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This morning I woke up to find out that Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave, has just died at 52. The news is now coming out that he had hung himself.

Soundgarden was among the bands I listened to back during the early 1990’s grunge era (along with Nirvana, Hole, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains). Sadly I never got the chance to see that band in concert. I still play Superunknown on a regular basis because the music is that good.

The sad part is that Soundgarden had just reunited and the band was playing a few gigs. Chris Cornell made this tweet just a few hours before he was found dead.

That tweet doesn’t look like one that was made by someone who was suicidal. It sounded like he was happy.

I’m just going to end this post by embedding a few videos that show Chris Cornell in action.

Have you ever had the experience of learning that someone whom you first met when that person was a baby is now dead? That is happening to me right now.

My late aunt, who was also my mom’s older sister, was a stay at home mother of four girls. When her youngest daughter started elementary school, her home was pretty quiet during the school week. She decided to earn extra money by taking care of other people’s young children in her home during the week. Most of the kids she babysat were between the ages of 2-5 and they only stayed with her anywhere from a few months to about a year or two until they either started elementary school or their parents moved elsewhere. So she had frequent turnover of kids.

Then she started to take care of three young brothers. The oldest had just started elementary school while the youngest, Ben, was just a baby (he might have been at least six months old) at the time. I think the boys’ mother wanted to go back to work after being a stay at home mom for the last several years so that was why my aunt started to care for them.

I think there may have been marital tensions between the parents as well but I don’t have all the details. (I was a kid myself when all this was going on.) I remember that Ben’s father shot himself to death soon after my aunt started to care for the brothers. I still remember when my aunt called my mom telling her about the distressing news. Ben’s mother ended up becoming a single parent and she frequently leaned on my aunt to help out with the childcare, especially if the mother had to go on some errand without having any of the kids in tow. I heard that the two older brothers were deeply affected by their father’s death. Ben was the least affected because he was so young when his father died so he grew up without ever knowing him.

Eventually my aunt stopped caring for Ben’s older brothers when they started middle school so it was just her and Ben at home during the weekday afternoon (when Ben’s school closed for the day) for a few years. Occasionally there were periods when they would be joined by another preschool child whom my aunt happened to babysit at the time. But the rest of the time it was just my aunt and Ben.

I used to sometimes see Ben when I visited my aunt and uncle with my parents. Sometimes his brothers would be there as well but there were times when Ben was the only one there because his brothers and their mother were elsewhere. I remember Ben being this really cute little kid with the big impish grin. He always had this mischievous look about him. As he learned to talk he started to call my uncle “Dad” (he saw my uncle as a father figure since his own father was gone) while he called my aunt “Mom Lipp” to distinguish her from his own mother (Lipp was my aunt’s last name). My cousins used to dote over Ben as the baby brother they never had.

My aunt stopped taking care of Ben when he entered middle school. She would continue to see him at church (his family attended the same Roman Catholic parish that my aunt, uncle, and cousins attended) and he would come by the house to visit every now and then (whenever he wasn’t busy with homework and after-school activities) so he still kept in touch with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I think my aunt may have cared for a few more kids after Ben (I don’t remember) but she had to stop offering her child care services when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer was in remission when my oldest cousin got married. Ben served as the altar boy at my cousin’s wedding. My aunt’s cancer returned not long after the wedding and she died at the age of 48. I saw Ben at my aunt’s funeral. I think he was in high school by then. It was the last time I saw Ben in person.

Today I learned on Facebook that Ben is dead. One of my cousins had posted a picture on Facebook of her, her three sisters, Ben’s mother, and Ben’s brothers after they returned from Ben’s funeral. I also learned on Facebook that Ben took his own life just like his father did. I don’t know why Ben felt the need to do what he did nor do I know if he actually sought any kind of professional help before he killed himself.

