When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose
It’s hard to outrun it because it moves very fast but not so fast that we don’t see it coming
|Luke O'Neil||Mar 25, 2019|| 14||2|
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This is from March but it’s also from today. I am not going to talk about the thing in the news except to say that everything that was true yesterday remains true today and that everything that needed to be done yesterday still needs to be done today. I do wish that we were able to spend a little bit of time without being lied to every so often though. We could carve out a little space and make a day of it and agree not to lie to each other for a little while and see what that feels like maybe we would like it. Maybe it would catch on.
I had two separate celebrations this weekend with old friends that I hid myself away from. One was a sporty type thing for my old sports friends where we were meant to watch basketball and shoot pool and play cards and one was a musical type thing for my old musician friends where well I don’t know what was happening there talking about the old days probably. A weird thing is when you’re with sports guys and someone gets out a ball it’s usually like oh hell yeah and when you’re with musicians and someone breaks out a guitar everyone is like this fucking guy.
The latter was a fiftieth birthday party which is insane to me that I could have a fifty year old friend. I used to like hanging out with those friends because I was the young one and still am I guess technically speaking but the weird thing is I always felt like the young one with the other group too even though we’re all exactly the same age. Maybe that is on account of I had succeeded in pretending I was still young for longer than they did via not having children and wearing much tighter pants.
I love my friends and I love spending time with them but one thing I don’t necessarily love is standing around watching us all get older together so instead what I did on Friday and Saturday night was stay in and drink on the back porch alone like a dog that crawls under the house to die where no one can see it. Michelle and I went out to dinner at the neighborhood pub for a little while actually and that was nice and she makes me laugh and I guess she probably gets to watch me getting old every day but it’s not as obvious because it’s in slow motion little by little. When you only see a friend once a year it looks like they aged all at once and you’re taken aback like what the fuck happened to you man and then you think what must they be thinking of me. Better to crumble to dust where no one can see it is what I’ve decided.
Over the past few days of drinking I just had there was only one thing I could think about which is I cannot wait until Sunday night to not drink and then Monday morning to not feel like shit which I went ahead and followed through on. Waking up without a hangover is the best feeling in the world and if they could bottle what it feels like to not drink I would swallow so much of it at once. I would drink it constantly because doing something is a lot easier than not doing something.
I was just reading some stuff by a writer named Randall Jarrell who was a lovely poet and a pilot in World War II and a fierce literary critic and apparently a big fucking asshole with a heart of gold despite it all which is the one type of guy you used to be able to be.
His reviews of poetry were “unbelievably cruel,” John Berryman said of him. “He hated bad poetry with such vehemence and so vigorously that it didn't occur to him that in the course of taking apart—where he'd take a book of poems and squeeze, like that, twist—that in the course of doing that, there was a human being also being squeezed.” Robert Lowell said his pique was born out of passion for good work and that he took “as much joy in rescuing the reputation of a sleeping good writer as in chloroforming a mediocre one.”
All of that gives me a good idea to rebrand how I act on Twitter which is to frequently point out how bad other tweets are but maybe I only do that because I love good posts so much I just want to see them elevated if anyone wants to fall for that. A tweet is a type of poem whose only subject matter is loneliness.
I came across this poem of Jarrell’s which is about a woman who realizes all of a sudden one day that she has become older and now unseen which is troubling due to being seen was one of the only types of women that you were allowed to be and sometimes still is.
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,
Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I’ve become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.
When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I’d wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I’m old, my wish
That the boy putting groceries in my car
See me. It bewilders me he doesn’t see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile
Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home. Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind
Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water—
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don’t know . . . Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,
My husband away at work—I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them. As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:
I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate. Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: “You’re old.” That’s all, I’m old.
And yet I’m afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend’s cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me
How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I’m anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.
That’s not the one that I was happiest to be reminded of though it was his most famous work which was anthologized often in part because of how short it is but also because of the succinct through-line it draws between the nothingness before birth and the nothingness after death.
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
I read that one again today in a piece that a nice Hell World reader named Eric sent to me called Singing in Dark Times by Erica Funkhouser from a 2005 issue of Harvard Review. In it she traces the evolution of the poetry of war over the years. It takes its title from the Bertolt Brecht poem I mentioned last time and of course it stops to consider perhaps the most famous World War I poem by Wilfred Owen.
