Modern Thanatopsis

One of my favorite longform pieces I’ve ever read is about Madison Holleran, a young woman who died by suicide about halfway through her freshman year of college. It discusses how her Instagram feed served as a façade for her true feelings and experiences, so those who viewed it could see the type of life she wanted them to see. After reading it again more recently in light of the book about her that was recently published by the same author of the article, Kate Fagan, I ventured to her Instagram account. It likely has quite a few more followers than it did before she died: more than 14,000. As a result, many of the likes and comments below each photo are from people who didn’t know Madison, though her story had touched them, like it had for me, to the point that they felt they needed their voices to be heard.

That day, I clicked on one photo, a striking yet heavily-filtered sunset. After the caption, she had posted the hashtags #finals and #someonesaveme. As if on cue, the barrage of over-thinking, over-analyzing, began:

“The hashtags in this picture speak volumes.”

“Like that last hashtag. It wasn’t about finals.”

“God I wish I could’ve saved you and I never even met you.”

“You could have been saved!”

But what are these well-meaning people envisioning exactly? That they would take every (probably) haphazardly-posted hashtag so seriously that they might stage an intervention each time the common and often colloquial “someone save me!” appeared during finals week? That this young woman’s friends weren’t the type of friends she needed to help her fight her mental illness? That if these complete strangers been friends with her, she would still be alive today?

•   •   •

For me, going to Gonzaga University meant proving to myself that I could thrive not just outside my hometown, but far away from the state in which I’d grown up. Almost by default, all the friends I’d make would probably not be from California, but from states in the Pacific Northwest. And for the first few weeks, that’s how it was: my roommate was from Washington, a few other people I met were from the Seattle area, and even the Californians I came into contact with were either from southern California or way northern California – far enough from my hometown that in almost any other part of the country, they would have been from other states. We friended each other on Facebook, tagged each other in photos, and for a while, the illusion I’d wanted so badly, that I could leave my hometown and thrive, was intact.

When my depression that had been festering in some form since the beginning of high school got a lot worse very quickly, it wasn’t like I could let anyone back home know. Admitting that maybe Gonzaga wasn’t the right fit for me, that the friends I’d made those first few weeks of classes had found new friends, that I was more excited than ever for Thanksgiving break or winter break because those vacations came with a trip home, not only meant to me that I wasn’t happy, but that I might even be homesick. And admitting that I was homesick felt like a betrayal to the person I envisioned myself becoming in college: the person that was sad to leave campus because it meant leaving friends behind, who couldn’t want to get back to see those friends, and so on.

So even though inside I knew that being at Gonzaga meant fueling my depression – which wasn’t necessarily related to being homesick, but just being there – I kept up the charade on social media. I posted Facebook status after Facebook status about how excited I was for the next basketball game, how annoying the snow was, how prestigious the theaters downtown that I performed concerts in were. Every time a friend from home posted about their California college, the comment I posted would involve something about Washington, reminding them that I had left the state for no reason other than to justify my decision, to trick myself into believing I was happy.

Of course, I was drowning. But looking at my social feeds, aside from the occasional ambiguous sad song lyrics, even my closest friends from home (or the few friends at school) wouldn’t have guessed how bad my depression had become.

At the end of the fall semester of my sophomore year, after a lengthy hospital stay a few months before had essentially forced me to open up to people on both sides of my life – home and college – I was the most candid I had ever been online in a Facebook note I wrote titled “Ten Things I Learned in 2009”:

Never go to the emergency room on a Sunday night. Ever. Even if you have to. Wait until Monday morning or call an ambulance instead, so you’ll at least bypass the waiting room.

Reach out to someone who can help, even if it’s your professor. Even if they’re not technically allowed to handle the issue themselves, they’ll do everything they can and make sure that they hand you off to someone with whom you feel equally comfortable. Then after your issue is resolved, you can go back to your professor and become best friends and they will buy you coffee.

