Monday, August 6, 2012


It's the middle of the day, Monday.  I've got comments from co-authors to incorporate, analysis plans to generate, and the GRE to study for.  I don't have time to write (or rather, I don't have time to write anything unrelated to what the folks are paying me for).  But, when you have to write, you have to write and all the world has to sit down and shut the fuck up for a minute until the words clear your head.  Then all other noise can resume.

DeAndre McCullough died of a drug overdose a day or two ago.  Mr. McCullough is really only known to me in fiction, through the HBO mini-series The Corner, which was based on his story, and through his in-person portrayal of Lamar, on The Wire.  I read David Simon's personal obit for him, and also the obituary (largely borrowed from David Simon's) posted in the Baltimore Sun. 

"If I close my eyes, the fifteen year old comes to me. His laughter, his wit, his foolishness and ridiculous rationalization mixed in equal measure with his goodness and honesty. I can forgive the addict who came to dominate that young life. I can let go of all the frustration and exhaustion that came with twenty years of faithlessness and hurt. I see, in the end, a man who was in great, unending pain. And I want him to rest now.

In spite of everything, I will miss him badly. I know because I’ve been here before. With Dinky. And Curt. And Ella. And Gary — especially Gary McCullough, the wounded father who in some awful way was a pathfinder for his wounded son.  When you tell yourself you are going to write a story about real people, you say so in the abstract, without any real sense of the beings you haven’t yet met, without any measure of the real cost of addressing actual human realities.

Well then, amid all of the easy labels and stereotypes that will now certainly apply, let me offer only the following:  I once had the privilege to know a boy named DeAndre McCullough, who at the age of fifteen had led a life of considerable deprivation, but who nonetheless was the fine and fascinating measure of a human soul. Everything after, even the very book that we wrote about his world, today seems like useless and unimportant commentary."                        - David Simon

My life is a little chaotic right now.  A process that we can call "evolution", but most of the time just looks like a mess.  I'm trying to figure out what to do with my program- to stay, to go.  Get it done, don't compromise on the big goals but stay flexible enough on the smaller details.  Regardless of what happens, the plan is to leave Utah next fall.  That feels right. 

However, this obit, this remembrance, took me back to where I first began when I got into this affair with the education and the experience.  I wanted to go into public health because I wanted to help.  Not just to help, but to understand.  I want to find ways to help with the dark places of human existence: poverty, drugs, violence, mental illness, sexual assault, cancer, homelessness, HIV.  It's an impossible summit if I expect to fix any of it, but I don't.  I've seen too much in the way of violence and despair throughout my own experiences to expect that.  But I want to throw my lot in. In the words of The Wire, I want to be "counted."  Getting my degree was supposed to give me new ideas, new resources, new understanding about this.  In a way, the education has helped in the way it was intended, but in many ways, I wonder if it hasn't removed me from the things that matter to me, deep down.  I wonder if I am tough enough to insist on those things taking priority.  If I am honest, I also want to make a decent living and travel all over the world.  So it's not all do-gooder mentality. 

I have to start fighting to find a dissertation topic.  As in, I needed to have one yesterday.  McCullough's obit reminded me that, this area- this need to put in some work toward alleviating human suffering where I can- this is what came first for me.  This should be a priority.  This is still worth aiming for.  I'm not going to compromise this by working on some bullshit data whose outcomes won't mean anything to anyone- it has to translate.   It has to help.  It has to.  I find it amazing that the ripple effect from individual lives can spread out like this- so that someone like me, who has never even been to West Baltimore sees this life, sees this tragedy, and is taken back, is refocused. 

back to work now. 

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