On The Passing of Mr. Hoffman, Empathy, and Coolness.

February 6, 2014

in Random Grumbles

Some people are narrow-minded in ways that I just can’t get down with. Empathy is a HUGE thing with me. But I’ll get back to that…

When it was reported that Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent heroin overdose on Super Bowl Sunday, at first the flood of comments were ones of shock (of course) and of true dismay – even if that guy wasn’t your favourite, to say he was mammoth of an actor is undeniable… what an amazing talent that guy was. I know I’ve missed seeing a few of his screen performances, but I think I’ve seen most of them – he has always stood out to me like a big, bright light. And not because I found him particularly attractive physically – pale, pasty, portly – but that guy could make a character sing. He brought meat and weight and depth of character to every role he’s ever played in ways I do find attractive. And extremely rare.

In Boogie Nights, he played his character with such vulnerability and realness, I wanted to hug him. His character, Scotty was completely enamoured with Mark Whalberg’s character, Dirk, that he wore his heart on his sleeve so outwardly, and so awkwardly, I wanted to shield my eyes whenever he was onscreen. I couldn’t take it. I wanted to bury myself in the sand for him, and for all his anguish… standing around in the backyard at a sexy pool party, unable to keep his eyes off the guy he adored so much… feeling all uncool and wrong in his too-short tank top stretched over his poochy belly… looking down at himself, shaking his own head, and sighing with self-loathing… uch. That performance was brutal. I loved it.

And how is it that some actors can get to those deep, dark places in ways that seem so effortless to the rest of us? Is it so effortless?! Could it be one can tap into these kinds of emotions if they’re not so far from the surface? I can’t say – I didn’t know the guy, so I can only speculate. Maybe it was just his natural way. Maybe he was a magical actor-unicorn. Maybe he channelled his demons in ways we couldn’t see, as a means of expressing himself. Maybe that’s all much harder than it appears.


Fuck, man.

He belonged to people, you know? He was a father to three… he had a woman I’m sure he loved like crazy. His mother must be devastated, as well as his siblings… I send love and light to all who loved him, and have now lost him.

As the hours ticked on, out came the inevitable vitriol that some people feel they absolutely must spew… and it just makes me really sad for some humans. It hurts my head, and it hurts my heart that some people can be so black-and-white about things. No empathy at all. Or, only empathy for those left behind, but none for the afflicted, since it’s just another junkie… and shame on him for choosing that crippling drug over his children, and indeed, why don’t these people just get help, especially if they have the means?

*shakes head*

As if anything is as simple as that. As if addicts love living their lives this way. As if this man didn’t love his children as much as you love yours. C’mon now.

There wouldn’t be any junkies if love was enough. If you’ve never been a junkie, then you just don’t know what it’s like. And if you have been, and you’re clean now – first of all, GOOD FOR YOU! – but there’s probably no way you’re all smug about it, because you know how easy it can be for anyone to relapse into that kind of hell. (For the record, I’m not an addict – I’ve not recovered from anything except for nail-biting and cigarettes. And I’m still really fucking proud about it.)

I’ve read some things over the past several days I cannot unread. I’m hoping my selective memory will wipe much of it from my mind in the days that come – it will – I feel pretty confident about that, actually. But what I’m left with is this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach about how some people are. About what they really believe, and about how they think. This is troubling to me because I recognise how thought-patterns and coolness are qualitative when you choose the people with whom you surround yourself.

Sometimes it’s necessary to make edits.

* * *

Empathy is a lot like love: it’s not a finite thing – the more you practice, the more you have in you to use. Often, parents expecting their second child wonder quietly within themselves if they’ll be able to love another child as much as their first precious baby, because it seems so focused and all-consuming, and ohmygod how can I possibly love something or someone more than this?

You can, because you just do. It just happens.

Humans don’t come with a set amount of love that needs splicing into pieces – divided amongst the ones who got to you first, or to the ones you deem most worthy. Don’t be afraid to spread love around – you make more of it. And like empathy, one needn’t choose a side. You can feel all the sad feelings for children left behind by a lost and crippled alcoholic AND you can feel all the sad feelings for the alcoholic (though this is often feels impossible to do – I struggle with someone in my life) but you can feel both at the same time. One doesn’t negate the other, and it’s not an act of betrayal to try to understand where people are coming from.

