Identity or Whereabouts Unknown

[TW: suicide]

We live in a well-monitored (sometimes too well-monitored) world. Surveillance cameras, GPS trackers, credit card records…it’s hard not to leave a trail a mile wide as we move through our lives. This is often problematic, especially when the government uses these trails to monitor innocent people. But there are also benefits, including authorities being able to track down guilty people. However, sometimes people become unmoored in our world, and not even our technology can reel them back in. People vanish without a trace, or are found  but prove impossible to identify.

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This is Asha Kreimer, an Australian woman who was living in California with her boyfriend at the time of her disappearance. On September 21st of 2015 she was at a restaurant eating breakfast with her boyfriend and a childhood friend. It had been a harrowing past couple days for her, due to a mental breakdown. She hadn’t slept in five days, and had just been released from a psychiatric evaluation that turned so violent the police had to be called. (It is unclear why it is that they released her at all.) At some point during breakfast, she excused herself to go to the restroom. Her friend followed a few minutes later, but couldn’t find Asha. No one can remember seeing her leave the restaurant, but she was nowhere to be found. She left her identification, credit cards, phone and money behind, but, according to police, went to her home to retrieve her German shepherd. There has been no trace of her since. Her family has been searching for her with little success. (If you’d like to help out, her family has a Go Fund Me page to finance the search.)

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On the other end of the spectrum we have Lyle Stevik. Unfortunately, that’s not his real name, but rather the alias he used to check into a motel in Amanda Park, Washington on September 16th, 2001. It’s possible that the name was a reference to Joyce Carol Oates’s book You Must Remember This, in which a character named Lyle Stevick attempts suicide. Perhaps he was hoping that someone knew the book and would recognize the use of the name as a warning sign. No one did, however, and the man was found dead in his motel room the next day, having hanged himself in the closet. Since he was found so soon after death, his face was recognizable and his fingerprints were easy to obtain, and both, along with his dental record, were entered into national databases. You would think that someone would recognize him, and yet 15  years later he’s still unidentified. Theories abound, however, including speculation that he could have been involved somehow in the events of 9/11 just five days prior. (For more details about this case, including crime scene photographs, go here.)

These sorts of cases fascinate me, and I may write more about them in the future. If you’re interested in cases like this, check out the Doe Network. There are hundreds of missing and unidentified persons who just need the right person to come along and recognize them to give them and their families some peace.

Write what you don’t know

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There’s a certain amount of tension when writing a character that has a strong, defining experience that you yourself have not had.  One of my protagonists in the Haunted series is a woman who lost her father to suicide.  I have not experienced that tragedy firsthand.  Sometimes I wonder if I should even be writing about it.  How could I possibly do justice to that?

My friend and mentor Paul McComas (I’m constantly calling him that, I should make an acronym or something) likes to talk about a period he went through in college that his writing teacher called “The Earnest Young Man Stories.”  Told “write what you know,” he produced a series of stories about a sensitive college aged guy interacting with the world.  After a number of these stories, his teacher told him “You know…you know people other than yourself.”  Point being, when we write fiction, we don’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, limited to the strict area of our own personal experience.  Our personal experience informs our writing, but so does our relationships with other people.  So does the things that we read, the things we watch, the things we observe , the things we deduce.  

I do need to be careful, I think, because despite the fact that my work is fiction, it will still inform my readers’ understanding of that experience, the same way the things I read inform my own. (This, incidentally, is one of my issues with things like The DaVinci Code and 50 Shades of Grey. People base their views of theology or of how to properly go about BDSM on what they read in these books, and both are irresponsibly, and, in the case of 50 Shades, dangerously inaccurate.)  But that doesn’t mean I need to, or should, limit my exploration of the human experience based only on my tiny slice.

Depression Doesn’t Discriminate. Depression Lies. It’s Okay to Get Help.

This is about Robin Williams, like thousands, millions of other blog posts and Facebook posts and tweets and god knows what else out there.  Like just about everyone, I am shocked.  Like just about everyone, I am very sad.  Like just about everyone, I feel this was a personal loss, that his talent and his spirit touched my life on a deeper level than any other celebrity I can name.  And that in his struggle with depression, with despair, with those constant feelings of being not-enough, I see myself.

It’s all been said before, and with more grace than I am capable of.  But there are three things that I will say, things that must be repeated, by as many people and to as many people as possible.

Depression does not discriminate.

Depression strikes men and women, the young and the old, the famous and the obscure, the rich and the poor.  

Depression lies.

It gets into your head, and it tells you that nothing is ever good enough, that no one loves you, that the future only holds more pain, and that you might as well give up.  These are all lies.

It’s okay to get help.

Chances are, you know someone who struggles with depression.  It might even be you. There is absolutely no shame in getting help.  Talk to a friend.  A family member.  Your doctor.  See a therapist.  If it’s right for you, take medication.  You do not have to suffer in silence.  People will listen.  People will help.

If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, please call the number above.  And please pass that number along.  Post it on your Facebook page, on your twitter, your Pinterest, your Instagram.  Suicide is contagious.  Suicide rates spike after a well-publicized suicide, and this is the most publicized suicide I’ve ever seen.  Please help make sure that people who are struggling with this know that help is at hand.  Give them the number, and be there for them.

And if anyone needs someone to turn to, you can contact me.  I will listen.