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.