Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams

Robin William was a wonderful, kind and generous man.
Patch Adams

1951 - 2014
American actor, stand-up comedian,
film producer, screen writer...
Loved by millions

"He never acted as if he was powerful or famous. 
Instead, he was always tender and welcoming."
Patch Adams

Reader Response

(While on vacation) I received news that Robin Williams had died, and that he had taken his own life. Within a couple of days, I received a number of heartfelt letters from friends and readers telling me that they missed me on Facebook and that they wondered what thoughts or insights I might have to share on the subject and if I would be writing an article on Robin Williams anytime soon. They also asked if I was doing okay. 

While the subject of hiding pain behind comedy has come up countless times in my investigations into humor, I was touched by the concern my Readers expressed towards me. Perhaps Robin Williams' death will remind people to check on one another, to make sure that the people for whom they care are "doing okay" - sometimes just asking someone how their doing can keep them feeling connected. 

"Reality is just a crutch for people who can't cope with drugs."
Robin Williams

Rather than look to drugs or alcohol for my own intense need for input (and output), I look to creative outlets that soothe the frustrations life can sometimes bring. 

Even if I don't like what I write or create, the desire to try again, to do better, fuels my inspiration to continue. To make more. To get better. To have one more laugh or epiphany that fills me with joy and wonder. To have one more "moment" that quiets all the others and allows me to feel present, to be myself when the world might otherwise want me to serve as an amalgam for their own thoughts. 

While drugs and alcohol can aid in reaching these experiences, they do not ultimately leave one feeling inspired. On the contrary, drugs and alcohol leave one feeling empty. 

Making light of life's challenges can give most of us a long enough break to sit back and find new meaning, but that does not mean that comedy can cure heartache. Only we can cure heartache - comedy just reminds us that we can choose to laugh when we might otherwise want to cry.

"Carpe per diam - seize the check."
Robin Williams

Robin Williams - the comedian

Robin Williams, an incredibly prolific individual whose ability to consciously engage in the work of personal growth and of inner transformation through comedy, left this world as he lived in it - on his own accord.

Robin Williams in Flubber

What made Robin Williams so intense?

Overexcitability Questionnaire
  1. Do you ever feel really high, ecstatic, and incredibly happy? Describe your feelings. 
  2. What has been your experience of the most intense pleasure? 
  3. What are your special kinds of daydreams and fantasies? 
  4. What kinds of things get your mind going? 
  5. When do you feel the most energy, and what do you do with it? 
  6. How do you act when you get excited? 
  7. What kind of physical activity (or inactivity) gives you the most satisfaction? 
  8. Is taste something very special to you? Describe it in a way that it is special. 
  9. Do you ever catch yourself seeing, hearing, or imagining things that aren't really there? Give examples. 
  10. When do you feel the greatest urge to do something? 
  11. If you come across a difficult idea or concept, how does it become clear to you? Describe what goes on in your head in this case.
  12. Describe what you do when you are just fooling around.
Living With Intensity, Daniels & Piechowski, Ph.D.s

Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

"You're only given a little spark of madness. 
You mustn't lose it."
Robin Williams


The overexcitability questions above come from the book Living With Intensity, the adapted list was created from the 21-item OEQ by Ackerman & Miller, 1997. 

The book describes and explores the multi-faceted sensitivities and intensities of gifted children and adults. It offers insights in understanding and nurturing the complex combination of intellectual advancement and overexcitabilities... with insights into how to avoid tragic misperceptions and misdiagnoses. 

Living on the edge. That is how precarious it often feels when we come to the top of the mountain, or what seems like the top, and are startled to find ourselves looking over the edge. The view is panoramic, breath-taking. But what about the trip down? Ordinarily, a sequence of moments shifts the boundaries of our private universe gradually from the concerns of young adulthood to something larger, startling, mysterious.

Sheehy (1995) "the mortality crisis, (Living with Intensity, p. 176)

"You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren't paying attention to."
Robin Williams

Triumph to Tragedy

The tragedy associated with the circumstances of Robin Williams' death has heightened our understanding of the dangers associated with living with intensity or what some call creative genius (turned against itself). 

