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Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Delete Blog Option...

As we celebrate a welcome new addition to the firmament of blog, it may seem a strange time to be contemplating the virtual extiction alluded to in the title of this post. But I'm sure many of us have felt the strange frisson, akin to swaying over a precipice, that comes when you tentatively hover the cursor over the 'Delete blog' button in the knowledge that you are one synapse strain away from consigning "yourself" into its, in my case, rich Prussian blue oblivion.

I mention this because I had a - to use an awful term, but one that seems appropriate in this context - 'meat space' email from 'the late' Brian Damage. Without going into too much detail, I finished reading it feeling relived that poor Brian had only taken his blog into his own hands. It is easier than going one step further after all, it would seem. Suicide, even the virtual one that Brian committed a while back, can be viewed, depending on where you stand on the sanctity of life bit, as (among other things) perhaps brave or maybe foolhardy (or possibly both??) From my own experience of how much is put into these blogs when you really get into them (and how much they can take out of you and those around you) I know enough of Bri's predicament to realise that his "extinction" was not taken lightly and, however much I might selfishly feel that he has been foolhardy in destroying that wonderful Watts Tower of the imagination he lovingly assembled for us, I have nothing but respect for his decision to 'end it all' and only admiration for anyone who so evidently loved blogging yet still had the cojones to take that one, last decisive click. (Although, with those cojones, just wearing tights is worthy of respect...)

Thoughts turn inevitably to my friend Alison. I worked with Ali for the best part of 10 years and during that time she was one of the few beacons of sanity and uproarious hilarity and joy in a job that both of us clearly found wasted our talents. We would laugh ourselves speechless and shared a love of music and the arts that bound us, over time, into very good friends in and outside the workplace. Around the same time that I started my part time degree course, Alison embarked on a similar course with the OU and there followed a blossoming of her latent academic brilliance that had previously lain dormant within Ali that was quite remarkable to behold. We both got a lot out of our studies and both did about as well as you could do in terms of results, but comparing what I knew of her incredible workload and stringent marking criteria in comparison to my chavvy third rate would-be uni award, it rather felt to me that she had gained her first through climbing a mountain rather than gallumphing over a hillock.

Enthused by her academic success, Ali began to look at the options of furthering her studies. Or writing for herself. In short, she had the bug. I don't know if the contrast between her new found joy at the life of the mind and the drudgery of our job had something to do with this, but around this time Ali started to become more moody than usual. Always highly strung (and, believe me, she would have been the *first* to chime in here with the obligatory "and so I should be" gag) she was signed off work for a lengthy period with, it transpired, depression. As I wasn't aware of any prior history of depression (just a tendency to OCD and wild mood swings that she gave the impression of being caused solely by her monstrous, St. John's wort tempered PMT) I assumed that she had just had enough of the job and was using the time off to sort out an escape. Besides, my abiding memory is of someone tucked up in a ball of laughter.

It seemed I was right. Alison handed in her notice a few months later. She and her partner Julie were moving back to Ali's native Cambridgeshire. Julie would commute in and Alison would write - possibly get a job at a local animal rescue centre she'd fallen in love with. All seemed well. I spoke to Alison a couple of times on the phone and we still exchanged Christmas cards. Then my own personal life went through the aggers and torters described elsewhere on these pages and we just seemed to lose touch. I kept meaning to call know how hard it seems sometimes do the simplest things.

About six months ago we got a call at work. Ailson was dead. The initial stories were confused - she'd just collapsed in the kitchen ... had not been herself for a while. As the truth came out, it became clear that the previous illness had not been a one-off or a ruse. She had persistently struggled with her depression until there seemed in her poor, fragile, frightened mind just one option left: the delete life one.

Amis says something in Einstein's Monsters with regard to the idea of nuclear extinction along the lines of with each day that passes we've accrued more to lose - the stakes get higher as the aggregation of human knowledge and wisdom in each of us that we stand to throw away increases. This is the idiocy of the suicide of civilization. But does it work like that for us as individuals? In many ways, yes, it does. But I think there's a difference.

If we're here for anything as noble-sounding as a purpose, then surely that purpose is to explore and understand our unique consciousness (and its limits) and as far as we can to *understand* ourselves and our predicament as humans, floating in our currently benign quarter of the universe. If that *is* the case, then surely that understanding has to encompass the possibility that - having concluded where we're all going, utimately - there's something liberating and fearless in deciding to hurry along that inevitability. I really don't know. It's easy to believe that just because everything will ultimately be lost, our own absence will count for nothing. But at the risk of sounding too Frank Capra cornball about it, we *do* leave a lot behind. Even when we hit that key, there are those footfalls echoing in the hall of the memories of those who had to stay behind. Brian, back to camera, that wonderful mane of hair waterfalling down his back. Alison singing 'Ten Green Bottles' in German before collapsing, convulsed with the laughter of lightness.

I miss you both.

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  1. This is a wonderful, beautiful piece. I am not ashamed to admit that I am deeply moved by it...for personal reasons but also for you. Sometimes the most calm and confident people can be hiding the most terrible depression. It is often the most shocking thing when someone does take their own life.

    And you write about it so honestly, so openly and so heartbreakingly well. Sometimes we wish we could go back and tell the people we miss that we still love them. We wish that we could change the past and make them realise that they are loved and that they shouldn't go. If only we could go back and say goodbye to those people. I wish we could.

    I have so much to say about this. Perhaps too I shall hold back. Just to say that this is very, very powerful writing.

  2. Nice writing Robert. I've lost friends that way too. They had their own private hells to deal with. Perhaps we all do.

    There are definitely parallels with blogging. I figure I'm going to get deleted one day anyway, no great loss, so I might as well keep going.

  3. There are two expressions that make me ashamed to be English.

    "Too clever by half"


    "Cheer up, it may never happen"

  4. Ditto Mollster. I might do a meat mail on this rather than post here!

  5. Moving stuff Bob. That is all I can say really.

  6. Oh Bob, this is so very terribly sad. I have lost two aquaintances to suicide and nearly lost a friend (we got her to the hospital just in time). If I'd had more time with them I'm certain we would have become friends.

    There is always so many what if's in these cases. I guess the only thing we can do is keep on living and trying to be happy. It's what they would have wanted I'm sure.

  7. Fucking hell Bob. As someone whose life has been overturned, but thankfully not ended, by the Big D, I'm grateful to be here and deeply struck by your piece.

  8. Worse things happen at sea....

    always hated that one....

    I too had a friend? associate who 'took the plunge', 'pulled the plug' 'deleted his blog'

    It wasn't until after that we realised he'd been round various people he cared about and said goodbye...

    err.. dunno what else to say....

    so i'll leave it at that.

  9. Very eloquent, Robert.

    It always seems I've known two suicides: a work colleague who got angry with his boyfriend and did it out of spite - the ultimate expression of selfishness I thought, despite the tragedy - and an old family friend who's wife had died too young from cancer. He bluffed it for a couple of years but he just couldn't hack life without her. He was always such a joyous person and it's those ones that I can understand or identify with. It wasn't that they as a couple were outwardly affectionate or ever appeared very close but she was very obviously the key that unlocked life for him and without her even the rest of his family meant little. I cried when I heard.

  10. Apologies for the extra half line at the start there.

  11. I guess in a way i'm lucky never to have known anyone who committed suicide. People you love or who have touched you life dying anyway is soul destroying, I really can't imagine the torture those left behind must put themselves through when a loved one ends their own life.

    Your post today is simply beautifuly written

  12. Funny, but so many of my close friends seem to be depressed at the moment. Is it a virus?