Saturday, August 24, 2013

i've killed myself so many times, i don't even exist anymore

I intended to write a bit about marriage today, but I’ll save that for tomorrow maybe (even though it was a logical third part to the last two days on romance and love.

Instead, I wanted to explore something else today because of something I just learned about on Facebook—this particular angle on this topic and where I think I might go with it seems like it will work better fresher, without too much thought or research.

The title above will give away my topic, of course. Suicide. Which Phil Connors commits at least three times, and presumably more if he’s been in the repeating cycle for decades as some suggest. Keep in mind, Phil does say he’s “been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.” We only see one of those on screen, when he drops the toaster into the bathtub at the bed and breakfast. The others must be suicides or accidents also, though, because the people of Punxsutawney don’t seem all that homicidal.

I’ve written about Phil’s depression and suicides before, though not in a lot of detail—it’s not a topic one wants to spend a lot of time on. Hell, the movie only spends a few minutes on it before getting on with something else.

I actually want to deal with this topic from a somewhat positive perspective, value life by discussing death, that sort of thing. But, it is necessary to mention the death stuff to do so. So…

First of all, obituaries can be interesting. I found the following obituary online while researching some lesser players in Groundhog Day:

Lucina Paquet Gabbard died peacefully of lung cancer on May 23. She was born in 1922 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She lived an extraordinary life as a mother, a teacher, a scholar, and an actress. She majored in Theatre Arts at Louisiana State University, graduating in 1942. It was there that she met Glendon Gabbard, with whom she had appeared in plays. They were married on January 29, 1942. After World War II, they moved to Charleston, Illinois, where Glendon was a professor of Theatre Arts at Eastern Illinois University. After raising two children, Lucina went back to school and received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois in 1973. As a Professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, she won teaching awards and the great respect of her colleagues. She also published numerous articles in scholarly journals and two books, The Dream Structure of Pinter's Plays (1976) and The Stoppard Plays (1982). She retired from teaching in 1985 and moved to Chicago with her husband. The couple worked regularly as actors in Chicago, appearing in films, plays, television programs, and print ads. As Lucina Paquet, she appeared in Groundhog Day, Prelude to a Kiss, My Best Friend's Wedding, and several others. She also played the role of Grandma Joad in the Steppenwolf Theater's production of The Grapes of Wrath, which won a Tony Award while it was playing in New York in 1990. She is survived by her husband and by her two children, Glen O. Gabbard, a psychoanalyst at the Baylor University Medical Center, and Krin Gabbard, a professor of Comparative Literature. She is fondly remembered by her two daughters-in-law, Paula Beversdorf Gabbard and Joyce Davidson Gabbard, by her four grandchildren, Matthew Gabbard, Abigail Gabbard, Amanda Gabbard, and Allison Gabbard, and by her sister, Athalie Morgan.

Lucina Paquet Gabbard plays one of the women in the car with the flat tire—the one in the passenger seat who says “oh, it’s not an earthquake.” The May 23 in question was in 2006; this isn’t particularly recent news. It’s remarkable, though, how a life can be summed up so briefly. List the personal stuff—she was a wife and mother—get to her education—pretty impressive with a PhD—and career—among other acting bits, she was, of course, in Groundhog Day. She’s on screen for less than a minute and it gets into her obituary. This speaks to the classic nature and power of this particular film, of course. But that isn’t what I wanted to talk about today.

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned the self-written obituary of author Jan Catherine Lotter. Dying from cancer, she put together her own obituary. Sportswriter Martin Manley has gone even further (and proved one can indeed blog about absolutely anything). He put together an entire website in preparation for his suicide at age 60. While there are portions that are sad—and I’m sure the whole business is sad for those who were close to him—a lot of it is remarkably… well, not upbeat, but certainly lacking the depression one might expect. See, Manley did not kill himself because he was sick or dying or depressed. He killed himself to “control the time and manner and circumstance” of his death. He didn’t want to get so old that he was no longer in control of his life. Some psychologists and psychiatrists might wonder at the sanity of someone approaching this idea as formally and procedurally as he did—seriously, his site breaks down into 12 categories (blog entries, basically, though the entire site posted all at once) dealing with suicide, i.e. his death, and another “34 categories and 44 subcategories” about his life. He didn’t write a suicide note exactly but rather an entire autobiography in blog form. He paid for the site to exist for at least five years and has left it up to others to extend that if they see fit.

His topics, by the way, range from a rant against 9/11 conspiracy nuts, his two marriages, religion, and sports (he also paid for his sportsinreview.com to keep on going for 5 years after his death as well). Knowing well ahead of time that he intended to kill himself, he was very organized about the whole thing.

