The Stigma of Googling 'Birthday Suicide'
after Blake Butler
Those x marks in the suicide box are probably what kept us from getting a settlement for his life insurance. Not that I was old enough to understand what life insurance was, I still don’t entirely get the idea, but when I think about it now suicide seems like a ridiculous exception. Death is death, and those left behind could probably use the consolation all the same. Not so much the money, but the assurance that suicide is just as valid a way of dying as, say, a tragic accident. I have life insurance now, for what it's worth, but I’d rather have a life assurance policy. Most people that know me or even kind of know me probably don’t know this about me. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable or that you feel less of me. That’s why I usually don’t offer up this information in conversation because it tends to make people uncomfortable. Not that this is about me, but I carry the torch so to speak. Maybe that’s why I write, though I never come out and say it in so many words. At his funeral, people were crying and acting weird towards me. I had to wear a suit with patches already on the elbows, which made me uncomfortable and self-conscious. Some people told me no words could provide consolation. Others kept saying they didn’t know what to say, which is a stupid thing to say because that’s saying something and that’s the most honest thing there is to say, though it’s better to not say it in the first place. Nowadays I say, “I’m sorry” in similar situations because it’s expected and safe and the easy way out, not because it’s what I feel like saying, which is usually nothing. I didn’t know what was worse, feeling sorry because people felt sorry for me, or feeling sorry because my father wasn’t around anymore. My father was a miserable guy so I figured he chose a happier place. What else was I to think? It was pointless to feel bad about it or wish things were different. I was too young to bitchslap my own father. I hope if you know me and see me you don’t feel weirded out by this sort of talk, which would in turn make me feel awkward and ashamed for even mentioning it. Suicides are not freak isolated incidences. Even birthday suicides probably aren’t. Or maybe they are. Googling now, I see that 1.3% of people die by suicide. I always assumed it was higher than that. Guys are three times as likely to. Living relatives of suicide victims are more likely to. There’s a lot of interesting statistics on this suicidology site. I didn’t even know suicidology was an official word. I wonder what the suicide rate is among suicidologists? There, ‘suicidologist bitchslap’ is now a reverse-engineered googlewhack. Does all this make me a legitimate suicidologist or give me street cred? Is ‘suicidologist’ an oxymoron? I mean, if you’re an expert in the field, shouldn’t you know first-hand what you’re talking about? A revealing stat is that only 1 of 25 suicide attempts is successful. Are people idiots? It’s not that hard if you set your mind to it. My father succeeded on his second attempt. His first try he was rudely interrupted. I think it was also around his birthday, which leads me to believe the birthday connection wasn't incidental. I really didn’t mean to embarrass myself like this. I was just reading Blake Butler’s Birthday piece, and was inspired to write some 1-2 sentence witty remark about it in my 5¢ense Flashes, and then I kept going, and felt compelled to own up to the combination of words ‘birthday’ and ‘suicide,’ and I know enough about search engine optimization to know ‘this’ should all live on it’s own page and that I should use and emphasize the words I want to own a lot so spiders ‘see’ them and consider me the world expert on such word combinations. Though I seriously doubt a human from google will actually ever read this to fact-check this result. To find out whether I’m lying or not about relevancy. Whether this is fiction or nonfiction. What is ‘this’ after all? Is this ‘writing’? Did I just write a ‘piece’ or a ‘work’ without knowing it? Non-required is an appropriate label for what I’m doing, filed under self-help. I woke up this morning thinking I would work on Marsupial, but instead I’m working on ‘this.’ Is this a self-deprecating exposé? Is this what blogging is? The danger in blogging is waking up tomorrow morning and reading what you wrote. Maybe that’s the point of literary magazines, to filter out the stuff that wasn't meant to be read. But then you'd rarely read anything that takes risks. Is this a confessional ‘review’ of Blake Butler’s Birthday? I can quote him a few more times to give it that outward appearance:
