May 15, 2019


There is this old idea that the world is like a book. Every life is a story. Every story has meaning.

It’s hard to be sure what the story’s about until it is over. And the way it ends matters.

I once read about a samurai who had the bad fortune to be born at the end of the samurai era. He was supposed to deal with a peasant uprising—something the samurai used to be good at—but the times had changed, and these particular peasants were not only numerous, but also armed with guns. It turned out that, when it comes to battle, guns and numbers matter more than the mastery of the sword or the traditions/mystique of the warrior class.

The samurai was shot and seriously wounded before he could engage in combat. But he still had a little time before the peasants would reach him. So he found a good spot to sit down, played a little tune on whatever traditional instrument he carried around with him, composed a haiku, and then took his own life.

It’s likely I misremember the story, and it probably wasn’t true in the first place. But I like it because of this image of a man who knows that his story is about to end and that he has a few minutes to write the last sentence. And so he does, and here I am thinking about it some centuries later.

Sometimes we don’t get to finish the story on our own terms. Rebecca Burger was an Instagram personality. Her feed, which is still online, was all about her very fit body, self-care, healthy food, and exercise. The last picture is of a pressurized whipped cream dispenser that killed her. It exploded, randomly, hitting her in the thorax and sending her into cardiac arrest. She was 33.

Such-and-such was a disolusioned ex-marine who wanted to make the ultimate conspiracy movie.

To me, this is a story about a man who got entangled with an idea that was too dark and powerful for him. The idea wanted to be expressed. When it became clear that the movie won’t do it, a different means of expression was found.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant is the guy who killed 50 people in a mosque in New Zealand this March.

This shooting stood out for me because of the killer’s relationship to the online culture of trolling.

the killer has introduced elements of the Internet culture of trolling into the seemingly conservative genre of ideological mass murder.

The Kerch shooting.

The way I remember my friend Olya is with a huge shining smile on her face. We didn’t see each other a lot in the last years of her life. She was always in a new place: India or Morocco or the US or Ukraine. She also traveled to war-torn places and made good reportage photos. ~be specific~

The last time we’ve talked regularly was when she moved back to our hometown to finish the education she had abandoned years earlier. It was a stressful time and environment for her. She felt that other students—mostly men, all younger than her—were talking behind her back. They were mocking her for being weird and older and a woman, or at least that’s what she thought. She might have imagined that. She was imagining other, more troublesome things later.

At the peak of her psychosis she thought she’s a target of an international network of some sort. The kids in the university were involved, but so were some of her relatives, and people in governments of various countries, and people she’s met in her travels. At one point, the whole population of a small town in Greece seemed to be agents.

She would log onto Facebook from a fake account and visit pages where people shared funny pictures of cats. She thought that every cat meme she saw was a personal, veiled attack on her. Dogs were associated with men, and cats with women, and she was like those cats in those pictures—something to condescend to and laugh at.

I didn’t know it was so bad until after she died. I did know of some of her episodes. We talked, and I tried to help her see that there is no conspiracy while not being dismissive or condescending. It seemed that I had some success. The last time she mentioned this whole business to me, she described it as something she’s gotten over.

I later learned it’s gotten much worse for her, and then better again, and then worse, and so on. She was treated by a psychiatrist and put on medication. The pills helped deal with delusions, but made her uninspired, unwilling to do anything other than sleep.

Long story short, she hung herself in her hometown, in her mother’s apartment, after a nice vacation she had with her husband in Greece, probably feeling that this period of calm and lucidity had to be followed by another unset of madness, and not willing to experience it again.

I sometimes think that what she felt about the people around—that they weren’t who they said they were—wasn’t totally wrong. Maybe she was picking up on the pretending that goes on inside us, like when we don’t know who we are or how we feel or what we want, but we carry on as if we do, and as if all those things are basically good.

My father died in my lap. He was having seizures of some sort, which came in cycles: first he pressed his teeth hard and growled, his eyes bulging, then had a minute or two of breathing normally and being able to talk, and then another seizure would follow. This repeated three or four times. I kept telling him that the ambulance is on its way and that he just needs to hold on, and I also asked him to tell me where it hurts. His responses were “Everything is ok” and “Everything is tip-top.”

I thought he was still alive when the ambulance arrived, but I guess he wasn’t. What the paramedic said upon entering the room was “It’s over, grandpa’s dead.” My father was 56.

His last words were that everything was tip-top, but it wasn’t.