What is Creative Genius

It is the applied integration of expanded sensitivities, otherwise known as artful living. Creative Genius is the outward sign of some area of intensity. 

Robin Williams unleashed his creative genius into his comedy. His true genius was in making others laugh. While Robin Williams was in possession of many talents, it was making people laugh for which he will mostly be remembered. 

"People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Maya Angelou 

"Death is nature's way of saying, "Your table's ready.""
Robin Williams

How could someone so talented do such a thing? 

This is the primary question my Readers have been asking me. While my blog often strays from the topic of humor, it is humor that underlines all my articles - even the serious ones. It is me saying, "Hey, isn't it funny how serious we can be?" 

Comedy covers serious topics as well as surprising insights. We are accustomed to having Robin Williams surprise us with his zany sense of humor, but the seriousness by which he left the world will leave many people asking "Why?" for years to come. 

For people who live with intensity - often described as creative genius - there is an enormous range of human capacity, an intricate web of understanding that occurs due to the intensity that is the hallmark of the individual's predisposition. 

Irrespective of where that intensity is directed, there is an extra umph behind everything they do.

"What's right is what's left when everything is wrong."
Robin Williams

Living with Intensity

An individual living with intensity approaches everything they do with their heart fully in it. This does not mean that they will give away their secrets. On the contrary. In the case of Robin Williams, he directed his intensity into his comedy, into entertaining others, and as it so happened, into his personal vision of the world. 

Some people call this the "dark side" because when you try to penetrate this veil, when you try to reach the person, they are somewhere else. This "somewhere else" is not always a happy place. 

This personal or dark side, as it is known, offers the heart a repose. Rather than comedy being his only escape, inactivity and retreat were the spaces into which Robin sometimes fled. When he was tired, done, or otherwise needed a break, this space served as his solace. 

It is inside this space that the analytical mind can turn against itself. That non-emotional, disengaged, quietly critiquing serious side we all know "too well" reigns in this sphere. 

The negative responses one encounters in life but normally "blocks out" are intensified. Tragically, for some, these voices can take over. 

While it is natural to question the world and our role in it (turning us all into philosophers), it is not natural to end our lives as a result of this questioning. 

The natural order of life is to keep going.

"...when you have a great audience, you can just keeping going and finding new things."
Robin Williams

Common Philosophical Questions
that people ask

  1. What is my purpose in life? 
  2. Why are we here?
  3. Is there a God? 
  4. What if there is no God? 
  5. Is this all there is? 
  6. Is there something more after this life? 
  7. Do we have free will? 
  8. Why did the Chicken cross the Road?

"The only weapon we have is comedy."
Robin Williams

Living with intensity is like being on a constant Road Trip. You are forever crossing one road or another. Only when you exhaust yourself to the point of near non-existence, do you step back, retreat, and focus on your own needs. 

The difficulty with living in the public eye or of being an individual to whom others look for support, guidance, or entertainment, is that you are human - you're actually human. And like everyone who returns from a Road Trip, you need and absolutely must have time to relax and recharge.

We all need time to process the thoughts, hopes, and doubts that cross our mind. When we are constantly 'on the go' or when we have constant demands hanging over us, the desire to retreat increases and we naturally look for escapes.

If you are intellectually driven, you look to your work, your research, your insights and epiphanies for solace. You thrive on the insights your analytical brain offers and upon the respect you receive for your efforts. These experiences increase your self-respect and become emotional sustenance to continue onwards. We all need something to fill the coffers back up when they run low. 

If you are creatively driven, you look toward your craft for solace. Your craft is your lifeline. It keeps you connected. You have an avenue through which to communicate, to tell the world, "I exist." 

Only it is not the world we're trying to convince - it's ourselves. 

