This weekend, my dear friend and I indulged in two movies – Her and August: Osage County, both of which made me grateful for this month of focus that I’ve set out for myself. My plan has been to step away from the computer and be more engaged with writing, my partner, my family, and my friends. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m more emotionally invested in technology than people, and I don’t want a life of estrangement from family. I felt like those films functioned as a cosmic affirmation of my plans for the month.
Then I heard from my mother late yesterday afternoon that Philip Seymour Hoffman died. What? How? Of a drug overdose? At 46?
I’ve had a thing for Philip Seymour Hoffman since I saw Almost Famous in 2000. “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” I love his character in that movie, and I loved that Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared seemingly everywhere as strange, awkward and somehow still lovable characters. I should note that I can only call him Philip Seymour Hoffman. What a grand name. He’s not Philip to me, and Mr. Hoffman sounds wrong despite every reference in the New York Times to him that way. He’s Philip Seymour Hoffman of Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, Capote, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and Moneyball. He’s the guy who wasn’t just a pretty face. He was handsome in his imperfection and had a voice that could coax me into doing damn near anything. But not heroin.
I don’t understand drug use. I am petrified of it. I remember a kid jumping down flights of stairs in high school when he was high on something. I remember being in college and hearing on Halloween morning of the death of River Phoenix, who was only 23, because of drugs. I remember a guy I dated in my twenties taking ecstasy before a rave and proceeding to spend the evening lost in a netherworld and completely unaware of my presence or any effort I made to get his attention. I want no part of that world, and I don’t want that world in my world.
I want a world where River, which is what I always called him in my teenage fantasy life, lives to be a devilishly handsome old man, where Philip Seymour Hoffman appears on stage and in movies well into his nineties, and where people wonder why anyone, talented or not, gorgeous or not, rich or not, would inject himself, snort anything, or pop a pill for pleasure.
I know people who want nothing more today than a clean bill of health. I understand that drugs help sometimes – that they are medically necessary at times. But not heroine. Not cocaine. Someone who is willing to gamble with life for a thrill should go jump out of a plane and at least see the world from a different point of view. Someone who wants to numb himself should…I don’t know. Talk to someone? Check into rehab? Find a way to feel better without risking his life? If not for his own well-being, then he should do it for the people who love him – people like long time partners, children, siblings and, hell, even fans.
I’ve said before that training is therapy for me. I mean that, and I believe it to be effective therapy. I met a guy at a happy hour once who, when I told him I did Ironman triathlons, said, “Damn. You must have a lot of demons. I can work through mine in a half marathon.” Those words stung because I knew they were accurate. At the same time, I’m grateful that my way of dealing with heartache and disappointment (i.e. my addiction) makes me more healthy and doesn’t hurt anyone, despite the sometimes angry rantings of drivers who think bikes have no business on the road.
Aren’t there a million things out there people can do to make life better? Swim. Bike. Run. Row. Write. Paint. Sculpt. Draw. Take up photography. Go on a trip. Hike. Camp. Fish. Listen to live music. See a show. Watch a movie or ten or twenty. But drugs? Injecting yourself with something someone you don’t and wouldn’t want to know sold on the street? Why would anyone put their health and well-being in someone else’s hands like that? I just don’t understand.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, if you see my River in heaven, I hope you’ll look at each other and say, “We really f*cked up, didn’t we?” And then go be the best damn angels you can be and watch over people you left behind. If you can figure out a way to siphon your talent and pour it into a living being, please consider sending some of it my way. And when you can, throw an eighteen wheeler or two at every single person in the world who makes a penny off selling bags or vials of death to people who need something so much greater.