Ire and Vice: The Dead

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Ire and Vice: The Dead

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May 22, 2007
By Darren Franich

Suicide is so much less embarrassing than homicide. Can you imagine the shitstorm maelstrom that would engulf our pretty campus if someone shot five people? Shot them so their blood splattered across the tables of Stern dining hall. Or their blood covered the pull-out desks in the chem building. Or their blood filled the fountains until the water sprayed dark bitter red. Five Stanford students dead.

Hell, it doesn't have to be five. Make it three. Make it one. Think of the black cloud that would descend on our lives. Our own little Virginia Tech. The blood, damn it, the fucking blood! Pouring out of open wounds. Choked out of lungs that will never breathe again. On our campus. On our hands. Flowing out of pale bodies until the heart just stops pumping, tired, empty.

Fortunately, people don't kill other people at Stanford. They just kill themselves. No one ever talks about the suicides, but everyone talks about how no one ever talks about the suicides. "Can you believe," we shake our heads, "four suicides at Stanford in one year, and nobody notices, nobody cares."

Someone says, "I heard there were five."

"That's what I'm talking about."

Stanford is killing people. We shouldn't hold that against Stanford. There is so much joy here. There are thousands of students who live happy lives of quiet desperation, for whom suicide is never more than a passing fancy, the dream of an eternal vacation from one's own brain.

But for a school that prides itself on its happiest-place-on-earth reputation, one suicide is a misfortune. Five is just awkward. To a high school senior, Stanford is the anti-Cornell: happy people living happy lives under the happy, happy sun. And now there is a suicide epidemic. Intelligent young people — who have worked hard their whole lives to get here, who have so much to look forward to — are eliminating themselves from the humanity continuum. Asphyxiation. It's not a good way to go.

These people would have been great. Leaders of the world. And now they are memories tinged in eternal sadness. Take them off of Facebook. Cross them off your Christmas list. Destiny has clipped whatever wings they might have grown.

Some people have expressed distaste for the University's handling of the suicides. A couple weeks ago, Hennessy wrote a letter to the editor. (In case you missed it, Boardman emailed you a link a few days later.) Half of the letter was about Virginia Tech. That event was a tragedy beyond all reckoning. But it has nothing to do with Stanford. Campus security is not the issue we should be debating. I saw eight police cars in twenty minutes last Saturday, and witnessed one brave officer fearlessly charging a dangerous minor for drinking quietly in public. A libertarian might argue that the overregulation on this campus is the problem. I will just point out that no one is killing us except ourselves.

They're trying they're best, though, like bumbling parents desperately devoted to children they will never understand. They designed a cute Campus Climate Questionnaire with a stress tree and a stress quilt. They had a mental health fun day in White Plaza, with free massages. Everywhere you look there's a pamphlet for the Bridge. It's all utterly useless, but they're trying. It's the thought that counts, even if they appear to think we're in second grade.

Our school's not to blame. It's us. It's who we are. It's the curse of our overworked generation. If you're here, then odds are you've spent the better half of your life attaining perfection. Extracurriculars, AP tests, trophies, student government, student newspapers, singing, dancing, studying, sleeping only when your body could hold out no longer against the dark unconsciousness. I always assumed that sort of life was over with high school; that once you got to college things slowed down. For most people, college is even more intense than high school: more work, more coffee. Our parents used science to make us the perfect worker bee study bots — but you can't just turn that off. If anything, you become even more type-A with age. We want it all. We binge on work, we binge on play, we binge.

But it's never enough. We get to Stanford, which is supposed to be the fulfillment of all our dreams, and it isn't enough. We need a good med school, a good law school, a great job, the love and respect of our peers and our betters. My shrink described to me how kids like us — perfectionists, go-getters, workaholics — live our lives walking up an eternal slope without ever turning back. We never see how high we've come, we only see how much higher we still have to go. And we get depressed because there is no plateau; the mountain just gets steeper.

It doesn't help that the whole world is going to shit. Or rather, that we are more aware than any previous generation of how shitty the world has always been. It calls to mind something AJ said a couple of weeks ago on "The Sopranos." How can you not be depressed? How can any sane person approach the world with anything less than horror and distaste and loathing? When AJ attempted suicide on the most recent episode, I found myself begging the Lord to spare him — as if he carried the fate of us all on his shoulders, as if whatever happened to him was going to happen to us eventually.

The pessimism is everywhere. The '90s are seven years gone. Any dream of paradise on earth is gone with them. The planes flew into the towers. And that didn't even matter. Can you imagine? 9/11 doesn't even matter. It's a blip in the radar. People were suffering before; people are still suffering. Our world is broken, dying. We killed it. Global warming is God's next flood. Wipe the slate clean. Maybe the cockroaches will do better.

Or so we think, sometimes, when the sunshine feels cold, when death feels so close. You know what? There's a way out. And you don't need CAPS or the Bridge or the Office of Religious Life. You have to fail, and you have to want to fail. Skip a class, or miss a meeting. Whatever you think you have to do, do the exact opposite. Try to become everything you're afraid of becoming: fat, stupid, alone. Admit weakness. Find someone who makes you happy and tell them everything that makes you hurt. Especially the stupid shit. Because suicide, in the end, is stupid. Living is the appropriate response to life. We owe it to our honored dead to learn from their mistakes. We owe it to them to live every day like it's the start of forever. And we owe it to them to try to change our life if our life isn't working for us.