But while the hospital stay had taught me a lot about my mental illnesses and how to better address them, I wasn’t cured – and I will never be, as the clinical term for “depression that’s a little better now,” just like for cancer, is “remission” – but I still wanted everyone to think I was. Because even though many people had heard by then that things weren’t going well, all they’d have to do is read these items on this list and be content with the fact that things were, at least, better than they were.

In reality, for every #someonesaveme, there’s an #everythingisgoinggreat, and as much as we truly care about the people in our lives, by design, one of those expressions tends to outweigh the other in life, and one tends to outweigh the other after death.

•   •   •

It feels like after someone dies by suicide, everyone who knew them – and if their story extends outside of their immediate circles, everyone who wished they knew them – begins philosophizing about what could have been. If their friends had done this differently, then this would have happened instead. If they’d known the person better, had reached out to them at the right time, they might have been able to stop them. Much of this is a natural part of the grieving process and the guilt that comes with it. But for those who simply want to insert themselves into a stranger’s experiences, it can quickly become a circlejerk of living, often able-bodied people proselytizing that they knew what was best for this person they didn’t know. It can quickly turn into a whole new list of grievances for the ones who did know the person, further compounding their guilt: if so many strangers see their dead friend as “saveable” now, how could those close to them not have seen the signs before it was too late?

The further removed you are from a person who’s died by suicide, like the strangers posting comments on Madison’s Instagram, the easier it is to wildly speculate. It is easier to assign meaning to someone’s life, to the hashtags they post with a seemingly benign photo, if the person is no longer here. It’s a morbid game played only by those who see it as such – a true-crime mystery to unravel. It’s House trying to figure out who killed Kutner, when all the signs of a suicide are right there, so simple and therefore so easily ignored.

You can be intimately familiar with the signs of suicide, from personal experience or research or both, and still not foresee this outcome. You can pore through a friend’s social media history, wondering where something shifted, if something shifted, if something could have been done, if there’s something you should have noticed. If there was a singular way to define mental illness, then perhaps fewer people would see suicide as an option, but there isn’t. Because of this, so often in the wake of a death by suicide, there’s only an endless supply of questions left that can never be answered. But equally often, the most authentic realization one can have is when to stop asking these questions and mourn in peace.

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How I used “Lord of the Rings” to get into college

Did you know that your SAT essays are right there, scanned and posted on the College Board website, just waiting for people who graduated high school years ago to log in and relive the best 25 minutes of their lives?

I sure did!

In honor of the new SAT expanding the length of the now-optional essay section to 50 minutes in order to accommodate a longer prompt, I thought I’d share these excerpts from my two 2007 SAT essays. I believe they conclusively prove my demonstrated Lord of the Rings obsession trumped my GPA, letters of recommendation, and extracurriculars in helping me get into college.

Also, I don’t think context is necessary, do you?


March 2007 (with bonus Harry Potter):

“Literature has shown countless times that one should not set smaller goals if one will be displeased with the results. One should try to achieve a goal with an optimistic outlook, like Sam in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series. Both characters exemplified their drive to achieve their respective goals. Sam was able to think about destroying the One Ring throughout the journey, and his optimism led Frodo to ultimately destroy the Ring. Harry Potter kept the destruction of Voldemort in sight as he, almost subconsciously, achieved smaller goals while keeping the largest one in his mind. Optimism is key in achieving large goals, whether one’s imagination permits it or not.”

October 2007 (with bonus Beowulf):

“If one researches some of the most recently recognized films, one will discover that history plays a large role in crafting these epic tales. The ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy is a prime example. Not only is it based on a book, but a myriad of the costumes and battle items forged for the battle sequences were based on Anglo-Saxon and Norman mail and swords. Director Peter Jackson knew that he had the task of creating Middle-earth for the very first time, but instead of treating his viewers to novel costumes, he told the employees at Weta Workshop to research the 12th and 13th century’s clothing and mail and design the costumes for ‘Lord of the Rings’ based on those pictures and descriptions. Although perfected, Jackson’s attempt at creating an original view of Middle-earth failed as he chose to mirror the Anglo-Saxon battlewear. However, one cannot assume that Jackson duplicated every aspect of the Anglo-Saxons; J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the novels, borrowed material heavily from Beowulf. The monster Grendel, for example, is an almost exact manifestation of Tolkien’s character Gollum. Shunned by his family, Gollum delves into the mist and becomes an unfathomable representation of a human gone mad.”


