I have now lost two of my heroes — first it was Hunter S. Thompson my senior year of high school, now it is Anthony Bourdain — to suicide. When I say “hero,” I don’t mean idle idol worship. I mean these are two men whose works have inspired me to pursue risk, to write without attachment to the results, to travel, and to live as much as I can while I can…and yet, both took their own lives.
All the tributes to Bourdain continue to trickle into the discussion ideas of mental health, his own life story, and the usual “If you know someone, call…” tagline at the end of every article, feature, and editorial. The best write-ups have already been written, and I don’t purport to be an equal or peer in any way. In fact, the only Anthony Bourdain story I can tell that doesn’t involve me being a nerd (he loved Frank Zappa and adored Hunter Thompson, so the “maybe we woulda been friends” logic enters the dialog) is that I kept missing him every time he came in when I worked at Mario Batali’s Eataly in Manhattan.
That’s it. I really, really wish I’d met him, if only to say thank you.
He wrote about food — largely the playground of the bourgeoise when it comes to the printed word — the way Hunter wrote about sports. In those tight, punchy essays, whether he was glamorizing a dirty water hotdog (in those words), rhapsodizing over a cloth-napkin banquet with a fellow rockstar chef in Europe, or a fireside meal under a starry sky somewhere in the wild, the reader feels they are uncovering the secrets to life itself. The meal is the only thing that matters, the same way Thompson could make a Super Bowl more important than the world that was crumbling around him. That Bourdain was able to tell it with the patter of an amiable bar-fly is a testament to his genius. Had it not been for him, I wouldn’t have become a food critic like I did for a few years in NYC.
But all of this is trivial relative to the moral of the story surrounding Bourdain’s and Thompson’s deaths: it needs to be okay to say you’re not okay. When I heard Bourdain had died I was sad, but when I learned it was suicide I became depressed. “I don’t blame him,” I began to think, sliding into my own dark place, one I refuse to hide anymore. Luckily for me, I have a network of support that helped me get out of it.
I wrote down a lot of thoughts one night when I was feeling particularly sad, hopeless, and a little helpless. My moment of clarity came when I saw just how little time I’d spent doing things that made me happy over the past several months. I hadn’t touched my guitar, I was barely writing, and I wasn’t getting out into nature enough. Commitments to Green Party stuff — and leftist organizing before that through part of 2017 — had placed many of my waking hours into the “always on the clock” category. The weight of the world was on my shoulders, but the only person who put it there was me. Wanting to fix problems stems from being a middle child, among other things.
Anyway, I’ve begun to think deeply about what truly matters the most to me. I plan on sharing some of these thoughts over the next few days.