Posts Tagged ‘death’

Aokigahara forest.

On December 31st, YouTube star Logan Paul visited Aokigahara, a forest in Japan that is visited by thousands of tourists, families, and school trips, but has a dark side. Aokigahara is a popular suicide spot, to the point that its nickname is Suicide Forest. The Japanese government has even posted signs throughout the forest encouraging visitors to choose life rather than take their own lives. While there, Paul and his friends came across a hanging body, filmed it, and posted the video on YouTube (the body’s face was blurred out). The video quickly went viral, garnering a lot of negative controversy. Within a day, Paul took down the video, and issued an apology over Twitter, but people are still very upset and there has been a lot of talk online about his actions.

Before I get into the main thrust of what I wanted to talk about with this post. Firstly, I am about to talk about a sensitive subject, and I am going to approach this with as much care and respect as possible. Still, I am an imperfect being and I make mistakes, like everyone. So if I say something that offends you or that you disagree with, please understand that is not what I intended. I’m just trying to make sense of a difficult topic in a world that doesn’t make sense that often, and sometimes I miss things that cause misunderstanding between others and myself without meaning to. So please bear with me as I try and explore a topic that a lot of people have strong opinions about.

Second, there are two things about me I would like to tell you all. One is that I have experienced depression before, and a couple of times it made me think of suicide. Those times when I considered suicide, it was because I had toxic people in my life who made me miserable. I still remember the crushing despair, the feeling that things were never going to get better, and the thought that I could just make it all better by leaving this life and falling into–I don’t know. Something better. It took the extraction of these toxic people in my life, as well as the help of a lot of good friends and family to help me find happiness and hope again.

The Yahrtzeit candle I lit at Sachsenhausen.

The other thing I would like you to know is that back in 2014, I visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp twenty-two miles north of Berlin as part of my study-abroad trip. Around thirty-thousand people died at that camp while it was operational. When I arrived, it struck me as a very tranquil place. There was lots of grass and trees, the sun was shining, and there were only a few buildings left from when the camp was operational. But you spend enough time there, and this pall of despair settled over me. It was like the prisoners had felt over seventy years ago had seeped into my very body. An hour there, and it was just hard to even breathe there. I lit a Yahrtzeit candle, a ritual candle in Judaism for memorializing the dead, at a wall used by firing squads. And when I left, I was glad to get out of that anguish-infected place, even as I was glad to have visited a place connected to the history of my people.

Now to the point of why I’m writing this blog post. You see, a month before I went to Sachsenhausen, I wrote a blog post about haunted locations I wanted to visit, and Aokigahara was on that list (even before it became a suicide hotspot, the forest was well-known as a place for hauntings, hence why it was on the list). Given that, I feel like I have a responsibility to talk about this controversy, as well as my desire then, and now, to visit Aokigahara.

Obviously, what Logan Paul did was extremely disrespectful, the equivalent of taking a photo of the corpse at a funeral, or a selfie at Auschwitz or at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. It shows total disregard for the deceased and their loved ones in favor of quick-lived social media attention, and should be discouraged at every opportunity.

However, there is nothing wrong with wanting to visit Aokigahara in itself (hold your comments, let me finish). As I pointed out above. Aokigahara is visited every year for totally innocent reasons. However, no matter what reason you go to visit the forest, it should be done with respect. Any death is horrible, and suicides are especially tragic. We can never know what is going through someone’s mind or what is happening in their lives, let alone someone dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. Not unless we’ve been there ourselves, and sometimes not even then. But in every case, it is terrible, and shouldn’t be treated lightly.

With that in mind, anyone who visits the forest should do so with respect and cognizance for what has happened there, the same same way I approached visiting Sachsenhausen. Be respectful of what has happened and is happening there, understand that depression, suicide, and the forest itself has affected a lot of people in horrible ways, and if God forbid you do come across a body, leave it alone and notify the authorities. Only take photographs or footage if it is to help the authorities find the deceased, not for views or likes or whatever. Other photographs can be taken of the forest, or of the tourist attractions there such as the Narusawa Ice Cave and Fugaku Wind Cave, but definitely not of the bodies.

Remember, 1-800-273-TALK.