Despite popular belief, 
we all need proof that we exist

"a weird combination of isolation and connection and disconnection; discomfort and awkwardness."
Robin Williams (on connection)

Robin Williams and Socrates

Robin Williams juggled multiple intensities: intellectual intensity, emotional intensity, and creative intensity. His comedy was a metaphor for the evolution of his intensity. To reclaim his balance, he withdrew himself from the depth his intensity carved into his life. 

If one is not careful, an intense person can carve a gorge so deeply that they begin to believe that they cannot escape. This is the pitfall of intensity and/or creative genius. 

Socrates, an intensely focused Greek, mesmerized by the notion of finding truth and wisdom, carved out his own grave - and what did the Athenian citizens do to him? They buried him in it. 

Like Ancient Athenian citizens, the world of Hollywood can can be overly harsh in their judgment. Men are judged by their charisma, women on their beauty. If either fail to deliver, the Twitter feeds go wild. Talk about pressure. No wonder so many intensely creative individuals find solace in drugs or alcohol. Where does one retreat when all eyes are on them? 

Into a world of their own making.

Socrates went around asking people big questions - questions others did not want to ask themselves nor have someone else ask of them because they did not know - or did not want to know - the answer.

As it turns out, having an answer - even if it is wrong - is better for most people than asking deep questions and being open to the answers that surface. 

Heartfelt questions can lead to our questioning whether or not life is worth it. If the answer is no, trouble follows. 

There is a reason why people continue ask the question: 

Half-Empty or Half-Full?

For individuals who live with intensity, life usually feels like it is one way or the other. There is very little middle-ground.

"Reality... what a concept."
Robin Williams

Why do we love comedy? 

We love comedy because it fills life's in-between moments with laughter. It's simple. When we step back from the intensity of our daily lives, from the demands of family, the pressures of work, the relentless internal dialogue critiquing every thought and moment, we need a release. We need to laugh. We need to know that we're not in this thing alone. That others feel the way we do. That there is meaning. That there is a purpose - or no purpose, in which case, we need to find meaning in that. 

Comedy takes confusion, doubt, and tragedy and twists it up like a balloon animal. The sound it makes can often times send shrills down our spines, but in the end, we look at the finished product and smile. We see the bigger picture. We see the magic. We see the art. 

Exploring Humor

Exploring humor has allowed me to discover the humorous side of life. From Scooby Doo to Pacman to Research Papers, all the things we do and think about in life, when viewed through a humorous microscope, become absurd, which is funny.

The seriousness we attach to tragedy and the importance we place on every thought and emotion we experience can leave one laughing.

As human beings, we want the range of emotions to match the range of experiences we have in life - and comedy provides that. 

Comedy (Sometimes) Heals

When the intensity in our own lives lightens up, so do we. This is when humor and the people who make us laugh are such a welcomed presence in our lives. 

This is something most comedians understand on a deeply personal level, but understanding the power of humor and feeling it are not the same thing. 

"My battles with addiction definitely shaped how I am now. They really made me deeply appreciate human contact. And the value of friend and family, how precious that is."
Robin Williams

The intensity that leads some to wild, zany expressions is what also leads them to scary places, to places where demons have their way with the mind, a place into which no one can pass.

Comedians, like everyone else, sometimes find themselves asking the question, 

"Why am I doing this?" 

This is a natural question to ask. The answer to the question is as different as each individual asking it. 

Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Are you having a beer?" Descartes says, "I think not," and ceases to exist.

René Descartes (1596 - 1650) wrote in his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conduction the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences, 

The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellences, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations.

"Mrs. Doubtfire: 'He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him.'
Miranda: 'How awful. Was he an alcoholic?'
Mrs. Doubtfire: 'No, he was hit by a Guinness truck.'

The BIG Questions

Descartes understood the inherent perils of examining one's thoughts. He admitted that

The single design to strip one's self of all past beliefs is one that ought not to be taken by every one. 

Robin Williams (and Matt Damon) in Good Will Hunting

"My battles with addiction definitely shaped how I am now. They really made me deeply appreciate human contact. And the value of friend and family, how precious that is."
Robin Williams

The Genius of Robin Williams

Robin Williams must have recognized his own genius. All he needed to do was sit back and observe the power he had over the happiness of others. 