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Someone just showed me this tweet of Pete Buttigieg’s from October 2017 which would have been the day after a man in Las Vegas killed fifty eight people and caused over eight hundred more to be injured in the shooting or the ensuing panic.
At the time he was rightfully pilloried for such an obtuse statement seeming to suggest that assault rifles are only meant to be employed for the killing of foreigners by Americans not Americans by Americans. I’m not sure I can enthusiastically support someone who had such a blindspot as recently as two years ago.
“Every planned public statement by a professional Democrat sounds like what’s left at the end of a ten hour marketing meeting after all the good ideas have been trashed, and it’s because that’s what it is” my friend Greg just said when I shared that tweet and he’s right about that.
I don’t know much about what sort or if any poetry has been written about the more recent wars where we have sent people like friendly old Mayor Pete to carry his gun around but there are two works of fiction about Iraq and Afghanistan I quite love and one is Redeployment by Phil Klay which won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction among other prizes which is a shorthand way of me telling you smart people will like it.
In one of the stories a character talks about Wilfred Owen who wrote that famous poem up there from earlier and the passage goes like this:
“I don’t know if any of you know Wilfred Owen. He was a soldier who died in the First World War, a war that killed soldiers by the hundreds of thousands. Owen was a strange sort. A poet. A warrior. A homosexual. And as tough a man as any Marine I’ve ever met. In World War One, Owen was gassed. He was blown in the air by a mortar and lived. He spent days in one position, under fire, next to the scattered remains of a fellow officer. He received the Military Cross for killing enemy soldiers with a captured enemy machine gun and rallying his company after the death of his commander. And this is what he wrote about training soldiers for the trenches. These are, by the way, new soldiers. They hadn’t seen combat yet. Not like he had. “Owen writes: ‘For 14 hours yesterday I was at work—teaching Christ to lift his cross by numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirsts until after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands at attention before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.”
The other book which I‘ve mentioned before is Cherry by Nico Walker which is about the best book I’ve read in years and it’s about the war too and also about addiction and it says things like:
“People kept dying: in ones and twos, no heroes, no battles. Nothing. We were just the help, glorified scarecrows; just there to look busy, up the road and down the road, expensive as fuck, dumber than shit.”
“There are countless women in the world. At times it’s more than I can bear to think about: that there should be so many and they all start out the way they do, with all the brightness and their own invisible worlds and secret languages and what else they have, and that we ruin everything. And I have been mangled by vicious killers in my time, but I haven’t ever doubted it was only that someone had killed them first. Someone like me.”
Anyway I feel like old Mayor Pete was so close to getting the real point behind what he said and maybe he has by now we will see.
Check out this shit: Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt School of Medicine combed through years worth of data and found that in 2017 more kids in America died by guns than active duty military and police officers combined.
“It is sobering that in 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty, and about 1,000 active duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-aged children were killed by firearms,” they wrote via the MinnPost.
Read some more of this shit:
They found that 38,940 American children between the ages of 5 and 18 died from gunshot wounds between 1999 and 2017.
Those deaths included 6,464 children aged 5 to 14 (an average of 340 deaths per year) and 32,478 teens aged 15 to 18 (an average of 2,050 deaths per year).
Most of the deaths (61 percent) were the result of an assault, while about a third (32 percent) were due to a suicide. One in 20 of the children (5 percent) died in a gun-related accident, and the other deaths (2 percent) were categorized as “undetermined.”
Among the 5 to 14 year olds, however, accidental shootings were the cause of 12.8 percent (830) of the deaths.
Boys were at a particularly high risk of dying from a gunshot wound. The vast majority — 86 percent — of all the gun-related deaths in the study were boys.
Also more vulnerable were black children, who made up 41 percent of the gun-related deaths.
Sometimes I feel like on the day America was founded a single bullet was fired and it’s been circling the country ever since visiting each of us in our homes one by one like a bloodthirsty Santa Claus and it’s hard to outrun it because it moves very fast but not so fast that we don’t see it coming and couldn’t stop it if we all tried.
Maybe don’t read this next part if you’re particularly sensitive to talk of suicide ok? There’s nothing else much below here you need to see. Wait before you go please accept this token of my appreciation which is an absolutely delightful video of Alex Jones being chased out of a restaurant in Texas from over the weekend.