I just feel so weirded out that someone whom I met as a baby and saw from time to time as he grew up is now dead. I’m older than Ben and I’m still alive. Given the natural order of things, I should be the one who dies before Ben but, instead, it’s the opposite. Ben is dead and I’m alive. I just feel so numb about all this (and the fact that it’s cold and rainy outside today isn’t helping).

Last year I wrote about an impromptu memorial that sprang up in my area at the site where a man who committed suicide. At the time I wrote this:

The only lesson I can provide is this: Is there anyone in your life whom you haven’t communicated with in a while? Please take the time to either call, e-mail, or text that person. It doesn’t have to be something that’s too complex or involved. You could just say something like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you doing?” This could give that person a chance to admit that he/she is overwhelmed and start talking to you instead of concluding that suicide is the only option.

I also provided a link to the National Suicide Prevention Line (which can also be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255). I can’t say whether Ben would still be alive had someone reached out to him asking if he was okay or if he had contacted the National Suicide Prevention Line. Yes, I know that it’s too late to help Ben but I would urge everyone reading this to just reach out to someone whom they haven’t spoken with in a while just to see how he or she is doing.

Now I have to deal with the sad fact that someone whom I met as a baby is now dead and I’m outliving him.

I know that sites like Roadside America tend to mention the downtown area of the original historic section of Greenbelt, Maryland as a less-known attraction (mainly because most out-of-state visitors tend to prefer going to Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, DC). As a local I tend to pass by the downtown area frequently so I’m used to seeing the statues and reliefs to the point of complacency. But I realized that I should still take the time to pause and reflect on the fact that these statues and reliefs exist and I should appreciate their existence.

I want to start off with this chair-like sculpture that’s not listed on Roadside America’s site but it’s located near enough to the others that it warrants a mention in this blog.

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This sculpture, located outside the front doors of the Greenbelt Library, is dedicated to Al Herling, who was a longtime Greenbelt resident and a staunch supporter of the arts. I met Al when my then-husband and I first began to attend the local Unitarian Universalist congregation. He was not only an active advocate for the arts in Greenbelt but he was also very active in the arts at our congregation. I remember he was an excellent piano player (he used to occasionally play during Sunday service) and he was very active in the choir. I only knew him for a couple of years because he was already quite elderly and he died about four or five years after my then-husband and I joined the congregation.

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The Greenbelt Library is located next door to the Greenbelt Community Center. It was originally opened as an elementary school when the town was founded in the 1930’s but it was converted to a community center when a newer, more modern elementary school was built a mile away. This building is noted on the Roadside America site for these reliefs that were created during the Great Depression by a sculptor named Lenore Thomas.

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The Roadside America site mentions that the building and reliefs look really impressive when lit up at night and I have to agree with that one.

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As for the reliefs, they are all based on the preamble to the United States Constitution, with each phrase from the preamble etched into stone at the bottom of each relief. Here is what each relief looks like in the day and at night.

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Located near the reliefs is this sculpture that was also done by Lenore Thomas and was donated to the City of Greenbelt by her daughter back in 2000.

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Located just a few feet away from the Greenbelt Community Center is Roosevelt Center, which is a small commercial district that currently consists of four food establishments, one convenience store, a beauty salon, a massage spa, and the Co-Op Grocery Store. Located in the center of Roosevelt Center is the Mother and Child statue that was also sculpted by Lenore Thomas.

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Last month the Mother and Child statue was the scene of a tragedy when a man committed suicide just a few feet away. I wrote about this last month and noted how the base of the statue had turned into a makeshift memorial. The memorial has gotten smaller since that time but people still leave little tributes like these flowers at the base.

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Way back in 2014 I wrote a rant about the travails of belonging to an online neighborhood group that dealt only with issues in my immediate neighborhood and how something as innocuous as an apolitical online neighborhood group can attract trolls and drama llamas.

