Navel Gazing by Way of Moving PicturesWe used to have a this one teevee, a 'seventies cathode ray model, that was a fixture in the master's bedroom of the Quezon City house. When I was young, Mom and Pop would watch something-- usually the news on Channel 9, and other prime time fare. On a particular night in '79, I had seen my first episode of Mork and Mindy, a show about an alien who was out of place on his own world (a planet of squares) and had been exiled to Earth to learn about the "crazy people" living there.
That was how I was introduced to the actor playing Mork: Robin Williams.
I no longer remember the context of that one scene. All I remember was Williams beginning sentences with "Nanu Nanu," talking a mile a minute, pulling gag after gag, seemingly out of thin air. I think my parents, like everyone else on the planet, ate up the performance. (That bit was probably my gateway into the wry, irreverent American humor that I'd tightly embrace by the time Airplane, Top Secret, and Bill Murray would show up on local movie screens circa the mid-'eighties.) It wouldn't be long before I'd see more from Williams, when he starred in Popeye alongside Shelly Duvall, in 1980, and Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987. Dead Poets Society would hit the theaters in '89, but I didn't get to see it--and be thoroughly impressed by it-- until the early 'nineties.
He was a distant, if comforting, figure for me.
And now he's, well... dead. And seemingly so, by suicide.
Never, AlwaysMy brother tells me I should stop painting a situation with a very broad brush-- using words like "all," "always," and "never" because these words screw with communication. He's right: these words are great at communicating the strength of how I feel, and not why I feel strongly about what I'm talking about. But I can't help wanting to use them in this case. In contemplating Williams's death, I find myself falling back to using these words in questions and statements that only have partial applicability.
"Why is it always the artistic types that wind up killing themselves?"
"Is going out this way inevitable for people like WIlliams (and by extension, people like me?)"
"Are our lives always going to be marked by shambling from one personal crisis to another, clumsily working through each of these until one of them finally, successfully tests us to the breaking point? Are we never going to catch a break?"
The mind knows the rote answers to these questions: all of them are (a cautious) "No." The mind also knows that there is no such thing as certainty, and by extension, safety. And that bugs the living bejeezus out of me.
Williams was probably among the most well-adjusted people on the planet, considering his age and experience, his surviving and beating cocaine addiction and alcoholism. Me, I'm hardly stable, and I've been so scarred by my own crises that I'm actually very afraid of living. That others-- whose lives are admittedly fraught with formidable difficulty-- would dismiss my experiences as a male equivalent of "vapors" is both insulting and chilling.
See, this is what I'm trying to do with this piece of writing, Mork: I'm trying to write myself into some form of comforting resolution. At least, a resolution that doesn't involve Super-Parent figures who will take my troubles on themselves. I may actually need one right now, but, shocker-- there's never been really good reason to think these exist.
"We are condemned to be free."
There is no comfort. There is only Sisyphus and that stupid wheel. I will have to push it up the hill again, knowing that my hands will slip and the cursed thing will roll back down if it doesn't crush me first.
At least there's one less person contemptuously, condescendingly telling me to "Suck it up. Be a man." Sadly, the one guy to do that here is me. Shazbot!