THE THIRTEEN REASONS WHY BACKLASH: SURRENDER DEATH TABOO

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*WARNING- SPOILER ALERT*

If you’re planning to read the book, Thirteen Reasons Why, or watch the Netflix series, you may not want to read further. This blog does contain a few spoilers.

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Honestly, my interest in this book began when a reviewer of my book, Shattering Truths, said that fans of Thirteen Reasons Why would devour Shattering Truths.

It is true that we explore similar topics, even though the premises are different.

In Thirteen Reasons Why, Hannah Baker takes her life and leaves behind cassette tapes that retrace her steps and explain her reasons.

In case you haven’t heard, the backlash over Thirteen Reasons Why is over the perception that the book glamorizes suicide.

Romanticizing suicide in art isn’t new. Did people want to ban Shakespeare? I’ve listened to Don McClean’s Starry Starry Night and Chad Overstreet’s Hold On song tributes to suicide victims that inspire hauntingly beautiful imagery, and their lyrics have moved me to tears. Maybe there is something about giving up that most of us can relate to—the notion that if worse comes to worse, no one can make us stay here. At the same time, we are also filled with profound sadness over the depth of another human being’s despair.

Interestingly enough, I once wrote my own book about the aftermath of a protagonist’s suicide— not Shattering Truths but an earlier workI was nineteen at the time. The editor I submitted it to felt readers would not find this character sympathetic because, as a suicide, he’d be considered psychotic. That bothered me more than anything else—the distressing mentality—the heartbreaking reality—that even in these modern times, people are uncomfortable with any mental instability and quick to reject it entirely. I submitted it anyway. The publisher said they would be interested only if I changed the ending and had my character survive. I wouldn’t do that. My whole point in telling the story was that the guy died, and he shouldn’t have. I shelved the project.

At the time, I did romanticize my character’s suicide. I hoisted the guy up on a posthumous pedestal and became obsessed with his life and death. But I didn’t want to die.

Sorry (and not so sorry) to say, that as a poet, a writer, and an artist, I embrace all of it—the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly, the dark, and the light and the scary.

But I am also an adult who realizes death is not pretty, and that it’s likely to be quite lonely and painful. Nothing about Thirteen Reasons Why gives me the impression that it would be anything but lonely and painful. There is never a moment I envy Hannah Baker or want to be her—before, during, or after. What happened to her seemed anything but glamorous to me.

I’d go so far as to say the story makes it clear that taking your life is not the solution; that there is always hope. A few minutes, days, or weeks could make all the difference in the world. That hope is extinguished when your light goes out for good.

I also happen to think that people who hurt you don’t deserve to take anything more from you.

One thing for surethe book made me glad I went to an all-girl high school. I didn’t have to put up with that crapat least not in school. It provides good examples of how not to behave, how not to treat others. It also brings to light how little thought teens give to how their behavior may affect someone else, although, this is also sadly true of adults. Some will live their whole lives hurting and punishing others without thinking it through, without ever trying to understand the people they target.

That’s one of the messages in Thirteen Reasons Why. We need to be kinder to each other.

No doubt, some people will read this book and see it all differently. They’ll see that Hannah is talked about more and with more sensitivity after her death. They’ll see that people feel guilty. They may think that would bring satisfaction, but true bullies who destroy other human beings are not usually the ones who feel guilty. They don’t have consciences.

To a lesser degree, Hannah Baker lacks empathy herself in this story and is rather self-absorbed. That’s okay. Victims don’t need to be depicted as saints. A character can be tragically flawed in fact, and still not deserve the torment. It is normal for a trauma survivor to go through a period of victimhood that includes a great deal of introspection and a degree of self-pity. She has a human response to a rude and painful awakening. Yes, trauma does quite a number on the psyche. It changes a person, causing behavior that won’t make sense even to the survivor. The point is, what happened to Hannah Baker should not have happened to anyone. It’s sad that she’ll never have the chance to heal and evolve beyond what she became, so it’s a story worth telling and worth telling right.

I’m willing to bet that most of us can make a list of at least thirteen people who screwed us over and/or possibly scarred us for life. Some of those reasons might be the same or worse than what Hannah Baker experienced, but, for most of us, suicide was never an option we considered.

We are all different. We have varying degrees of ability to cope, and those who are coping may be at less challenging stages of the healing process. For some of us, a burden is a challenge, and we push back. No matter what, we keep pushing. But not everyone can do that. It’s not weakness, and it’s not for lack of trying. We are where we are. None of us have control over the circumstances we are born into or everything that happens after that. We can’t be sure why we take the paths we take or what we need to learn. Healing begins when we are ready. It’s a long, grueling process that, unfortunately, some people will never begin.

I think it’s safe to say that Thirteen Reasons Why will be triggering for certain people and not others.