Darren Franich will be celebrating his 21st and 22nd birthdays on Friday and insists that his devoted underage fan base come and get illegally plastered. Email him at dfranich@stanford.edu.

<b>Comments on this article:</b>

<b> Cat</b> - 5/22/07
Wow, great piece!
Just finished the Campus Climate Questionaire and found it hokey.

<b> L </b> - 5/22/07
Cute rhetoric but you aren&#39;t taking the whole situation into account. It isn&#39;t necessarily Stanford or our parents or our type-A personalities that are, as you say so many times, killing us -- there are innumerable nuances to these situations, including unglamorous non-Stanford-related roots like clinical depression.

Also, for some crazy reason I find myself unable to trust the guy who begs god to spare AJ Soprano to genuinely have all of our best interests at heart...

<b> J </b> - 5/22/07
Darren, if you truly want to help then go out and fail, fail big, and write a column about it. Help show how to redefine success. Otherwise this really is rhetoric, as empty as the trees and quilts in the campus questionnaire.

<b> Eric </b> - 5/22/07
Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too on every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and the headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

<b>Jason Kerwin </b> - 5/22/07
This is exceptional writing. I&#39;ve learned to expect far less from the Daily.

L is right about the clinical depression angle. It&#39;s very common here, as on many college campuses. Most researchers think there is a direct link between depression and intelligence/creativity, so the high rates of depression here are no accident.

<b> David </b> - 5/22/07

Darren&#39;s articles shouldn&#39;t have blogs after them because they just sap the energy out of what I always find to be exceptionally powerful and interesting writing. Next time I finish reading one of Darren&#39;s articles and I see that dreaded "comments on this article:" line, I&#39;ll stop, close my computer, think of the craziest and trite shit that I can to post, open my computer again, and sure enough, I&#39;ll find my work already done for me.

<b> s </b>- 5/23/07

Just a quick note - The Bridge did not have anything to do with the corny Campus Climate survey.

<b> I wanted to kill myself 2 </b>- 5/23/07
And it&#39;s not because of myself, I would have if I were able to do such thing. But it&#39;s because the way Stanford treats me every day (and especially the incompetence of student housing). So, since we&#39;re paying so much for health insurance anyway, they should include eutanasia for students. That way they wouldn&#39;t have to deal with usbickering after getting so much abuse from this university.

<b>Nicole D </b>- 5/23/07
I think it&#39;s really easy to blame our parents or our high schools or our societies for making us into the "perfectionists, go-getters" and "workaholics" you seem to think everyone at Stanford is. It is my hope that students here are smart enough to transcend that bullshit and to realize for themselves that perpetually jumping through hoops will never yield lasting satisfaction. Instead of blindly climbing that slope your therapist so poetically described, we all need to completely reevaluate what we&#39;ve been programmed by the afforementioned forces to think is important. We all need to ask ourselves whether the values we use to structure our lives are truly ours or not, whether they make us happy or not, whether the standards of achievment we had in high school are the ones we want cling to all our lives. It&#39;s a really uncomfortable thing to do, but it only this sort of continuous self-evaluation that can ensure that we&#39;re living the life we really want by standards we set for ourselves.

This is where I think therapy comes in. I&#39;m a huge therapy enthusiast. If I were president, i would mandate free therapy for everyone. My parents are both psychotherapists. Fuck, all my parents friends are therapists (I&#39;m from Brooklyn, NY, okay)! I, myself, saw a therapist for a little over a year before I left for college when my boyfriend became clinically depressed and suicidal. I don&#39;t think therapy is a miracle cure, but it was certainly one of the best thing I&#39;ve ever done. Not only did she help me deal with the stress of being in a relationship with someone who was depressed, but she also helped me rationally approach so many issues I had never even realized affected me so profoundly. I don&#39;t know if there&#39;s a stigma about seeking out mental help here at Stanford because, quite frankly, I&#39;ve never really heard the subject discussed among students. I come from a family in which the offer to talk to a mental health professional about whatever I wanted has always been on the table, and I&#39;m a firm believer that the majority of the American population needs to change its attitude towards mental health. I think it&#39;s important for people to approach their mental health in the same way they approach their physical health. You go for routine check-ups to make sure your body is working smoothly and get even small ailments checked out as a precautionary measure. People need to realize that chatting with a mental health professional regularly is not a diagnosis of insanity, but a normal and wonderful way to begin to straigten out the jumble of things that is in most of our heads. People need to understand that any issue, not matter how seemingly insignificant, is a legitimate reason to talk to someone. I say, if you can afford a private therapist, take advantage. If not, try out the Bridge Center or CAPS, Vaden&#39;s Counseling and Psychological Services. It&#39;s easy to demonize Stanford, or society, or the College Board and blame them for all of our problems. Ultimately, though, we are just as responsible for our own mental health as we are for our own lives.

happy birthday and have fun getting shitfaced,
nd


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Original Source: <a href="http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2007/5/22/ireAndViceTheDead"> Stanford Daily - May 22, 2007</a>

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Darren Franich

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2007-06-13

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Darren Franich, "Ire and Vice: The Dead," in The April 16 Archive, Item #515, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/515 (accessed July 28, 2014).