Suicide Essay #2

I often think of killing myself. There’s pills that I could swallow to slowly and painfully end it. Or I could hang myself, which is quicker and easier. I don’t own a gun because that would be way too easy. My suicidal ideation is not something I’m public about, until now. I hide it all the time. The desire for suicide can be seen as an irrational solution to a feeling of suffering. It can just be a feeling. That pit of doom stuck deep inside the chest. It’s hard to describe, especially for something that is so prevalent that it constantly hangs over like an awning of death.

 

There’s two ways to get rid of these thoughts. There’s the cognitive behavioral therapy approach, which can work, if you get good at it. Logically, suicide is a stupid solution. It doesn’t seem like that to your feelings, but objectively, there are almost always better alternatives to ending it all.

 

Then there’s the praying option. I am an atheist when it comes to the brain. I’m a believer in God when it comes to the heart. When I think about God and the afterlife philosophically I posit that it’s all make believe. Nothing divine can be proved. We’re all just cells in a complex but straightforwardly dialectical material world. But then I pray because there’s nothing else but death and nothingness facing me, and I feel in my heart the love of something that I know shouldn’t be there. God is love. Love is God. It’s so simple that it sounds stupid. We’re all just so jaded that we can’t see through the pain and hatred half the time.

 

The atheism creeps up on me. I find myself thinking about death so often and the logical conclusion is that there’s nothing after it. I spiral down a hole of depression and suicidal ideation and forget that I can choose to believe in something better. That grace is a choice which is the stepping stone to faith. Then I say Hail Mary’s over and over again in my head. And I feel the comfort of love coming from seemingly nowhere. Do not be afraid, a beautiful power says. And my pain starts to evaporate.

 

I do not want to sound like I’m evangelizing. I understand the skepticism of faith and everything that comes with it. I listen to criticism of institutions like that Catholic Church and other Christian churches and agree with many of them. The Catholic Church has many problems, pedophilia, corruption, authoritarianism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, the list goes on…. I guess I just identify as Catholic because I was raised Catholic. I don’t go to mass currently, but right after my mom died I was attending mass and it helped me feel better.

 

I pray and I feel better. I feel love coming from somewhere mysterious. I feel spiritual. And it can sometimes be the only thing standing in the way of me killing myself. The part of me that’s a relapsing atheist can appreciate that I guess. There are times where I am 100% an atheist and happy. Then the depression sets in and my mind spirals out of control until I need something to cling to, and I’m hanging by a fingernail, until I give up all of the arrogance and just pray. And then I feel love. And I don’t want to kill myself anymore.

Suicide Essay #1

I’ve written a few suicide notes. If we’re talking about poetry, well, then I’ve written hundreds of suicide notes. That’s a dumb poetry joke. On days that I am feeling especially depressed, the existential dread is so intense, that not even an offering of the best artisanal cup of coffee straight from the cold hands of Albert Camus himself would be able to urge me through the day, and not end it all on the edge of a noose. I have had no interest in being one of several billion Sisyphus’s, all of us pushing our rocks up hills dreadfully alone. No, I’m alive because I now choose faith in believing in something beyond dialectical materialism. That and because I’m a poet.

 

In reality I’ve only ever written one serious suicide note. It’s still sitting in my desk drawer to remind myself that I once mulled over jumping off the Ben Franklin Bridge for several hours. Ah yes, suicidal ideation is what the shrinks call it. The note was written on the back of a staff contact sheet for the Rutgers Camden school newspaper, of which I was the copy editor. Even though the suicide note is sitting in my desk drawer I haven’t read it since I wrote it five years ago, up until I started writing this essay. After reading the suicide note it turns out my then suicidal self convinced myself not to kill myself in the third paragraph of the suicide note. That’s good. I remember that the feeling was serious though. All because I was a rudderless, broke college student who couldn’t see that there was a future for myself. Maybe being a copy editor does that to you. That’s another dumb joke. When you’re depressed there is no future. There’s only the pain of the present. A seemingly arbitrary psychological pain that’s so intense that the only way to end it is to end all brain function. The ironic part is that the two times I actually came closest to killing myself I didn’t write notes.

 

There’s two occasions of what someone may call attempted suicide that stick out the most in my mind. The first was when I was in my early teenage years. This was significant because it’s when the chemical imbalance that is depression first started pounding it’s way into my mind. That sense of doom and the need to end it was fresh to me. I was depressed and alone in my small, suburban bedroom when I tied a belt tightly around my neck. I’m not sure what happened next, but I’m still alive, which is good.

 

The other moment was later in my teenage years, and it was much more dramatic and drawn out. I had gotten insanely high and ridiculously drunk with friends. Apparently I was found by my dad passed out on a bench by the creek down the street from our house. Still inebriated, I proceeded to run away from him several blocks to the train tracks. My dad caught up with my nineteen year old self who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. I attacked him. Then I ran down the tracks. Later on my dad told me all of this while we were sitting in his car after he picked me up from the crisis center. An overnight stay in a Camden crisis center is kind of like the movie Jacob’s Ladder. The hospital said I was on PCP. Not sure if that’s true or not.

