tony b and what he means to me

This, dear reader, is a story for anyone who is feeling lost and looking to be inspired. It is different content than what you are used to seeing here. But I hope you'll find inspiration from it, still. The world lost two amazingly creative people this month, and it left me feeling a bit lost. So, I wanted to do something about it. For me, that’s writing. I hope that after reading this you feel like you have gained a new friend in this crazy, creative, world we inhabit …

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GONE TOO SOON

When I was 14, I had my first boyfriend. That boyfriend had a best friend named Tom. And Tom was a mystery to me. Long haired, greasy, punk-band rocker, he had seen more in his fresh 15 years than most see in their whole old life. Gang violence, mob activity, alcohol, drug use, addiction, depression … the list was long.

Safely from my parent’s upstairs computer room, I learned about his life. We would chat on AIM and he would tell me about the music he was writing, the friends who had just been killed, and how sad he was. I’m not sure why he told me all this, but he really opened up. And I felt like we were good friends. I was happy to be there for him, whatever he needed.

Then one day after track practice, my sister was driving me home when a horrible, indescribable feeling washed over me. I had two missed calls from my boyfriend and I couldn’t get a hold of him when I tried to call back. Soon, I got home and logged onto to AIM to see if I could catch him there. Almost instantly the words, “Have you heard?”, popped onto the screen. Confused and a bit scared I just typed out, “No.”

My boyfriend went on to explain that the police had just found Tom in the park near my house. He had used his dad’s hand gun. It was all over.

I have never felt that kind of grief before. And I would be lying if I said I went on living the same way after that.

A STORY THAT DOES NOT END

Suicide has been a storyline that has haunted me throughout my entire life. Maybe it has for you, too?

After Tom, another friend wrote me a note in which he explained that he was going to drive his car off the road. Upon reading this, I ran to the counselor and got him help right away. (Hopefully it was helpful …) About a year later, a girl sleeping in the cabin next to me at summer camp cut her wrists, deep. I was one of the people who got her help. Then, in college, a different boyfriend told me that he was hospitalized and put under suicide watch a few months before we started dating. Later, a resident jumped off the top of one of the dorms on campus while I was a Resident Advisor.

Stories of friends in different cities, brothers of friends, and parents far away, seem to constantly flood my conversations. My fiancé’s uncle made his own exit a couple years ago. And then another family member did the same just a few months ago. Through it all, I have also watched as dozens of public figures left by their own hand.

Side Note: As I write all this out, a huge lump has cemented itself in my throat. Being affected by suicide doesn’t stop hurting. You just learn to accept the lump. And if you’ve been affected by suicide, I want you to know that you are not alone. Whatever you are feeling, or have felt in the past, you are not alone.

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THE WORLD SPINS MADLY ON

Fast forward to last week … Kate Spade was an artist I have admired from a distance for many years. She was a smart business woman, full of grit. I was sad for a moment, but I didn’t let that grief in after I heard of her departure. I just couldn’t.

But then, I woke up to a text a few days later: “Did you hear about Anthony Bourdain?” My heart sank fast. Instantly, I knew that Bourdain wasn’t jumping off cliffs in Sicily again. I knew he had left, too. And something broke inside me a little when I heard about his passing. I couldn’t help it. I felt as though I was that 14-year-old girl, shaking in my living room, cursing the world, all over again.

Of course, I didn’t know Tony personally, and my guess is no one really did. But back in the day, as a naïve teenager, I watched him on the food channel and the travel channel with wonder and awe. I was raised in a very loving and very safe home. I was taught to be polite, hardworking, and determined. So, to see this adventurous, foul-mouthed, no-holds-bar dude on my TV screen was just as good as traveling to a foreign country. It was pure culture shock. And I am sure that is exactly what good ol’ Tony was going for. For me, Bourdain’s storytelling was a hidden treasure that was all my own. I learned a bit of how to be brave from him. To not give a f***. And to just take each day as it comes with open eyes and truth.

To see a creative hero of mine leave the way he did feels extremely defeating. I’m mad and sad and have started to question why I continue to photograph, and write, and cook, and sing, and…. But that is why I am writing this all out today.

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THIS IS A MOUNTAIN YOU GET TO CLIMB

Ever since Tom, I have been on a quest to get to know creative people. To become a creative person myself. And along the way, I have walked the peaks of joyous success and even more the ridges of deep sadness. I have even fallen into the crevasses a few times. Through it all, I have learned that there is something about creativity that can either destroy a person or change their whole life for the better. That something is a very fine, sensitive line. For each and every person that endeavors to live out their unique creativity, they must climb and scramble up the steep, unforgiving trails of vulnerability. It is a burden and a privilege to do so. But it is also something, in my opinion, you must do to make the world a better place.