Hammer @theemrhammerHe tried to get me to fight him him. Litigious MFer. I’m not taking that bait. https://t.co/VRxYDfdNqN
A man named Jeremy Richman who was forty nine years old is dead from an apparent suicide this week. His daughter Avielle was among the two dozen plus killed in the Sandy Hook shooting and he had started a foundation where part of the work was trying to get more research done into what goes on in the brains of murderers like the one who killed his baby. Alex Jones has done a very good job spreading the message that Richman’s daughter was never killed and being chased out of a restaurant isn’t anywhere close to the full extent of what he deserves.
The news of his death came after two survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting recently died of apparent suicides themselves. The second person hasn’t been named but the first was a nineteen year old named Sydney Aiello who had suffered with survivor’s guilt after losing a close friend her mother said.
Here is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 in case you ever need it. Sometimes people get angry when there is a high profile suicide and people post the number as if it is doing anything other than broadcasting empathy and I asked some experts about that last year after I had called the number one day myself and they told me a lot of beneficial things if you’d like to read more about them you can do so here. Actually fuck it I’ll just post the entire piece here because maybe someone gets something out of it.
The woman who answered the phone line when I called sounded so compassionate. Almost too much so. Even at that low point, when my brain was lying to me about everything else, I remember thinking at least my bullshit detector seemed to be in good working order. But as we talked, her voice pulled me in.
She wanted to know how I was feeling, so I explained the nature of my distress in detail. In so doing I realized my problems sounded rather mundane compared to the type of thing she must usually hear. I thought, “I’m going to kill myself over this?”
Even getting to the point of calling a suicide prevention hotline was a huge step, as it can be for a lot of people. I’d been saving it like a last timeout at the end of a close football game for months. I didn’t know what to expect, and I certainly didn’t want to be pulled into a whole fucking thing, like can often happen if you say the wrong thing to a well-intentioned friend or family member, or, like had happened a few months earlier when at a routine doctor’s visit, I somehow said too many of the wrong types of bad words, and then an ambulance and a few police cruisers stopped by to look me over. The last thing anyone needs at a time like that is for a fucking cop to show up.
I searched for a number to call on Twitter, in part because I spend most of my days online, but also because I remembered someone I followed had tweeted about it recently. It wasn’t hard to find. This week, for better or for worse depending on who you ask, such posts have become ubiquitous on social media. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. After all, this is Twitter, the site where we go to destroy each other’s—and our own—mental health on a consistent basis. But somehow even the simple act of posting a suicide hotline number has become controversial.
“If one more person smugly posts a fucking phone number as though that’s enough on its own to fix anything I’m gonna kill myself,” a friend of mine tweeted yesterday. He was joking, I think, but this summarizes what’s become a common refrain after every high-profile suicide.
For every presumably well-meaning post from someone sharing a suicide prevention number, there will be a reactionary post calling that person out for empty, performative empathy. “Here’s to hoping another mid-level celebrity kills themselves so you all can go back to grandstanding and posting the suicide prevention hotline number to make yourself feel good,” wrote one particularly irritated Twitter user. “Retweeting a suicide hotline when somebody has just committed is the bare amount of virtue signaling bullshit. I’d imagine it’s actually insulting to the intelligence of people in duress, like they didn’t know there was a number,” added another. “You know what’s even better than posting suicide hotline numbers on social media? Actually checking on people you care about,” wrote a third.
Twitter is always a morass of spite and broadly yet poorly aimed invective, but around the time of a celebrity death, and especially a celebrity suicide, it’s even more toxic than usual. Taking the sentiment being expressed here sincerely, the idea seems to be that simply posting the suicide hotline number is an easy way to show that one is concerned about the problem, while not doing anything particularly effective to actually combat it. It’s like tweeting out “thoughts and prayers” in the aftermath of another mass shooting, only to then go back about the business of ignoring the real problems. While smarm online is always a worthy target, the anger here seems misplaced, if only in part because it presumes that the people sharing the number aren’t doing anything else in their personal relationships to help friends who may be suffering, something none of us are in a position to know.
I asked Dr. Dan Reidenberg, executive director of SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), what he thought of this now recurring phenomenon online. Surprisingly, the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between the two polar, intractable positions being hurled into the posting void.
“In essence what you’re referring to is this idea that it’s someone else’s responsibility, that if i just post this I’ve done enough to do my part. That just by posting a number I’ve absolved myself of any kind of guilt or responsibility if something happens to someone,” he said.
