The fashion designer Alexander McQueen was found dead in his London home yesterday, an apparent suicide. He was 40 years old.
The world of high fashion plays little role in my own life, but I pay more attention to it than you might expect, and I've been a fan of Alexander McQueen's designs for most of his career. The fact that I'd never wear most of it didn't reduce my admiration for his creativity and for his tailoring genius.
If indeed McQueen turns out to be a victim of suicide, he's destroyed his career in more ways than one, and my overriding emotion isn't sorrow but anger. Suicide pisses me off. It's the most hostile action imaginable, not only to oneself but to one's friends, family, and the world at large.
It's also rude and impractical. If you've ever thought of killing yourself — and I admit it's crossed my mind once or twice — here are five practical considerations that have always stopped me, and should stop you, too.
1. Someone has to find you. Suicide ends your world. It doesn't end the world. Someone, at some point, is going to find your body, and that's a terrible thing to do to anyone. If the person who finds you is someone who loves you, you've done the worst possible thing to them; if the person who finds you is someone who doesn't know you, you've inconvenienced them and traumatized them in a way they'll never get over.
1a. Someone has to clean it up. Particularly relevant if you're thinking about using a firearm. Postmortem cleaners have become the stuff of movies and fiction, but they're a luxury most people and organizations can't afford. And most bloodstains are permanent, so if you commit suicide at home, you're leaving that legacy for whomever you live with.
2. Death is undignified, and not picturesque. Adolescents, in particular, fantasize about their perfect dead bodies being found in repose, and their loved ones weeping in remorse over their lifeless corpses. It doesn't happen that way. Death is almost always messy, and most methods of suicide make it messier. Body fluids are released; overdoses cause vomiting; decay sets in and smells very bad, especially if no one finds the body right away. Consider the sad case of Lupe Velez, a 1940s Hollywood starlet who, according to vicious rumor, took an overdose, tried to vomit, and was found dead with her head in a toilet. True? Maybe not. But it's what we remember about Lupe Velez. Which brings us to #3.
3. If you kill yourself, that's what people remember. Do teenagers still listen to Nirvana? Not really, but they all know that Kurt Cobain killed himself at 27. Sylvia Plath is remembered more for her suicide than for her poetry or her life. Even Virginia Woolf's work is overshadowed by the sordid details of her self-drowning. If you're an artist, suicide doesn't prove the seriousness or value of your work; instead, it tells the world you preferred death over creation, and your death becomes more important than anything you wrote or sang or made.
4. The bastards won't be sorry. This is the worst, most brutal truth of suicide: people who didn't like you before you died won't like you any better after. In fact, suicide will only confirm their worst ideas about you, and will make them feel better, not worse, for having judged you. I've experienced this myself, after the suicide of a colleague many years ago. Everyone who worked with him knew he was a troubled, unhappy man, and he seemed unable to help himself. When he died, I wanted to feel guilty; I thought I ought to feel worse about not having liked him, or made more of an effort to like him, while he was alive. I didn't. I'm not proud of that, but I think it's human nature. Yes, it's self-justifying rationalization, but the horrifying case of Phoebe Prince shows how extreme this self-justifying rationalization can get.
5. Suicide is contagious. It's not a coincidence that Lee McQueen's close friend Isabella Blow killed herself three years ago. Suicide runs in families, and suicide clusters turn up regularly within communities. The movie Heathers made mean, hilarious fun of this, but it's true. Heathers implied this was a combination of peer pressure and attention-seeking, but I don't think so. I think it's just that once the suicide taboo is broken, suicide becomes an item on the menu of life's possibilities. Too many of my friends have parents or other close relatives who killed themselves, and I see how it happens: once someone close to you kills himself, it becomes a thing that "normal" people do. Don't fool yourself. It is not a thing that normal people do. Don't make the people who love you believe that lie.