Now that I think about it, these read so much like posts on Shit My Students Write and lol my thesis that I’m surprised I didn’t get zeros on each of these essays. At least it wasn’t as bad as what I wrote/pictures I drew on my AP Biology exam, I suppose (purposeful vagueness and/or harkening to inside joke lost to time entirely intended).

FIFA, gender discrimination, and women’s soccer’s “turf war”

This was inspired by Jessica Luther’s piece on the recent lawsuit filed against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association by some of the sport’s top players. The lawsuit charges that forcing women to play competitively on artificial turf, an issue that men’s players at the highest level will not face in at least the next two World Cups, is gender discrimination.

I played soccer for 12 years, the last 5 of which were played on a competitive traveling team. While field conditions weren’t always ideal – driving 5 hours to play a game on an undersized, muddy field in the pouring rain will always stick in my mind – most of our games took place on grass fields. Playing on grass meant disciplined slide tackles, better ball control, and being able to run up and down the field, in cleats meant for grass, without fear of slipping on “padded concrete” and sustaining a serious injury.

When I was 14, I played on artificial turf for the first time. It was summer in California, which meant that during day games, it would be at least 90 degrees outside. At one tournament in particular, we played at a complex where the only shade around was created by the large umbrellas that parents brought to sit under while they watched their kids play.

This is what I normally wore when playing games in the heat. Not conducive to playing on artificial turf at all.
This is what I normally wore when playing games in the heat. Not conducive to playing on artificial turf at all.

As a goalkeeper, I had relative choice when it came to what I could wear. During my first turf game, I took the heat into account and simply wore our secondary kit in opposite colors – a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. This way, I didn’t have to wear a heavier keeper’s jersey and I could stave off the heat just as well as my teammates.

I realized my mistake the first time I slid out to collect the ball.

It felt like a carpet burn, only worse. The entire right side of my right leg was red, both from the friction against the turf and the dozens of cuts that had formed between the top of my sock and just underneath my hip. (See Sydney Leroux’s photo of her own legs after playing a game on turf for a good reference point; yes, there is blood.) On grass, this slide would have maybe caused some grass stains on my clothes and some dirt I could easily brush off my leg. On turf, it really, really hurt.

This is a good place to mention that not only is artificial turf brutal on skin when it opens cuts, it’s also hot. Studies have shown that the surface temperature of artificial turf can be up to 35 to 55 degrees hotter than natural grass – something that can be easily confirmed by anyone who’s ever played on it. Your feet feel noticeably hotter than the rest of your body just standing on a turf playing field, especially on an already sweltering day.

After that initial game, after having slid and fallen all over the turf in the keeper’s box – much less having to deal with how much higher and more erratically the ball bounces on a turf field – I realized that I couldn’t deal with playing on an artificial surface in what I was wearing again. My legs, arms, and even my face were scratched up, simply from trying to play the same game on artificial turf as I had always played on grass without incident.

For the rest of the time I played soccer, whenever we were sent to play on a turf field (including an entire winter league season, which in California could still mean relatively high outside temperatures), I always wore a long-sleeved keeper’s jersey and long pants to try to avoid what I went through in that first game. However, the turf remained relentless. I still felt it burning and cutting into my skin whenever I hit the ground. My arms and legs were bloody and bruised underneath my clothes, and I’d only discover the extent to which this was true when I changed into a T-shirt and shorts after the game.

This is not how anyone should be forced to play soccer. In a contact sport where pivotal parts of the game take place on the ground, female players should not have to take this kind of damage because the sport’s governing body doesn’t see a problem with allowing men, and not women, to play on a surface conducive to the sport.

With no sense of irony, FIFA chose this statement from the coach of the Albanian women’s team as one of two “quotes of the year” in its 2013 women’s football review:

The word football doesn’t differentiate between male and female. Football is a game featuring 22 players and one ball, and it’s the same for both men and women!

