1. Growing is painful. Becoming is painful.
2. If surround yourself with good people, they will shoulder some of that pain.
3. There is nothing glamorous or exciting about sitting in a hospital.
4. There is nothing glamorous or exciting about being sick.
5. My illness does not happen in a vacuum. Everything that happens to me also happens to my family and friends. There are always consequences.
6. Silver linings are very real, and finding them can get you through just about anything.
7. Sometimes the most beautiful things grow from ugly roots.
8. People can change your life simply by showing kindness. I have this power as well.
9. I will never be sick enough. It does not matter how many hospitals I go to, treatment centers I frequent, or weight I lose. There’s no point in running a race that is impossible to win.
10. Life is messy and uncomfortable, but that’s okay. My best memories never came from days of safety and seclusion. They came from the times that I decided to be messy."
Philip Seymour Hoffman called me just before dinner on the last day of October last year. I remember the time because I was in Whole Foods grabbing groceries for my family when my phone rang, displaying a New York City area code. I answered the call in the produce aisle.
“Is this Nell? This is Philip Seymour Hoffman.”
“I know. I recognize your voice.”
Anyone would. It’s a wonderful voice—low, soothing, and a bit weary that particular night. The call wasn’t scheduled but it wasn’t completely unexpected. I was working on a profile of Amy Adams for this magazine and had requested interviews of several co-stars. Hoffman was at the top of the list, since the two had worked together three times, in Doubt, Charlie Wilson’s War, and The Master.
It’s notoriously difficult to get actors to go on record speaking about other actors. Such requests are usually met with terse replies from publicists explaining that their clients are on set and too busy to reply. Hoffman certainly had that excuse, but he’d dialed me directly. He began by apologizing for calling so late, but, he explained, he’d just gotten home from set. I told him it was fine and stalled as I fished for a pen in my purse.
“So…where are you?
“New York, just got back from Atlanta.” [He was in production on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.]
Ah! I found a pen, but I needed paper. I ran to the bulk food aisle and grabbed one of those white bags meant for dried mangoes. I sat down on the floor and thanked him for calling. Hoffman said he was happy to talk about Amy. “I love acting with her,” he said. Later in the interview, he explained it even more succinctly: “We’re friends. We’ve talked a lot. ”
For about five minutes, he spoke of his admiration for Adams’s talent, generosity and work ethic. I scribbled furiously to keep up. Sometimes actors recite stories by rote, but every sentence Hoffman said was thoughtful. He spoke of how he believed people often misunderstood Amy. How in reality she was harder to pin down than she might seem. How she purposely kept a little mystery about herself. “And for an actor that’s good,” he said. “More should do it.”
We talked about The Master, and I was already on my second bulk-foods bag when the ink in my pen stopped flowing—the wax from the outside of the bag had gummed up the ball point. I was struck with panic. I didn’t want to bust myself for being in a supermarket so as soon as he took a pause, I stalled again.
“So did you ever sing with her?”
O.K, it was a dumb question, but I used the time to run over to the cashier area.
“Uh, no. We never sang together. I sing in The Master, but she leaves,” Hoffman said. “She’s a good singer, though.”
“Yeah. Singing factors into a lot of her movies,” I said, while gesticulating to a cashier that I needed to borrow a pen. Then I grabbed a brown paper bag—no wax—and sat down in the vitamin section.
“Can we talk about Doubt?” I asked.
“What about it?” Hoffman said.
I told him that Adams had said working with him and Meryl Streep was intimidating, and that, in rehearsals, she felt so outmaneuvered. She described the scene where Sister James (Adams) accuses Father Flynn (Hoffman) in front of Sister Aloysius (Streep): “Their intelligence, their insight, their experience … they were better than me in every way you could imagine. And I knew that,” she said.
I relayed how Adams felt herself going into “panic mode,” but Hoffman saw it differently. “What she’s admitting to is her humility,” he explained. “She’s not there yet, and Meryl and I are there, emotions spilling out all over the place, and she really stressed about that. So she’s thinking, ‘I’m not doing so well and—’”
And then the call failed. He was gone. I hit redial and got his voicemail. I dragged myself off the Whole Foods aisle floor and consoled myself that he’d already given me a lot of good quotes. I asked the cashier if I could keep the pen (in case he called back), and finished my shopping.
On the drive home, my phone rang again. It was Hoffman. I pulled over to the curb.
“Sorry. I forgot to charge my phone,” he said.
“I’m so glad you called back,” I said and reached for the pen and bag. “You were talking about Doubt and Amy struggling to find her way?”
“Right. “ He launched back in. “Look, we shot that scene until it was just right. The speech just spilled out. It’s not like other films, the writing is so much bigger. You can’t naturalize it. It’s real real drama. You have to fill it. It’s scary. And what she’s telling you is it took her a while to get there … and she did. And all the most gifted people I know do that.”
And then he paused before offering this conclusion to the story: “Great talent admits shortcomings.”
It was an amazing turn that only an actor as brilliant as Philip Seymour Hoffman could make. He took Adams’s admission of panic and turned it into a sign of humility and then into a sign of greatness. Like Father Flynn, he was able to convince me that what someone believed was actually the opposite.
Our call wrapped up soon after. I went home, put my groceries away, and rethought my entire approach to the profile based on the insights that Hoffman had given me.
When I heard about his death yesterday, his phrase came back to me: “Great talent admits shortcomings.” He’d spoken openly about the drug use of his youth and the habit that came back. He was truly a great talent. He was also a good and generous friend.
