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Artificial Boundaries – Solar Culture Gallery

Opening Saturday 23 February 2017

6-9 PM


Last weekend, I was by the Mexican-American border near El Centro, CA. If not for the Border Patrol, their high tech surveillance gear — and of course — the steel wall that stretches as far as you can see, this would be just another patch of bleak Southwestern desert. Nothing aside from us humans, would see this as anything different. The wind blows across the border. Snakes and hares pass as if it is nothing… and nothing is really what it is.

These borders are simply man-made contrivances that separate “us” from “them.” While this divisive instinct is the root of all wars and used for the justification for oppressing of other peoples, it also provides many with their personal identity and pride. We apparently subdivide ourselves into different groups very naturally. Maybe it’s an adaption for survival, but at a minimum, this human divisiveness, hatred and anger lowers the level of all of our happiness.

But while walking in this no-man’s land, it seems to bring out the abstractness of this political reality. Do any of us actually have our own “tribe,” or are we all somewhat lost? Is this why we cling to our heritage, our country or our race as defining aspects of self? Maybe the visualization of being an individual walking alone in the desert and coming across another person is a better way to live — realizing that we are all just people lucky to have each other as-is.

I am showing these three new photographs in the gallery:

Come see the show if you are in town!

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

All images and content copyrighted 2017 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

Finding a Home – Gleeson, AZ


Gleeson, AZ is an old mining town just east of Tombstone. You take Gleeson Rd. and head east out of Tombstone toward Elfrida. Around halfway there, you turn left on North High Lonesome Rd. This is where you find the remains of the old town. On the hillside to the east, you can see the abandoned ruins of the Copper Belle Mine. At it’s high point, the town supported a population of 500 people, but the copper played out by the late 1930’s. The town was slowly abandoned. Ruins dot the landscape, but you can drive right up onto the mine if you have a four wheel drive vehicle.

Somewhere north of Tombstone, we had stopped at a gas station. Waiting inside the convenience store, there was a couple dressed in a combination of desert goth and prospecting costume. They didn’t talk to anyone and they both looked almost one hundred years old. I wondered what life they thought they were living and whether it was a delusion or an aspiration. In the end, I shrugged and figured it was none of my business what they were doing, just that it seemed a miracle that they had found each other and were out here making a life together in this godforsaken wasteland.

Driving through the remains of Gleeson, we followed the dirt road that led in the general direction of the mine. On our way, we passed this old trailer home. Kim asked if I wanted to stop and photograph it. Part of me felt that I’ve already been inside too many old trailers already, but I shrugged, why not? The wind howled as we walked toward the trailer. I looked up on the hill and thought it must have been a beautiful sight to see the old mine first thing  in the morning. I imagined what it would feel like living in this small trailer back when it was new. I’ve never been “house proud” and living out here had a certain charm that people in gated communities probably could never get.

Unlike many of the abandoned places we go into, this trailer had no feeling of having harbored past domestic horrors. There didn’t seem to be a single bad ghost lingering anywhere. It felt like home and I felt like I was suddenly in my element when I started photographing it. It brought on a nice calm within me.

While shooting these photographs, I realized that after my father died when I was a teen, that I had lost all my feeling of having a home. The instability his death caused inside me  and the chaos it threw me into made me question the stability of everything. Sometimes I feel that when I look at anything, that I am witnessing the process of entropy tearing everything apart – nothing can last and anything that alluded to permanence was just an illusion. No one else seems to be aware of it like I am. I guess being in someplace like this trailer strips the illusions away for me and I just enjoy finding beauty in what is there. With these interior shots, I very much wanted to capture the feeling of permanence while recognizing that even when it doesn’t last, that there is somehow important to appreciate in the temporary respite from being alone when you are somewhere safe with someone you care about.