Perhaps if this were actually the case, this sentiment would carry more weight among women’s soccer players worldwide.


Also published at Medium.

Final Sentences

This mess is inspired by this McSweeney’s post, in which the author reproduces final sentences of essays they wrote in college. Ever-so-creatively, I’ve done the same here. They are somewhat in chronological order, from freshman year in 2008 to graduation in 2012.

A few things that are worth mentioning: (1) I apologize in advance for the likely errors in the French sentences; (2) trying to guess for which classes these essays were written could be a fun game; and (3) I attended a Catholic school for the first three semesters of undergrad. Enjoy!


I am proud to be here and eager to begin my college education.

The fact alone that I may act independently of them is reason enough for me to want to live without them.

She breaks from my grasp and dances into the next chapter of her life without vertigo.

It is this symbiotic relationship that is the foundation of my entire association with my parents and I take pride in maintaining my part of this valuable connection.

Based on this evidence, it is obvious that China should invest more into its space program.

It is only then that the answers to the unrequited questions will expose themselves.

It is not pleasant to ponder this, so we should merely hope for the best in Obama’s campaign — and hope for the worst in the aftermath of the Palin disaster.

Overall, America will focus its attention on the common good, and following the election, has great potential to advance culturally and socially as a country.

It is in these lines where one understands that the entire sonnet is a compliment to the speaker’s beloved and that his peace should entirely resolve any issues with the situation.

However, this mixture of metrical patterns helps the poem flow in a more colloquial, almost childlike manner.

The pain of death that plagued Jesus between his death and resurrection are what elicits the angel’s appearance and his rise into heaven.

At my next poetry reading, I will not enter expecting it to follow a certain set of guidelines; I will instead sit comfortably and wait for the environment to demonstrate its full potential.

From sorrow, the hope for the journey to a better place upon death emerges and the grieving process that is all too necessary in order to live is finally assuaged.

Just as the association between the speaker and his surroundings is not altogether clear upon a brief glance of the situation illustrated, the personal connections between the speaker and his natural surroundings and the speaker and the people on the ferry are not evident without detecting the similar vowel sounds within each key word associated with this major correlation between the living and the inanimate.

Where “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” communicates the hope of a new beginning, “Sailing to Byzantium” conveys the inevitability of the end of the thoughts and emotions that drove the first poem, death.

The speaker’s self-deprecation, driven by his self-created surrounding darkness, eventually causes his downfall.

Without a belief in oneself, one’s outward qualities may not be truly embraced by others.

The answer as of yet eludes me.

Albeit simple, it is indeed simplicity that governs life and we must live simply in order to best experience life.

This is not to discount Descartes’ entire philosophy on the subject (i.e. by calling it crazy), but it does not make sense on its own.

If death brings the pleasure that one could not realize in life, then death is yet another neutrality: it does not put one at peace, it is merely a final fix for one’s lifelong struggle with pain.

But who am I to judge based on my own beliefs?

Perhaps he is leaving it up to those who come after him to complete his philosophy for him, so that if his philosophy follows through and his soul returns, he may look upon the world and its beliefs and finally be at peace.

Although I believe myself to be somewhat tolerant of organized religion and its tenets, an argument like this is impossible to accept with its multiple exasperating flaws.

Nous adorons aller au cinéma, danser, passer la soirée ensemble, et rigoler beaucoup.

Ma chambre à coucher à Gonzaga est plus grande que ma chambre à coucher dans le logement de ma famille, mais je ne partage pas de chambre à coucher dans le logement de ma famille, et je partage ma chambre à coucher avec ma camarade de chambre à Gonzaga.

C’est génial !

This motion blindness is not a terribly common phenomenon, with only one good case being presented in published literature, but awareness of it may allow doctors, like Dr. House, to better diagnose patients and allow them the proper course of action.

This ironic conclusion reinforces the apparent normality of CIPA patients and prevents many others from understanding their massive internal differences.

“And,” Bereta reminds us, “there is always Ninja Warrior.”

