Tuesday, February 4, 2014
On struggling with addiction
I couldn't figure out how best to memorialize Philip Seymour Hoffman on my blog. To be sure, I don't memorialize everyone who dies on this blog, just as I don't go out of my way to praise or savage every film I see that affects me either positively or negatively.
But I was hit pretty hard by the death of this great Character Actor, who elevated the job to capital letters. And I realized that it was the circumstances of his death that did the hard hitting.
Hoffman was always carrying a few extra pounds on him, so if he had gone the way of James Gandolfini last year, it might not have surprised anyone. We would have thought it a bit young -- Gandolfini had five years on Hoffman. But then again, John Candy died of a heart attack three years younger than Hoffman was when he died. We would have been devastated, but we wouldn't have been shocked.
It's shock I felt when I learned that Hoffman died a rock star's death, lying on his bathroom floor with a needle sticking out of his arm.
The shock not only came from the basic graphic aspect of his death scene, one that pops into your mind's eye and then doesn't dislodge itself, but from the fact that I didn't even know he was an addict. I don't always read up on the private lives of celebrities, and if I had, maybe I would have known about P.S. Hoffman's struggles with heroin. But I hadn't, so I didn't.
Then what struck me was that addiction has an awful power that is always freshly awful to contemplate. I've been contemplating it in my own life recently, and if you'll allow me to indulge in a little introspection and sort of making Hoffman's death about me, I hope you won't be sorry.
Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you I struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol or sex or something that genuinely has the power to kill me. In fact, I'm going to risk making light of Hoffman's death by telling you what I am addicted to:
But before you scoff and scream "How dare you?", let me tell you that I don't mean this the least bit whimsically -- even if the outcome of my addiction figures to be far less catastrophic.
If you recall -- and you should, because I keep mentioning it -- I went on a movie diet a little more than two weeks ago. This diet was designed to limit my intake of movies to two per week, in the interest of exploring other aspects of my life that I had been ignoring -- you know, little things like family, career, and a current understanding of the state of the world.
I figured that I was addicted to movies, even though I didn't come out and say it. Starting my movie diet was my way of checking myself into rehab. Something that, sadly, did not save Philip Seymour Hoffman when he tried it last year.
I have adhered to my diet so far. In the week just completed, I did watch three movies, but the third was legal under the guidelines of the diet. I said that I would exceed three for the week if my wife instigated the watching of any movies over my allotment of two. Sure enough, she came to me on Sunday afternoon, when my older son's aunt and grandmother had him out at the movies, and asked if now was a good time to watch This is Not a Film on Netflix. (Start discussing now whether this not-film even counts as a third film in the week.)
Actually, only one film last week was one I really wanted to watch for my own reasons. The second was Finding Nemo with my son on Saturday afternoon, so I was really taking one for the team there and counting it as my second viewing anyway.
So I'm doing well, right? I'm beating the addiction?
Not really. Truth is, in two weeks, I haven't done a lot of the things I said I was going to do in the time I haven't spent watching movies. And in fact, I've merely compensated for the loss in other movie-related ways.
For one, I've become a much more active participant in a movie discussion group on Facebook. Not only have I kept up with most of the threads, but I've been initiating more of my own than I usually do.
Then, I've picked up some old movie projects that I had abandoned. One is adding the rest of my movie list to Letterboxd. I've gotten up to the R's, whereas only a week or two ago I was in the K's. The other is catching up on Flickchart, where I'm adding a bunch of movies I've watched over the last two years that had never gotten added. I'm even subjecting my chart to a battery of focused dueling tests, as I blogged about here.
Additionally, I've added one new film-related podcast to my repertoire -- Slate's Culture Gabfest -- and of course, continued writing posts on this blog, at perhaps a heightened pace.
Why am I doing these things?
Well, because I'm an addict, of course.
Apples and oranges, right? Yeah, probably. I don't need to stop watching movies, I just need to manage them better so they don't dominate my life. And I can go on binges sometimes without harming myself or others.
But in other ways, no, not apples and oranges. Right now, movies are occupying a place on my spectrum of need that is not healthy. And I need to get them under control.
So as Philip Seymour Hoffman succumbed to his demons of addiction, I couldn't help but think of my own. My demons won't kill me -- at least, I don't think they will -- but they could turn me into a depressive schlub, achieving only a fraction of what I one day hope to accomplish.
The kind of guy that the great Philip Seymour Hoffman might have played to perfection, in fact.