In a world of intensity, love and compassion are the two of the greatest forces upon which the soul can find respite. For an intense person, love and compassion are true lifelines. 

Without a deep connection to these forces, the soul ceases to exist. Love is replaced with despair. Compassion is replaced with rejection. The result is either a temporary retreat to heal oneself (often times sought after in drugs, in alcohol, or in other intimate pleasures) or, in extreme cases, suicide. 

The withdrawal feels as intense as the mania. 

Depression is the hallway to a nervous breakdown. Whether or not someone can be saved, or whether or not someone can save another suffering is a question many have asked. 

There is no magic cure or simple answer. There is no amount money or fame that can heal a heavy heart. In fact, money and fame can complicate life. 

"People think they know you. They expect you to be literally like you are on TV or in the movies, bouncing off the walls. A woman in an airport once said to me, "Be zany!" People always want zany, goofy sh-t from me. It takes a lot of energy to do that. If you do that all the time, you'll burn out."
Robin Williams

"I went to rehab in wine country, just to keep my options open"
Robin Williams

All entertainers and public figures are subject to scrutiny. For highly intense individuals, this scrutiny (including, in particular, self-scrutiny) can have disastrous effects on self-esteem, and upon an individual's sense of self-worth. 

The pain associated with rejection can lead a person back to that personal space, back to that dark place where one naturally questions the value of it all. 

"When I'm awake, I don't want to go to sleep. I don't want the hassle of turning the light off, putting my head down and then all the thoughts. I don't want all those thoughts."
Robin Williams

"Robin Williams was so funny that it is difficult to imagine him sad," one of my Readers wrote in a letter to me. 

Like many comedians, Robin Williams had the ability to give others what he himself did not always feel inside. 

But for most of the world, it appeared as if Robin was truly "into" what he was doing. When people roared, his intensity flew off the charts ... and he took us with him!

"...they are always talking about 'well, is it meaningful?' Well, sure it's meaningful if you come out and you had a great laugh."
Robin Williams


Robin Williams took comedy to a new level - he took it everywhere. He took it to our hopes, to our dreams, and to our fears. He humored us with our own shortcomings and with his own. He showed the world how to laugh when one might otherwise want to cry. He lightened the mood in the room when it got too heavy. He was someone to whom others could turn when they needed to feel good. With all eyes upon him, he served the world a platter of joy. He made us laugh and we loved him for it. 

Everyone's situation in life is different. We all have different experiences, different needs, and different opinions on everything, including which direction the toilet paper roll should flow. Our view of the world is largely dependent upon where we are standing in relation to it. 

In the end, the world is what we decide it to be. We can see the world as funny. We can see the world as tragic ... or, like most, we can see it somewhere in between. We can choose to see it for how (we think) it is - or is not. We can see a purple world - even if we're colorblind. We can see a kind world. We can see a harsh world. We can see a world with purpose - or none at all. 

"Comedy is acting out optimism."
Robin Williams

Robin Williams has reminded the world that our lives are not just about us. While we are not responsible for the happiness of others, our words and actions do affect them.  

Feeling blue???

If you are languishing, feeling empty, or otherwise questioning whether life is worth living... talk to someone.

This doesn't mean that others will have the answers you seek, but talking to others gives you a moment to pause and to think through the emotions that flood everyone's system from time to time. 

We don't have to be held hostage by our emotions. We may not be able to stop every negative thought that flows through our brains, but we can devise strategies to cope with them. We can also create healthy outlets upon which we might rest until the storm passes. 

As I have written many times over, laughter is best when shared. 

True comedy is not laughing at the shortcomings of others - that just makes people feel self-conscious. True comedy is making others feel good about themselves. 

Robin Williams made millions of people laugh and feel good on the inside. He showed us how to be silly, reminded us that it is okay to loosen up, and that laughter truly is the best medicine. His life, like his humor, moved millions to laughter and to tears. His genius will not be forgotten. 

"No matter what people tell you, 
words and ideas can change the world."
Robin Williams

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