The Hemingway Solution, Parts Unknown and Anthony Bourdain
All photos in this article are with thanks and credit to CNN.
Chapter One: “To fall in love with Asia is one thing. To fall in love in Asia is another. Both have happened to me. The Star Ferry to Kowloon at night. Lights of Hong Kong behind me. It’s a gift. A dream. A curse. The best thing. The happiest thing. Yet, also the loneliest thing in the world” – Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown – Hong Kong
The Hemingway Solution – that’s a title for a short play idea I’ve had – the Hemingway Solution is of course suicide. There’s always, “the Hemingway solution” so says one of my characters in my, as of yet, unwritten play.
Thoughts of death and suicide are not abnormal. We’re mortal after all. It would be strange not to ponder our own mortality. And once you have an adult mind you can imagine all sorts of “what if” possibilities. “What if I could fly?” “What if I had magical powers?” “What if aliens are already among us?” “What if I am an alien?” “What if I died?”
But there’s a difference between thinking about suicide in a casual “what if” way and being suicidal. Those are two very different things.
When you’re suicidal you’re probably depressed and when you’re depressed you’re in a place of despair and despair means you disconnect from things. You don’t want to see your friends. You don’t want to ask for help, or if you are asking for help you might be doing it in an indirect way. You might reach out with a text or an e-mail or a phone call because you need to connect and talk about your problems but you don’t necessarily say that. Maybe you talk or write about everything else except what’s really on your mind.
Because here’s the thing. We’re not supposed to talk about suicidal thoughts – that’s taboo. Especially if you’re a man. It means you’re weak, right? And unfortunately, if you don’t talk about it and you don’t get the help you need the end result could be deadly. And that’s why we need to talk about Anthony Bourdain.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Anthony Bourdain, as have a lot of people, especially with today being what would have been his 63rd birthday. I knew about him – but I’d never read any of his books or watched any of his shows. He was a famous stranger. The first time I remember being aware of a famous stranger was when Elvis died. His music and personality had always been a part of my life and so when he died, even though I wasn’t a huge fan, I still felt a sense of loss. And Bourdain, like Elvis, is someone I knew about – someone whose shows I would have loved if I had watched them – but I didn’t watch them – that is – until yesterday.
I watched the final episode of Parts Unknown – and it was a fascinating glimpse into Bhutan, a really interesting country and a totally different way of life. And then I watched an episode of The Layover with Anthony Bourdain on Netflix where he goes to São Paulo.
The thing about Bourdain’s shows, which you probably already know and I didn’t, is that they’re not just about food. They’re really about people and culture.
The food is the doorway, and if I had to sum up his style and approach I’d call it authentic and truthful. Maybe that’s why Bourdain comes across as so likable. He’s not pretentious. He loves food. He loves people. He loves going to far-away places.
And that’s what struck me most after I watched these shows was Bourdain’s genuine curiosity and interest in other people. And so, I’m also going to watch more Anthony Bourdain and in particular, I’m going to watch his show on Hong Kong. Why? Because this show according to Bourdain was the professional highlight of his career. That’s what he told Anderson Cooper at CNN.
That’s what he wrote in a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter called, My Cinematic Dream Filming With Asia Argento and Christopher Doyle in Hong Kong which was published just six days before his death. Doesn’t that just hit you in the gut? Here he is saying this is what I’ve been reaching for professionally all my life and a few days later he kills himself. I don’t know if there’s a connection between the two but I so wish someone had been there – that at that dark moment in his life he hadn’t found himself alone.
Because we all face dark days. We all face times when we need a friend.
I think one of the other reasons Bourdain’s death has been on my mind so much is simply his age. He’s not much older than I am. In fact, oddly enough he’s about the same age Hemingway was when Hemingway killed himself. Hemingway died at 61 a few weeks before his 62nd birthday. Birthdays can be troubling events. Not everyone finds the passing of another year something to celebrate. But growing old is inevitable. So too is dying. So you’d think the inevitability of death would make life worth living but it doesn’t when you’re depressed because when you’re depressed even the smallest daily tasks can seem overwhelming and take incredible amounts of energy to complete.
Basically, life becomes exhausting. So, how are you supposed to help someone when they won’t talk about their feelings or ask for help? You need to be sensitive to changes in their behaviour and routines. Those can be clues to how they’re feeling and if you suspect a friend or family member is depressed or suicidal then ask them how they’re doing. And then listen. Don’t judge. Just listen. And then urge them to talk to a healthcare professional and get the help they need.