Today I was going to post about chocolate. In fact, the post is all ready to go with salivation inducing pictures of biscuit crumb freckled ice cream and dark, nugget-shaped biscuits. But something really got to me this week. I was reminded of something I’ve been thinking about for a while and then…
(image from www.screened.com)
I didn’t actually know Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I wasn’t his friend. I don’t really know the first thing about him other than his work and what is written on Wikipedia. I can only assume things and that, of course, is a dangerous game.
What I do know is how I felt when I read of his death. The news, the how, made me sad with a wearying sense of deja vu. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt this way. I’m probably blogger number four million and twenty-one to muse on the topic. But really, why have we been so affected? Is it just because he was famous? Simply because we are celebrity gossip vultures? The bloodier, the messier the news the better? Personally, and this may make me a kind of ‘Pollyanna’, I don’t think that’s the whole of it.
I think we are saddened because Phillip Seymour Hoffman seemed like one of us. He even looked a bit like us. He wasn’t impossibly young (as even some older celebrities seem, to me, to be) he wasn’t perfectly thin or perfectly buff. He wasn’t perfect at all. And he wasn’t flashy. He didn’t possess the seemingly obligatory set of bright, white, Hollywood teeth. He seemed…and I think this is the key…vulnerable. Happy, at times, but as though he might not deserve it; worried it could soon be snatched away. Funny, but unsure if others thought so. Puzzled, saddened, stunned perhaps; knowing he should probably ‘buck up’ and get on with it, knowing that no-one is going to feel sorry for a guy that earns reasonable money and wins an Oscar…right? In Hoffman I think we see something of ourselves – our blessed, burdened, startled, talented and terrified selves.
Hoffman’s death reminded me of this great TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert (which I have posted before, apologies). Gilbert speaks about creativity and success and the life of a creative person and how, in this individualistic society of ours, we place a very heavy burden on our artists – the burden of complete and total responsibility. If we like your work today then we’ll give you a naked golden guy and treat you like a God. If we don’t like your work tomorrow then look forward to anonymous online reviews; we’ll tear you into teeny, tiny pieces. Creating for a living is a wonderful-terrible kind of a job. A writer I know recently referred to writing as “shitty – like a hangover or some kind of illness that sends you slowly mad”. But she also said that when the going was good it was amazing. She knows the rules regarding complaining about a creative job – you’d better not act too ungrateful about it. Other professions get to have a moan but isn’t your job choice somewhat…um…self indulgent? How quickly can you tweet #firstworldproblem? Oh, and if you wind up making good money or have success or look good or seem a bit too big for your boots then, we’re not sorry, your license to receive any kind of compassion will be revoked.
On one post about Hoffman’s death I noticed someone, in frustration, calling him “an idiot”. Hmmmm. I don’t know anything about Hoffman’s personal struggles and trials but I do feel empathy for him (and the people that did actually know and love him). And I do know that some days are just plain hard, regardless of your blessings. Some days are very, very lonely. Some days your burdens feel so burdensome you’d do almost anything to have them vanish for a moment. And you try – with drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, fantasy, obsession, exercise, food… dear food… – to escape. Don’t say you haven’t.
Of course I’d like to conclude with some kind of remedy / antidote but unfortunately I don’t have one. Please feel free to send me yours. All I know is that sometimes it is hard and sometimes it is lonely and that my next post, I promise, will be about chocolate.
HUGS, Hannah x
P.S. Here’s a way to support a fellow artist. My friend, Sarah Belkner, is making an album. If you pledge her money she’ll give you cool stuff. Which makes it like shopping only waaaay awesome-er (and compassionate and community-minded).