You know, I'm sick of following my dreams, man. I'm just going to ask where they're going and hook up with 'em later.
|From Boston.com - By David Abel, Globe Staff |
Author described nihilistic outlook
In the end, no one really knows what led Mitchell Heisman, an erudite, wry, handsome 35-year-old, to walk into Harvard Yard on the holiest day in his faith and fire one shot from a silver revolver into his right temple, on the top step of Memorial Church, where hundreds gathered to observe the Jewish Day of Atonement.
But if the 1,905-page suicide note he left is to be believed — a work he spent five years honing and that his family and others received in a posthumous e-mail after his suicide last Saturday morning on Yom Kippur — Heisman took his life as part of a philosophical exploration he called “an experiment in nihilism.’’
At the end of his note, a dense, scholarly work with 1,433 footnotes, a 20-page bibliography, and more than 1,700 references to God and 200 references to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Heisman sums up his experiment:
“Every word, every thought, and every emotion come back to one core problem: life is meaningless,’’ he wrote. “The experiment in nihilism is to seek out and expose every illusion and every myth, wherever it may lead, no matter what, even if it kills us.’’
Over the years, as he became more immersed in his work, often laboring over it 12 hours a day, Heisman shared bits with friends and family but never elaborated on the extent of his nihilism — his hardened view that life is vapid and nonsensical, that values are pretense, that the “unreasoned conviction in the rightness of life over death is like a god or a mass delusion.’’
He told them he was working on a history of the Norman conquest of England, cloistered in a cramped apartment he shared in Somerville. They knew the clean-shaven young man from suburban New Jersey, who always called his elderly godmother on her birthday and once donated $200 to Harvard Hillel for sponsoring services at Memorial Church, to be intensely committed to his work.
Neither his mother, sister, nor the roommates from whom he sought forgiveness in the hours before he died had any idea he was about to kill himself. They and others have been groping for answers to why he did it and in such a public way, on such a holy day.
“He was very cordial, very charming, you would never know that something was wrong,’’ said Lonni Heisman, his mother. He frequently told her he loved her, and had recently visited to help her prepare for a move. “I’m still in shock and I can’t understand how he could have hid this,’’ she said. “He had everything going for him. He was in perfect health. He was handsome, smart, a good person. I’ll never understand it.’’
She said he was a gregarious child who grew introverted after his father, an engineer, died of a heart attack when Mitchell was 12 years old. As he got older, he became increasingly bookish and went on to study psychology at the University at Albany in New York, where he seemed shy to friends and spent much of his time reading.
After college, Heisman worked at bookstores, including the Strand in Manhattan, enabling him to amass a library of thousands of books. About five years ago, he moved to Somerville to focus on writing and be near major university libraries.
He led a Spartan existence, subsisting on microwave meals, chicken wings, and energy bars, and surviving mainly on money left to him after his father’s death. He was tall, with dark eyes, and dated when he needed a break from his solitude, rarely having trouble attracting women. But he broke off the relationships quickly, saying he was too busy writing a book.
To help him concentrate, Heisman often listened to a constant loop of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,’’ which he felt synthesized the mind’s competing strains of emotion and reason, went to a gym daily, and took Ritalin, which his mother thinks may have induced depression and led to his suicide.
One of his longtime roommates, David Barnes, described Heisman as quiet and considerate, never angry. He engaged in conversation by asking questions; when he spoke he often gave deliberate, lengthy responses. “He could get intense talking about his book,’’ Barnes said. “There was definitely a lot of emotion pent up in this project.’’
Barnes and relatives said Heisman bought the gun, a .38-caliber pistol, three years ago, though they don’t know where, and they believe he had only one purpose for it: to commit suicide when he finished his book.
“He wasn’t going anywhere dangerous; he wasn’t paranoid; he wasn’t worried about anyone hurting him or breaking in,’’ Barnes said. “I couldn’t imagine him buying a gun for any other reason.’’
A month ago, as he began wrapping up his writing, he asked Barnes if he would be a witness to the signing of his will. Barnes thought it was because he cared so much about his book and wanted to ensure it would be taken care of in case something happened.
Two days before his suicide, Heisman seemed elated. He told his roommates he had finished the book. He spent the next day at the post office, buying stamps and preparing packages for friends and family, with the book on CDs.
On the morning of Yom Kippur, Heisman showered, shaved, and ate a breakfast of chicken fingers and lentils, some of which he left on the kitchen counter, something he rarely did. He put on a white tuxedo, with white shoes, a white tie, and white socks, and donned a ill-fitting trench coat, perhaps to hide the gun.
