Sometimes, as a writer, I forget that I am not my work. It’s easily done when you love something, identify with it, and are in the happy position of being able to make a living from it. Writing bleeds into every aspect of my life and most of the time that’s great. There is a risk, however, to tying myself too tight to what I do, knowing very well that part of writing’s appeal is that it distances me from certain aspects of my life. Things I can’t bear to look at squarely become manageable viewed through the lens of writing. Every once in a while this is okay, but it can calcify into separation and even loneliness. Ultimately, being good, great or even a genius at what we do can’t protect us from emotions and experiences. Hiding behind work can be dangerous.
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death floored me. Celebrities die more-or-less self-inflicted deaths at a depressingly regular rate but we usually find (or invent) a justification: too much or too little praise, an unhappy childhood, failed relationships, or general neurosis. We are far from comfortable with the fact that we die alone; the actor’s death reveals the unspeakable truth that at a fundamental level we live alone too.
I was unaware of Hoffman’s struggles with addiction. I knew him only as an actor who owned every scene he played. He had everything in the right quantities, or so it seemed. Not just acclaim but authentic, blazing talent. Artists are known to crumble under the weight of adulation but Hoffman wasn’t showered with facile praise, he commanded respect. He was a bona fide genius, recognised and rewarded as such. Success, talent, vocation, material comfort – he had it all. He also had a…
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