Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thoughts Upon Viewing Detroit From an Undetermined Altitude...

(note: this piece originally appeared in a Detroit-based publication called Hablo and anyone who emails a photo of themselves holding a copy of the mag gets a prize. The theme of this inaugural issue was "the city")

I don't have time to die.

Almost as if it were taunting me, my 6-year-old PowerBook crashed on me four consecutive times after writing that sentence. When I was a child, I remember getting myself all worked up, frightened really, trying to wrap my head around the concept that there will be a point when I will cease to exist. These fits would almost exclusively happen at night while trying to lull myself to sleep. The cathexis of it all was unnerving. All I could think about was that someday my body will be in a box in the ground and I will have no control over it. Tangible being will be no more and I've got no evidence other than "hope" for an afterlife. This is absolutely the scariest fucking thing I can ever imagine.

Everything residing in my memory…high school locker combinations, unspoken sing-song rhymes created in the mind but never uttered , fleeting flag football moments captured like flickering 8mm films in my brain…all of these vaguely unimportant and somewhat indescribable things, if not documented in a tangible medium (whether a recording or a writing or perhaps a photograph) will wholly disappear. Upon deeper thought, no matter how many books you write or pictures you take, more of your life, your story, your everyday being will die with you than could ever possibly be left behind. While folks like Abraham Lincoln or Marilyn Monroe have been studied and written about ad nauseum, it seems we will only ever know or see portrayed a shell of the full existence they truly embodied. And these are people who lived pretty public lives. For someone as insignificant as myself who cares deeply about history, information and archiving, this is patently depressing.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about death and how I simultaneously feel, hope and fear that it will come unexpected. This evening I dropped my wife off for an evening with her girlfriends. I'd recently returned from the gym so was wearing a classily threadbare t-shirt, nouveau preppie plaid shorts and a Hockey Night in Canada hoodie. After saying goodbye to her and blowing a kiss, I lumbered into my 1998 Mercury Sable and made the short trip back home. I couldn't avoid thinking about what would happen if I were to be completely blindsided at an intersection and died. At 11pm on a Wednesday evening, this is not how I would hope to leave the mortal plane, but it is by all means possible. How…embarrassing that would be.

I'm left thinking of the death of Amhet Ertegun…the aesthete founder of Atlantic Records was backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in 2006, slipped and fell, suffered a closed-head injury and was gone not long after that. The series of events made me extremely cautious of where I stepped, but also nervously aware of the fact that I could go at any moment. If someone as smooth as Amhet could go in such a gauche way, what hope did I have? As much as I'd like to consider myself prepared, I'm not always dressed for the occasion. And I'd rather not draw out the process too much as it seems a little…needy.

But oh the random loose ends! Who would assemble the CD shelf I'd picked up earlier in the evening? Who would email that MP3 I promised to a friend? These are things that at one time, before death, I was clearly the best-qualified candidate for these jobs. With me gone, how will these bozos ever figure anything out? Who would understand or comprehend the significance of boxes of random, disparate shit I have accumulated in my 29 years, as I've explained the filing/classification system to absolutely no one? Old war movies warned men to have their affairs in order before heading into the shit overseas and that seems pragmatic, but how are regular people (ie, everyone I know) busy living modern lives, supposed to accomplish that? A will can only do so much, and if you've got no real money or assets, what does it really achieve?

What can I do to prepare? Lately I've been trying to attack every pesky errand or task with vigor. I won't put it off because I can't trust it will get done were I gone. Tomorrow is already jam packed replacing the fuse for my dashboard display light. Emails that usually linger in the inbox for days while I conjure up the perfectly laconic response are now confronted head-on, day-of even. And the more I do this, the more it seems I have time to do other things I want to do, like writing this or listening to music, two former givens that are now considered high luxuries.

Even still, there are still nights where my mind fixates on the concept of no longer existing. I do the math based on life expectancy for males and try to figure out where exactly significant fractions (1/3, 1/2) of my total days will land. I wonder how much my wife would cry. As someone so crazily interested in every last thing encompassing my life, the cruel reality of not truly being able to quantify the ending of it is such a smack in the face.

In spite of this, all I can really do is to try and block it out of my mind and make known the truly transcendent moments. Flying back to Detroit from Nashville, solo, for my wedding. Feeling guilty for splurging on a First Class ticket. The flight path takes us further north than I would think necessary. Looking out my window I feel as if we're on top of Belle Isle. With some effort I can spot the top of a house where I slept and spent much time. There will be no reason for me to ever stay there again, but in that one moment, all the time spanned in that brick enclosure, that building that someday will be gone just like all of us, the time spent there and the memories accrued emboldened my consciousness as if I'd inhaled the bouquet of unimaginable flowers, my mind pollinated by the infusion. The feeling wasn't happiness or sadness; it was simply a heretofore never-experienced realization, as if my brain had discovered an entirely new and original sensation that had not existed prior to my aerial sight of that row house.

To be able to express that above, to burn it into these pages here and survive for eons, coupled with the catharsis of pouring out these morbid meanderings has already sated my mind. Thinking back to when I was a scared, confused child, that peace of mind was all I was ever looking for anyway.


me said...

aww benny...
im so sad about your
little boy night times.

Anonymous said...

When a Man has Married a Wife
he finds out whether
Her knees & elbows are only
glued together.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking of something very similar the other day, there was a car accident close to my place where the passenger, an 85 year old woman, died. I couldn't help but get caught up in what the resulting emotions must be for the woman's family and how at one moment everything is fine but then at the next the whole world would be turned upside down. At this moment I expect my family members are all going about their daily business but it's possible that at any moment one of them could be involved in a fatal crash. I can't even imagine what that would do to me.

As for dying myself I always had the same thoughts when I was young, terrified that I'd no longer exist. Death is such an unknown and I still can't imagine my final moments. I'm reading a book about someone sentanced to death who is to receive the needle two days from the present and all I can think about is how would I react if that was me? I think I'd go insane sitting there waiting to die not knowing what was going to happen but knowing that my time on earth wwas coming to an end.

Anonymous said...

Dood, plunge into your vast singles collection and listen to "You're gonna Die" by Destroy All Monsters at least 4 times in a row.

This may just expunge the demons.

Caroline said...

I can't contribute much commentary to your death anxiety, but yowzah, the reason why Im reading your blog is to confirm strands of artisitc expression that run in your family and the answer is a resounding YES!

Let me contribute something even more important though (less well than you are able to): thank you, speaking as a Midwesterner/Cincinnatian, for your eloquent meditations on others' less observed but no less important musical efforts (???) turned into legacies on your Detroit stomping grounds. I hope that some of these people read your blog, and if they do, can only imagine the deep satisfaction they must get from your discussions. I can tell you must be a deeply compassionate and well rounded person for expending the amount of time and effort on something I can tell you are passionate about and wish you the absolute best in all your endeavours--musical, family, or otherwise.

As for me, I have renewed faith in God and heaven that has relieved me of this same death anxiety you described so poignantly. For what its worth to you, I believe you are utilizing your God given talents to their fullest and will leave a profound path for your children and others that will transcend the confines of this material world and go straight to feed the spirits of those with whom you reach as far as time will reach.

May God bless you with future peace of mind. Keep on keeping on.