Creativity, whatever form it takes, strips you to your most exposed. And when you share that creativity, you are putting your bones, your sense of self, out into the universe to be judged. Some may be able to brush that off like old pros. But for a lot of us, this sort of act leaves hurtful scars and instills a deep fear. We use procrastination, drugs, alcohol, sex, family, responsibility as means to heal our hurt and avoid our fear. Because there’s no real way to express that hurt and that fear. We bottle it up and act like we don’t care about our creativity. Instead of being exposed any longer, we blend into the crowd. We think that’s better. But it’s actually worse.

The creative people who are sad, hurt, and lost are the most in danger. They have a song to sing, but they have hushed it. And if we don’t encourage it out, an explosion will occur. Sadness and fear will win. And instead of saying, “they gave up, they didn’t have enough grit”, we all just need to be a goddamn cheerleader. We must cheer people on ALL of the time – in good times and in bad. Reminding folks that they are loved, that it’s okay to feel hurt, to find rest for a while when we need it, and that they were made by design to be creative. Everyone deserves to feel the joy of summiting their creative mountain, finding new ones to climb, and working through the pain they feel. Again, I will say, it makes the world a better place.

I’m done watching creative people exhaust themselves to the point of no return. From literal death to the death of a project, I will no longer stand idly.  I am full of love and I am cheering YOU on as you climb your mountain simultaneously as I climb mine. I may even have some tips along the way or some gear you can borrow. Whatever you need, creative one, I’m here for you. Hear my cheers and pass them on to someone else.

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CELEBRATE LIFE EVEN WHEN IT SUCKS

I didn’t know Tony. But I did know Tom. Tom wrote a song before his death that his Dad later got a local radio station to air. I don’t remember all the words, but I remember the sentiment. It was about his heart being completely exposed and learning how to deal with it. It broke my heart to hear it. But he was on to something, he just got lost and no one was there to help him get back on track. We just didn’t know.

Bourdain once said, “Maybe that's enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom... is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” He understood what most people don’t. That we are all still learning, and that is a beautiful thing. I don’t know why Bourdain left, but his choice doesn’t make his statement fictitious.

I know for me, I still have a long way to go. And this is why I decided to write this story. From here on out, I am making myself I promise that I intend to keep. I am going to celebrate each difficult step my life and my creativity throws at me. I’ll also celebrate the life and minds of those who parade through my life. No matter how well I know them or not. No matter how long they are present on this Earth. I am going to keep working towards my dreams, and I hope you do the same. Because I am so dang excited to see what you do, dear reader. You and me, we were designed to dream and to create. Let’s do this thing. I’ve got your back.

SAY YES TO LIFE – LET’S EAT

With that in mind, let’s say yes to life. My friends + teammates at Moveable Feast Retreats are doing something great in honor of our flawed hero, Bourdain. Check out Tim’s explanation:

“A dear friend told me that the best thing to do to commemorate him and raise a glass to the life of Anthony Bourdain would be to find some forgotten corner of your city where white folks seldom roam and slurp down a bowl of a noodles with a stranger. Maybe that's true.

We thought we'd try the second best then...

We're putting on a fundraiser in honor of Bourdain to benefit mental health and suicide prevention services at NAMI SeattleJohnny, our Moveable Feast Retreats chef will be preparing a 5 course menu with wine pairings inspired by wanderings all over this diverse planet. Good people. Good stories. Bomb food. And all to help more people say yes.”

Our July 14th dinner is already sold out!! But if you head over to the link below and are annoying enough, a second dinner could be added. So, go forth, be annoying! We want to celebrate as much as possible, with as many loving hearts as possible.

Bourdain PopUp with Moveable Feast Retreats:
 https://moveablefeastretreats.com/bourdain-popup
 

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THE WRAP UP

It’s a bit hard to wrap this story up neatly. But I think that is a metaphor for life in itself, so I’m not going to try any further. Be on the lookout for more pieces like this about creative wellness, I’ll be posting them every Monday. We will talk about fear, procrastination, comparison, and so much more. I’m cheering you on, friend. Go be what you’re designed to do … my hands are clapping already.

 

love bombs to you,
-k.