The first paragraph of that 2014 rant dealt with how I was a member of a Yahoo! group about my neighborhood but I ended up quitting it because I grew so tired of the moderator, who thought of himself as being such a comedian that he would frequently make unfunny posts that poked fun at someone else’s serious post. One such example was when someone made a post asking about some local restaurants that served vegan food and the moderator made some unfunny jokes about vegans, which incited this unnecessary online drama from people who were offended at the unfunny vegan jokes. He also drew ire with his frequent references to a group of African American teens as a “wolfpack” when all they were doing was just sitting outside on benches consuming snacks and drinks they purchased from a nearby convenience store.

A couple of days ago I learned on Facebook that the moderator of that Yahoo! group had committed suicide. He was only 51 years old. I never met the guy in person. I had formed a very unfavorable impression of him based on his less-than-impressive moderator activity on that Yahoo! group. I basically disliked the guy based solely on his so-called “funny” posts, the majority of which I either thought were unfunny, insulting, or both. In my zeal to conclude that this guy was unlikeable, I forgot that he was a human being just like the rest of us. Just because he cracked insulting jokes that hurt other people’s feelings didn’t mean that he was inhuman. In fact, it’s possible that his frequent joke-telling was a way for him to mask whatever emotional pain he was feeling yet, for whatever reason, was unable to express it in a healthy way.

Basically just because someone is obnoxious doesn’t mean that he/she isn’t going through some personal turmoil in his/her personal life. It’s possible that the obnoxious personality is the byproduct of that personal turmoil. That man’s personality probably led to a downward spiral where he probably needed help yet his abrasive personality had alienated and driven away anyone who could’ve been able to help which, in turn, led to feeling increasingly isolated which, in turn, led to becoming even more obnoxious and abrasive which, in turn, led to alienating and driving away more people who could have helped him, which, in turn, led to becoming even more isolated, etc., until it led to this tragic conclusion where he completely gave up on life altogether.

He left this life in the most dramatic way. He shot himself in the head near the Mother and Child statue in Greenbelt, Maryland sometime between 2-3 a.m. on Friday morning, March 11, 2016. I walked past that same statue yesterday where I saw this little memorial pop up.

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Someone had left a bunch of flowers, an opened Bible, and a smudge stick (which was dispensing smoke when I took these photos).

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The Bible was opened to Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…”).

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Here’s another shot of this impromptu memorial.

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I left the area to do something else. When I returned a few hours later I saw that the flower pile had grown and there were also cards, a note, and a photograph left there as well.

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The only lesson I can provide is this: Is there anyone in your life whom you haven’t communicated with in a while? Please take the time to either call, e-mail, or text that person. It doesn’t have to be something that’s too complex or involved. You could just say something like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you doing?” This could give that person a chance to admit that he/she is overwhelmed and start talking to you instead of concluding that suicide is the only option.

Also keep this number handy in case you have someone who is suicidal: 1 (800) 273-8255. That’s the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which you can also reach online right here.

UPDATE (March 24, 2016): The local paper has details about the suicide and the life of that person that you can read right here. (The paper is only available as a .pdf format but you can see a photo of the impromptu memorial at the bottom on page 1, a cartoon mourning the deceased on the top of page 2, an obituary on page 4, a mention of the deceased in the “Our Neighbors” column on page 5, and additional stories about the deceased on page 7.)

For the rest of my life, whenever anyone asks me where I was the night the nation learned that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I can easily answer this question: Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School at The Wind-Up Space in Baltimore!

When I decided to go to that event, I hadn’t learned about Robin Williams’ death yet. I was just going to have a good time and practice my drawing skills. Before I arrived at The Wind-Up Space, I stopped at the nearby Liam Flynn’s Ale House. I was inspired to try eating there after I attended the tail-end of the opening reception for the Station North Arts District Salon Show (where I currently have two pieces on display at the Station North Arts Cafe). Here is what the decor looked like.

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And here’s the wall full of art from the current Station North Arts District Salon Show.

