Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why Don Cornelius Left the Building

Suicide May be Painless but Writing the Note is Excruciating  - 

Don Cornelius, the creator and host of Soul Train, passed away recently. I say passed away because how he died depends on your point of view. To the general public he committed suicide. To the African-American community at large he did not. Acknowledging suicide challenges our misguided belief that black folks don’t get depressed, we just get angry. You put an “H” on your chest and just handle it, whatever it is. The slaves made it through without therapy right?

So because we don’t do that, we also don’t get help. Instead some folks opt to self medicate: drugs, alcohol, Jesus, or a really cute pair of shoes. Okay, a lot of shoes. As a culture we seem to collectively subscribe to the theory that it’s better to look good than to feel good. So chances are, the better I look, the worse I feel. 

Despite the evidence, many insist that Don Cornelius couldn’t possibly have committed suicide. He didn’t leave a note. No note, no suicide. But do you have any idea how hard it is to write a suicide note?  

hen I decided to give it a try I was confronted not only with what to write but how to write it. I wanted to go traditional: pen and paper, but much to my horror, I discovered I didn’t have any paper. I had my trusty pocket Moleskine journal full of to do lists, random jokes, and dark side of the Force thoughts, but I didn’t want anyone reading that. They’d wonder why I hadn’t offed myself sooner. 

I had no paper because for the most part I’ve gone digital. I wish I could say this was out of concern for the environment. But I’m from the 80s. I don’t give a frak about the environment. “Ask not what you can do for your environment. Ask what your environment can do for you.” 

I thought about buying some paper but the price for a single pad at the drug stores in Manhattan is outrageous. $3.99? Seriously? And you can’t even buy just a single pad of paper at Staples. They’re sold in packs of 10. No one’s reading a 1,000-page suicide note. Anything over five is a manifesto. 

And so, I decided to type my note. That would allow me to indulge my control freak, perfectionist tendencies. I could write, edit, and spell check to my heart’s content ... if only I could pick the right font. Arial is too plain, Times Roman is too boring and Courier is too serial killer. It should go without saying that Comic Sans is just flat out wrong. It was then I remembered that I have an iPhone 4S now. I could dictate my note to Siri. But then she and I don’t always see eye to eye. Did I really want her second guessing and auto correcting me? “Damn it, Siri! I said, ‘suicide’ not ‘slip and slide’.”

When I finally got down to composing my note I got stuck. I’ve never written a suicide note before. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right because it’s not just any note. It’s your last note. It’s your chance to get things off your chest, explain how you feel, and most of all to tell the people who matter most, why. I think you owe them a little more than, “It’s not you. It’s me.” That’s kinda lame. And I wouldn’t want people to remember me as a derivative hack. 

I also didn’t want to blame anybody, per se, although I was very tempted to call out the last guy who cut me off in traffic, almost causing me to have an accident. 
“Dear Dude, Driving the 2007, two-door, black BMW last Friday night on the New Jersey Turnpike, license plate number GTD 6437: You were the last straw. I hope you get gout.”
Have I ever seriously considered committing suicide? Absolutely. The first time was when I was 15 years old. Why? Because I was 15 years old. What stopped me? I was afraid my parents would be really mad at me if I did that. Only a teenager would think about the trouble she’d get into posthumously. 

If you’re wondering, by the way, why I’d want to commit suicide now, gee, I don’t know. It’s Thursday? Ultimately, my answer doesn’t matter. If you’ve ever thought about it, just insert your answer here. It will mean more to you than anything I can say. If you’ve never considered it, then there’s nothing I can say that would make you understand except that ... well... I’m not 15. What stops me? Honestly, sometimes not that much. Let’s just say I haven’t found the right font, there’s a shoe sale this weekend, and I’ve got at least one more Soul Train stroll left in me. 

Thanks for reading The Urban Erma. You can listen to the podcast on Podbean or subscribe for free on iTunes. In case you were wondering, in addition to blogging I am also a pretty good stand-up comedian. I do "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, I'd be Jazz. Want to see a show? Check out my schedule at @


DrBev said...

Very thought provoking, well-written blog about a subject most don’t want to talk about how-be-so-ever, as a Psychotherapist I believe “Emotions R Us” all of us. You have pointed out the ‘white elephant’ standing in many folks living room--their lack of knowledge of their emotional/mental health. I love your writing about leaving a suicide note which is not an easy thing to do for anyone who has ever considered ending their life. You are so correct “Acknowledging suicide challenges our misguided belief that black folks don’t get depressed, we just get angry.” Most people really do believe that folks of color, just put an “H” on their chest and just handle it, whatever it is. So sad…so not true…Emotions R Us, and life can be emotionally painful for all, no matter the matter.

LaVerne said...

Have not thought of it this way but I do have a closet full
(and then some!) of shoes! When I ever thought of this, usually due to rejection of some sort.... a perfectionist by heart and wanting everyone to like me when I was younger, I learned to say "It was their loss not mine" to get me over the humps in life.
Enjoyed reading this in a morbid sort of way... Suicide is never the answer... it is too FINAL!!!! :)

Leighann Lord said...


Thank you both for reading and commenting. This really is the elephant in the room in our community. I can only hope that it gets better before more people opt to do the unthinkable. You're right, Laverne. That is too final a solution. But sadly deep emotional pain that goes unaddressed can make folks think that it's their only solution. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to read and post a comment.