Everyone has a life… everyone has a story. When we understand another man, we find it harder to condemn him. Nothing good comes from condemning people. (And yes, I understand there are some deplorable, truly evil humans out there… I’m not talking about the likes of Hitler or Saddam, you know.) Some people are just genetically and/or socially predisposed to this sort of thing. None of this is simple. Shit. SHIT!

If someone I knew and liked casually said to me, “You know, I just don’t dig The Gays… I think their lifestyle is gross, and the idea of marriage equality is a load of horseshit, and it’s symbolic of everything that’s wrong in the world…” I would probably cock my head to the left, and then to the right, and then start backing away, looking at that person with fresh eyes. I don’t… understand… you… what? And that would likely draw our acquaintance to a close in most ways. Because it’s just become painfully clear that we are not alike in the ways that matter to me most, and so we simply. cannot. hang.

Narrowmindedness is a problem. Not just for me – for everyone. It’s not about believing in everything I think to be true or fair or good in the world, but COME ON. If you can’t put yourself in the shoes of another person and imagine what it must be like to struggle as they do, then you’re just not trying hard enough. Or, you’re trying to isolate yourself. Or, being righteous is more important to you than getting along with others. Or something.

Everyone is invited to the Cool Humans Party, but broadmindedness is a guaranteed ticket in. Just try your best to understand things. Push yourself to learn, even when it feels strange. Try a little tenderness. And if you’re having a hard time, then try a little bit harder, please.

You reap what you sow. That shit you fling out there on the wind is on a boomerang, you know – it’s coming back your way. If you want to be understood, you have to be understanding of others, too.

Or at least do no harm.

* * *

I didn’t watch The Big Football Match last week, a) because it’s just not the kind of balling I like [ohyesshedid…] and 2) because it was Oliver’s birthday and we were busy doing birthday things… but I’m a bit sad I missed what sounds like some pretty excellent half-time performances by that cutie-pie Bruno Mars, and by my crushes-of-old, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers… but whatever.

And of course, there are all the amazing ads that air during the game too – Coca-Cola got on that action with an “America The Beautiful” ad featuring Americans of all stripes, singing that anthem with pride and with mirth, in English, Spanish, Arabic, as well as other tongues. There was a gay family depicted in the clip also. Aaaand, a percentage of le Twitter-users (and other vehicles) started foaming at the mouth, pissed that their ‘Merica had been sullied and let’s keep America white. (You know how they do.)

The same kinds of shit went down after Macklemore and Madge went and gayed up the Grammy’s and everybody got married on television, and now the world is burning on FYAH!! (And I know there are some in the queer community who are pissed that that straight white guy is getting fat rich right now, but that’s a whole other deal.)

These things don’t surprise me, exactly… but I tell you, I’m sad for humans.

But, you know what is good? The Humans of New York site by Brandon Stanton is one of the most uplifting corners of the net to me these days. In fact, the comments there are exceptionally positive – the haters and the assholes stand out like sore thumbs, and often get verbal beat-downs from the other 99% – the cheerful folk who smile and want to pass on the good vibes. There was a pic from late January (that I cannot find to link to) of a youngish, gaunt-looking couple sitting at a bistro table, talking about their addiction to prescription pain meds, which quickly morphed into heroin, because it’s cheaper, yo…


“We’ve been on it for two years.” “Did you do drugs before that?” “A line of coke at a party, every once in awhile we’d pop a couple Vicodin and watch TV. But we had normal lives. She was an office administrator, I was a cook. Then I got hurt and got a prescription for some Oxycontins. And I gave a few to her. And before long we were crushing them up and snorting them. Then we started doing heroin cause it was cheaper. It’s the same thing, really, as the Oxycontins. Just cheaper.” “What’s it feel like when you stop doing heroin?” “It’s like dying. And being reborn again. Your eyes keep crying and your nose keeps running and you’ve got cold sweats. And for like 4 days you’re flopping around and can’t get comfortable, so you can’t sleep for days so you start thinking crazy and seeing things. And if you can make it through those four days without getting a bag of dope, then you come out the other side so exhausted you can’t move. If you’re lucky you can get some methadone from a clinic, but that’s even more addictive than the heroin.” “Would you say heroin has ruined your life?” “Absolutely.” “Do you mind if I share that?” “That’s fine. Just say one thing. Be sure to say that we really do love each other and we’re trying to fix our lives.”



