I’m Drinking a Lot of Water Now, so I Must be Sane…

So, the suicide of Anthony Bourdain hit me like a train… I initially chalked up to the fact that I had, rather late in the game, become a huge fan; having been completely won over by the utterly charming, quietly respectful and completely uncondescending way in which he immersed himself in the cultural deep dive of the week, as well as his obvious love of life (irony police, I get it) and all the many treasures and joys it offers. As a lover of (and writer about) film, I’ve also been a life long fan of his girlfriend of the last two years, Asia Argento, the extraordinary Italian actress, writer and director, as well as her father, the great fantasy and horror film director Dario Argento. I got a big kick out of reading about these two utterly disparate people I so admired having found each other fairly late in life, and being so apparently crazy about each other, so I figured that this stunning piece of awful news had hit me in that particular place where my interests and passions live, and would eventually pass, as such things do.

But not. As I rapidly sank into one of the most intense and painful attacks of depression I can remember, it became increasingly clear that this was not merely the cultural and fond-memory loss of a Bowie, a Petty, and or a Prince, or even the tsk-tsk ‘they had everything to live for how sad to die for a habit’ reaction that tends to accompany the passing of troubled celebrities. As I read somewhat obsessively for the next couple days, about Bourdain’s history, temperament and the recollections of loving but rueful friends and lovers, it became fairly clear that I was seeing… myself.

Like any dealer he was watching for the card that is so high and wild he’ll never need to deal another…
The Stranger — Leonard Cohen

It’s about that place where the passionate embrace of life, experience, people, and sensation intersects with the literally insatiable need for the next step, the next pleasure, the next awakening, the next revelation, and the terrible knowledge that the final, ultimate ‘high’ sadly, does not exist. It’s in that place where the slow, silent and deadly seeds of self destructiveness begin to flourish, often undetected by the subject. These terrible parallel tracks of an almost feral joy and a slowly growing need to resolve the dilemma in a final act of deadly satisfaction, become so entwined in the host, that they become one indistinguishable, and often deadly path. That was the place, uncomfortable and revelatory, where I found me.

As I began to peer into this newly opened door, one quiet gremlin lept out of the darkness almost immediately… Water. For the last few years, I had developed a seemingly inexplicable aversion to drinking water. I tend to have a couple of drinks and a couple of tokes of an evening; activities which tend to dehydrate, and despite it becoming very apparent to me that (duh) water changes everything, from avoiding leg cramps, to digestion, to the very real fact that the brain simply functions better with proper hydration, I had been resisting drinking water, especially at night. My body, indeed, my spirit would be crying out for the physical and spiritual nourishment of a tall glass of H20, and I would simply refuse to budge, to leave the cocoon; sinking deeper into detachment and surrender. But why?

Understand, I’m just not a suicide-y person… I know there are folks who say that, and then do it nonetheless, but trust me, it’s just not me… I’ve always looked at as a just plain bad decision, as one never knows what tomorrow brings… with my luck, I’d check out today, and the check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse would arrive tomorrow… or the letter from the girlfriend who changed her mind, or the cure for the disease… you get the idea. (I have also always regarded it, for mature adults with children and loving partners anyway, as a fundamentally selfish act. I know this is regarded as politically incorrect in professional circles, in the ‘you can’t understand the pain until you’re there’ vein, but I still do). But what’s a poor boy to do when part of him really does want to check out, to leave the fray, to float away, but hasn’t the temperament to just … do it? Why, slow motion suicide of course; the slow, certain attack on the self that eats away at everything you are; a slow motion poisoning of the self with excess and self-denial, like, say, drinking all night and consciously refusing to consume a tall, cool, life-affirming glass of water… like making one life-eroding decision of convenience after another… Like choosing not to do the work (writing, nuclear physics, watch repair) or whatever the f**k it is you were put on earth to do…

So, I’m drinking a lot more water these days… There’s a bottle by the computer, in the car, and by my bedside at night (which is helping my dreamlife, and my recalling it, too), and while I haven’t written the Great American Novel yet, I am writing down the chords to the putative song that just popped in my head, sketching the painting that is forming in my mind’s eye, and not passing by the photograph that is demanding to be taken. The process ain’t perfect yet, (like life itself, it’s sometimes hard to swallow) but it’s a signpost for a road I had lost, and a small step in re-embarking on a long detoured journey.

The first step, in fact, in choosing life.