Ten Years Ago Today

On August 12, 2004 I reached the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, after hiking for five months from the southern terminus in Georgia. You can still read the whole of my journal from the trail... I posted it as I went, from whatever public libraries I could find in towns along the way.

At the time, I was mostly just relieved to be done, but since then it’s become an important bedrock of personal strength for me. If I can complete a 2200-mile, five-month hike, I can do a lot of other things, whether it’s travelling to other countries on my own, or moving to the West Coast, or starting a photography business, or dealing with chronic depression.

To this day, I’m a huge believer in challenging yourself, in stepping outside of your comfort zone, in reaching for crazy and far-fetched dreams and goals, even at the risk of embarrassing or expensive failure. Hiking the A.T. may have been the first thing that really taught me that, even if it took me a few more years to recognize the lesson.

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Please, Don’t Tell Me Robin Williams is at Peace.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, I’ve seen a lot of people post things like “I hope he’s found peace,” or “I hope he’s at peace.” And while I understand that those things come from a place of good will, they really, really bother me. Because to me, it reads like “I hope that committing suicide worked out for him.”

I’ve been fairly open on this blog about my own struggles with depression. On occasion, I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts, and one of my ways of combating those thoughts is the knowledge that suicide doesn’t work out. There’s no peace, no joy, nothing positive to found in killing yourself. It’s a tragedy that strands your friends and family in a sea of grief, and denies yourself every good experience and little bit of love you might have had between now and your natural death. It’s a horrible, terrible permanent response to a temporary emotional state. Because even though depression is a chronic condition, the emotional states that it brings with it usually are more temporary, coming in episodes, and even if not, seeking help and treatment is still a vastly preferable response to taking your own life.

Ultimately, depression killed Robin Williams, in a similar sense that cancer killed my mother. It’s a disease. It’s not a failure of will, or a fault of personality, it’s a fucking awful disease, in which a problem with the neurotransmitters in your brain causes deep depths of despair and anxiety that aren’t necessarily related to any outside life event. The nature of clinical depression is that it doesn’t have to have an outside cause; it doesn’t care who you are, any more than cancer or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s does. It can strike anyone, even one of the world’s most successful entertainers. Robin Williams didn’t kill himself because he was a coward, as Shep Smith suggested, or because he was a bad person, or because he lacked a failure of will. He killed himself because he suffered from severe depression. Cancer killed my mother. Depression killed Robin Williams.

The death of Robin Williams is a tragedy, and he is a victim of a disease. I suppose it’s the nature of the way our culture mourns that we attempt to wring anything positive from terrible events, in an effort to make ourselves feel better; usually this comes in the form of platitudes like: He’s in a better place. Or, I hope he’s found peace.

But even typing those words makes me tremble with anger. If you must take something positive from the death of Robin Williams, then be nicer to people, because you never know. Share and publicize the suicide prevention hotline. Educate yourself on the nature of depression, and learn the best ways to listen to friends and family who suffer from the disease. If you think you might be depressed, if you find yourself feeling sad and anxious often for reasons way out of proportion to any rational cause, then please seek help. And maybe through his death, we as a society can become more educated about a widespread, tragic disease that is nevertheless often mocked or dismissed by media and culture.

But Robin Williams’ death– indeed the death of anyone who commits suicide or has their life cut short by a terrible disease– isn’t something to be validated, any more than I would try to validate the cancer that killed my mother.

For the sake of anyone else still alive who struggles with depression and suicide, please don’t suggest or wish that suicide is a valid way of finding peace. It’s not. It can’t be, not if we don’t want to lose more people the way we lost Robin Williams.

Photos, Novels, and Trips, Oh My

clarionwestIt’s been a busy August, and it’s likely to get even busier… more on that in a moment. But first, thanks to everyone who sponsored me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. It’s been a fun Clarion season, with lots of get-togethers and writing evenings… and congrats to my friend Folly Blaine for finishing the full six-week workshop!

For the write-a-thon, my goal was to write the second draft of my current work in progress, Noah’s Dragon. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite finish that– I got about three-quarters of the way through. As I approached the end, I realized that the amount of work the end needed was going to be larger than what I had time for, and so instead of doing a full second draft, I worked on doing a read-through, and planning what needs to change in the third draft.

In the meantime, in addition to working on the third draft, I’m planning to write a synopsis and hopefully get things in shape so I can send out a few agent queries before I travel to Nepal for six weeks in the fall, starting in mid-September. Which will be its own bundle of planning work, even though I’m very much looking forward to it.

Earlier this year, I got an invitation from a friend travelling in Asia to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a three-week walk through the valleys and mountains of Nepal. And since I’ve never been to Asia, and this would be a dream backpacking trek in almost every sense of the word, I decided to seize the opportunity. Now my plane tickets are bought, my destination date is less than six weeks away, and there’s an ever-increasing list of things I want to accomplish in those six weeks before I leave.

One of the things I’ve actually managed to check off my list is rework my photography website, Journeys in Color, to include a comprehensive list of portrait packages, event photography, and retouching services for sale. If you live in the Seattle area, please take a look! I’m hoping to particularly cater to the geek and cosplay communities, since that’s what inspired my original passion in portrait photography.

I’ve also set up a shop where you can buy photo prints (including standard prints, bookmarks, cards and stamps) of selected pictures. You can also buy photos as digital backgrounds, for computers or mobile devices, which have been pre-cropped to 16×9 horizontal and vertical resolutions. If you enjoy seeing the pictures I post, and you’d like to support my photography, please consider taking a look at the store. If there are any pictures which you’d like to buy but that aren’t available in the store, send me a message and I’ll see what I can do!

So I’m attempting to be a bit more “commercial” with my photography. If you have any feedback on the site itself, or the shop, drop me a note via the contact link in the previous paragraph. Also, note that I won’t sell pictures of people without a release, so I won’t use any pictures that I take of cosplayers at cons for commercial purposes unless I have a written agreement with them to do so. I still plan to do hall cosplay, and I still plan to make digital copies of those pictures available for free to people who are in them– though I might offer people the ability to purchase physical prints if there turns out to be any demand for that.

Besides the big Nepal trip coming up, I’ve also gone a few smaller excursions, and had an awesome time. On Tuesday I got to go hiking with some good friends at Sunrise, on Mt. Rainier, up to the Mount Fremont Lookout. It was a fun day– the Sun was sweltering, but the breeze at 6500 feet generally kept us cool. It was also the 34th entry in my Journeys Around Seattle photo series, and you can read the entry and see the pictures at my photoblog here.

The previous week, I went backpacking at Garibaldi Provincial Park with my girlfriend, Lisa, for a few days. We camped on the edge of Lake Garibaldi, which was a beautiful shade of turquoise thanks to all the glacial runoff in the water. The Flickr set of those photos is here, but I’ll also be making some of those landscapes available as prints and pre-cropped backgrounds in my shop. (Did I mention I have a shop over at Journeys in Color?)

Anyway, that’s my life right now. If it seems focused on the photography side of things, that’s kind of because it is, but it’s also because I’ve got a lot of really cool travelling going on right now, and those sort of go hand in hand. I’m also reaching the point where I need to focus on getting the ol’ revenue stream going again, and photography is the first (but not the last) of those endeavours. My writing is still happening, as mentioned above, it’s just that writing tends to take much longer to pay dividends (or even to have interesting news updates).

Lots of cool stories, updates and pictures coming down the pipeline. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.