At about 10 a.m., a half-hour or so before he would commit suicide in front of a group touring Harvard, Heisman walked into Barnes’s room. He told him the white clothing was a Jewish tradition, even though he rarely practiced his religion and had given up on the concept of God. Appearing to be in a buoyant mood, he explained the significance of Yom Kippur.
“He said he wanted me to know that if he ever did anything to offend me, he apologized and hoped that I would forgive him,’’ Barnes said.
In his book, which he titled “Suicide Note’’ and scheduled to send to hundreds of people as an e-mail attachment about five hours after his death, Heisman produced an extraordinarily lengthy treatise on why life was not worth living.
With chapter titles such as “Philosophy, Cosmology, Singularity, New Jersey’’ and “How to Breed a God,’’ and citing more than a hundred authors from futurist Ray Kurzweil to the biologist E.O. Wilson, Heisman explains how his views took shape.
“The death of my father marked the beginning, or perhaps the acceleration, of a kind of moral collapse, because the total materialization of the world from matter to humans to literal subjective experience went hand in hand with a nihilistic inability to believe in the worth of any goal,’’ he wrote.
He saw his emotions as nothing more than a product of biology, as soulless as the workings of a machine, making them in essence an illusion.
“If life is truly meaningless and there is no rational basis for choosing among fundamental alternatives, then all choices are equal and there is no fundamental ground for choosing life over death,’’ he concluded.
The darkness of his views has been too much for his friends and family, many of whom have yet to read his suicide note.
“It makes me sad and angry that he didn’t care for any facet of life other than the book,’’ Barnes said.
As his sister, Laurel Heisman, spent last week sifting through what remains of his things — a poster in German, a well-made bed, piles of books in a small room shrouded with a dark curtain — she said she received a separate, posthumous note from him asking that she preserve a website he created to publish his book, a burden she has agreed to bear.
“I love you,’’ he wrote to her.
She wishes she could have made him see more of the beauty of life, and how we create our own value and give our own meaning to life. She might have taken him up a mountain or held him more closely.
“He just told us the safe things, because he knew we would have tried to stop him,’’ she said. “It’s really hard. It’s not like someone who was really depressed because they lost a lover. His whole ideology was wrapped in this concept of nihilism. I wish we could have made him see things differently.’’
David Abel can be reached at email@example.com.
This was an impromptu meeting with G. Love (@glove) a couple hours before we took the stage at Summercamp 2010. We were all so excited to work with G. Love and hear his amazing harp.
This was the rehearsal that took place behind the stage in the front lobby of our bus.
Up and down and up and down.
10. eating a real fucking hot dog from Mustard's Last Stand
9. getting some Chipotle
8. crossroads trading company
7. getting stoned in the cay and practicing ghost hits
6. going to Michigan with my friends
5. getting hammered and rambunctious at Karl's
4. ingesting copious amounts of drugs until it feels like I've died and everything goes away
3. seeing all of my friends again and finally being able to feel relaxed and at ease
2. seeing my family
1. seeing my Annimal!
In other news I have lost all motivation with school. In the past two weeks I have been to math once and went to my physics lab. I ditched english (didn't turn in the essay that was due last week and I'm still barely halfway done with) and haven't done any physics or math homework for a good two weeks either. For some reason I really just kinda don't give a fuck. Huh, strange. NOT! HA. My parents always thought it was all the pot smoking that made me apathetic but if anything I feel more inclined to do my homework to make up for all the pot smoking. I dunno. I'm starting to feel horribly depressed due to a variety of reasons and really feel quite hopeless. I need to do something constructive but I don't know what. I think I will write a bucket list.
Death is really a continuation of life.
-lullabies for little criminals by Heather O'Neill
Dear Subway Franchise,
I was recently poisoned by your sandwiches. How do I know for sure it was your sandwiches? Well, to answer that question I am going to need to go into a bit of detail. It all started a few days ago (Oct. 24th) when I realized I only had approx. 200 dollars left on my meal card to get me through Dec. 21st (I am a student at the prestigious University of Alberta). Upon realizing this, I decided to plot out my counter attack. Now, on campus, pretty much everything is overpriced except one thing: Subway sandwiches. So I decided that I would only eat Subway until my cash flow was depleted. This was fine, even enjoyable, until earlier today. As I was walking home from ingesting one of your (debatably) fine sandwiches, I began to experience an acute pain in my rectum. I sucked it up (referring to the act of clenching one's buttocks to prevent the possibility of anal leakage) and hurried back to my room. Luckily, I was recently moved to a single with my own washroom, where I proceeded to projectile shit my brains out for approx. 15 minutes. Now, this was not alarming to me. I wiped (which was quite challenging due to the liquidity of my feces) and pulled my trousers up and washed my hands and went about studying for my midterm (which is tomorrow). Approx. 15-20 minutes later I felt a familiar feeling in my hindquarters. Again I sucked it up, but this time without prevail. I leaped to the toilet and again was plagued by an awful bout of the squirts, which can only be described as the single most painfully burning sensation I have experienced in, on or around my anus (excluding the night I spent in jail). This was followed by a moderate amount of vomiting which resulted in me lying on the bathroom floor, covered in mustard colored poop the consistency of jello and similarly hued vomit wishing my mother was present to clean me up. I do not have any symptoms of a flu-like virus or any other symptoms in general. You will be receiving a package in the next few days containing samples (I defecated in it) and also photographic evidence. The course of action you take from there is up to you, but I would suggest a full reimbursement for the eight (8) sandwiches I have purchased in the previous four days. They have all been Spicy Italian 6-inches on Italian Herbs & Cheese. Thank you for your time.