 

Ticking time bomb. That’s me. A suicide. That’s what people think of people who want to die. An inspirational quote written by a non-depressive to end the desire to end one’s own life. Ah yes, that fixed everything, thanks. Someone who thinks they’ve been depressed once because they were sad once or because something bad happened to them and they didn’t like it. That’s fine. Back to the story.

 

The cops dragged me out of the bushes. There was a town-wide manhunt for me. I ran down the train tracks and collapsed. They thought that I was going to jump off the trestle bridge, which wasn’t very high up, but the rocky, shallow water at the bottom may have broken my neck. Instead I only had minor scrapes as they led me to the ambulance and forced me to take a $500 ride to the hospital because I apparently told a cop that I didn’t want to live anymore. I still have a couple thousand in collections because of that escapade.

 

I got into writing poetry not long after that. Writing poems, regardless of the outcome, whether other people like reading them, is great therapy, even when I don’t realize that I’m doing it as a therapeutic activity. Is writing an alternative solution to killing yourself? Yes. Sometimes you’re too depressed to pick up a pen, and you think anything you write is going to suck. Force yourself to do it anyway. You don’t have to show anyone. Just write for yourself. I’m still here, many years later, writing poetry that may or may not be any good. It doesn’t matter, at least they’re not real suicide notes.

Obituary for Joanne Lynch of Philadelphia, PA

My mom was happy to see the Pope when he came to Philadelphia.


Joanne Lynch died Thursday, April 27th, 2017, at her home in Wildwood Crest, NJ. Born to William and Joan Shefski on July 17th, 1957, in Philadelphia, PA, Joanne is survived by her mother, her husband Walter, her brothers William, Daniel, and Patrick, her sisters Barbara Anne, Dianne, Suzanne, and Peggy Anne, her children Katherine, Matthew, Megan, and Sean, her grandchildren Rosie, Olivia, and Ronan, as well as numerous other family members. Joanne has been battling Ovarian cancer since she was diagnosed in February of 2016. She celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband and family in October of 2016. Joanne was a dedicated member of her parish, Notre Dame de la Mer, in Wildwood, NJ, and found joy in teaching CCD classes and committing herself to other charitable work. A hard worker until her sudden diagnosis with stage four cancer, Joanne’s last job was as a server at Aleathea’s Restaurant in Cape May, NJ. 

Above all, Joanne was a devoted mother who sacrificed her time and energy to help provide for her family through phases of financial and emotional hardships. Joanne passionately cared for her family, and was never afraid of making her opinion known, especially with her husband. Inheriting her mother Joan’s strong will, Joanne had the ability to seem contentious even if she agreed with you on the subject at hand. Joanne’s love for baseball and football stemmed from her late father, William Shefski, who was a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News.

Joanne graduated from Haddon Township High School in 1975. Her favorite classes were Russian and English. Even though Joanne did not attend college, she was intelligent and very knowledgeable on a vast range of subjects, especially religion, politics, literature, art, fashion, and design. Joanne was immensely proud of her Irish heritage, and delighted in learning about Irish culture, loved reading Irish literature, listening to Irish music, and watching Irish dancing. 

Joanne worked countless jobs, including as a server, shoe salesperson, and furniture salesperson, however, she especially loved working at Aleathea’s Restaurant because of her co-workers and the environment. Aleathea’s is a beautiful Victorian Inn right by the Atlantic Ocean in Cape May, and since Joanne’s favorite past time was sunbathing on the beach, it was the perfect place to work for her. Joanne’s other favorite activities included reading, watching sports, and praying. 

Joanne was a fantastic salesperson and server, but her best role was as a homemaker. One could often find Joanne singing Feist, Sting, or U2 while cleaning the kitchen. As a mother, Joanne invested all of her hopes and dreams into her children. Her strong Catholic faith was her guidance. 

A private viewing will be held for close friends and family at Assumption Church Monday at 9am. The funeral service will be held at Assumption Church in Wildwood Crest on Monday at 10am. After the funeral, attendees are invited to gather at Aleathea’s Restaurant in Cape May. Interment will be at St. Mary’s Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Love of Linda Cancer Fund, PO Box 1053, Wildwood, NJ, 08260. 

My mother and father at the Irish Famine Memorial at Battery Park in NYC.

Letter From the Editor #8

Dear readers, thank you for opening up our 8th issue of Whirlwind, which focuses on Mother Earth. This one is personal for me, as my own mother has recently been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. A combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors are what cause this particularly dangerous form of cancer, but it’s worth noting that Ovarian Cancer is far more prevalent in industrialized countries, implicating that the chemicals (solvents, dyes, herbicides, and talc) that can cause Ovarian Cancer, are indeed significant culprits. This metaphor, of our mothers becoming poisoned by pollution, their genes being mutated in the very organs that gave life to us, is all too profound when applied to Mother Earth. We’re destroying the planet that gave birth to us, human beings, and we’re threatening the massive suicidal extinction of our own species, not to mention the already apparent extinction of too many other animal species.