There’s always a chance that any one of us will find something we read, see, hear, or experience to be triggering. But that doesn’t mean we should censor ourselves, as writers, or as artists. We can’t! We can’t shy away from controversial subjects or prevent others from having those important conversations. For those wanting to sue and to ban, do we want to set that precedent? Where would we draw the line? Would we have to stop talking about rape, about murder, about mental issues, and about everything that could be triggering? I hope not!

A common complaint people have made is that the book doesn’t delve into the mental illness factor when it comes to suicide. No, it doesn’t. Thirteen Reasons Why focuses on raising the level of awareness for bullying/harassment/character assassination, etc. and depicting how the victim feels—how a suicide victim feels. Hannah, in my opinion, sought to educate the culprits. She may have wanted them to feel her pain, too, but more for their benefit, I think, than in retaliation. As a trauma survivor, I can relate to wanting to raise the level of awareness. Even if the people who need to hear it most are not listening, someone is. And making a difference to anyone at all is a great start.

It doesn’t mean we should ignore the mental illness factor in our conversations about this topic. According to the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, “Of those who die from suicide, more than 90% have a diagnosable mental disorder.

Mental Health America states that “substance abuse may be involved in half of all suicide cases with 20% involving people with alcohol problems”.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that drug abuse is a mental illness.

Sadly, families often have a difficult time acknowledging and accepting mental illness in a loved one. There is rejection, ridicule, even mind-boggling cruelty. For the person with issues, it leads to a social ineptness that only results in more ridicule and cruelty. The damage is hard to shake, and it’s heartbreaking because, with acceptance and unconditional love, a lot of the issues can be minimized or managed.

Shame is a key word here. Many parents and siblings are more ashamed about what others may think of their child or their sibling than they are about the well-being of that person. Are we sending a message of, I will not love you unless you are normal by my standards and anything less will be ridiculed and rejected? Are we teaching our “normal” kids to ridicule and reject?

The truth is, we have dangerous psychopathic narcissists running amok in this world, and they are considered normal by many. Meanwhile, people who struggle with things like Asperger’s, bipolar, anxiety, etc. are met with skepticism.

I’ll admit, due to lack of acknowledgment/acceptance in my own life, it took me quite a while to realize and understand the problems I had with anxiety, OCD, and possibly other afflictions. I may never have realized if I hadn’t met some of the people I met along the way, people who had the same problems and steered me in the right direction. Awareness is key, and it helps to learn as much as you can about what you’re dealing with. It is a lifetime struggle with good days and bad, but it can keep getting better.

So, in light of all I’ve stated above, I believe Thirteen Reasons Why, is a profound experience for the reader. I felt like a part of the story, swept right in and completely absorbed, turning page after page. I loved the powerful descriptions of how the characters felt in critical moments. The book, beautifully written and straight from the heart, shows compassion in abundance, and it brought me to tears.

Co-protagonist, Clay Jensen, in fact, shows considerable empathy while listening to Hannah’s tapes. He wants to understand what happened to Hannah. He not only forces himself to listen to every excruciatingly painful word—he follows her instructions, putting himself in her place and allowing himself to feel what she felt.

Imagine living in a world where everyone sought to understand one another like that! That would be beautiful indeed!

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© Copyright July 24, 2017 by Kyrian Lyndon at kyrianlyndon.com. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted without proper attribution.

THE DICKENS SPIRIT, NOW AND ALWAYS


Among my favorite teachers was one of the two male teachers in an all-girl high school. He taught English, my favorite subject. In junior year, he took our class to see the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. The original black and white version of A Christmas Carol featuring Alastair Sim was part of their holiday spectacular.

Though I saw the movie decades after its original release, I found this old 1951 trailer for the film rather interesting.

Dickens painted Ebenezer Scrooge sympathetically and quite vividly. I fell in love with the spirited imagination of Dickens in all of its brilliance, his extraordinary larger-than-life characters, and the potent messages behind every one of his tales. My love of 19th-century British literature began, along with an ongoing yen for England. I was sixteen years old.

It may have been Oliver Twist that I read next. I recall being shocked by the harshness of this child’s reality.

By the time I turned 25, my love for Dickens knew no bounds. I named one of the two dwarf parrots I owned “Pip” after Philip Pirrip, the protagonist in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I named the other one Nicholas after the character in Nicholas Nickleby. I had a fish tank I called “Copperfield Gardens” in homage to the hero of the Dickens’ book I loved most, David Copperfield. David, with his courage, strength and beautiful, benevolent heart, triumphed through one heartbreak after another. In this version, below, he was portrayed by a very young Daniel Radcliffe, better known to all as Harry Potter.

The same year I got the dwarf parrots, a precious friend from England gave me a miniature book of Dickens’ life story as a Christmas gift. I moved several times over the years, and this little book has always made it back onto my bookshelf. I loved reading about the man behind the fascinating tales.

Charles Dickens was already famous when he helped injured passengers in England during the 1865 Staplehurst train crash.