Because the profile was about Adams, it didn’t include the fond words she spoke of Hoffman during our interview. I went back and looked at the transcript and his name came up several times. At one point, I’d asked Adams about all the powerful actors she’s worked with in her career—some more than once—and she said: “I really love working with powerful men because I feel challenged and transported by their performance. And it allows me to create a reality in which I can get lost. Because I’m not method, so I kind of flip on and off. So when you’re working with someone who’s so present, it becomes like breathing. You don’t have to find your character. It exists through the relationship with the characters you’re working with. It’s a beautiful thing. Working with Joaquin [Phoenix] and Philip Seymour Hoffman is like that.”
I thought of the tired actor who worked all day on set and then reached out to a reporter not once, but twice, to support his friend. At the end of the call, he asked, “Did you get what you need?” At the time, I said yes. But now, we would all answer no."
my therapist taught me
to hold my chest and focus
the second the world becomes
and i’m just beginning to learn
the difference between fists
screaming, “let me out”
and sore knuckles on mahogany
saying, “let me in”.
1. Cut your hair every now and then. Fresh starts are always nicer than you think. Who needs split ends anyways.
2. Pick a song you really like. Listen to that song a lot. And I mean a lot. Dance around your room naked to that song, beat the song lifeless till it annoys the hell out of you. Then pick a new song and go through the same process. We all need to really hear music, we need to understand what the song we are listening to is really about.
3. Paint your toes black, make it as perfect as possible. Then, scratch it off. Remember nothing is permanent.
4. Go on a run with your dog. Try to race him and beat him. Realize you can out run many things. Then go back and pet your dog, realize that some things you need to go back for.
5. Decorate a plain backpack. Glue on sparkles, glitter, diamonds, newspaper and magazine clippings, lace & ribbon, anything else that may fancy you. Remember, you don’t have to be the same person you were a minute ago.
6. Buy some pretty lights and string them up in your room. Turn off all the lights except for one when you go to bed. Remember it isn’t always dark and lonely. Change your perspective.
7. Lay outside one night. Breathe in breathe out. Accept that you are only one person and cannot do everything at one time. You can take your time. The creator of the stars you’re looking up at did not do it all in one day. Pace yourself.
8. Get up every morning and stand in front of the mirror. Naked, fully clothed, backwards, upside down, who cares how, just do it. Observe yourself. Notice the wrinkles under your eyes from laughing a lot. Count your freckles. Admire your ass. Then name 3 things you love about yourself. You need to love yourself."
This is not meant to be a sob story.
This is a poem to make you understand.
In the past year alone,
I have attempted suicide 4 times.
In the past year,
the police have come to my house 2 times.
In the past year I ran out of resources
and had to check myself into a treatment center.
In the treatment center,
there was a girl who had
welts on her arm deeper than mine.
It looked like she had
punched her fist through
a glass window
the way life had punched
the life out of her.
In the treatment center
there was a girl who had hallucinations
about a man standing in the corner
that terrified her so much
that she couldn’t stand still.
In the year before the last one,
I had two suicide attempts.
I was checked into an ER for my overdose
then a psychiatric hospital.
This is a poem about all the people
who have been bounced back to a hospital
every time they thought they got their life back together
only to let their mental illness catch them off guard again.
This is a poem for all the people
who are so weak that they
cannot stand on their own.
This is a poem for the people
whose eating disorders are so strong
that they will refuse food
even when they weigh 70 pounds
and are forced by hospital staff
to be fed by a tube.
This is a poem for the people
who have more hospital bracelets
than they do friends.
This is a poem about
how I have to take 8 pills a day
to function somewhat normally.
This is a poem about how I had
to drop out of public school
because my mental illness
has interfered with my eating,
my breathing, my sleeping,
and my ability to live.
This is a poem about
how I cannot count the number of people
who have told me they wanted to die
on two hands.
This is a poem about the 400,000
emergency room visits
for self inflicted injury in 2001.
This is a poem for the 30,622
people who committed suicide in 2001.
This is a poem for everybody with a mental illness
who is more scared of being judged
than they are of death.
This is a poem for everybody who
has wanted to bleed away their pain.
This is a poem for everyone
that wanted to disappear,
hoping that if they shot themselves,
if they crashed their car,
that if they jumped off the roof of a building,
that they might shatter.
This is a poem for everyone
who has tried to choke the pain
out of their life.
This is a poem for everyone who hoped
that an overdose would be a peaceful death.
This is a fuck you to every hallucination,
every manic episode, every depressive episode,
every flashback, every panic attack, every nightmare,
every suicide attempt, every hospital visit,
every purge, every laxative, every crash diet,
every single doctor that told you you were doing it for attention,
every single bully that didn’t know what they were driving you to,
every family member that ever looked at you like you were a freak,
everybody that ever told you to “get over it”,
everybody who told you that you were faking it.
Everybody who ever told you that it wasn’t a big deal.
Would you still be saying the same thing at our funerals?
Do us all a favor and tell us how beautiful
we “were” while we’re still alive.
How beautiful we are .
This is a poem for everyone who ever thought
the world would be better off without them.
This is poem for everyone who ever needed
somebody to just listen without judging.
This is a poem for everyone who just needs someone
to care or believe in them.
This is not meant to be a sad poem.
This is not a poem about overexaggeration.
It is a poem about reality.
It is a poem to finally make you understand.
We are more than statistics.
We are stories.
Because people are inherently good,
the demons in your eyes will die out.
I have to believe that; some are just
worth fighting for and I need a reason
to let the demons pass. This shall pass.
i think freckles, stretch marks, tattoos, bruises, birthmarks and scars are probably the coolest thing, you started with almost a blank canvas and look at u now, all this evidence that you’ve lived and the sun has shone on you and you’ve grown and maybe tripped up a few times and liked an image so much u made it a permanent part of u, beautiful.
That’s one of the most uplifting things I’ve readThis needs to get passed around more