Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams

I held back the tears from the moment I heard that Robin Williams had died, in what had been an unconfirmed report of suicide. I held them back while I was with friends, and while I was in public, until I was too tired to cry.

He was a man whose movies had helped shape my childhood. I knew him for Mrs. Doubtfire, for Patch Adams, for Jack, for Jumanji. He was a father, a healer, a misunderstood child, a lost hero. He was the boy who was never meant to grow up, a teacher, a doctor.

In the end, he was a husband, a father, a comic genius, and he was suffering.

Depression takes people to strange place. For some, it can mean the difference between a productive day, or staying in bed until the sun sets all over again. For others, it can mean sadness at every incident in the day, tears held back only for as long as someone else is looking. For others still, it can cloud the mind to reality, blocking out the bright lights of family and friends and loved ones, until the person gives in to something bigger than himself - alcoholism, drug abuse, suicidal ideation.

It can happen at any moment in our lives. It can affect teachers, doctors, lawyers, builders, actors. Whatever form it takes, depression leaves a path of ruin and wreck in its wake, a path that's visible only in hindsight in many cases.

No one could have predicted that Robin Williams would die by suicide.

Let it just be said: someone who dies by suicide is not being selfish. From idea to act, it is cruel to everyone it affects. From a mind plagued by the thought of it, to the family left behind after it, suicide hurts. Anyone who dares to say otherwise who has never suffered from suicidal ideation is only contributing to the hurt of loss felt by the mourners and grievers.

In many ways, Robin Williams was a lucky man. Though he met a tragic end, he gave the world the greatest gifts any human being could ever give. He gave us hope, and laughter, profound joy and wisdom in equal measure. He was adored by millions, and I have no doubt that he knew it, and he will be missed sorely.

He will be missed while people watch a lonely man attempt to reach out to his family again. He will be missed while a medical student plays a clown in an attempt to alleviate the suffering of his patients. He will be missed when a young boy in a grown-up's body makes friends and comes to terms with his mortality. And he will be missed when a man ripped from this world tries to protect those who brought him back.

Robin Williams was - and still is - many things, to many people, and it is only right that when we think about him, we remember his work, the joy he brought to so many people, the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eye. His death is tragic and terrible, but if we are to focus on it, it should be in light of making the world a better place for other people who suffer from a mental illness. Like a star in the night sky, Robin Williams light can still shine on for years to come.

At this time, we are right to mourn, and the world needs to give his family that opportunity, and its support.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams.

Helplines: (Courtesy of, amended)
Samaritans 116 123 or email 
Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide bereavement)
1Life 1800 247 100 or text HELP to 51444 - (suicide prevention)
Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)
Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email - (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)
Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Two on the Go!

I'm a reader. If you don't know that by now, you really don't know me. I love books - which is a good thing, too, considering I work in a bookshop - and I often find that one is never enough.

No, I have to have two on the go at all times. That's how I do it. One novel or memoir, and one book of non-fiction - usually one on business or writing or personal development. (The latter being an incredibly vague descriptor for a genre. Some are total mindset books that lead you to take action, some are totally practical books that attempt to alter your mindset through method, some rely on spirituality - the variants are seemingly endless.)

The main thing is that I don't attempt to juggle two stories at the same time. Anecdotal stuff in a non-fiction book is fine - it can help to illustrate a point - but I prefer not to mix the stories up in my head while reading them.

Here's how I do it:

The story I'm reading - at this moment in time, It's Kind of a Funny Story, is reserved for my lunch breaks in work, and bus journeys, when I'm not too tired to read. When I start college, that guarantees me two hours of reading per week, when I'll only work weekends. That's a minimum, because I'll probably make more of an effort to read on the bus when I love the extra day in work for reading.

I use this time for reading stories because I enjoy the escape, and I like to unwind with them. But there's another reason, and it's why I read the non-fiction books at home, in my personal time and space - I don't feel like I'm wasting time by reading non-fiction at home.

Let me clarify - fiction is not a waste of time. But when I'm at home, I'm presented with an option - my fiction, or someone else's. It's a better use of my time when I use it for (a) writing or (b) developing myself, my writing knowledge, or my business knowledge.

When I read non-fiction, my current book being Get Sh*t Done! by Niall Harbison, I think of it as investing my time in learning something important. In the case of my current read, it's using someone else's life lessons to develop a means towards living the life that I want - not the life other people want for me.

That's a different lesson to the previous book on my list - Creativity Inc. - which shed some light on how to run a creative business. This was, of course, in the context of a company with employees, and not a solo operation. However, there's something to remember here, about education and learning: while authors and teachers have their own intended learning outcomes, students may come out of the experience learning something else. In my case, how to better work on a creative team.

Why is that important? Well, my college course will require a lot of creative work with other people, people from different backgrounds, people I haven't even met before.

Do I have a book on how to better improve my people skills before then? Yes. Of course I do. I also have a book on how to feel more alive, one on dealing with change, one of being more effective, and one on public speaking - just in case I need to make a presentation. Those lessons are all valuable uses of my time, and I wouldn't be surprised if I found myself dedicating a lot more time than usual to reading them in an effort to draw some inspiration before my course begins.

