The Hemingway Solution – that’s a title for a short play idea I’ve had – the Hemingway Solution is of course suicide. There’s always, “the Hemingway solution” so says one of my characters in my, as of yet, unwritten play.
Thoughts of death and suicide are not abnormal. We’re mortal after all. It would be strange not to ponder our own mortality. And once you have an adult mind you can imagine all sorts of “what if” possibilities. “What if I could fly?” “What if I had magical powers?” “What if aliens are already among us?” “What if I am an alien?” “What if I died?”
But there’s a difference between thinking about suicide in a casual “what if” way and being suicidal. Those are two very different things. And right now there’s seems to be a more urgent need to talk about suicide because suicide rates are on the rise. In the United States, for example, over the last twenty years, CNN reports that twenty-five States have experienced a rise in suicide rates of more than 30% according to statistics released by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s the thing. We’re not supposed to talk about suicidal thoughts – that’s taboo. Especially if you’re a man. It means you’re weak, right? And unfortunately, if you don’t talk about it and you don’t get the help you need the end result could be deadly. And that’s why we need to talk about Anthony Bourdain.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Anthony Bourdain, as have a lot of people, over the last couple of weeks. I knew about him – but I’d never read any of his books or watched any of his shows – that is – until yesterday. Yesterday I tuned into CNN and watched the last episode of Parts Unknown where Bourdain travels to Bhutan. It was a fascinating glimpse into a really interesting country and a totally different way of life. The thing about Bourdain’s shows, which you probably already know and I didn’t, is that they’re not just about food. They’re really about people and culture. The food is the doorway, and if I had to sum up his style and approach I’d call it authentic and truthful. Maybe that’s why Bourdain comes across as so likable. He’s not pretentious. He loves food. He loves people. He loves going to far-away places.
And that’s what struck me most after I watched these shows was Bourdain’s genuine curiosity and interest in other people. That’s something we share. You see I’m interested in the creative impulse and what drives people. That’s why I’ve started doing interviews as part of my blog. I talked with playwright Meredith Taylor-Parry about her play Survival Skills which deals with the aftermath of suicide and was produced a few years back Off-Broadway. I also talked to Dale Lee Kwong about her cultural coming out story Ai Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets which ran at Lunchbox Theatre this year. And most recently I interviewed actor and playwright Braden Griffiths who is the president of The Betty Mitchell Awards Committee about the Betty Awards and theatre in Calgary.
So watching Bourdain has inspired me to do more interviews and dive deeper but I’m also going to watch more Anthony Bourdain and in particular, I’m going to watch his show about Hong Kong. Why? Because this show according to Bourdain was the professional highlight of his career. That’s what he told Anderson Cooper at CNN. That’s what he wrote in a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter called, My Cinematic Dream Filming With Asia Argento and Christopher Doyle in Hong Kong which was published just six days before his death. Doesn’t that just hit you in the gut? Here he is saying this is what I’ve been reaching for professionally all my life and a few days later he kills himself. I don’t know if there’s a connection between the two but I so wish someone had been there – that at that dark moment in his life he hadn’t found himself alone.
Because we all face dark days. We all face times when we need a friend. But, how are you supposed to help someone when they won’t talk about their feelings or ask for help? You need to be sensitive to changes in their behaviour and routines. Those can be clues to how they’re feeling and if you suspect a friend or family member is depressed or suicidal then ask them how they’re doing. And then listen. Don’t judge. Just listen. And then urge them to talk to a healthcare professional and get the help they need.
NOTE: I wrote the original draft of this article on Monday, June 25th which was Bourdain’s 62nd birthday. I didn’t know that at the time it was just one of those weird coincidences you sometimes encounter in life. This is a shorter version of a blog originally posted at jameshutchison.ca. You can read the entire article if you want by following this link: The Hemingway Solution, Parts Unknown, and Anthony Bourdain
Other interviews and links about Anthony Bourdain that may be of interest:
- Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain travels the world uncovering lesser-known places and exploring their cultures and cuisine.
- Tony David Simon, the creator of The Wire, pays tribute to and writes about his friendship with Anthony Bourdain. A friendship that, for Simon, began when he binged on episodes of No Reservations one otherwise uneventful Labour Day Weekend. June 2018
- Anthony Bourdain on Asia Argento, His Favorite Movies, and Why Donald Trump Would Be a Terrible Dinner Companion The television host talks about how movies influence every aspect of his show and how Argento has inspired his latest stage of life. June 2018
- Anthony Bourdain Would Rather ‘Die in the Saddle’ Than Ever Retire: Inside His Wild Life on the Road PEOPLE spent three days with Anthony Bourdain while he filmed an episode of Parts Unknown. May 2018
- Anthony Bourdain: The Thrillist Interview I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to sit down with Anthony Bourdain for an interview. I will always remember our wide-ranging, candid conversation. His untimely passing is a great loss for all of us who loved his books, his television shows and the passion he brought to talking about food and travel. July 2016
If you or someone you know is facing difficult challenges then here a couple of links with information about suicide and suicide prevention.
- Risk Factors and Warning Signs for Suicide: How they differ and what they mean.
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
Links to recent news stories related to suicide and suicide prevention.
- Many of my childhood friends are dead. Is masculinity to blame? The blue-collar town of Kamloops has been riven by accidents, overdoses, and suicides. After losing several friends, one writer returned to find out why. The Guardian June 2018
- Suicide rates among Canadian women are rising faster than men. It’s unclear why: More men die by suicide than women in the U.S. and Canada on a yearly basis. But the rate of suicide is rising among women more quickly than men in both countries. Global News June 2018
- US suicide rates increased more than 25% since 1999, CDC says: Overall, the US experienced a 25% rise in the rate of suicides, with individual states ranging from a 6% increase in Delaware to a nearly 58% increase in North Dakota. CNN June 2018
- We need to talk about male suicide: While suicide prevention efforts have largely focused on youth and young adults, we really need to be talking about middle-aged men and what can be done to help them, says political scientist Shannon Sampert. CBC Oct 2017