This is how, if I am ever lucky enough to visit Japan and I end up visiting Aokigahara, I will approach the forest. Not for ghosts, not for likes, and definitely not for suicide, but to pay respects to the dead and to draw attention to the ongoing struggle of suicide the world over. I may even bring a Yahrtzeit candle or some incense to burn, provided I can make sure it won’t cause a forest fire or injuries. Because what happens in this forest is a tragedy, and should be treated as such, no matter who you are or what your background is. Even as I enjoy the beauty of the forest and the tourist sites, I will remember these people, and hope they find rest, even as I hope others find the will to continue on and live.

And if you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, please know that things do get better. There were times when I thought my life couldn’t get better, but it did, and now, my life is great. And if you keep living, there’s always a chance your life could get better too. Every day is an opportunity for improvement. All it takes is the will to continue on. I support you, I’m there for you, and I hope you take this message to heart.

And again, if I said something wrong or caused offense, I beg your forgiveness. It is not my intention to cause any hurt feelings. I only want to make sense of something horrible and help those in troubled times. Thank you for reading.

If you’re dealing with suicidal thoughts, please also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The counselors there will help you through this crisis, and help you find the light to fight off the darkness.

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Rest in peace, Wes Craven. You will be missed.

The word craven means “lacking in courage; cowardly.” I’m hard-pressed to find a man who embodied the exact antithesis of the meaning of his last man, and who instead managed to pass it onto the rest of us. Wes Craven was a filmmaking genius, a horror maestro who helped to create some of our most iconic movie monsters, including Freddy Kreuger and Ghostface. It is with great sadness that I have to admit that he passed yesterday after a lengthy battle with brain cancer at the age of 76.

I remember the first time I watched the original Nightmare on Elm Street. I was somewhere in my teenage years, and I was in my dad’s basement watching it on DVD. From the very beginning the movie set itself apart from other horror movies I’d seen in the past. The small box displaying Freddy preparing his trademark clawed glove, as if he were coming out of a long retirement to start some marvelous work again. That first dream sequence and death, and everything that came after it. Nightmare was visceral, it was scary, and at the end you wondered what was dream and what was reality, or if maybe they were all one and the same. For a guy who hadn’t had that much exposure to the horror classics of the 1980s (I might’ve only recently turned seventeen at that time and gotten access to my library’s collection of 80’s horror, most of which was rated R), it knocked me off my feet and made me want more.

You see, horror is my drug, and the Nightmare movies were really good blow. In Wes Craven, I’d found a powerful dealer, someone who could give me what I needed when I needed my horror fix. I would later find terror when I saw the Scream movies, and quite a few more (I really liked what he did with the North American remake of Pulse). You could go to him and usually he could provide the goods. Occasionally Craven produced some bad stuff—every filmmaker does occasionally, and in horror bad stuff is pretty common—but on the whole he did great work.

And how did Craven feel about these many fans, these people who saw him as a person who fed their inner desires for terror and probably gave more than one child nightmares for the rest of his or her life? To use his own words, “I come from a blue-collar family, and I’m just glad for the work. I think it is an extraordinary opportunity and gift to be able to make films in general, and to have done it for almost 40 years is remarkable…If I have to do the rest of the films in the [horror] genre, no problem. If I’m going to be a caged bird, I’ll sing the best song I can…I can see that I give my audience something. I can see it in their eyes, and they say thank you a lot. You realize you are doing something that means something to people.”(1)

Indeed Mr. Craven. You did something to many people. You gave us iconic characters like Freddy or Ghostface to haunt our dreams. You helped launch the film careers of Johnny Depp, Sharon Stone, and Bruce Willis (no seriously, he did). And you inspired generations of horror fans, from your protégé Nick Simon, whose new movie The Girl in the Photographs will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month, to me, a self-published novelist who, while not exactly famous yet, is working hard to create his own stories that maybe one day will scare people far and wide.

So while you may no longer be with us in Mr. Craven, you are very much alive. Like one of your creations, you haunt us in our imaginations and our dreams, making those you inspired take to their pens or computers and create their own wonderful nightmares. And as long as people fear Freddy or Ghostface or those Hills that have Eyes, you will continue to walk among us, leaving your mark wherever you go and giving us our fix when we ask for it.

So tonight, I will raise a toast to Wes Craven, a man with a vision, taken from us when we didn’t want him to go. I will get online and see if I can get a fix from one of his movies. And then soon, possibly tomorrow, I will get to work on my next terrifying creation and hope your ghost whispers in my ears while I do.