Later in the day, when Kim and I parked to get tacos in a little familiar restaurant in Wilcox, I stopped and looked at the listings in a real estate office’s window. There was a little house on more than five acres of land selling for only $54,000. Wow, that seemed like an incredible deal. Kim looked at the listing, said she’d move there. It’s a good dream. Things haven’t been easy lately and I’ve been feeling the need to get away. The idea of getting a tiny house in the middle of nowhere on some land and then putting up a couple of steel buildings – one for an art studio and another for music studio seemed like a dream come true. I again thought about that weird couple at the convenience store and laughed inside. Maybe that will be us someday.

The next morning, we stopped at a thrift store in Wilcox and Kim bought me a beat up old Stella guitar. Whatever I end up, I intend on taking this guitar with me.

At Another Crossroads


The myth of Robert Johnson meeting the Devil and selling his soul in exchange for his remarkable musical talent is legendary. There are commemorative sign posts put up for tourists to see at several intersections purported to be where Johnson made this deal (the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi being the most believed to be credible). The truth of the matter is that we all come to crossroads wherever we turn. Maybe none seem as dramatic to us as Johnson’s, but we all must navigate our own way through life and accept the choices that we make and the fact that they are what take us to wherever we end up.

With the sun setting somewhere over the lost mining town of Christmas, AZ, the sky here looked as if it was suddenly set on fire. We’re at the intersection of Arizona Route 77 and Roundup Dr. – a dirt road. Dripping Springs Wash lies behind the dilapidated double-wide just off the highway. Multiple vehicles are parked out front – some with the hoods up, presumably being repaired. Behind the dark tangled trees, other double-wides, trailers and shacks seem to also be inhabited.

While stepping out to shoot these photos, I briefly thought about of the legend of Robert Johnson and his deal with the Devil. While everyone seems to hear the myth and think that Johnson’s music somehow made the deal worthwhile, I wonder. Would I want to be the best artist, photographer, writer or musician for the price of my soul? Hell no! Ability is no substitute for existence or feelings – it’s not about recognition. It’s not about mastering something. It’s not about what you can do. No activity or skill makes up for the emptiness or loneliness in life.

Like most roads in Arizona, Highway 77 is lined with roadside memorials to those whose have been killed along the way. Two lane highways are littered with the dead. People speed home or to the bar. Race off to where there think they need to be. Head on collisions happen so fast that you don’t see them coming – until it’s too late and lives are changed forever. Or lost.

Robert Johnson spent his life on the road. Probably the founding member of the “27 Club.” Many romanticize his death. The idea of burning the candle at both ends – live fast and dying young. The way to go. But in reality, death is never romantic. It’s just the end of life. The casualties are those left living – the ones left holding the bag of shit you leave behind.

While Johnson’s music lives on, his legend lives on. But the human life he lived was not a myth. We don’t know what that really was. What he thought at 2AM while lying in a strange bed and staring at the dark ceiling above him. We don’t know what he actually felt inside — just his story. But even there, the story itself is probably misleading or wrong. Instead of the happy-go-lucky Southern dandy who died in a flurry of romance and murder, he was more likely just the victim of bad moonshine and a case of untreated syphilis. He may have had many woman along the road, but you have to wonder if any of them was really the right woman. When Johnson’s first wife Virginia passed, he wasn’t there by her side, but was instead out drinking whiskey and playing his guitar in some distant roadhouse bar. Perhaps it’s divine justice that Johnson died alone himself.

We all make our own choices and ride with the luck of the road. On this night, at this particular crossroads, it seems from the number of vehicles parked outside the trailers and double-wides that everyone has made it home. Couples eat their dinners together. Turn on the TV and settle in for the night. Some of these dwelling are no doubt their own private little hells, but others, must provide a beautiful dirty refuge from the world outside. No one needs to know what anyone else shares behind their own closed doors, but the things that really matter in life often aren’t seen at all, but just experienced.

