alcoholism

Media’s Terrible Tribute to a Talented Man

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Yesterday the world lost a talented, warm, humble, funny, and wonderful man. Robin Williams was such an incredible person on all accounts. There have already been countless people who have written more poignant and beautiful tributes than I could have done myself. I won’t try to write about Robin’s career and legacy. It speaks for itself. I will say he has had a huge impact on me through the years, as I’m sure he has had on most people. I saw someone say they have never been so impacted by the death of someone they have never met, and I could not agree more.

Since he has been such a huge inspiration to the world, every media outlet is writing about him. Even the Los Angeles Times had his picture and story on the front page today, paying homage to a person we all loved and adored. However, some headlines are addressing the topic in a different way. Rather than focusing on the legacy Robin leaves behind, they are taking advantage of a terrible situation for publicity and attention.

Radar Online posted a picture of Robin at an AA meeting a couple months ago. I won’t post a link to the picture because it doesn’t deserve any more views. It is clearly taken by a patron of the meeting with a cell phone. It’s unclear if he even knew the picture was being taken, but he probably didn’t. I understand that the person taking the picture was probably excited to see someone they admired and respected, just like we all would be. However, it is still wrong. I’m mostly offended that Radar Online decided to post the picture.

This picture is a violation of Robin’s privacy, as well as the privacy of everyone else in the picture. It is still a violation of everything AA stands for. It is sickening to know that we live in a culture that values knowledge of a public figure’s personal life over respect for them as a human being.

Imagine living with depression, or addiction, or another mental illness while under a microscope. We live in a culture where paparazzi sit outside rehab facilities hoping to catch a celebrity checking in. They prey on public figures, hoping to catch them at their worst. Media outlets, like Radar Online, will buy pictures that are wrongfully taken in a place founded on trust and anonymity.

We require so little of our media today. No one holds them accountable for the impact their words and pictures can have on people. As a culture, we have decided that any and all stories can be printed under “free press” despite the negative impact it can, and does, have on people. The press prints fabricated (and downright untrue) stories every day. The press prints pictures of minors (without parental consent) every day. The press prints any and everything that will bring them attention, without consequence.

Radar Online should be ashamed. It was irresponsible, in poor taste, and inappropriate. They were hoping to get the most hits on their website as people dig for more proof that Robin was struggling in recent months, as if his death isn’t proof enough.

If you were struggling with depression/addiction/mental illness, imagine how hard it is to reach out for help. It’s nearly impossible, especially when dealing with something as debilitating as depression. In my experience, many people are hesitant to reach out for help because they don’t want to disappoint their loved ones. Now imagine that feeling magnified by a million because you are a public figure. Reaching out for help means your face will be on every magazine. The headlines will talk about your struggle in detail, and people you don’t even know will make assumptions about your battle. You get calls from your publicist, from friends, from family. Everyone knows. You wonder if it will impact your ability to work again. You wonder if it will impact your relationship with your family. You wonder if therapists, doctors, counselors, will sell what you said in private to the media. You wonder if you can trust anyone with your real feelings. It is not surprising that someone who is constantly surrounded by people can feel completely alone.

“Free press” is no longer a good thing if it’s used to tear people down. We have taken the humanness out of our public figures by treating them like a spectacle. We believe we are entitled to know the details of their lives. But these are real people. Real human beings with fears, hopes, families, and struggles.

I don’t know Robin’s story, but I do know depression is something many people deal with. It is something that cannot be handled alone. Maybe the media culture had nothing to do with what happened to Robin. Maybe it did. All I know is we should have more respect for him than this. His legacy, his body of work, his philanthropy, his family; those are things worth writing about.

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They are just a pair of stairs

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They are just a pair of stairs that I walked on everyday.

Where my dogs would jump and yelp to welcome me home. They lead to a little white house in the middle of the country. They are worn and creaky, the way old wood gets over the years. It is where I fell and scraped my knees countless times and stayed out on summer nights with a good friend by my side. Where I rode my bike and played catch with the neighbors. Where I called home.

It is just a winding road that curved through our little town. Tractors carrying freshly cut golden hay often blocked the way, signifying summer. The neighbors wave as you pass. Neighbors are more like friends, and friends are more like family.

It is just old dirt path that leads to a pond. The one with algae, frogs, and a few fish. The one my best friend dared me to jump into. I obliged and cannon balled in without hesitation. It became the weekend place to meet, swim and throw mud at each other, laughing until the sun set behind the trees and it was time for dinner.

It is just a plain tree house that became whatever I dreamed up that day. There were princes and princesses, cowboys and Indians, and even the occasional fairy to keep me company. I protected it with sticks that became swords and rocks that became cannons.

It is just a plaid couch that I sat on everyday. It resided in the living room where forts were built, VHS tapes were watched, and the Christmas tree was put every year. There were countless spills, scrapes, and stains from the years, but it gave it character and love.

It is just an old kitchen with linoleum floors. Where I would sit in the morning, soaking up the heat from the floor vent. Where my mom made dinner every evening, navigating the small stove like an expert. Where I would come home, sit on the counter and chat with her about my day.

It is just a small garage where there was no room for a car. It had a television that connected to our three channels. It was where my dog had eight black lab puppies and they learned to walk. On the side hung the basketball hoop that entertained my brother and I for hours. It was where my mother would spend her evenings, the warm summer air tainted by the cigarette smoke, her breath wreaking of alcohol.

It is just an angel painting that hung on the living room wall. It watched us go through the years and live our lives. It saw me learn how to draw, read and write. It saw me have my first crush and my first heartbreak. It was there during the intervention and watched my heart break in a way no boy could cause.

It is just a white car. One I cherished because it meant freedom to a 16-year-old. It was often filled to the brim with friends and dogs as we headed out to the lake. I felt both freedom and heavy guilt the day I packed the trunk with my clothes, unsure if I would ever be back again. And I wouldn’t be.

It is just a small bedroom where I read my books and framed my pictures. Where each item in my room meant something to me, from the golden bear my grandma gave me, to my best friend necklace hanging on a hook, to the red walls I painted myself. It was just a room, but it was abandoned the day I left my home forever. The bear, the necklace, and the red walls untouched.

It is just a blue house in the middle of the city. It felt foreign and empty, lacking in life. It was home to strangers, one of them who shared my blood. I would call him Dad, but I could never call this home.

Home is a little white house in the middle of the country. Where neighbors are like friends, and friends are like family.

I wonder sometimes if going back there would help me feel whole again.

But they are just a pair of stairs.