I TRIED: A Personal Essay on Suicide, Depression and Individual Cinema

Self-portrait, moments after learning my grandfather was dead (2015)

It’s sometime around 4am. I’ve been posting to Snapchat for eight hours, mixing still images, music, and video clips from alternate sources with an extended monologue of myself talking to the camera, exploding my inner pain with narrative, making my depression plain while fighting to grasp why we tell stories to ourselves and to others. I start to receive a flood of snaps from a stranger, short video clips. I watch the first one. It is a young woman in an oversized T-shirt, gloomily lit. Her dark hair is wet, like she just came from the shower. She says not to watch the rest of her message until I’m done. New clips keep coming in. I don’t open them. I post for another two hours then stop. Eventually I sleep.

Two or three months before this night I’m standing in front of my laptop watching Cape Fear. It is a motion picture, a movie, a film directed by Martin Scorsese starring Robert De Niro and Ileana Douglas and Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis. Some of these people are nobodies if you’re under 30. Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. I write screenplays and I haven’t even bothered to remember the name of the writer.

I’m watching Cape Fear and I can’t bear to have my phone further away than the desk that my laptop is resting on. My phone, and the promise of human connection, beckon. I pick it up. I open Snapchat. I tap on the name of a woman I met through Tinder. We went out once. Her face comes up on the screen that I hold in the palm of my hand. She speaks to the camera, but really it feels like she’s speaking to me, telling a story about her ex-boyfriend provoking her to give up her medical marijuana card. I pause the movie so I can hold her and listen to her tell me her story.

My preference for Snapchat by an acquaintance over cinema by a master makes me question the modern significance of the medium I have dedicated my life to. Has the appeal of visual intimacy, as a feature available on my phone, surpassed the draw of grand, cinematic gestures?

I conclude that movies are a lesser form except, maybe, in a dark theater surrounded by strangers.

In the days that follow I seek to conceive of an artistic use for Snapchat. I determine that the intimacy of the form lends itself to confessional monologue. I settle on a concept: man crafts suicide note on Snapchat.

The man will be me.

Depression, loneliness and anxiety have haunted me since I was a teenager. I’ve seriously considered suicide on three occasions. It has been a central theme in my work, including the novel I wrote to try to save myself after a breakup. I arrive at the idea for this project at a time when I’m losing hope about my future, personally and professionally. I’m not quite suicidal, but I’m close. What I write will be my soul.

I write a screenplay in a form that approximates tradition, a 27-page blueprint for what will eventually become a 59-minute visual suicide note, consisting of shots broken up into <10-second clips that the viewer can tap through at will. In my childhood home in Northeast Ohio, where I will shoot the project, I bookmark videos and find images and music. I read what I wrote a few times to familiarize myself with the monologue, but I do not rehearse nor do I create a shot list. I plan as few of my choices as I possibly can for the sake of authenticity. Social media is largely a glossy representation of ourselves. I intend to show myself at my worst. I will produce, direct, photograph and star in the video alone, without a crew and no assistance. Technology affords me this level of intimacy, this opportunity for personal expression. I label it “individual cinema.”

“I Tried” will be my directorial debut.

Before I start to post on Snapchat I warn a few of my closest friends and family members what I’m doing. I tell them not to worry, that I’m merely conducting a piece of performance art. In truth I’m not sure what will happen when I hold a razor blade to my wrist after years of suicidal thoughts.

The first shot is of the faded basketball hoop in my parents’ driveway with an “Amherst, Ohio” geo-filter applied to the bottom of the frame.

The second shot is a time stamp.

Then I drive to Target to buy razor blades.

“I Tried” lives on Snapchat for 24 hours before evaporating, as dictated by the rules of the app. Before the video goes away forever I save it to the cloud and to my camera roll.

The next day a husband and father I’ve been friends with since I was six years old texts me. He hates the project. He shames me for my depression, describing it as “self-pity,” and asserts that no one will care about me or my art or my story.

I consider this conversation the end of our friendship.

Today I make “I Tried” available on YouTube. Those with depression shouldn’t be shamed. Cries for help must be heard. Suicide has to be stopped.

By merging cinematic techniques with social media-based production elements, I set out to create a new kind of filmmaking. The result should be watched on your phone, while it rests in your hand, with my face close to yours.

Many of the facts have been changed to protect people who are in my life now or have been in the past. All of it is true, in the truest sense of the word.

A week after posting “I Tried” on Snapchat, I come back to the grid via social media. I watch the rest of the video messages from the young woman with the damp hair. She tells me she read my novel twice. She shares details of her personal history with me. She cites specific lines from “I Tried” that touched a chord with her. She tells me she’s going to re-watch my story and write about it in her journal and then leave home for college. I wonder if I’ll ever hear from her again. Or if I need to, since she talks to my story.

Watch “I Tried” on your phone on YouTube and add onemikey on Snapchat for ongoing expressions of individual cinema. You can read more about his work at onemikey.com