Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Seven nights of Fonzie: Night 1

I think too much, and I haven’t bicycled as much since the end of August as I typically do in the fall, for a combination of reasons. Bicycling gives me time to do a lot of thinking, so perhaps it seems like I think too much these days simply because I’m not doing it as naturally, while chafing my ass on a bike seat.

So after my lunch conversation with Rush today I decided it was time to sort out my thoughts. I decided the way to do it is this way, through blogs. I am calling this the “Seven nights of Fonzie.” I’m going to blog every night, not necessarily before I go to bed, about what’s on my mind. I’m going to do it until I make a couple of key decisions. I think I know what those decisions are likely to be, but I can’t say for sure. This will help me get there.

As I was driving to a meeting, I deliberated whether or not this was an exercise worth posting. Why not just blog in a text file that I never publish? Well, for starters, the jukebox is highly anonymous, at least for now. I don’t post anything, and I mean anything, that I wouldn’t want my friends or family to read. But do I want my friends and family to have access to this blog some day? I don’t see why not, should they be interested.

One thing I struggled with today, why not keep a private journal instead of a public blog? Wouldn’t I write things I’m feeling without having to censor them? Of course, but I’ve rarely been interested in writing anything that personal. I once thought that would be helpful, but it wasn’t. It didn’t make my life better, it just provided a painful reminder that my life wasn’t getting better. I burned that notebook and have never regretted it.

Posting my thoughts for the world to see in theory will create greater accountability for my life. That isn’t exactly true. I posted my bicycling mileage periodically, knowing I’d have to push myself to beat the 2,120 miles I pedaled last year, but I’m not even going to get to 2,000 this year. Perhaps seeing my blog and being reminded all winter that I failed to meet last year’s total will inspire me to greater success next year.

It’s not fun looking back at failure, so by that logic I hope my next several nights of writing will serve as a reminder to me this coming winter, as I continue to push myself in some way, shape or form.

My ground rule is simple. No editing, and I mean none, other than a simple spell check at the end of the night. If I don’t catch a grammatical error along the way, I cannot change it later. If I don’t like something I wrote, I cannot go back and delete it later. I can amend my statements in future blogs, but other than letting the computer fix my spelling, I cannot go back and censor my writing. It’s not a rule to foster my laziness, it’s about honesty.

Several things have been on my mind lately, and I’m not sure how far back I want to dwell. That may work itself out naturally. For now I’ll dwell on something recent, “The Bridge.”

Rush and I both enjoy documentary films. Rush is a bigger movie buff than me, but we’re both interested in documentaries and question the how and why of them. Why did the director deem the topic worthwhile? Why did he focus on these elements of the story? Why didn’t he address these topics? What is his bias? What did he leave out in an effort to convey the message he’s trying to convey?

We got on a documentary kick last winter. I don’t watch many movies during bicycling season, so I’ve only seen one documentary in the past several months, until I rented “The Bridge.” (I’m on a free month of rentals thanks to Netflix.) I had heard about The Bridge last year, and the controversial nature of the film. The director spent a year filming footage of the Golden Gate Bridge from the shores of San Francisco Bay. His camera operators were watching for suicide jumpers. They’d focus in on lone individuals who would pace the bridge, stare out into the bay for extended periods of time, etc. They never knew who the person was or if they were about to witness a suicide jump, but they captured several of them, as well as some aborted efforts.

If I remember correctly, there were 24 suicides off the bridge in 2004, the year of the film. (Three bodies were never recovered.)

I never realized that the bridge was an attractive destination for suicide jumpers. I never thought about how devastating a jump off a high bridge was. Once you reach a certain speed, hitting the water is still going to do a lot of damage to the body, I suppose. I don’t know how most people hit the water, but anything other than feet first, straight as an arrow, is sure to mess you up good. They never explained what exactly kills people when they jump off that bridge, which was one of many shortcomings of the film.

And they interview a young dude who survived a jump. He was injured, but somehow he was able to survive the impact and reach the surface. He was in a bit of distress, and could have easily drowned, but he thinks something helped keep him afloat at the surface until a rescue boat arrived. He thinks sea lions recognized he was a human in the water and circled under him, somehow helping keep his body at the surface. He remembers something brushing up against his body at some point. He talks about his experience in the movie, although they don’t have footage of his jump.

So I watched the flick a week or so ago and gave it to Rush. He watched it this past weekend. We talked about it over lunch, discussing what we found interesting and lacking in the film. We wondered how many people go out there, take a look down, ad realize they don’t want to jump. We also wondered how many people climb over the railing and onto the support beams below, only to be talked off the edge. (There’s a pedestrian sidewalk across the bridge.) The film shows a couple of people who climb over the railing and contemplate jumping, only to return to the sidewalk. Do these people know they’re not going to do it, and subconsciously go through the motions as a cry for help? I can’t imagine they calculate these steps as a plan to get attention, but who knows?

One woman wasn’t talked off the edge so much as she was pulled off. A guy taking pictures on the bridge was approaching the woman as she climbed the railing. He took pictures of her in action, including standing on the edge. As he approached her, taking pictures, he started talking to her. He couldn’t quite convince her to willingly climb back up onto the sidewalk, so he reached over the railing, jeopardizing his own safety, and grabbed her clothing near the shoulder. He pulled her and lifted her up, eventually getting her over the railing. She didn’t fight him so much as she seemed to simply resist his effort. But in a spectacular fit of strength, he pulled her up to safety. The documentary cameras caught this scene in action.

There was so many questions I wish the filmmaker would have answered. Instead the film was dedicated to the stories of several people, most of whom were dead. They captured spectacular footage of a guy finally plummeting to his death. Well, I guess the footage wasn’t spectacular, it was the way the guy went about his jump that was different than most. His friends and/or relatives, like others they profiled, were interviewed for the movie.

As Rush and I talked about the movie, its flaws and its accomplishments, we talked about the courage it took when standing there on the bridge, preparing to jump into the unknown. I don’t know if that’s a word either of us used, but to me it does take courage. Some argue you’re a coward if you kill yourself. I think it takes a lot of courage, unless you’re in so much pain it’s hard to get through five minutes of your day. It’s courageous to stare death in the face and then meet your maker. Your life may be a mess, but there are many things you know, even if the future is unwritten. When you jump off that bridge, you’re facing a far more uncertain future. Chances are your life is over. What then? Nobody knows exactly what awaits them, if anything, in the afterlife.

And if it’s not the end of your life, will you be able to walk again? Will you be a human vegetable?

Rush put it best when he said that he’s never considered suicide. He said that no matter how lousy things have been, he has never wanted to stop experiencing the joys life has to offer. That was one hell of a powerful statement, and it got me thinking about the joys of life. I will ponder those further for night 2.