When we drove away from this particular crossroads, the stories that came to my mind were the romantic thoughts about couples that had found something between themselves that let them briefly escape the brutal life they had to endure each day in order to survive. How they could find the ability to transcend all the bullshit of the outside world together – even if only for this one Friday night. No roadside memorial makes up for the things you miss in life. Need to remember to stop and experience the things around us right now instead of trying to see what is farther down the road.


Bombay Beach, Salton Sea – Solar Culture Gallery


Opening Saturday 27 February 2016

6-9 PM

My Photos on display:

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701

These photos were taken in the near ghost town of Bombay Beach on the western shores of the Salton Sea in California. While a dike was built to protect this section of the town from flooding, it is being ravaged by time and neglect just as decisively as the homes and trailers that have been devoured by the sea outside the protection of the dike.

My girlfriend and I made a quick stop here a couple weeks ago on our way to LA to pick up her artwork from the gallery where she had a solo show. Swinging past the Salton Sea was not that far out of our way and it was a nice detour into memories of going here together a few years back. It was nice to find that things hadn’t changed.

We had already been in all these trailers and small deserted houses, but very little had been touched. The same things where still sitting on the deserted tables collecting dust. The same chairs and sofas sat in silent rooms, only now perhaps splitting open a little farther at the seams.

There is something peaceful in this desolation. Even though there is an almost endless stream of tourists and gawkers driving through to experience the ruin and desperation, the few remaining locals seem to take it in stride. None even paid us any mind while we quietly entered the abandoned homes — some with tax documents tacked on the door stating the back taxes that could be paid to take ownership of these properties. One particularly intact trainer sitting on a nice lot could be had for only $7,000. It made me think.

What would it be like to tell everyone to go fuck themselves, plunk down $7,000 and just move in? I’d guess that on a quiet day, my new neighbors would come by to talk, if only out of curiosity to find out why the hell anyone would move here. Maybe they’d understand that you just get fed up with all the bullshit of life and get to a point where you don’t want to be bothered by anything. Maybe they’d be of the same mind. Maybe you’d stop smelling the dead fish and putrid algae blooms after a few weeks.

People buy lottery tickets so they can dream their way out of their current life. I have too much of an understanding of statistics to buy into those dreams, but the dream of moving to Bombay Beach is a plausible fantasy that I can briefly entertain for at least an afternoon. Sometimes anything can look good when seen in the right light.

For more information, contact Mark Hahn at

All images and content copyrighted 2016 by Mark Hahn with all rights reserved.

High School Echoes


No one who has gone through the high school experience leaves untouched. No matter how old you become, you can’t escape the echoes of the memories that linger in these vacant hallways. You can hear them in any school you enter – like triggers that shoot you down into recognizing that you have never stopped being that kid you were or remembering how you had to walk down all those empty hallways alone while trying to figure out how you could ever find a way out. These photos were taken at the Catalina Magnet High School in Tucson, AZ. I went with my teenage daughter to be with her at an awards ceremony for a regional cosmetology competition she had entered. While we waited for the ceremony to begin, I had time to wander off down the empty hallways and reflect on life and growing up.

Emotionally, I placed myself in the all the old hallways that I had to navigate as a kid. I thought about all the bad decisions I had made along the way. I thought about all the things that I should have done differently. I thought about all the good, bad and ugly moments that I lived through. Then I went to the auditorium and waited for the winners to be announced. My daughter won the gold medal! I was so proud of her that I had tears in my eyes when she went up on stage to get her award.


Unlucky at Cards


It was maybe five years ago when I called my sister and told her that I no longer thought I was lucky. At that moment, I really questioned why I had ever felt lucky in the first place, other than when bad stuff happened, I always thought, “Wow, I’m really lucky this didn’t end up worse.” When I looked back at my life though, I saw so much stuff from my past dragging me down that I either had to chalk it up to bad luck or just take the blame myself for all the bad decisions I had made along the way. There is no escape from some things you do. Life can also just be really hard. I haven’t let it break me though. Mostly, I have to take the blame for most things that I have gotten myself into – if not directly, at least, from lack of trying.

