed up world in the shadow of the Watts towers. To help infuse art, fun and life in a dangerous area, no matter how futile it was. To fulfill what Simon Rodia did, which is give a dark place a beacon of hope.
Maybe this is the start.