Make checks payable to “GU Choral Music” and note “GU Choral Activities” on your check’s memo line.

“Trust, commitment, and love. Have these, and you will get through life.”

The director provides necessary tools; all people must do is recognize and apply them to their lives.

Students remember its final words long after orientation and wear their Creed shirts bearing the message that unifies Gonzaga: “I choose to be a member of the Gonzaga Community. I am a ZAG. I am a Bulldog. Together, WE ARE GONZAGA!”

Perhaps a “Second Industrial Revolution” is upon us, but with it comes ignorance of all that is real and worship of artificial intelligence in all its human-driven glory.

Whether the problems driving its supporters are merely unknown to the world or unbelievable, it must either demobilize some other way or face defeat.

The super rich will always exist, for they are who inherently define all who fall below.

Although Dwayne’s initial problems were family-based, the love his relatives have for him could be the only thing he needs to get better.

Judging by the bleak turn that the songs and the plot take as Berlin falls to the Nazis, the master of ceremonies’ final “Good night” is perhaps our only indication of the events to take place after the final curtain.

This is a choice left up to the viewer, perhaps the final question remaining at the end of this thrilling film.

A shifted perspective of the Dickens novel, one that favors Oliver and his allies throughout, is what this film used to its vast advantage.

Neuroscience and music therapy are an important pair in the field of medicine, especially in rehabilitation, and scientists should investigate this relationship further in order for more breakthroughs to occur.

Until globalization effectively “modernizes” the rest of the world, these differences will continue to affect decisions referring to sex and reproduction.

Though correlations between aggression and being of a certain ethnicity or gender exist, the causation of these is still up for debate, and neither of these reasons should be the sole motive for explaining aggression.

Le passage en Haïti sera apprécié par beaucoup de gens et je serai satisfait.

J’espère que votre compagnon appartement est meilleure que la mienne.

Voir le film deux fois !

The age at which a child attends preschool is a vital time for establishing a rudimentary awareness of basic skills that will remain with them for their entire life.

Though it remained undiscussed, we were both aware of one fact: we would never be alone at the bottom of the pack again.

I’ve never known him to stray when he has the chance to learn something new.

I sat down on the couch and began to write…

And as I’m helped up off the ground and taken to an ambulance, my heart pounds and I feel guilty that mine can and his can’t and I want to give some of my heart pounds to him, I can live on just a few a minute, please no I was joking don’t take my life too

DeLillo’s simple tweaks, such as adding the hijackers as affected characters, incorporating art as a coping mechanism, and providing untrustworthy psychological stressors, illustrate in great detail the effects of “the culture of the easy edit” and how a few minute details can shake up an individual’s views of a horrific event.

Indeed, “what world is this” in which love can endure but not truly exist?

As irrelevant as this work is, so too is it a failed attempt to help the country heal from the September 11 attacks.

The push for “perfection” must continue if the human race is to succeed, even if it means giving natural selection a push in the right direction.

This increases external validity and provides an opportunity for expansion in the field not only of music therapy, but of trauma therapy as a whole.

Knowing that there is a place where no new bad things can happen induces immense relief in the client and makes them not only more likely to return to therapy, but also more comfortable in their lives outside of therapy.

And in the end, this class as a whole is leaving me stronger, more scholarly, and with insurmountable knowledge that will facilitate my triumph over my anxieties for years to come.

The decision was purely my own, and I chose the option that would not involve possible negative involvement by my professor.

The only part of this article that was altogether comforting was the reference to “future research” at the very end, something that will hopefully follow very soon.

Now I embrace my differences, and do relish the extra sleep I can get because it does not take me an hour or more to get ready in the morning.

However, if research on this were to be conducted, it would surely fill in many of the holes left by the current research, including the possibility that researchers today are accidentally misgendering children in research.

In a logical society, lies like these would not be able to sustain themselves.

Farmers and consumers alike could see a real positive change if the runoff problem was addressed at the federal level.

It is an extremely treatable condition, but only if doctors and patients alike are willing and able to work through the appropriate treatment.

Protecting the bobolink means protecting Iowa.

Quel journée !