I was always a troubled kid, but when my dad died, I more or less lost all my grounding. I was just a teenage. Looking back, I think I had to try and become my own father for myself somehow. There was just no one else to step in and take his place. I made years of bad decisions. Maybe I wished there was someone out there that would have materialized to rescue me from myself. Maybe it was just a cry for help. Who knows how kids think about things — especially when they’re not thinking. Maybe I just had to prove to myself that there was no one that would come to my rescue. It doesn’t really matter what the reasons are anymore.

Between drugs and the early AIDS epidemic, I knew a lot of people who died when I was young. A friend that I had gone though this time period with once told me, when we met up later in life, that he used to feel lucky that he wasn’t one of the ones who died, but now, in our fifties, he questioned whether they were really the lucky ones. Maybe it would have been better to have just died young — that was the punk attitude we both shared in our youth. Somehow we both made it out though. In spite of all the difficulties, there are plenty of good things I’m glad I stuck around for.

In a desperate relationship with a suicidal girl, I used to have to talk her through all her fits by saying, “Yeah, we can kill ourselves any day, but who knows, there might be something tomorrow that makes it worthwhile to stick around for.” You really never know, no matter how bad things are, there is always something that can make tomorrow worth living for. I’ve had many great tomorrows mixed in with all the other stuff, now perhaps more than ever.

The relationship ended badly. I asked her once after it was all over why she hated me so much. She replied, “If it wasn’t for you, I would have killed myself already. Now it’s too late.” I didn’t know how to respond to this. Maybe she was right. Maybe she was unlucky that she met me. Maybe it was unfair of me to try so hard to help her get through. Maybe I was just doing for her what I had hoped someone would do for me. Everyone has to make their own decisions in life.

My sister told me that the way she saw it, by getting this girl through her own hell, that it is also what got me through my own. That was an interesting thought. Did I subconsciously know this? Who knows. I certainly couldn’t save her without getting myself though. Maybe I don’t have to think about this anymore. It’s been over for a long time. Maybe it’s just part of who I am.

When I was twenty, there was a period where I was perpetually strung out on speed. I almost never slept. I was trying to amass a meaningful body of artwork to leave behind if I somehow didn’t make it — speed jive. I was pretty much alone and throwing myself into my art and writing to keep me going. For some reason, I felt like I had something to offer, even if no one else recognized it. In the end, I probably just wanted to feel like I mattered.

There was a liquor store somewhere near Woodward and McNichols in Detroit. Two gay friends had an apartment on Moss near Woodward, just down the street. This had always been a bad neighborhood. Really bad. I showed up at my friends’ apartment trying to come down off a lot of speed and said, “Let’s get drunk tonight.” I hadn’t slept in days. I figured if I drank enough booze and smoked enough weed, I might be able to get to sleep.

After walking into the liquor store with them, I started counting out the money in my pocket. I was pretty poor — living off Social Security checks from my father’s death benefits. When I saw how broke I was, I had to figure out what was going to get us more drunk. My friends were both on Welfare and didn’t have any cash to pitch in at all — they did have weed though.

While I was trying to do the math and figure out which was a better deal, the pint of 190 proof Everclear or the fifth of 80 proof no name vodka, a fortune teller interrupted me. I couldn’t tell if she was Gypsy or Mexican, but her English was no good. She had an intimidating presence as she demanded, “Let me read your cards.” I smiled and tried to tell her politely that I didn’t want my cards read. Then she tried to bully me into getting my cards read. I guess she needed the money. I still tried to be nice.

I was trying to get her to understand that I couldn’t pay her to read my cards and I looked her in the eyes to make some personal connection, but she seemed to take this as a challenge or an act of mockery. She started telling me all kinds of crazy horrible stuff. Then she started talking in tongues and chanting. It made me feel really anxious. I just wanted to get out of there. I bought a pack of cigarettes and the Everclear.

