July 30, 2006

"Goodbye Cruel World..." Is Not An Option

"You’re better off alive, no matter how messed up you think you might be right now. And you’re better off alive no matter how mean someone is being to you. You are simply better off alive than dead—no matter who or what you are, no matter who or what you love, and no matter what you do. Just don’t be mean. Being mean never works. Never. So that’s the only rule I can think of that’s worth following in life: don’t be mean. Yes, you can be mean to yourself if that’s what’s going to keep you alive. I’m sorry if that’s happening to you. But keep in mind that there are alternatives that hurt a lot less, and I hope you find one soon. Do what you have to do, and stay alive because it gets better. I promise. xoxo Kate"

I constantly belittle people who comment upon books without having read them, but-- Reyhan Harmanci's book review in the Chronicle this morning of Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks & Other Outlaws has given me some food for thought. Written by trans-gendered author and activist Kate Bornstein, the book takes a dark and serious topic and enters into its darkness with the intent of leavening it with humor, compassion and empathy.

Bornstein knows what it's like to be not quite like everyone else. She was born a boy who didn't feel like a boy, and it took a long journey to get to a gender in which she feels comfortable. The book was initially targeted toward lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer teens, but the content applies to any teen who has ever experienced a profound sense of depression and dark thoughts. That being said, some of the 101 Alternatives Bornstein offers are bluntly controversial. Harmanci was disconcerted to see cutting brought up as a viable option. Bornstein accepts that alternatives like "Get laid. Please," "Experiment on animals and small children" "Make it bleed" or "Tell a lie" might not be what a parent would find acceptable from their child. While some of these are meant playfully, others are not. Yet, Bornstein insists if the alterantive is suicide... isn't "unacceptable" behavior preferable?


I look forward to the comments of anyone who has read this book - would you reccomend it to a teen? The mini-version, which includes a Get Out of Hell Free card, seems full of good wishes and love from a person who has already been there. Whatever else this book might be, it does address a timely issue in an accessible, thoughtful way.


Seren said...

I haven't read this either, but the descriptions of the book's approach remind me of Dorothy Parker's poem, Resume: Razors pain you; Rivers are damp;/Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp./Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give;/Gas smells awful; You might as well live.

When I was a teenager, I carried this poem around with me like a secret. Sometimes it takes something pragmatic and witty and wicked to speak to the kind of pain Bornstein's trying to address.

Though some of those approaches do sound a bit too much like proto-serial killer behavior, which I really couldn't advise. :)

But still. I see her point.

TadMack said...

I related deeply to Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker for years and years (I AM Marie of Rumania, incidentally), and that's why this book review really resonated with me. It obviously worried the reviewer -- but I know the place from which the author is speaking... it takes courage to say you've been there and to stand at the turnstile handing out flashlights and maps so that others can get out.