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While I was at Liam Flynn’s, I ordered this incredibly awesome salmon dinner with a side salad and some hard cider. The meal was excellent. What’s really great was that there’s an option to order a half-meal for half the price of a full meal, which was great for my budget. Besides, that half-meal filled me up pretty well.

After dinner I walked a few doors down to The Wind-Up Space. Usually I can get a decent seat. However, that night it was so crowded that I ended up sitting in the back, which I documented with my smartphone camera.

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I learned that that night set a new attendance record with 65 people showing up and the place was on the verge of being sold-out. Despite the crowd, people were pretty good-natured so it wasn’t too bad. (I was still able to see the model despite being several rows back from the stage.) Since The Wind-Up Space is also taking part in the Station North Arts District Salon Show, I was able to get another view of some of the art from that show on display on one of the walls.

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The model for the evening was a burlesque performer from St. Louis named Jeez Loueez. (Some of the drawings in this entry are definitely NSFW.) I started out with a few black and white drawings, the best of which are posted below.

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During the first model break, I took a look at my smartphone. I have The Guardian newspaper app installed on it. (I became a fan of The Guardian ever since I read that paper during the time that my then-husband and I spent a week in London back in 2007.) I received a push notification from The Guardian and it said that Robin Williams had died of an apparent suicide. I gasped when I saw that notification and I opened the app to read that story. Someone near me had heard me gasped and asked what happened and I mentioned that The Guardian app was saying that Robin Williams is dead. That person sounded skeptical and was even asking me if The Guardian is a reliable source. (I just want to say that The Guardian is pretty reputable compared to those notorious sleazy tabloids that tend to exaggerate or make up stuff—especially the tabloids that are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation—and it wouldn’t just announce the death of a major American celebrity like Robin Williams without some kind of an official confirmation from the local authorities.) The skeptic turned to her own phone and it was obvious that she saw the news for herself because she was looking at her phone for several minutes.

So it suddenly became surreal as I saw other people looking at their smartphones and I suspected that they must have seen the same news that I did. The conversations were all pretty muted. I think people were just shocked because Robin Williams’ suicide came from out of nowhere.

I don’t know when the people connected with the Dr. Sketchy’s event learned the news but the whole event continued as Jeez Louise returned from her break. So I took out my colored pencils and made a few more drawings. Like the old saying goes, “The show must go on!”

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There was another model break with Jeez Loueez changing her costume and doing a brief burlesque performance before resuming modeling.

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The organizers announced a contest and asked the audience for suggestions. One guy blurted out “Robin Williams” but they were initially reluctant to that suggestion while announcing that Williams had passed away. Instead we did a contest where we had to incorporate Roger Rabbit in a drawing. As someone who have long loved Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I took part in that contest and produced the drawing below.

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The above drawing was among the finalists but I didn’t win. There was another model break followed by an announcement that the organizers had relented on not using Robin Williams in a contest and decided to do a contest based on one of Williams’ movies, Hook. I had seen that film years ago and, while I felt that it wasn’t among Robin Williams’ better movies (I preferred Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Dead Poets Society), I’ve always loved Peter Pan ever since I saw the Disney animation of the same name when I was a child. So I took part in the contest. Unlike the last one, this drawing failed to make it to the finalists.

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After that contest people started to leave because it was getting late at night. I took advantage of the situation by moving to a closer chair where I was able to get a better glimpse of Jeez Loueez. I made this last drawing before I left for home.

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I briefly turned on the TV when I got home and I saw wall-to-wall coverage about the death of Robin Williams on the cable TV news. I also saw my Facebook news feed filled with Robin Williams-related stuff. (I didn’t dare check out Twitter, Instagram, or other social media because I knew it would’ve been the same.) The next few days were filled with news about Robin Williams’ suicide on both TV and the Internet. It was like the whole world erupted into mourning on a level that I haven’t seen since the murder of John Lennon in 1980 and the suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994.

UPDATE (October 19, 2014): Here’s the official video of this event. Some of my drawings even made it in this one. 🙂

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