The cashier told me that the fortune teller had put a really bad curse on me. I asked her what, but she looked over at the fortune teller and seemed afraid to tell me anymore. I tried to tell myself that somehow I could shake it off. Somehow my luck would cancel out the curse, but in my heart I felt like I would never be able to shake it. Who knows. Maybe I never did.

It might have been the bad speed or the lack of sleep, but I instantly felt like I was going out of my mind. My friends were mad at me that I got the Everclear – it tastes like poison no matter what you mix it with. But it was cheap. We all started fighting about petty things. We went back to their apartment and drank the Everclear and smoked some of their weed. It didn’t make any of us feel any better. Tim said there were going to be people at Bookies later that he wanted to see and that we should go too. I said I’d drive. Anything to get out of there.

After we got in the car, I turned down some alley so we could swing back around to Woodward. Someone in the car gasped as my headlights lit up an object in a wheel barrel behind the abandoned building across from my friend’s apartment. I stopped briefly to see what it was. It was a dead guy. He had been shot in the face and his brains had all splattered out the back of his head. He was laying face down in the wheelbarrow. Someone left him like this in the dark alley. Somehow, what sticks in my mind most was how his pants leg had fallen back and exposed his white leg. It shown in the headlights. I shuddered.

Given the neighborhood, it shouldn’t have surprised any of us that much, but you never expect to stumble on a dead guy no matter where you’re at. Also, given our level of shock, it was hard to know if the sounds we heard behind us were gunshots or a car backfiring, but we didn’t stick around to find out. I gunned my Impala and took off through the alley. A large car was instantly chasing us. He flashed his lights at us and was in hot pursuit. He tried to ram us repeatedly. I drove like a maniac through the streets of Detroit.

Detroit was already a dying city. Half the houses in the neighborhood were abandoned. Police were scarce, but I was hoping we found one. I ran every red light and ignored every stop sign. We raced through the ghettos for almost a half hour. Who knows how long. I don’t know how I didn’t crash my car. My driving and the Chevy’s 327 engine somehow got us out of this danger. Maybe we were just lucky. Somehow we had lost the car behind us and were suddenly right in front of Bookies. I don’t know how we got there. When we got out of the car I was shaking. The whole thing felt like it was a dream, only I knew it wasn’t. This was no longer a party. Maybe it was how the first day of a curse feels. Maybe it was just a hint of things to come. The drinks at Bookies also tasted like more poison.

I told a friend at Bookies what had happened and he bought me a few more drinks. Then I got blackout drunk. I don’t remember how I got home, but I did — I guess I was just lucky.

Junkies, drunks and addicts are often the most superstitious people of all. It’s like they have to ascribe all their bad luck on everything outside themselves — as if everything is beyond their control. Also, it puts the junkie in a position to think that if they can just uncover the underlying logic of hex avoidance techniques that they can remain junkies without suffering any of the bad consequences of their choices.

Drugstore Cowboy shows a great example of this junkie logic in Bob’s (played by Matt Dillon) fear of a hat on the bed and bad luck associated with dogs. Was it really the dog or the hat on the bed that did Bob and his friends in or was it just their reckless and lawless junkie lifestyle? I’d say the latter, but as a movie viewer, I choose to suspend belief and think, “If it only hadn’t been for the hat on the bed and all the other superstitious screw-ups, everything would have worked out just fine!” Everyone want to hang their hat on luck and superstition!

Random numbers provide more endless opportunities for superstitious speculation as well — as if everything of importance could be divined from the numbers we stumble across everyday. The amount of change we get back when we buy cigarettes and gum, the final cost when we fill up our car. So many numbers — if only we could correlate them all to our own reality!

But what happens when we get a bad omen in the numbers that come up? A superstitious optimist tries to find alternate combinations that can be derived from the base numbers. If you’re assigned a locker at the train station with the unlucky number of 146 for instance, by adding up the digits you can find the lucky number 11 within it (etc.) — then all is good. Or is it? We have to get by somehow. In the case of the fortune teller’s curse on me, I was at a disadvantage because I didn’t even know the nature of the curse, just that it was supposed to be really bad. There were no tricks to turning this around.

