The Portland Writer

Freelance Writer | Storyteller | SEO Copywriter | Ghostwriter | Speaker and Coach

Vanessa_Header-get-it-write.jpeg

The Portland Writer - Freelance Writer | Storyteller | SEO Copywriter | Ghostwriter | Speaker and Coach

Mourning Robin Williams on Social Media — Is it Personal?

Robin Williams dies at age 63Robin Williams was pronounced dead today at 12:02 p.m. He was 63. Investigators for the coroner’s office suspect “the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.” No other details have had time to emerge, except one — according to his people, Williams was said to be “battling severe depression of late.”

Robin Williams Trends Online

Williams had been outspoken about his depression, as well as his past issues with addiction. When the news hit social media channels today, it was first by those who were shocked or saddened by his death, posting links, pics, and RIPs. Some, seizing the opportunity that the spotlight both his life and death afforded, came forward to talk about depression, to share their own experiences, to offer help to those that might also be struggling, and to raise awareness.

Soon, there were those admonishing Williams for his selfishness in committing suicide (which at this point is merely alleged), there were those admonishing President Obama for acknowledging the loss of Williams, and there were those wagging their fingers at any and all of us who choose to discuss Williams’ passing — who deign to mourn a celebrity we never knew personally. Some people say that to stop to recognize the passing of celebrity, diminishes the deaths and lives of every one of us — for fame, fortune, and talent do not make one life any greater than another.

No Right to Mourn

While I agree that money and fame or talent don’t make a life greater or lesser — I do not agree that it’s wrong or diminishing to stop and take a moment for the loss of a life that touched our own. I think everyone has their own way with grief and none of us has a right to tell anyone else how or who to grieve.

To those grieving the loss of someone famous, it is not their general fame or talent that is being mourned, whether we knew them face-to-face in this life matters not — especially if their life or their work reached and touched us somehow.

As with all loss, what we grieve is our own end, not someone or something else’s but our own relationship with that end. Once someone is gone, there is nothing more for them to worry about. We cry, we rail, we post a link or a RIP, for ourselves, for our loss, for what once was and what we will miss.

A Personal Loss

In the case of Robin Williams (and probably most well-known people that pass and are widely mourned), his loss IS personal –for all of us. Not because of his fame but because his fame allowed him a greater reach — the ability to touch so many more lives. We will miss the joy and laughter he gave us through his work in film and television. Some will miss his charitable works, from which they benefitted directly. Others, like the many comedians and friends who tweeted their shock and grief today, they will miss his friendship, his insights, his kindness and advice.

Most of all, his family is feeling this devastating loss, even his wife, in her statement for privacy, acknowledged the impact her husband had on others, “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken.”

She also asked that people focus on celebrating his life and the legacy he left and not his death. “On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

Is it Wrong to Mourn Celebrity Loss?

To me, the passing of a life, doesn’t have to be a greater than, less than game.  I suspect for most people it is not — no matter who it is. Just because you grieve the passing of someone well-known to the world but unknown to you in real life, personally, doesn’t change how you mourn the lives of those closest to you.

I truly don’t believe there are people walking around in this world categorizing their losses in descending order of importance. But, in terms of a celebrity passing, I’m quite certain that those expressing feelings of loss are not placing a heavier weight on those feelings than say the very personal loss of their grandma or best friend. We’re all just people grappling to come to terms with loss and mortality. If we take the time to recognize or grieve a loss, it is a personal loss that we feel and though it may not be one you share, it is still one that is genuinely being felt, nonetheless.

The post that resonated with me most today came from my beautiful, kind-hearted nephew on Facebook:

“ALWAYS BE KIND. That woman in line at Starbucks, or the man you exchange glances with at Taco Bell could be fighting depression to stay alive. When you recognize someone’s existence with warmth, maybe they’ll realize that their contribution to the human story is important. Remind them: WE ARE ONE. WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.”

All of this discussion happened in less than 24 hours after his death and before any of us know the full story of the circumstances surrounding that death. What we do know though, is that a man who made us all laugh for many years, died today. For me – that is enough — RIP Robin Williams.

How Dare James Franco be a Poet?

James Franco, Herbert White, Poet, NY TImes, The Guardian

. . . why it is that artists who are vastly successful in one genre feel the need to dabble in another.

– David Orr, NY Times Sunday Book Review

In last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, David Orr posed this question. Orr is not the first nor will he be the last person to pose such a banal question and he doesn’t wholly hate on Franco, instead pointing out that there has been and could be a worse artist trying to cross-over into non-native territory, than Franco. But it’s just the act of asking this question, as if it were to hold in it, in any way, a legitimate value whatsoever — to me, is absurd.

I loathe this question, mainly because it’s so utterly arrogant that it’s ridiculous.

Artists Express

It’s what we do. Any artist or anyone who’s ever known anyone involved in any art form, knows that most artists (writers and poets included) have more than one outlet of expression. For that matter, anyone who has watched a small child for any length of time, as he or she is first exploring the world and learning to express themselves, will find the very same thing — the need to play in different realms. None of us is one-dimensional — artist or not — the need to explore more than one creative outlet is quite simply, human.

That’s why it’s so frustrating, this one-dimensional expectation people have of artists. Always wanting them to stay in just one lane of expression and to keep regurgitating that thing that first drew them to the artist. If an artist chooses to play in another genre or to grow beyond where their audience first found them — then they’re subject to punishment for their insolence, as Bob Dylan was when he decided to plug-in.

