Monday, August 11, 2014


Today in my teenage angst, Robin Williams died.

If you know me at all, which you likely don't, you'll know I love celebrities. I think they have a really hard job, standing in the public eye, standing up to scrutiny, performing in the biggest way possible. Naysayers, those people we know and hate but inevitbaly are, only make it harder. I think we need to be really careful about the way we think about celebrities and evidence that thought.

Loving them as I do, I form attachments. In February, I was walking around Superstore when my dad texted me to see if I had heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was gone. He'd been found in his apartment. PSH is my favorite actor; tied with Dustin Hoffman. I think he is such an example of versatility and brilliance on screen. My heart stopped when I read that text. I finished my shopping in a haze. As I got to my car, I climbed into the front seat and started to cry. I didn't stop sobbing for two more hours. I had to go to sleep. Now as I think of it, I laugh a little, because he is a complete stranger. I know him only in fictional situations. I hadn't known, up until that point, that he even had a drug problem. But for some reason, to me, he was it. I was alwasy so happy when he was cast in something. Because there was more; more to see, anticipate, and hold. I still can't believe he's gone.

I do not have this attachment to Robin Williams. My first encounter with his wonderful voice was Aladin, in 1992, in a theatre in Lethbridge, Alberta. I will readily admit, however, that I don't like Mrs. Doubtfire, and I've never seen Good Will Hunting. Even so, Robin Williams changed my life.

I did nine years of undergraduate education. I love education and the process and the power of influence from minds that are wiser than mine. I love that, when approached appropriately, I can come out of a semester in a course having had my worldview shaped and reformed forever. So obviously, the story of Dead Poets Society is close to my heart. The freedom of learning offered to the boys, through the teaching of Mr. Keating - played by Williams, is exactly this kind of worldview shaping teaching. Two scenes, as an adolescent, and then as a teen, and then as an undergrad, gave me an unceasing and irrefutable love for education and as a result changed my life.

First. A verrryyy young Ethan Hawke fights Mr. Keating as he makes him write a poem in front of class after not completing the assignment.

Second. Mr. Keating explains the goodness and life-sustaining nature of beauty, art, and consequently life. Here he quotes from what is now my favorite poem, O Me, O Life.
I identify so closely with the message and sentiment of Dead Poets Society, most of which is carried by and communicated through the character of Mr. Keating. This identifcation has changed my life. Robin Williams performance, as the life altering Mr. Keating, then, has changed my life. I cannot even express how sad I am about his passing. Especially considering the manner in which it happened. Especially considering the climax of the story of Dead Poets Society. This is to me, the most important part of this whole post, and something I need to reiterate. O Me, O Life presents a questioning of the difficulties in life that surround us all; our self worth, the worth of others, the world itself. Whitman closes the poem by asking a question and then responding.

. . . What good amid these [difficulties], O me, O life?

That you are here. That life exists and identity. 
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. 

I hope you can find your verse. I promise, it is within you to write one.