A few years later, the suicidal girl took me for a surprise Tarot reading on my birthday. I didn’t about the plan until I was sitting across from the card reader. I instantly remembered the Detroit fortune teller and got really uncomfortable. It was a tense reading and not very positive. Basically it boiled down to me being told that I had to survive until I was thirty and that things would get better then. I was turning twenty three when the reading was done. What do you do with information like? It was almost like a second curse — even if it was somewhat accurate in describing how things worked out.

I had just gotten gallery representation in Chicago and had high hopes of where this would go — now I had a reading that told me that my real life wasn’t going to even begin for at least six years no matter what I did. Nothing mattered. Why try? I could try to buck the cards just like I tried to ignore the Gypsy’s curse, but the words were said, they were somewhere inside me. I did try at some level, but wondered if the subconsciously if I worked to shoot myself in the foot so the curse and reading would come true.

From Aristotle’s causality to Newton’s clockwork world — with Christianity sandwiched in the middle — Western thought has always been dominated by the drive to figure out what makes things tick. Superstitions (and religion no doubt as well) are just an attempt to put order onto  the seeming disorder of our lives when in reality, the bulk of this comes from the places we put ourselves in. There was no reason I had to be strung out on speed, buying cheap booze in an inner city liquor store in Detroit. I shouldn’t have even crossed paths with that Gypsy fortune teller. I shouldn’t have been driving down that dark alley and I never should have gotten involved with that suicidal girl. These are just a few examples of the thousands and thousands of other things that I did to put myself at risk and luck had nothing to do with the bad outcomes.

Sure, there was nothing I could have done to have changed the fact that my dad was killed by a drunk driver, but the drunk driver could have changed that! Most bad things that happen are a direct result of the choices we all make or the situations we put ourselves into.

I was amazed at how the simple act of getting sober changed things for the better. Life was still hard, but it no longer seemed to be based on luck unless you consider bad choices leading to bad luck. Now I have a pretty clear understanding about what goes wrong and why. Waiting for my luck to change is not where I put my hopes.

A lot of things just aren’t in the cards, they come from the choices we make everyday. Bad choices we’ve made in the past may follow us even into today, but the choices we make today are what take us into tomorrow. I may not feel lucky anymore, but in a sense, I’m happy I don’t feel I need to rely on luck.

Lady Bukowski



“Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.”

― Charles Bukowski

While driving to work this morning, I stopped at a crosswalk and watched a struggling aged alcoholic drunk woman attempt cross the street while staying in the crosswalk lines. She only stumbled outside the lines once or twice, but it was a real effort for her. I thought about how much simpler her life was than mine. She had broken it down into the simplest things: getting to the other side of the street, getting to the liquor store before it closed for the night, making it through the night until the liquor store opened up in the morning when she was dry and taking a shit. There was a time when I was looking for such a simple life, but I failed.

DTs, spinning beds, bloodshot eyes and a pounding head. Hands shaking so bad you can barely pick up a fork to eat your $0.99 breakfast special by the taxi depot. It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world. It was my goal – making it to the point where nothing actually mattered. A point where I didn’t matter. I looked at this woman and knew that she had made it. Sex, pride and love, it had all been thrown away. Her shirt was buttoned out of order and her stomach hung out. She wasn’t fat, but she was barely on the edge of being human – or perhaps, she was completely human. Human, but without a dream in her heart to confuse things. Maybe getting to the other side of the road is really all that matters. Maybe the rest of us have it all wrong.

At the next stoplight I stopped to buy myself a lunch to bring to work. For some reason I found myself walking down the beer and liquor aisle. I looked at the 40 ouncers as I pass. I thought, I could drink one of them and still make it to work. I looked at different brands. I tried to remember which one I would enjoy the most. Then I realized I wouldn’t enjoy any of them, at least not just one.