There’s something to that, he thinks, but in the long run, doing something, even the bare minimum, is always better than doing nothing.
“Doing nothing doesn’t make the problem go away. It is not going to help anyone by doing nothing. We need to acknowledge and be thankful that some of the public is doing this even if it is on social media rather than personally or one-on-one,” he said. “We need to increase that because it’s not universal, but we need to go to the next level where everyone has a role in this. It’s not just about putting a phone number out there.”
Indeed, there is much more to be done than simply sharing a number, because there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to suicide prevention. Call centers can be overburdened, or the volunteers who staff them may not be well trained enough to handle a particular situation and may not follow through on sending help in the event of an imminent suicidal threat. For other people suffering from suicidal ideation, intervention or care from friends may be more effective for them personally, and encouraging them to seek sustained help from medical professionals—something call centers often do—can be much more helpful in the long term.
But in the meantime, having the number to call could be a lifesaver. Studying the results for people who call into such numbers can be difficult to track, because they rely on people’s willingness to speak candidly and volunteer information about their experiences with the hotline. One study, conducted by Madelyn Gould of Columbia University, a prominent researcher in the field, found that of the callers they tracked, 12 percent of people said calling the hotline stopped them from killing themselves, and that around 50 percent acted on the phone counselor’s suggestion to seek emergency help or mental health services. Eighty percent of the callers said the phone line played a role in keeping them alive. “Significant decreases in suicidality were found during the course of the telephone session, with continuing decreases in hopelessness and psychological pain in the following weeks,” the researchers wrote.
“It depends really how you’re defining effective,” Reidenberg said when I asked about how well the lines work. “Are people able to get help and services and support and intervention as they need it? Yes, in that respect they are. Are they effective in being able to handle all of the needs out there? No.”
The impulse, if not the execution, behind the angry pushback against simply sharing a number on Twitter is correct then, in that there is a lot more that could be done. This is something we should all concern ourselves with, seeing as suicide rates have increased almost 30 percent since 1999 across nearly all demographics. What, then, can a person who is actually interested in helping do?
“Go to our website and learn what the warning signs are,” Reidenberg said. “Learn about the differences between youth and adult warning signs. Learn how to ask the question. Learn what the risk factors are. The key here is the goal is not to make the general public doctors or experts in suicide; the goal is to give enough people enough information to be able to do something when those professionals aren’t available to them. We don’t want to make everyone a cardiac surgeon, but we do want people to know to exercise or eat right and other things to do to prevent a heart attack. It’s a similar analogy about what we want the general public to know to prevent a tragedy from happening.”
I asked the people at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline what they think a more beneficial step than sharing their number on social media might be. There are five action steps they share for communicating with people who might be showing signs of suicidal thoughts. Among them are simply asking in a direct, nonjudgmental way if the person is thinking about suicide, and then being sure to listen. Find out if they have a specific plan or time frame for carrying it out. If possible, remove them from proximity to particularly lethal means of suicide, such as guns and medications.
Then be there for them. “Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation (both in the short and long term) has shown to be a protective factor against suicide,” they write. Help them connect with professionals who are better suited to offer counseling, and set up an actionable plan together for them to consult if they ever experience serious thoughts of suicide, such as making a list of people they can call for help. Also important is following up. Studies have shown checking back in on friends can help prevent suicide.
“If you’re worried about someone in crisis, you need to say something different than just a general message,” Reidenberg said. A general message is still good, but it’s not the whole picture. “The type of general message we should be sharing is that we need people to understand these are real illnesses. We need to not stigmatize or discriminate. We need generic types of messages that are based in support or understanding.”
Everyone’s experience is going to be different, but I was glad I made the call. It wasn’t a magic spell by any means, and it didn’t solve any of the underlying issues that brought me to that point, but it did what it was intended to do and helped forestall any impulsive action.
I spoke the words that had been poisoning me. They were heard with empathy, and then I didn’t have to carry them inside of me alone for the rest of the day. Getting people who are suffering from suicidal ideation to reconsider it in the moment is often an effective means of preventing them from trying it again in the future.
I felt a lot like how Ken Baldwin, a man who survived jumping off the Golden Gate bridge in 1985, explained his experience to The New Yorker. As he jumped, he said, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”