C. Nelson esq.
I was reading Jillan's blog and she said that she takes offense to my previous comment (well, not actual offense, but like a half reaction, on one hand she acknowledges the trend but on the other hand isn't necessarily appreciative of the "this is arts student's fate" attitude, which contrary to what you may think I do not have). But anyway, she asked a question along the lines of "do engineering students not need creativity?" Which is a valid question, but I propose that sciences and mathematics and engineering all take a whole different kind of creativity. Instead of a blank canvas there are rules, and to be a valuable and sought after engineer you need to be able to break and follow the rules at the same time. Creativity with parameters that can only be changed through trial and error. I don't know, work is about to end and I'm leaving.
I'd like a venti latte with no foam.
Sincerely, Engineering Majors
Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Also, apparently, to have a successful blog you are supposed to post three times a day. I guess I'll have to start that.
p.s. Jillan, this isn't ready yet! It's still in the creation stage.
I recently discovered a cover of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "I Second That Emotion" by a woman named Emilie Movers. She is pretty good, here is one of her other songs.
THE only thing I can (seemingly) recall seriously dreaming about being, not just the becoming, is a writer.
I am feeling very alone. It's overwhelming. I've started smoking much more than I used to (a social crutch in my mind) and am constantly craving artificial escape. I guess it really is my own fault, seeing as I was evicted from my prior residence and thus successfully isolated myself from everyone that I knew. But still, I just feel that no one is seeking out my company. Which stinks. I miss my friends. I miss commandeering the attention of the group and talking until someone stops me. I miss acid. I miss getting high before school. And during school. And after school. And in my room. And in the shower. Fuck, I miss getting in trouble. I miss having someone want to know where I am and what I'm doing. But mostly I just miss being able to vent all my crappy emotions. I was about to, but the timing didn't work out. Oh well, maybe it's a sign? Unlikely, a coincidence is the word I was searching for. Funk, it's late. I need my sleep. I'm getting sick.
THIS is really just an outlet for me.
ON a lighter note, I just downloaded Jillan's friend's mixtape "Pré: Everyday." He is actually much, much more talented than I originally pegged him to be. The pretentious side of me showing right there.
I am not sure who wrote this, but there is some validity
1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period this time around.
2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time, informal school called life. Each day in this school, you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.
3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error, experimentation. The "failed" experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately "works."
4. A lesson is repeated until it is learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. Then you can go on to the next lesson.
5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
6. "There" is no better than "here," When your "there" has become a "here," you will simply obtain another "there" that again, looks better than "here."
7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself.
8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need; what you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.
9. The answers lie inside you. The answers to life's questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.
10. You will forget all this
I don't really like the last rule, but hey, I didn't write them
I stumbled (stumbleupon.com) a list of paradoxes on the internet (wikipedia, to be exact). They make me think and I like that. Here are my favorites (for my nonexistent following).
Paradox of hedonism: When one pursues happiness itself, one is miserable; but, when one pursues something else, one achieves happiness
Paradox of intolerance: Should one tolerate intolerance; if intolerance would destroy the possibility of tolerance?
Friendship paradox: For almost everyone, their friends have more friends than they do
THE first is the realization that some of the nicest things I have ever heard someone say about me were said behind my back and I heard them second hand.
THE second is when I heard my little brother say "Please bring my real brother back," I knew that something had to change.
I really wonder if anyone will ever see this other than myself, and I wonder if I will be able to be honest as well.
ANYWAY, I was influenced to create this by a girl named Jillan Watts aka JayDubz. I'd call her my friend. But really I can't think about it too much because I really start to doubt myself. I at least feel somewhat natural around her. And I think she likes me too for the most part, or at least I hope she does.
ABOUT myself a little: I'm 18, an American in Canada, enjoy reading and thinking, value being alone and the opportunity to self reflect but am generally happiest around others, I like being with people I know but not really shitheads, and lastly, I love cats.