The magic never happens until you have your 5th. Then there is a brief moment when you feel the promise of feeling good. I’d have the illusion that somehow everything would change. Then I just ended up getting drunk — being a drunk is a lot of work. You have to be the life of the party. You have to prove that you’re having more fun than everyone else. You have to convince yourself that you’re drunk because you’re happier that way. You have to piece the drunken you back together with the undrunken you. It wasn’t about being drunk or being sober, it was about getting drunk – trying to enjoy that brief moment of transition before it was gone. This woman had given up on all of this.

I didn’t buy a beer this morning. I’m still hanging onto my dreams. Life might hurt at times, but the alternative no longer looks better. When I looked at this woman this morning I felt nothing but empathy. Life can take one turn or the other — and then there you are.

A Few Quick Thoughts on Robin Williams, Mental Illness and Creativity

“. . . you’re standing at a precipice and you look down, there’s a voice [in your head] and it’s a little quiet voice that goes, ‘Jump,'” –Robin Williams (2006)

With the massive (mostly) well-meaning flurry of mental illness articles hitting the lines after Robin Williams’ suicide, I cannot help but be struck by how wrong most people commenting on the subject are. When you cut through all the crap, even after an official diagnosis of “bi-polar disorder” is given, there is little that anyone can do about it. Statistically speaking, the most effective “treatments” are sleep, exercise, reduced alcohol/drug usage and a healthy diet. These steps will benefit everyone, bi-polar or not. Psychotherapy and related drug therapies all shake out as almost completely ineffective in the long run.

So why are we as a society so fixated on a “cure?” Why do we need to justify everything as a “disease?” Probably, it has to do with needing to place blame on something other than ourselves. Robin Williams’ difficulties had to do with him being him. It is who he was. Life is a lot harder for some people than it is for others. For these people, some days are even harder still. During one of these, if you lose track of the thread that connects you with something outside your personal darkness, you might not even feel yourself jump. Maybe this is what happened yesterday.

Interestingly, Williams said he was never diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder. He had been treated for addiction and depression during the course of his life, but he was never formally diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder. In spite of this, most the major news organizations are siting this as the cause of his suicide in their headlines. On one hand, this takes the blame away from Williams and implies a failure in the medical community or with his friends and family – someone should have been there, or “cured” him, right? On the other hand, it puts the blame right back on him for not recognizing his problem and seeking treatment – was he just being bullheaded? Not everything can be treated.

None of us have any clue what Williams should have done. He had to make his own choices every day. Obviously, he was very successful in what he did publically in life. It also appears that Williams got a lot of satisfaction from his achievements, but in all his most telling quotes, Williams talks about feeling alone. In the end, his achievements and the accolades he received probably distanced him more from life than connected him to it. His stardom gave him something to do, but when someone feels deeply alone in the world, it is worse than anything else. His fame could not erase this. Many of Robin’s fans don’t seem to understand that they were not there for him in any meaningful way when he was struggling with his depression alone at night.

Williams was known for channeling his manic side into many of his acting roles. People responded to this aspect of his acting – we are all somewhere on someone’s mental illness scale and can relate. Williams ran with this part of himself. Lithium backed up by Thorazine (or some other powerful psycho-med cocktail) would have undoubtedly flat-lined his mood fluctuations temporarily and probably helped him avoid depressive plunges, but would it have left Williams feeling that he was still alive? Maybe the highs Williams experienced and shared with the world in his work were worth living with the lows in the end for him.

There is a saying in medicine that goes something like, “Cure the disease and kill the patient.” In psycho-medicine, the line where you consider the patient “dead” is fuzzy. It’s hard to take the pulse of someone’s spirit. But it is in our spirit where we find what matters most in life. Walking through all the bullshit in this world and not feeling is not living – all the good things in life are things we feel! The good goes with the bad.