The italics are his, but they're mine all the same. In regards to 34, sorry for telling too much. The only people reading this are googlers and surfers. Googly surfers deserve to find out. This is not something I would want to ‘publish’. At least not in some random literary magazine or a book to sell. I'd rather perish, as they say. I’m not sure what drives people to publish in literary magazines. It’s the wrong audience in most cases. I’m not sure what the point of all ‘this’ is except to give people something to read when they weigh their options for ‘birthday suicide’. If Burnside Review is anything like Pom Pom or Sidebrow, they might consider publishing this since it spins off or builds on Butler’s piece. It’s even written in the same sardonic and irreverent tone that the blogster kids in his camp employ. What is that genre and who is their ringleader? It’s the lit-hipster equivalent of Bright Eyes or Elliot Smith. It’s enough to make you kill yourself. I think I read where Tao Lin called it something that seemed to fit this stilted deadpan sadness. Googling now I can’t seem to find the exact term he used. Obviously it didn’t stick. Unless I’m the only one made of Teflon. And yes, I confess to reading Tao Lin’s blog on occassion. I have it bookmarked at work. I suspect he’s the fearless ringleader. Reading reader of depressing books is a guilty pleasure and I usually hate myself afterwards. It’s like catching yourself saying the word ‘like’ when you’re around people that say like a lot. I’m too old to come off sounding all sad-core litster. Feel free to bitchslap me if I do. Me mimicking these kids is like a forty-something year old getting his first tattoo. Shit. There’s no rewind or undo button on this thing called life. The only option is to fast-forward to the end. Call it a midlife crisis, though in my case I never advanced far enough to revert back to anything. John Olson is older than me but he’s still going strong. If I sound remotely like him, I’d take that as a compliment. He’s a pink energizer bunny with bitchslapping credentials. There are essentially three types of people that might google ‘birthday suicide’:
There, I said my piece. And that said, I’m alive and well. Someday I’ll write a book about it, as they say. I started to a few times before I caught myself. I’d rather self-inflict speedballs than sound all pissy and moany like the self-described staggering genius, Dave Eggers. Boo fucking hoo. Bitchslap me if I start to sound like him. Obviously I'm most critical of things closest to me. No one wants to read about your woes just like no one wants to read this. Not that I asked you to read this. You found your way to it. Sorry I’ve been going on too long. This here piece of writing started as a flash and now it’s almost a freaking novel. And I didn’t even get to the story around it. I never told you how the fish was cooked. Maybe if enough people have read this far and are still interested, I’ll turn this into a serialized novella? The opening scene would flash to where I was when I found out about my father. I was fifteen and alone, babysitting some younger kid in Guadalajara, Mexico. I think we were playing space invaders or trying to smoke cloves from the spice rack. My brother called from California to say, “dad’s dead,” in those words. That’s the pitch. From there I had to figure out what to do with this kid and how to get a plane ticket to Portland, Oregon. What really sucked is there’s some law if you’re a minor traveling alone in Mexico where you need your parent’s permission to cross the border from Mexico to the States. My mother was at the beach somewhere incommunicado and you already know the bit about my father. I explained all this to the emigration officer, but he said they needed to see the death certificate, which is how I ended up with a copy of the one above, so I wouldn’t have to go through this again. But obviously I didn’t have it at the time, so I had to bribe this emigration guy. I’m not totally sure about the truthiness of the last sentence. I’ve bribed my way out of a few sticky situations in Mexico though I’m not sure this is one of them. I remember being with my mother once when she bribed a Mexican emigration officer, but that’s a different story. Maybe this emigration officer eventually took pity on me, I can’t say for sure. Memory is not reliable in such circumstances. I was on autopilot. I just remember the self-feeding irony of it—needing something you’re on your way to get but you need it to get there. Besides, if I wrote this story it would be a work of fiction so I could say whatever I want. If I can’t take cover under the fiction umbrella I could open the one that says it’s in the name of art. And don’t be afraid to bitchslap me just because I dragged my personal matters into it. The eventual plane trip was followed by an overnight layover on the cold marble floors of LAX. What sticks out most was this guy trying to sell me stolen watches that he had all up his arm and in his briefcase. He really made an impression on me. I said I didn’t need one and that I was trying to sleep, but he saw that I couldn’t take my eyes off his glinting watches and kept insisting and getting all chummy with me, asking where I was going and I said back to Portland and he said what for and I said my father’s funeral and that shut him up. Should I go on? I’m relying on you to tell me when to stop. Or fast-forward to the end, without passing go, which is the same as speedballs or a birthday suicide.
(c) 2008 Derek White