But I won't just be reading those books. I'll be juggling some stories, like Maureen Johnson's The Last Little Blue Envelope, or Josh Sundquist's Just Don't Fall, or David Levithan's How They Met, or Darren Shan's Zom-B Clans - that's one novel on love and growing up and stuff, one memoir on growing up (with, and then without, cancer), one collection of short stories, and one zombie novel. Those are just the ones I think I can finish before college, comfortably, before I tackle Clash of Kings by George RR Martin.

This type of reading isn't sustainable, of course. There will come a time when I'll be forced to choose one or the other - and switching between the two as it suits me - because I'll have to read specific titles for college. But, while it's an option, it's the best one for me. Diversity in reading is important, and when I see people purposely choosing to avoid books that (a) have a story or (b) don't, I wonder if they've ever really given it a shot. I like to learn something new, and usually about something I wouldn't ever study in school or college (because, frankly, I don't think it's possible to grade somebody on something like personal growth), and I like to expose myself to new stories all the time.

Stories help us to develop a sense of empathy and understanding. That's one type of valuable lesson, and it's why I still write fiction when the truth of it has been revealed (the truth being that it's very difficult to make a living from writing fiction) - I believe that people can get something from reading lots of different types of stories, and that the exposure to new ideas and new people (albeit fictional ones) allows us to live a more open life.

At the same time, I believe that if we want to change our lives, we should. Society has this weird stigma attached to being different, and even when so many people read what are broadly described as "personal development" or "self-help" books, many people still look at them and wonder why they're reading something like that. (I used to. I'm speaking from experience here. My perception changed when I realised that I needed to.) Why do personal development books matter? Why should people care about what different people have to say about how to live life, or be happy, or run a business? Because we all live different lives and we can all learn from each other

If you don't know how to escape the 9-5 job, someone else has probably already written a book about it. If you don't know how to influence people towards your way of thinking, someone else can probably explain how they do it. If you don't know how to do more with your life that you actually want to do, someone has probably written a book about it. (In fact, books do exist on those three topics - The Four Hour Work-Week, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Get Sh*t Done! being the prime examples!)

I'm a reader, and while I still have the option, I'm going to continue taking on two books at a time. I'm not doing it because I think it'll make me a better person - I can change as a person, if I follow the lessons in the book, not just by reading it - but because it makes me a happier person. Reading is a pleasure, and whether I'm learning something new, or meeting new characters, I'll always find joy in a book (or two.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Clean Up in Aisle 11!

Facts for context:

1. I still live at home with my parents.
2. At 23, still living at home with my parents, I still sometimes act like a teenager.
3. Teenagers aren't always known for tiny bedrooms.
4. I moved from the biggest bedroom in the house to the smallest.
5. I made that move in a day.
6. At one point, I had no floor-space because everything was dumped in the room.

All of that in mind, you will be please to know that I have actually tidied my room! This might not seem like such a big deal, but when you look at how I was living up until a few days ago, you'll see why this is so important for me.

For me to access my desk - which is where I sit when I'm using my laptop to write, or record/edit videos, or do anything else laptop-related - I had to:

1. Move everything off the floor and onto my bed, to access the chair. This included: a laptop bag, a backpack, two cameras, a portable DVD player, three boxes (two of which were empty!), a pile of books, a bag of stationary, a pile of folded up jeans, a pile of sheets and printed articles, and a birthday present.

2. With my access to the chair secured, I then needed to move a laptop tray from the chair. However, on this laptop tray was a pile of: magazines, notebooks, newspaper supplements, folders of various sizes accessories for the DVD player, and a belt. This required moving two, increasingly wobbly, piles of items to the bed.

3. With the chair cleared, I then had to move a pile of notebooks from the desk to - you guessed it - the bed, so I would room on the desk for just about anything else.

All in all, it took at least five minutes to do it, and I had to put it all back at the end of the night to get into bed. That's not good. That's very much not good. The amount of effort it took to access my desk meant that I didn't even bother half the time. Translation: I didn't use my laptop an awful lot of the time. This is the primary reason I didn't finish my novel last month, because I had created a physical obstacle to work.

So, I fixed it. I still have the laptop tray on my chair, but it now only holds the cameras and the DVD player. One easy move. If I want to clear the floor, I only have a couple of bags to move - one of which contains the birthday present, which won't be around for much longer. I can now easily access my laptop. But I didn't stop there.

Because I had to clear the way to the laptop, it meant I also had to put a lot of stuff away. Every magazine is now stored properly under my bed. In fact, everything that didn't belong in the open, has been put away, and my bookshelves have been re-organised.

The process took me just over an hour - because I was rushing to finish by noon yesterday - and it means I can now easily find my books on business, personal development, writing, and mental health. Plus, all the fiction I want easy access to is either on the main shelves, or on the easiest to of the secondary shelves at the end of my bed. (Those books can't really be seen, because of how close the shelves are to the bed. Which is where a lot of the books I wanted to access were stored!)

All in all, the room feels cleaner, I can relax more easily in it, and I know that whenever I want to read a book from my shelf, I don't have to look very hard to find it. I may still sometimes act like a teenager, but finally I'm starting to treat my bedroom like I'm an adult. And by bedroom, I mean bedroom-cum-office. I think I'm going to need a bigger room.