Monday, April 20, 2015

The Death's Realm Blog Tour: On Death and Dying

When the fine folks at Grey Matter Press asked me to hop on the tour hearse to help promote the spectacular anthology Death's Realm containing my short historical tale set on the Titanic"Drowning", I paid for my ticket and grabbed my seat before realizing all this would entail: the introspection of envisioning and facing my own death.  There's a great chestnut about not pulling too hard on one thread, for fear of the rest of the tapestry unraveling.  But the concepts of death and dying are subjects I've covered in my writing career from the very beginning, and lately they've closely dogged me from over my shoulder, like Edgar Allen Poe's chatty raven. You see, in twenty-one days worth of time, a smattering of hours, a handful of minutes, I will have reached my fiftieth year on Spaceship Earth. Writing has always kept me feeling young, upbeat, and alive, my version of Dorian Gray's portrait or Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth.  But I'll admit it: even my inner child, who picked up the pen one overcast, muggy July night in 1980 and was forever changed by the possibilities contained within a magical potion of ink and imagination, is now grown aware of his mortality.  I am closer to the end of my life than its beginning, despite feeling (and often acting) like a kid.

If I could somehow communicate with the me that used to be, that fifteen-year-old who was lost and miserable, who started living inside himself (like in the great old Gino Vannelli classic from that long lost era), and tell him of the many joys and accomplishments he would know as a result of his writing, it might unleash a paradox -- and cause him to faint dead away of a heart attack.  That he would stand beside the Bridge set of the Starship Voyager (not on it -- signs were posted to keep out when the cameras weren't filming, because the producers didn't want soles tracking in muck across the pristine carpeting), or take to the dance floor in Los Angeles on the all-important night of September the 13th, 1999, with the cast of his beloved Space:1999, the show that first inspired him to take a stab at writing through original fan fiction, those ancient longhand drafts penned on lined school paper still archived in his future self's file cabinets alongside shooting scripts and over 1100 original fiction manuscripts. Not one but two cabinets containing his archives of published work. So many other instances.  All as a result of finding the one thing, the only thing, he ever wanted to do with his life. And doing it. There's no way that version of me could survive the shock of such knowledge, of knowing how happy and fulfilled his life would be.

It's been better than a good life.  It's been great, and I don't want to die.  Despite losing my grandfather, both grandmothers, a friend in high school who was the victim of an automobile accident, my mother from cancer at an age far too young (any age is the wrong number when your mom was as cool as mine), one great dog, five beloved cats, and various celebrity icons from my boyhood over the course of my near-fifty years, I want to live at least for another hundred -- albeit with new teeth and considerably less arthritis, especially in my right hip.  I know it sounds impossibly greedy, especially when you factor in the temporary nature of life and the randomness of living it to potential. There's a reason we age and pass beyond the pale.  But that's no comfort, not when I have so many stories within me left to write, like Scheherazade seeking to keep head attached to shoulder by telling tales in the face of death.

When asked to blog about about this subject nature, I was inspired to opt for a direct, personal approach: how I imagined my own end as playing out.  In my twenties, I joked about choking on a boneless spare rib after stuffing my face full of Chinese food between sweaty adventures with a dozen Major League Baseball jocks (this, long before I settled down with my partner of now-thirteen years, and landed my butt in this very seat in our happy home on the hill).  A decade ago, I remarked after attending a writers' group that I'd likely buy it from a shiv in the parking lot following the meeting, thanks to some disgruntled fellow scribe who didn't approve of what I wrote (today, I moderate one of the most amazing writing groups on the planet, and am more likely to code as a result of an overdose of laughter and enlightenment in the company of my many talented writer friends).  In the final reckoning however -- whether it's a hundred years away or creeping down from the woods in my backyard even as I type these words -- I hope the script reads something like this:



A house on a bluff, illuminated by a lone streetlamp outside and lights inside the house, including a necklace of blue and white Christmas strands strung around the two windows of a home office.  NOTE: Houses can be forlorn or happy places.  This old soul seems happy, judging by its appearance.


A foyer, painted indigo-blue.  To the right is a living room with a pomegranate accent wall.  To the left, the office room glimpsed from outside: painted beach-blue and filled with books, artwork and family photos, a desk.  Seated at the desk is an OLD MAN (THE WRITER) who feverishly runs a fountain pen across a notepad.

                         THE WRITER (VOICE OVER)
                 Ancient hands, so weak and old,
               hasten to the task.  Tell the
               tale that must be told, this is
               all I ask…

The Writer writes with haste.  He tears off a page, fills another, and another after that.  All of the pages form a neat stack on the desk.

The Writer’s pen stills.  We look down to see he has written THE END at the bottom.  Silence as he ponders the finished draft of the manuscript.  Then, he tears the last page from the notepad and assembles the sheets in proper order.  The manuscript goes into a decorative file folder labeled: THE FINAL STORY.

The Writer stands, gives one last bittersweet look around the room, and shuts off the lights.


The blue and white Christmas lights go dark.  As they do, a SHADOWY FIGURE approaches the front door. 


The Writer crosses the foyer and climbs the stairs, which CREAK beneath his steps.  The Shadowy Figure follows him up and around the banister, making no noise, to a bedroom with crimson curtains and a big bed.

The Writer prepares to close the door.  As the door shuts, we see the Shadowy Figure in the room, standing behind him.

The door SHUTS.

                         THE WRITER
                    (through door)
               Now I’m ready.

                                                  FADE OUT.

My dear friend and colleague, Martin Rose, whose brilliant story ‘Mirrorworld’ shares space between the covers in Death’s Realm, was bold enough to also share his thoughts on the moment of his final heartbeat:  “I've had my future predicted for me, which is another story for a dark and stormy night, but I've got reason to believe I'm going to live to be very old, and then I'll probably pass away from the usual ailments of old age. Hardening heart, pneumonia, infection. Not very spectacular, is it? We'll die, and it won't be noteworthy, or excite interest, and we'll be missed for all of five seconds, and then easily forgotten. That's a component of Jude in ‘Mirrorworld,’ to show life can be disappointing, we aren't guaranteed happy endings. Working, getting through life, suffering. Then it's over. There's no bright lights, no manual for the deceased, no great epiphany, no illusion of endless love. All you have is everything within your mind, and if you believe in reincarnation, you can't even take the memories with you. But you'll do it, over and over again. Go into the gentle night angry, you'll come back angry. Go into it a trivial fool, you'll come back out a fool. Letting go of regrets and discrimination is the best advice I can give anyone before they go to meet their final appointment. It is how I will meet mine.”

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