(I have something in my eye…)

I’ve thought of these people almost every day since. There were close to 15,000 comments posted about that single image, and I dare say almost ALL of them were positive. I love that so many other humans out there are wishing these two well, wanting better for them… sending words of hope and encouragement. Subscribe to the site on Facebook for some daily smile-worthy/cry-worthy stuff. I love this project so hard – it makes me hopeful. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Empathy, yo. It makes the world better. Go get some.


  • Lisa Rae Rosenberg

    Yes. Very yes to all of this. Love you to bits.

  • Frank Borsellino

    Beautiful… and I’m also a big follower of ‘Humans of New York’

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    You know I love you, Lisa… and I’m insanely proud of you, friend. xoxox

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Thanks for reading, Frank! That HONY site is a magical place… totally. Let’s hope for more just like it.

  • Lisa Rae Rosenberg


  • Amanda Olsen Brown

    Very well written, Tracey. So much truth and heart here.

  • Alice

    I love HONY – and that couple… They remind me of a teen novel called Junk about the lives of a few teens who become hooked, and how some get out and some don’t, some want to escape it, and some don’t because the pain in their head is worse.

    I just think… it’s so EASY to say people chose that path, but you don’t know what led them there. Maybe it was, like that couple, a prescription that started off a chain reaction. Maybe it was horrible circumstances that needed escaping, like plenty of young people who take to the streets because it seems safer and less horrific than home. Maybe it’s someone, like a couple of people I know, who began self-medicating to counter depression or bipolar disorder. There are lots of reasons that people become involved with drugs at the outset and soon enough, the drugs own them without their ever having really consented. We don’t know what anyone’s story is, and usually when you take the time to, it’s heartbreaking and impossible to truly condemn a real person and their real story. It’s about taking the time to think of them that way instead of this big, faceless PROBLEM that inconveniences society. It’s way more than an inconvenience, and it has thousands of faces – none of them “its.”

    (And can I just say? I LOVED the coke ad, but Macklemore’s thing just annoyed me because it was such a big, gaudy, over-the-top piece of cheese with the weddings and everything, I just couldn’t. Real weddings, gay or straight, lovely and I’ll probably cry despite myself, but that particular brand of theatrics was just rubbing me the wrong way somehow.)

    (also, sorry this is such a damn essay!)

  • Angela

    Beautifully written, T. Amazing. I walked around with the word “compassion” in my mind and on my lips the entire day yesterday… brought on by much of what you reference here. Peace and love.

  • Irish

    Yes. Every single word. Yes.
    Thank you for putting into words the thoughts that were jumbling through my head this week.

  • caitrainford

    Thank you. That is all.

  • Kyra

    Amazing, touching piece GG. I love you so much and think you are super talented. I hope everyone who needs to read this does… SHARE

  • Frank Borsellino

    I loved it so… I shared it on multiple pages.

  • Connie

    This is just beautiful. I’d like to thank you for finding the right words for what I can’t express.

  • http://jackstrawlane.com/ Katja Wulfers

    Really eloquently put.

  • Julie

    GG I love reading your writing. You are a truly beautiful human being and I appreciate all you write.

  • Barbara Irwin

    Beautiful Tracey…

  • Kitty Kerosene

    Every single word of this, yes. So, well-said and so true.

    I was more shocked by the outpouring of anger after Hoffman’s death than by his death itself.

    A couple days ago, another good blog site, blackgirldangerous.org, posted an article titled “4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege” & item #3 was Shut Up. The gist being that if you are in a position of privilege within a particular conversation then the existence of your privilege means your voice has effectively already been heard and now it’s probably time to Shut Up and let other voices be heard.

    I feel this is strongly the case in the death of PSH and the ensuing conversation about addiction. None of the unsympathetic, angry rants I saw on facebook and other social media condemning the man and his actions were posted by people who — to my knowledge, at least — have suffered or are currently suffering from substance abuse problems.

    Sheer fact of it is that addict brain is not the same as non-addict brain. Anyone who can blithely revile and denounce the man for dying with a needle in his arm is likely speaking from a stance of privilege. And it’s time for them to Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

    Thank you for your compassionate, sane words — and, by re-posting the image and words from Humans of New York, for giving a face and voice to heroin addiction.