Artists, actors and writers in general have a least a threefold increase in the incidence of bi-polar and other serious mood disorders and almost as high an increased rate of suicide when compared to the general population.

I am an artist. When I meet people and tell them about different things that I do, many respond, “You’re so lucky! I wish I could make art (or write or whatever we’re talking about).”

Usually, I just shrug my shoulders and tell them, “It’s more a curse than anything else.”

Happy people don’t typically make art, write or aspire to be a great actor. These are just things some people are driven to do. They can provide someone a way to get out of ourselves. Some people need this. We should all feel happy for Williams for being given so many opportunities to do so much in life that didn’t revolve around his private struggles.

Granted, I never met Robin Williams, just like the majority of other people writing about him after his death, but his death does touch something universal in all of us. It provides a point in history where it is hard not to stop and think about our own lives. Pause a moment to consider what really matters.

There is also something in the way that Williams entered our lives as a comic entity that makes his death feel all the more tragic.

“But only in their dreams can men be truly free.” -Robin Williams playing John Keating in Dead Poets Society

Trail of Dumpsters

trail_of_dumpsters-8I wanted to take my young son out to breakfast before his big musical theater performance. It was one of those father/son moments that is really nothing big, but feels like it is—$2.99 breakfast specials. It’s the kind of thing my grampa would do with me when I was young.

As I held the restaurant door open so we could go inside, I found myself looking around the back of the building at the scrubby desert landscape—it was strewn with dumpsters and neglect. Somehow, no matter where I go in life or where I am, I’m always drawn to places like these.

Maybe it’s the loneliness that fills these places that no one wants to go—the places most people want to forget exist. Maybe it’s just a nice place to go and be alone. Maybe it’s the possibility of a metaphoric action where I can symbolically dump all the stuff that I’d like to forget—have it hauled away by someone else. I’ve got plenty of stuff to fill these dumpsters with.

After I dropped my son off at the theater, I returned to walk this trail of dumpsters. A homeless man whose eyes were as dark and menacing as pits of pure sorrow stepped out and crossed my path. He confronted me both physically and verbally. His words were completely incomprehensible. I don’t know what he wanted. Maybe he was just angry at the whole goddamned world. I didn’t flinch as I walked past him. I felt as firmly in my own world as he was in his.

Sometimes the things you put out are never hauled away. They lie there and rot. You somehow can’t let them go. You somehow can’t walk away from them. You find yourself going back over and over again looking for something new in them. Sometimes you put chairs under the trees so you can just sit and think.

Maybe we’re drawn to the comfort of the known, no matter how bad it is. Maybe it’s just something that we have to show our respects to—like a private moment when you close your eyes and ask a dead loved one’s spirit to know you haven’t forgotten them and that they still mean a lot to you. We all hold things inside that make us cry—our own little pits of sorrow.

When I watched my son singing and dancing in his performance later in the day, I didn’t think about what should be thrown into the dumpsters. Thankfully, we don’t always have to wrap our anger and sorrow into tattered bags and drag them around with us everywhere we go, like the homeless man was doing when he crossed my path with his bag of aluminum cans and rags.

My New Novel Available Now!

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been posting as many photo essays here for the last couple months as I usually do. This is because I was fairly consumed by preparing my novel Spin Round for publication. It’s done and available now in paperback and eBook editions. Check it out and let me know what you think!

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From the back cover:

Sitting in his darkened kitchen—eating dinner alone—Alex Hoffman looks out the back window into the remnants of his domestic life. In the end, all he sees is his own refection in the glass. The empty twenty odd years he spent with his emotionally detached and materialistic wife Hillary weighs on him. By all outward appearances, they look like the picture of success living in their imposing Colonial McMansion nestled in the New England woods. In reality, this illusion is at the brink of exploding.

While the book should be available from all major book sellers at this point, Amazon is currently offering the title at an introductory discounted price — purchase here!

Sending out thanks to all of you for supporting my art and writing efforts!