In this issue, like all of our past issues, we present to you literature and art that bears witness. However, this issue is more pertinent to social justice than any other topic. We can talk about our identities all we want. We can theorize about intertextuality all we want. We can apply irony to art and literature all we want. But if we don’t confront this existential threat, the threat of fossil fuels, the threat of carbon emissions, the threat of multi-national corporations destroying our planet, mowing down rain forests, killing coral reefs, slaughtering endangered animals, ripping a hole into this planet’s atmosphere, our children and our children’s children will all die. Storms and other weather patterns will become more severe. The seas will rise and flood our cities. The summers will become unbearably hot. And some scientists say it’s too late.

Catastrophists say that if we would have done something in the 1960’s, then we could have saved ourselves. They say that individuals can do nothing to stop the irreversible, oncoming tidal wave. But there is still hope. In the contemporary literary and art world, hope is a dirty word. There are too many cynics who want you to give up hope. To go on with your ordinary lives and keep consuming the mass-produced gadgets. To live in the present, and to cast aside true compassion as sentimentality. But we must not give up hope for our planet and for all peoples. And yet with hope comes responsibility and sacrifice. Each of us needs to do our part to put an end to man-made climate change. What other option do we have? Succumb to nihilism?

Our mothers teach us the most important lessons in life. To be caring, to be disciplined, to work hard and be unselfish. Through their womanhood, their willpower and resolve, we must find inspiration to save our collective mother, the planet we all inhabit. We need to speak up against the cranky old men who have a strangle hold on our politicians, the fossil fuel lobbyists, the climate change deniers, the 1% who only care about profits, and speak of “the market” as if it’s some living entity that needs to be endlessly served. It’s as Pope Francis has said, “…worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal.” This golden calf is what’s destroying our Mother Earth. We must cast down this idol and work together to build a sustainable world for our descendants to live in harmony with nature.

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Cover Art by G Scott, Design by Melissa Rothman

A Review of Prerna Bakshi’s Burnt Rotis, With Love

This review will appear in Whirlwind Magazine issue #6 due out in mid-November.

At Whirlwind we like to support our contributors even after publication. We’re honored to be a part of an international community of diverse writers and artists focused on social justice and human progress. That being said, we’re happy to announce that the talented sociolinguist Prerna Bakshi, a poet of Indian origin currently based in Macao, is publishing a collection of poems called Burnt Rotis, With Love that will be available in December through Les Éditions du Zaporogue.

Prerna Bakshi graced page nineteen of Whirlwind Magazine Issue #5 with her moving poem “Let it Rain!” The title of this piece serves as a refrain at the end of each stanza, culminating in an effective repetition of the phrase. Bakshi laments at the state of her poverty stricken home-country, as well as her new adopted home in China. Through the eyes of this poet it’s apparent that the world is on the brink of environmental catastrophe. In “Let it Rain!” Bakshi beckons the sky to open up for “…the drought stricken land…” as she bears witness to the struggles of people with disabilities, children, and factory workers, as she listens to “…a farmer’s outcry…” and also the “distant scream” of indigenous people fighting “…against the state’s repressive forces.”

Along with the aforementioned poem, there are over a hundred pages worth of urgent and meaningful poetry in Burnt Rotis, With Love. For the book’s themes Prerna Bakshi says that she “…will explore and interrogate the narratives of Partition of India/Punjab post British colonialism, women’s identity, gender and class struggle. The poems in this collection will cover themes of violence, oppression, exploitation, abuse, struggle, survival and resistance.” The advance reader’s copy certainly attests to this, and it makes for a powerful read.

Other highlights in the book include the dramatic “Guns and Graves,” where Bakshi writes an elegy for the many innocents killed by the Indian state in its dispute with China over a relatively unheard of area called Arunachal Pradesh. It’s poems like these that stand out to the reader, especially because they shed light on topics and events that too often remain shrouded. The further one gets into Burnt Rotis, With Love the more one begins to fall in love with not only the poems in the collection, but also the invaluable footnotes that accompany some of them. After “When the Poor Woman ‘Leans In’…” Bakshi writes that the “poem is written from a critical, Global South Marxist feminist perspective, in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate feminism of ‘Lean In’ and its approach to feminism and work.”

One critique of Bakshi’s work could be that she’s often very forward and unequivocal in the points of views that she displays. However, that more often than not makes her writing accessible and heightens the clarity of her poems. What’s important about Prerna Bakshi’s poetry is that it can be easily read by anyone. The messages that she delivers are vital stories about oppressed people around the world that Westerners should especially be made aware of, and it’s clear that Prerna Bakshi deserves critical praise and recognition for her brave and touching new work, Burnt Rotis, With Love.