I saw, in Dickens, true heroism in the face of disaster and everyday heroism, as he was a tireless champion for the oppressed.

This final video is fitting in wrapping up my tribute. It’s my favorite song from the 1970 musical version of A Christmas Carol with Albert Finney in the role of Scrooge. In future visions foretold by the third visiting ghost, a town celebrated Scrooge’s passing singing, “Thank You Very Much.”

I also thank my beloved Dickens for his incredible contribution to the world, for all the inspiration, and for truly enriching my life.


Some of my favorite Charles Dickens quotes:

“Not knowing how he lost himself, or how he recovered himself, he may never feel certain of not losing himself again.” ― A Tale of Two Cities

“I wear the chain I forged in life….I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” ― A Christmas Carol

“I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

“A day wasted on others is not wasted on one’s self.” ― A Tale of Two Cities

“Give me a moment, because I like to cry for joy. It’s so delicious, John dear, to cry for joy.” ― Our Mutual Friend

“I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.”

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.”

“Never,” said my aunt, “be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you.” ― David Copperfield
 

More About Charles Dickens:

Charles Dickens Info

 

© Copyright December 20, 2014 by Kyrian Lyndon at kyrianlyndon.com. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted without permission.

TREASURES

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As I read Peter Cottontail to my son for the third or fourth time, feeling a bit tired, I bungled a line.

He said, “No, mommy, he lost one shoe amongst the cabbages and the other shoe amongst the potatoes.”

Yes, that is important! I hugged him dearly for that.

It was quite an improvement from six months earlier when he ripped Alice in Wonderland to shreds.

I wanted to be a relaxed, nurturing parent. I did not want to raise my son in a palace of dangers. I childproofed. I permitted him to take books from the bookshelves, sit in a pile of them and explore. When he tore up the book, that party was over. I had to tell him only once, because he knew already, I was reasonable and always for him, on his side. I taught him, we love books. We respect books. We read them. We enjoy them. We never destroy them, and we never crush the spirit of their creators.

The love affair with books began in my own childhood. I fell in love, first, with writing and reading. Writing is still the love of my life.

The fantasy genre inspired me – Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio, fairy tales. It provided me with a much-needed escape from reality.

As I grew, the books I cherished most fit into the category of literary fiction, which is reality-based and generally more profound and philosophical. However, I never heard the term ‘literary fiction’ or all this talk about genres. Many people are still confused about it and have no idea what literary fiction is. I was confused myself.

I struggled to categorize my work. Yes, there is a love story. There are quite a few. There is a psychologically thrilling mystery. There are many of those. Yes, it is dark and intense with elements of gothic fiction and quite a bit of horror, but the ongoing saga does not revolve around any particular theme. Do you know why? It is literary fiction.

Literary fiction is pretentiously termed ‘serious’ fiction, though that could be misleading. It indicates a profound work with literary merit, a celebration of language, a critically acclaimed classic. However, genre fiction can also be poetry in motion and a work of art worthy of acclaim.

If I have to answer as to whether I am working on ‘serious’ fiction, well if it means painstaking torture, yes, I am quite serious, and this is as serious as it gets.

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The well-constructed plot in literary fiction should be riveting, but it is not the focus. Literary fiction has a slower pace with many rewards for your patience along the way.

It is character driven with well-developed, introspective characters. The story is about the character’s journey. We become emotionally involved in his or her reality, the struggle, the challenges, the losses and triumphs. We glimpse into the character’s psyche, experiencing the love, the hate, the joy, and the pain. Works of literary fiction are good human-interest stories that move and inspire those of us fascinated by the human condition. Genre novelists can create deep characterization, but this is the hallmark of literary fiction.

Literary fiction defines some of the best books ever written: Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, David Copperfield, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Rebecca, Little Women, 1984, Brave New World, Anna Karenina and many Shakespeare tales. The list goes on. My favorite authors, including Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters, wrote literary fiction in classic Victorian-style, which I love with all my heart.

I believe creative work in every category has potential for greatness. I have yet to find a genre unworthy of respect. I don’t think we should make fun of people for enjoying some nonsense book or series where the writing isn’t up to par. As professionals and critics, we may seek a certain quality, but I am of the opinion, if there is a mass audience for a book or series, and it made scores of people happy, it has earned its place in the world of literature. I am simply another writer in an endless sea of writers and one of billions of readers. It doesn’t matter whether I like it. Readers, by consensus, have the final word.

Here is the bottom line for those of us who share this passion: books are a treasure. I feel fortunate in a world of books. I am infinitely grateful. I am giddy with delight. This is our inspiration, our high, our bond. There is plenty of room for everyone, and I am beyond thrilled to be on this journey.

I would love to hear from you about what you love to read or write. In the meantime, enjoy these videos as part of my celebration of literary fiction with an appreciative nod to all genres.

 

© Copyright August 2014 by Kyrian Lyndon at kyrianlyndon.com. All rights reserved. No reproduction of text permitted without permission.