If we assume suicide is not a good idea in general, there is a downside to a site like his and coverage of it—I read about it in a CNN article linked on Facebook. Coverage gives people ideas. In “Life in the Big City: Migrants Cope with ‘Daily Events,’ published in The Human Tradition in Imperial Russia, Laura L. Phillips explores the “Daily Events” column in the Gazeta kopeika, a penny newspaper from St. Petersburg in the early 1900s. One of the topics she covers is suicides, particular of peasants. Interestingly…

(And, before I go on, I should mention that, no I didn’t do research for this. I read this piece in a college course a few years back, still have the book on my shelf, and remembered it.)

Anyway, I found it particularly interesting and memorable that the Daily Events column, in providing details on how people killed themselves, actually made it easier for many peasants to do so. See, as Phillips describes it, “drugs like morphine, cocaine, and opium… were expensive and difficult to obtain [and] were rarely mentioned in Daily Events reports.” What did get mentioned was “essence of vinegar” which was the “poison of choice” for one particular example she cites, a young woman named Marfa Dmitrieva. This poison would not have made for a pleasant death, but it did make for a cheap one. And, other peasants followed suit. As Phillips puts it, “New arrivals to the city could use Daily Events to learn how to escape the lonely victimization of urban life by committing suicide.”

Martin Manley’s approach, as emotionless as a lot of it is, could probably serve as a recommendation of sorts for other people his age… assuming they know how to use the internet.

(I had to make at least one joke.)

But, something I find interesting in it is not his justification for death but some of his measures he suggests for life. In the entry entitled “Why Not?” (which couples with another entry entitled “Why Suicide?”), he mentions a poll he wanted to take:

In a perfect world, I would do a poll of everyone of every age. The answers, depending upon the demographics, would be fascinating. The questions would be 1) Why do you want to live one more year? 2) Why do you want to live five more years? 3) Why do you want to live 10 more years? 4) Why do you want to live as long as possible? You should answer those four questions for yourself.

In watching Groundhog Day and writing about it every day for the last three weeks—and simply in living—I think these are questions I’ve asked myself before. Not—for the record—because I’m suicidal. But, because how could I not measure my life from time to time? How could any of us not do so?

Why do I want to live one more year? If for no other reason, to see my kids become even more of who they are and to help them get there. To spend time with my family, to figure out some parts of my life that are not quite how I want them to be just yet. To get through a good chunk of grad school and coach another season of speech and debate and help students figure out some of their own life stuff.

(And, to complete this blog.)

Why do I want to live five more years? Why do I want to live 10 more years? A lot of the same reasons. The future in general is nice, and I’d love to see it, but my kids’ futures, the lives of the people close to me—I don’t want to miss anymore of these things than I practically must. I want to know what my children will become. I want to know what my soon-to-be ex-wife will make of herself. I want to know what my sisters will be doing with their lives, what my various nieces and nephews will be doing. True, most of this will happen whether I am around to see it or not, but if it is in my power to do so, I will stick around to see it. I will get past grad school and I will teach, and I will spend time with friends and family and enjoy life. Maybe I’ll even get to travel again.

I am far from 60. In another 10 years, I will still be relatively far from 60. Maybe I’ll think differently when I get closer to that age. Manley’s 4th question is the interesting one: Why do I want to live as long as possible? Better yet, do I want to live as long as possible? I’m not sure I can fully, honestly answer this question at my current age and in my current life. As I see it now, today, life would have to take a particularly bleak turn for a toaster in the bathtub or stepping out in front of an oncoming truck or diving off the Pennsylvanian Hotel tower, or a gun to the head—Manley’s method—or essence of vinegar for that matter was a better option. I’ve been unhappy. I’ve been depressed. I know from experience that life finds a way to return to better days. At least, it has so far.

It’s a necessary piece of Phil Connors’ story that it take that darker turn in the middle. He has to have the darker days and the death in order to come out brighter on the other side. Storywise, it has to happen. But, given the possibilities, with the thousands of people in Punxsutawney on that day, Phil (the movie version at least) did not do everything he could. One could spend days at least getting to know each person (to spend too many could be difficult, since their experience is limited to the first day of knowing you).

There’s an interesting bit on Manley’s site that I think Phil Connors could relate to:

I never got over the desire to stay up as late as humanly possible. I think the reason was because I somehow viewed the end of the day as the end of one of the only days I would ever have in this world. Even at that age, I was thinking along those lines. I wanted to stretch each day as long as I could and that meant not going to bed.

And, maybe we all can relate. It’s a big part of why Groundhog Day holds up so well to repeated viewings. It is, at its heart, a story about a guy stretching one day into everything he could possibly do with it, making every moment count because, well, you never know what will come tomorrow, or if tomorrow will even come.

It may seem trite to some, but lines from the musical Rent occur to me now:

There is no future
There is no past
I live this moment as my last
There's only us
There's only this
Forget regret
Or life is yours to miss
No other road
No other way
No day but today

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: so I don’t have to wait until tomorrow to get things right.

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