Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dying is not about dying

Dying is not about dying; it is about living. Until the lights go out, life is what there is. Whatever obligations and implications there are that flow from the fact of your existence still exist.

Dying is what the disease is doing to you with its merry robotic progression, interrupted by sometimes nice, sometimes nasty and sometimes just odd interventions on the part of a medical team that, while feigning competence, is jut as mystified as you as to what the process really entails.

The living part of dying is as intensely personal, and may seem to outsiders to be intensely narcissistic. My pain, my suffering, my loss… Well, fuck them for that interpretation. The taxman may take away your money, and the doctors, your dignity, and your family and community may take away your social capital, but this shit is all yours. It is the last thing you will ever truly own. Narcissistic? Fuck ‘em.

How do I want to live my dying? I don’t know, since I have little experience in the area, but I am feeling my way through, bumbling and making mistakes just like I have in every other endeavor the rest of my life. No Medieval Painting Jesus Gold Plate Halo has descended from the sky to rest behind my head and make me more holy, smarter or any more lovable than I have been most of my 65 years. Still a smart mouth, still wasting my talents, still lusting and judging… I am using these writings to figure out how to live. The words sometimes seem to come from somewhere else now, and I just rush to type them.

And yet I have changed, perhaps for the better. Perhaps a little… The suffering of chemotherapy and now some suffering from the disease itself and the suffering involved in dealing with my particular bĂȘte noire, “uncertainty”, have taught me patience. The price has been too high for the rewards involved, but now that I have patience, I might as well brag about it. The little insults from ignorant drivers and underpaid retail staff bounce right off. I can sit in a running-two-hours-behind medical office and stare at the wall in complete peace.

And I have been flooded with charity. Well flooded a little. As a poor artist, living below the poverty line for the majority of my working life, I have maintained myself in what I consider luxury by not being stupid with money. It has been a game I have enjoyed playing and played well. Now that I know that game is ending, I have taken a different attitude towards money, but that different attitude has come to extend to charity that does not involve money. I want to give all kinds of tangible and intangible goods to all kinds of people. Charity is my motivation in writing this for you. I don’t know if you want this gift, I just know I want to give it. Maybe its just narcissism masquerading as charity… I doubt I have lost all my capacity for self-delusion; after all, self-delusion is what allows us all to live in this fucked up world and not blow our brains out after watching the evening news or reality TV.  

Tangible things: I have family heirlooms, but no family the way other people have family. I want to give them away, but I don’t want to give them away as objects to strangers, I want to give them away to known persons as magical objects that bear stories of multiple generations of my ancestors who lived a different life in different times. The objects are not Pre-Columbian pottery, but their value comes from the same wellspring. My objects tell of a people living a way of life that no longer exists in the North American collective consciousness—a family of 12 living through the Great Depression on one uncertain salary with no car, no TV, no radio, no Internet, no appliances, and little hope, but still thriving.

The strength of that family is somehow embodied in the little cut glass toothpick holder from my grandmother, but only if I tell the story when I give the object away. Maybe the recipient of the toothpick holder will be the vector that transmits that family’s brave history to the next generation and in some miniscule way the cause of civilization will be advanced. Oral history and storytelling are the foundation of culture and the reason we are not apes.