Dr. Angelou, reading her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s 1993 inauguration.

As I booted up my laptop today and logged onto the Internet from my hotel room in Germany, I was greeted by the most depressing news: author, poet, activist, and just plain wonderful human being Dr. Maya Angelou had passed away. Dr. Angelou, who had been teaching at Wake Forest University since 1982 and was a prolific writer and poet throughout her life, had been experiencing health problems recently and had had to cancel several scheduled events because of it. She was 86 years old at the time of her passing.

Immediately I felt  a horrific sense of loss. I never met Dr. Angelou, nor have I read as much of her work as I’d have liked to. But I remembered very vividly reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings one summer for school a few years back, along with The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Both books impacted me very deeply and I remember feeling powerful emotions reading Dr. Angelou’s book as I read the events based on her early life experiences, sadness and sympathy and anger and several others depending on what story she was relating to me through her words. It left a very deep impression on me.

And so when I heard that Dr. Angelou had died, I immediately felt the loss that people around the world are probably feeling at this moment. I took to Facebook to write that the world has lost a guiding light in Dr. Angelou, that her passing was swift and painless, and that her memory, words and deeds will last for centuries. But somehow I felt it wasn’t enough, so I decided to write this post about her as soon as I could. Hence this post you are reading now.

Dr. Angelou was an influence for good throughout the world. She worked her way up from a variety of jobs, including a cook, prostitute and nightclub dancer, to become a writer and journalist. Active in the Civil Rights movement, she worked with both Dr. King and Malcolm X, and has also influenced the feminist movement. Her writing has been hailed as “a work of art that eludes description”, and helped bring memoirs from African-American women writers from the margins of literature to the forefront. She made on average eighty public appearances a year, even as she reached her eighties, and was given numerous doctorates and awards, including reciting a poem of hers at President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2011. In addition to poetry and autobiographies, Dr. Angelou wrote plays, screenplays for TV and film, essays, cookbooks, children’s books, spoken word albums, and also did acting and directing work on stage and in film and TV.

But most importantly, she gave people a voice. Dr. Angelou gave voices to many African-Americans, women, and others who had been pushed to the margins of society. Caged Bird, probably Dr. Angelou’s most famous autobiography, has been translated into many different languages. This is not only a testament to the popularity of the book, but also to how relatable it is to people of other nations and cultures, how many different peoples can relate to Maya’s own struggles and see it in themselves, or in their people’s struggles. Some have even credited it with allowing black women writers to finally have center stage in the world of literature, instead of on the side where for far too long they’d been ignored and underappreciated.

President Obama said a few hours after the news came out of Dr. Angelou’s death that she reminded us “we all have something to offer”. Whether it be in words (written or oral), in action or just in being there for someone, we all have something to offer. Dr. Angelou offered many a voice, a way to speak about the struggles of the underappreciated and marginalized. Her words resonated with many throughout her lifetime, and I’m sure that they will continue to do so for years to come. And as the years go by, as Dr. Angelou’s works are read and dissected and discussed and debated by readers of all kinds and stripes, as movie adaptations and TV specials and new stories and poems recreate her for a new generation, and as the occasional politician or news commentator tries to appropriate her legacy for some political cause or another, I hope that one fact shines through it all, that she gave the world her voice, and allowed others to speak through it and with it.

And speaking of having something to offer, I decided on the spur of the moment to create a tribute video to Dr. Angelou. It’s not very good, and at the very most it showcases that I’m slowly getting more comfortable with video-making on computers (a valuable skill these days, it seems). But the song I put in, “Bye Bye” by Mariah Carey, is heartfelt and speaks to the emotions of many, and I think it shows my sincerity. What do you think?


You know. about five or six days ago, Dr. Angelou sent out this tweet:

I think this tweet says a lot about Dr. Angelou, because it seems that her words were definitely sent by somebody to make a difference in the world.

So to all those who were close to Dr. Angelou in life, I wish you my deepest condolences. To those who only knew her through her words, her reputation, or through her actions and influence in the world, you probably feel the same as I and many others do: like we’ve all lost someone important. And to the good Dr. Angelou herself, wherever you may be, I hope you’re doing well and that you know that your legacy will continue to influence and help us all for years to come. Thank you.