    I sincerely hope that even one person who reads this softens their stance and puts their feet on a more loving path.

  • conscious_blog

    “Humans don’t come with a set amount of love that needs splicing into
    pieces – divided amongst the ones who got to you first, or to the ones
    you deem most worthy.”

    YES – I wish everyone could understand this.

    This is so beautiful and poignant – thank you for writing it.

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Thanks, Amanda!

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Alice… that HONY couple. I KNOW. Addiction is not a rational thing… maybe the rest of us are just lucky to have not fallen by the wayside. I really don’t know… but there’s no sense in shitting on someone who is already in the gutter. That person was someone’s baby once, you know? Uch.

    And I know what you mean about the Grammy’s thing – big theatrical spectacles like that aren’t necessarily my favourite either, but it’s the venom that comes out of some people on the interwebs… holy wow. Some people, man… just, wow.

    PS – I LOVE your essays… never stop. xox

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Peace and love right back, Angela! Thanks!!

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    I heart you, C. xox

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    You’re welcome. And also, I love you. xox

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Julie, that’s the kindest thing… thank you for reading!!

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Thank you, Katja! :)

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Kyra, your heart is one of the biggest and fiercest I know… thanks for loving me like this… xox

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Thanks for the kind words, Connie!

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Beautiful Barb… xox

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Indeed, Kitty!! There’s really no need to trample on someone – be they dead of alive – and to reduce a person to his or her illness, no matter how disdainful or unsavoury the details surrounding such, is really just preying on the weak. If you have nothing nice to say… just shut the fuck up, please – your acerbic crap helps no one – it’s more harmful… and that’s never a good thing.

    I will check out that link – thanks for sharing! And thanks so much for reading, and for your thoughtful comments… putting more love out there is really just the better thing for the whole world. It can’t possibly be a bad thing, right?

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Thanks very much! I appreciate that you’d read me here… shucks. :)

  • Alice

    You know I often think we are lucky not to fall by the wayside in LOTS of ways along the path, from our birth families to our health and on from there. So much of it is chance, but people are loathe to admit that.

    It’s the thing about the whole myth of The American Dream that makes me nuts – it’s easy to condemn people who don’t make it if you *claim* that anyone can make it with hard work. Well no, not everyone can. The smart, able-bodied, healthy, mentally well (etc.) people who manage to find the right path for them, those people can make it by virtue of hard work or ingenuity sometimes, but that discounts so many who try plenty hard. Just because they haven’t been financially successful, it doesn’t mean they are lazy, and lots of poorer people end up working multiple jobs – so not lazy.

    (moar essays!)

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    Alice, I have these same thoughts all the time – we are NOT all born the same – the “starting line” of life is not at the same place for everybody. And yes, that means that some have to work harder than others, just to come up to the same place in line (and there’s no getting around that, really – but there’s no guarantee of “success” either) but so much of this IS borne by chance, or geography, etc… and now that the middle class is crumbling – people who try plenty hard to get all they have – it opens more people’s eyes about what it takes to “get” anywhere, despite all the opportunities, good health, great advantages… people still struggle. And the middle class is the most addicted of us all, statistically speaking – but prescription pain-meds seem so much more sanitary than sticking a needle between your toes under a bridge somewhere. PS – The wholesome, cherubic, ski-and-maple-syrup-making state of Vermont is RIFE with heroine abuse right now… Le sigh.

  • Julie

    i like to think that a lot of the negative comments out there are written by the basement dwellers that cannot or do not associate with real people (and in writing that i am now a negative commenter!).

    but then again, they just want to be heard somehow…like a child who keeps doing bad things for attention. by writing such awful things on such a public story they will get the attention (they think “real” attention) they desperately need.

  • http://www.grumblegirl.com/ Grumble Girl

    You’re right, Julie – there are some horrible bottom-feeders out there hiding behind their screens, mos def… but I was more offended by some specific comments from people I know in my life… it takes a lot to shock me, but it does make me sad. (More for THEM.) Just like your home, a person needs to make edits sometimes in order to keep the place beautiful, yo. SUIVANT/NEXT!! ;)

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