Franco was a poet before he became an actor, just as Kanye was an art major before he became a rapper. Joni Mitchell grew up doing art and dance and poetry before transitioning those experiences into music and as Orr notes, Steve Martin, though a talented comedian and actor, plays a mean banjo — (and I’ll add) he’s also a helluva playwright. These artists may have found their first fame elsewhere, but it doesn’t negate the fact that they have something more to say and that they feel a different medium may help them express it better.

Stay in your box

And yet, Orr’s question is not rare. To his credit, Orr is in fact, one of the kinder reviewers of Franco’s work and he points out some of what I’ve witnessed among writers I know — a kind of sour grapes that Franco’s published and they’re not. That Franco getting reviewed and they’re not. As if one had anything to do with the other.

For the under-appreciated poet, who may never be traditionally published or reviewed, it’s easy to cut Franco’s work down to that of overprivileged celebrity, “only being published because he’s famous.” But as Orr points out, if he wasn’t, it wouldn’t mean your book of poems would take his spot — it wouldn’t — not unless you could prove your salability to the publisher. (Which, BTW, you could do sans the celebrity, by taking care to cultivate your author platform and grow your following — as Franco has on Twitter — though maybe not to his level. But that’s a-whole-other post.) The truth is — poetry books don’t sell and the audience for poetry books is not large.

No, a poet, has to love it just for the sake of doing it — not for the dreams of grandeur, the hope of traditional publication, or the fantasy of hitting it big and making millions. This is NOT the dream of a poet, for we are all told, from a very young age, that there is no money in poetry.

Kicking down doors

So, if James Franco wants to express himself through poetry, who does it hurt? In reality — no one. As Orr points out, it may even expose a new audience to the likes of poetry. And though Orr, it seems, is not a fan of the modern-stream-of-consciousness style of poetry Franco employs (the kind that references the modern experience and isn’t wrapped in metaphor and dressed up in nature), I think that it is this very relatable form that will do exactly that — reach and possibly inspire the next generation of would-be poets.

To me the hallowed halls of poetry, literature and the New York Times, for that matter, are all old guard — mostly played out, with their elitist, classist past-their-best-by-date views. We live in a time where, like it or not, these old Titans are crumbling and artists now face both the loss of a dream of a potential foothold on being paid and marketed by the big boys for their work and the possibility (if they’ve got the hustle) of reaching a wider audience, directly, while retaining a more pure artistic vision.

Maybe Franco and Kanye represent this more than anything else — both prolific and famous, unsatisfied playing in just the one lane they’ve been given, they’ll chance your boos and overly harsh literati criticisms and ignore the advice of their publicists, on the chance to go artistically where they want to, to create and explore those things they want most — whether we all like it or not. To me, there is no truer artist than those who are unafraid to upset expectations, to anger their fans or to dare to go somewhere that’s considered taboo for them — to risk it all for their art.

It’s easy to put it on the line, when you have nothing — harder to buck the system when you’re comfortable. But also, if you can’t do it when you’re a nobody (because nobody cares) it has to be so disheartening to have made it and then be told you can’t do it now, either.

Are you talking to me?

I like James Franco’s book of poems, Directing Herbert White, not just because the poems feel raw and accessible and somehow representative of the kind of satisfied dissatisfaction most of this country seems to be feeling these days but also because Franco feels imperfect and at the same time acutely aware of those imperfections, he is self-deprecating and accessible in a way stars of the past have not been and the book itself reads as if it were constructed in such a laissez-faire way, that it ends up feeling genuinely, as if we are there with him at day’s end, as he is deconstructing the absurdity of his art, his life, his days, and his celebrity.

If you don’t like James Franco or his poetry or you feel some sort of issue with the fact he is writing and publishing poetry — then, I put to you that you should simply avoid reading it. But as with any artist, don’t waste our time questioning his right to do it.

Who are we to decide how an artist expresses him or herself? Who are we to ask, “How Dare James Franco be a Poet?”

James Franco’s writing poetry — what are you doing? Let me know in the comments below.

Finding Portland, Again

As a writer, a lot of what I bring is shaped by all I do and see and experience. That’s one of the reasons this site is called The Portland Writer — because no matter who I write for or where in the world they are located, they’re getting the benefit of working with a writer who lives in Portland.

Writing in Portland

The city I live in is a beautiful tapestry of quirky, eco-friendly, open-minded, laid back, conscientious, whole slow food lovin’, tattoo bearing, beard flaunting, beer drinking, bicycling, full-on personality, that it is simply an inescapable part of every single one of us that make our home here.

But like any long-term relationship, we sometimes grows weary of what we have and we daydream about what else might be out there for us. (France? whatcha doin’ over there?)

In the end though, when it’s real love, it takes very little to rekindle that spark.

Finding Portland

And though, this video, from Uncage the Soul Video Production, is the result of 51 days of work and 300,000+ still photographs, in which it took an average of 3.8 hours to make each second of film — it takes less than 4 minutes of your time to watch and enjoy all that effort.

Four minutes in which, if you live here, to fall right back into “madly in love” with Portland. It’s also four minutes in which, if you don’t live here, you’ll find yourself wondering why that is.

%d bloggers like this: