While participating in an intense meditation process that lasted from 1pm until 9pm, thoughts of Alexander McQueen came into the forefront of my mind like when you click a link to an internet site and a hundred pop up windows take over your computer screen. Normally I can tune out the universe but for some reason, Alexander McQueen and visual images of the 'Savage Beauty' exhibition were infiltrating my zen. During one part of the benediction we were divided into two large groups to receive 21 blessings for healing. While receiving the blessings my attention was drawn to the fact that in my circle were at least five people wearing name tags deriving from a similar root name; Alexander, Alex, Alexandria, Alexis and myself, Lex. Historically, our names come from Alexander the Great, the powerful King of Macedon, now Greece. In the Tarot, Alexander symbolizes the ' Emperor,' the law of wordly, material development; the pioneer, the mover and the shaker, a person of vision, an initiator, a doer, a leader, someone who represents the will to operate with the daring and organization of a great king. The shadow side of the Emperor is; the need to be in control, a lack of flexibility and dictatorship mentality. Basically, what I was looking at in this particular circle was a reflection of a group of 'Alexandrian' people who could take over the world if they chose to set their minds to it. Whether or not this is done in a positive or negative way really depends upon our current state of minds.
After receiving the blessings we laid down on our matts to begin another meditation, during which I stared up at the ceiling that connected the pyramid building I laid within. I closed my eyes and a moment of peace came over me, but then once again the runway models of Alexander McQueen's fashion shows came strutting on my meditation practice like a flash movie in my mind. I found it rather odd that he of all people would be 'showing up' for me, since I never knew Alexander McQueen personally, even though we both lived in New York and worked in the luxury fashion industry for years. He did fabulous fashion. I do fabulous pictures. Our industry is incestuous; fashion, beauty, hair & make-up, photography. One cannot exist without touching the other. Although our creative paths had never crossed personall,y my hands had 'felt up' a few of his art garments during several fashion editorials. Each piece Alexander McQueen made was truly a work of art. I admired the intricacy of his attention to detail and considered him to be quite the creative genius.
Before I left New York City, I spent some 'me time' soaking in his exhibition 'Savage Beauty' at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art (MET) and I found myself intrigued by the fact the last collection Alexander was working on before he took his life was tentatively titled, Angels & Demons. Possibly a reflection of the inner Angels & Demons we all battle within ourselves from time to time. Being an artist myself, what I understand about the creative process is that much of our creative energy derives from something that has either touched our lives indirectly or is something we are personally struggling with in our own life. We absorb the experience, take the time process what we have been through and then push it out into our creative medium of choice. Inspiration comes from the high's and low's of life, the light as well as the darkness, joy as well as sorrow and somehow the polarity of these experiences manifest themselves into our artwork.
Alexander's creative medium was fashion. His creative output was brilliance; the fabric he laid his hands upon was carefully crafted by the eyes of a perfectionist, every piece of 'fashion art' was powerful, creased with a touch of nature, intricately detailed with the lace of fictional darkness, the buttons of modernism and the inner lining of a punk, 'devil may care' elegance. The 'Savage Beauty' exhibition reminded me of what it would be like if the Vampires of an Anne Rice novel had come to life and Alexander McQueen was challenged on Project Runway to dress them all by decade. In the words of a close friend who also saw the collection, he described it as, "hauntingly beautiful." I could not agree more.
During what was soon to become my 'Alexander McQueen' meditation, a feeling of despondency and sadness fell over me like a rain cloud of heartache. With the recent loss of his mother, and his close friend a few years earlier maybe I was relating to the overwhelming grief Alexander experienced, the waves of sadness that can roll over you like tidal waves, consuming you at unexpected moments. I too had lost my best friend and fiance quite suddenly ten years ago without warning. Perhaps it was sheer coincedence that Alexander McQueen's first name and my lost love were one in the same. Either way we both had experienced what is often called 'the dark night of the soul.' When you lose someone very close to you, what I refer to as a ' Lifeline,' the experience forever changes your life, the way you perceive life and the concept of how you utilize your time.
Lifelines are imperative, they are the people you call when life dashes your dreams and your heart against the rocks of reality; Lifelines are the people who have seen you at your best and as a complete emotional wreck, Lifelines are the people you can call after midnight to come be with you in a moment of anger (calm you down), vulnerability (shoulder to cry on) or depression (they come with tissue, an ear and chicken soup). Lifelines are the people who love you no matter who you date or dump, who love you if you gain twenty pounds or lose them, who love you with or without make-up, in times of great poverty or wealth. Lifelines manage you well and see beneath the shiny veneer of your success, into your heart. Lifelines are the people who will show up to help you when everyone else walks out of your life. Lifelines are the one friend or family member that if you get into serious trouble, remain your ally through thick and thin. For some of us our lifeline is; our closest friend, a parent, a relative or someone we grew up with since childhood. It is the one person who loves you for beautifully, imperfect you. Whether you are at the top of your game or down in the cherry pit, Lifelines 'get you' and can 'manage you' in such a way that they act as a safety net when the clouds of darkness and heartache descend upon our lives. No matter our profession, no matter our level of success, no matter our degrees or income brackets, no one is immune to the peaks and valleys of life. Everyone needs a Lifeline.
We are lucky and blessed if we have more than one Lifeline to call when our souls are wounded but what happens when two of your lifelines, like Alexander McQueen's, are suddenly disconnected? His mom Joyce had passed away a few days before he committed suicide. And he had also lost his close friend style guru, Isabella Blow, a few years before. Both of his Lifelines. Gone.
Who would he call in his darkest hour and his greatest moment of need now?
Who will you call?
Due to the level of Alexander McQueen's success, of 'managing his life' so well, so successfully, people around him may not have realized that the termites of depression and grief were consuming him. Creative people can also hide their depression well because we cope by just becoming more creative or obsessing over our current projects to pre-occupy ourselves. I have always wondered if there could be a link between being a creative genius and depression? Arnold M. Ludwig, a researcher at the University of Kentucky Medical Center embarked on a 10-year study of 1004 men and women who were prominent in a variety of professions, including art, music, science, business, politics, and sports. Ludwig found that between 59 and 77 percent of the artists, writers, and musicians suffered mental illness (particularly mood disorders) compared to just 18 to 29 percent in the less artistic professionals. History is full of creative people who wrestled with mood disorders; Emerson, Faulkner, Melville, O'Keefe, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Schumann, Michelangelo, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Gaugin, and Dickens. Artists, poets, writers, musicians, dancer, photographers.
In 2010, the World Health Organization 2010, states that depression will be the #1 disability in the world.
In America there are 18.8 million adults suffering from depressive disorders; 20% are teenagers and 2.5% of these are pre-school children (1 out of every 5). Over 80% of people with depression never seek professional help or are not aware of their depression. Another 20% of people with substance abuse problems have severe clinical depression. Combine a broken heart with alcohol or narcotics and the sad thing is; 30,000 people take their own life every year.
These are the Lifelines that as a society we have failed to answer their call...Alexander McQueen was among one of them...dialing into the Lifeline...but the line just rang and rang...and he was forever disconnected from Life.
When someone like Alexander McQueen picks up the phone to make a life connection, when someone we know for fact has gone through a great loss in their life; the death of someone close to them, job loss, losing their home, financial crisis, etc. We need to step up and notice, pay attention to when someone is in a state of suffering and possibly making decisions to continue living or not because they are in such immense pain. We need to see beneath the success and the titles into the heart. In our b-u-s-y world we need to take the time to notice and to hear the ringing of the soul to answer the call and fulfill the need to connect. If we can hear the ringing of a hurting soul, then we can answer the lifeline, and the call of 'connection' could save someones Life.
We live in a world of instant gratification, the fashion world is no different. In fashion, the front of the house i.e. on the catwalk, everything appears fun on the surface because you are seeing a finished product meant to entice you into the next season of consumerism. Behind the house of fashion, behind the curtain and flash, imagine the pressure of creating an entire collection from scratch, managing a creative team and coordinating the events that showcase a talent such as Alexander McQueen. Intense would be an understatement. There are a million things happening at once to execute a show of a fashion collection at the caliber such as Alexander McQueen's. I believe this added to his despondency, to have to perform in a time of mourning to such a level of perfection, under so much immense pressure. Alexander McQueen knew, like any artist or fashion designer, that every collection has to be better and more creative than the last. Walk around his collection at the MET, you can visually see as an artist how hard he pushed himself on his creative projects. They were in essence his labors of love.
As someone who has shot fashion photography for a living, our business moves so quickly it is uncommon for people to take the time to probe deeper than surface in our transient industry unless a specific event or cause personally touches someones life or their heart. Once a fame seeker or starlet finds their passion however; their cause or their charity, then you will notice a unique fire begins to burn in them that distinguishes them from the model-esque crowd. The focus of "me" shifts to "we" and their life purpose become one that empowers their community, not just their own career or self centered ambitions. Fame for fames sake is boring, fame for a cause greater than yourself is powerful and sexy. Hundreds if not thousands of pretty, talented, powerful, celebrity faces pass through the doors of New York City fashion houses and photography studios like people in the subway, but finding one true and lasting connections in a business based on the superficiality of selling beauty and clothes can be like finding a mouse in a cat house. Almost everyone you meet is looking for the next step up on their career path to success, everyone wants something and depending on your connections you might be their next victim. I believe Alexander knew that in a world of power and prestige, money could not replace the lifelines he held dear and finding anyone close to meeting his emotional needs in the fashion industry would prove difficult. Perhaps the polarity of his success clashed with a deep sense of grief, loneliness and isolation, to be surrounded by so many beautiful people and faces, yet still feel so alone in his greatest hour of darkness. Alexander needed a Lifeline. The lifeline of his soul was ringing, he was battling with his inner Angels and Demons, but we missed the call...
I have been guilty of missing a soul call before, of 'failing to hear the need' in the voice of my friend. When I was fifteen my friend John John, the son of my fathers closest friend called me one weekend to come see him. We had grown up together, but I was now living about two hundred miles away from him. John John was in the same town as my grandparents so it wasn't uncommon for me to go pay them both a visit. Yet this time, he called me one evening with a sense of urgency and sadness in his voice. John John was upset about a conversation he heard between his mother and new stepdad, they were taking a trip, to which John John was not invited. He overhead an argument they had about him while sitting at the top of the staircase. His heard his mother say, " She wished she would have given custody to his father because he (John John) was a pain in the ass and inconveniencing her life." Which was steming from the fact she needed someone to stay at the house with him while they were on their vacation but no one was available.
John John was a straight A student, the quarterback of his football team, he was humble considering how often he made the girls swoon with his jet black hair and cobalt blue eyes. When he heard his mothers words, it tore him up inside. He had taken his parents divorce very hard. I stayed on the phone with him for hours, wishing that our plans to go out of town would not have changed at the last minute so I could be by his side. I didn't have my drivers license yet but I felt like he really needed me to be present, to be with him. Before we got off the phone around midnight I told John John I loved him, that he was like the brother I always wanted but my parents never had...I told him to hang in there and that things would get better...I would be in town to visit soon. We disconnected and that would be the last time I ever hear the sound of John John's voice.
Later that night I had a dream I was walking in John John's house, his parents lived in a 12,000 square foot Southern mansion, all the walls were white. As I walked down the hallway in my dream, it kept stretching and getting longer and longer. I was trying to open the doors with their shiny crystal door knobs but they were all locked...all except one. I slowly pushed the unlocked door open, and like Alexander McQueen, my childhood friend was dangling from the ceiling...he had hung himself. In that moment I was overcome with sadness and grief. My sleep and dream were broken into fragments by the sound of the phone ringing, my face stained with tears from my dream, I answered but it wasn't the sound of John John's voice, it was my father calling at 3:30 am to tell me they discovered John John's body in his room, he had committed suicide just as I had dreamt. It broke my heart because if I would have known he was so depressed, I would have never hung up the phone. It took me years of counseling to overcome the guilt I felt about not being there for him that weekend and to this day even thinking about it brings me to tears.
John John had saved my life from a neighborhood bully when I was six years old. There had been a big thunderstorm which flooded our neighboorhood. The school released us home early and this kid with his gang of friends had targeted me to pick on since I was walking home alone. First they threw sticks, small pebbles, then the kids circled around as the bully ran up from behind me and hit me so hard in side of the face, I and my backpack fell into the water on my back. He stepped on my chest, holding me down under the water. Normally I can hold my breath for a very long time, but the bully was so heavy the air went out of me like a deflating balloon. I could only look up at him through the murky water as he laughed with his friends. He was much bigger than me, he was about ten years old and stuffed with what felt like too much pizza and the rocks that made up his brain. I could not get out from under him no matter how much I squirmed. Out of nowhere, John John came to my rescue; he dove over me like Superman and knocked the bully down into the water, submerging him in like a tortured soldier. Basically beating the tar out of him for messing with me, whom he considered his little sister. After that day the bully and his friends never messed with me again, he even started taking another route home, afraid he would run into John John. I believe I would have drowned if it weren't for John John's pint size chilvary that day. He was a Lifeline for me in more ways than one as I was growing up, and my only regret in life is not being a better lifeline for him when he was drowning emotionally.
Learn from my mistake, because an average of one person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes. There is someone around you or in your circle that is hurting inside, listen, find them and reach out to them.
I believe we can do better to answer the soul calls of the people around us. Those of us who work in the fashion business " to see or be seen," those of us who work in the "glitz and glamour of show business," the question we need to ask ourselves is do we really see when the people around us are hurting? Do we take the time to notice? Can we look through a persons success, our own self centeredness and the busy-ness of our industry to take a compassionate look at someones heart?
It is time for us to see beyond the surface we each present to the world and take the time to 'tune in' to the ringing of the hearts around us that are in need of healing and companionship.
We live in the digital age, the era of the super cool iphone and ipad, where technology, text messaging and twitter moves at the speed of light, so we must ask ourselves, why are we missing so many soul calls?
The Lifelines around us will continue to ring and we must listen from our hearts to hear them....
Here are 5 Tips to help us to Hear and Answer the ringing of a Soul Call:
1) Pick 3 People to be a Lifeline for; be a true friend, reach out to them, let them know that if they ever need you at any time of day or night for emotional support or to BE there for them, to sit with them etc, that you are available. Commit to being someones angel.
2) Be your word. If you commit to being someones Lifeline. Answer the call when it rings, emergencies are never convenient, so be present to 'hear the need and fulfill the need.' Honor your committments. Also, always keep in mind that if someone you love is in severe depression you have the option to escort them to the nearest emergency room or call 911. Hospitals can place a patient under their care for clinical depression and 'suicide watch' if necessary. Discourage them from drinking alcohol, using narcotics, or consuming alot of sugar as this will only worsen their condition.
3) When you are aware someone in your life is having a difficult time, try to go out of your way to connect with them. Sometimes it is okay to 'show up' or to be chivalrous and to go above and beyond what is normal or required of you. Especially if you think the individual is really hurting inside or is struggling with depression; encourage them to see a counselor, take them to a meditation class, go for walks in the park, yoga, coffee, movies, just connect, connect, connect. Be diligent and patient though, healing does not occur overnight. Talk with their family and mutual friends if you think they need additional support or help.
4) Know who YOUR Lifelines are in moments of crisis. Make sure you keep their contact information updated and reach out to them for support whenever necessary. Let them know you have chosen them as a Lifeline. Communicate. Help and support is always available to you, you are not alone.
5) Plug the number for the National Suicide Hotline into your phone in case of an emergency 1-800-273-TALK (8255) It is a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Utilize it for a friend or yourself when in need.
Hopefully by doing these 5 simple things, we can get re-connected in our digital age, answer some of the soul calls and 'show up' to help mend a few broken hearts. Possibly saving someone's life, maybe even our own.
Savage Beauty Exhibition: (Spoiler alert / this is for people who live to far to come see the Alexander McQueen Exhibit)