A few years ago, I missed my dad’s death by a few hours. I had business not far from his house, but I decided not to see him. Later that day, he fell over and died, just like that. It was a merciful death, I imagine. That night, paramedics were thumping his wide chest, the chest that I had laid upon many years before and that I will always remember as the safest place anywhere. On the next day after his death, we all went to see what was left of him. He was cold and yellow in the face then, both there and not there. I hadn’t been able to see my mother in her death a few years earlier so this became the first time (I was 43) that I ever came face to face with a dead person who wasn’t a corpse yet. The dead turn into corpses later, I think, when the soul has properly left. In my father’s case his soul was still hanging around looking at us from above. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. My daughter, who was only 5 then, showed scientific interest in the body, mixed with a natural reverie that I hadn’t quite expected. She seemed to ask questions not of us and get answers not from us either and I presume she could still see my father’s soul and commune with it. Of course she doesn’t remember any of this, all she remembers is that her grandpa shouted at her when she broke one of his Viennese porcelain figurines and that he called her “Mümpi”, which doesn’t mean anything (except to him).
My own birthday’s today, and a writer friend, Carol Novack, is dying
. After I heard that she was likely to live only a week or so, I wanted to talk to her while she could still speak, but I delayed the call because I didn’t know what to say to a person who know that she’s dying. I wrote a flash instead, “For Carol Novack
”. There’s a small virtual gathering of writers in Carol’s honor over at Fictionaut
; a number of people have written tributes. In the town where she lives, friends have gathered around a microphone reading her stories
. One of the sad things when a writer dies is that she won’t write anything new.
Made plans to go out for lunch and watch a movie — Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
—with the family today. This is a first since on my birthday I usually go off by myself to write, until at some point during the day I begin to feel sorry for myself and lonely and then I come crawling back, not without suggesting, indignantly, that a man shouldn’t have to spend his birthday alone. The laws of plain causality are suspended during birthdays.
I meant to watch “A Dangerous Method
”, the new Cronenberg
, on my birthday—looks like a movie about the competition between Sigmund Freud
and his one time disciple, Carl Jung
; with a love triangle: these two great men and a wild Russian woman, who, inevitably, will have an affair with at least one of the men and become a great psychoanalyst herself. Inevitably: because that’s what clever, resourceful women in the early 20th century did, become psychoanalysts, I don’t know why. Watching this movie would have connected me with my family’s century-old infatuation with psychoanalysis, but I couldn’t hunt down the original version and I didn’t feel liked seeing it dubbed. Instead I opted for Tom Cruise
, whose women do most certainly not end as shrinks, though they may find themselves lying on a couch. There’s always an enemy and death is a commodity in these movies. If you feel like falling over laughing read Roxane Gay’s review
of “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
” (but beware: full of spoilers). We love her blog posts (and by ‘we’ I mean everyone around here).
Birthdays are death days. As always, but more so on this day than on any other, I feel the fear of not being able to do what I want to do in this life (and I don’t mean presidency
, I mean writing). A meaningless fear when I look at it from further away because I can only do what I can do and that’s never been little but also, somehow, never been enough. I probably must slow down before I get to 50 (and that day’s coming up fast). Fears don’t give a damn about meaning, of course. Especially the existential ones don’t.
I began with my father and I want to end with my mother, who is somehow linked to my inability to go deeper in my writing. I feel that inability painfully with the text I’m struggling with right now—here’s an excerpt from the beginning:
«The writer left the embassy. He knew that he was an alien, normal in one world but not normal in this one. He wasn’t unhappy about it. He was already planning on turning anything that made him unhappy, anything that solicited an emotional response, good or bad, into his art. He wasn’t worried about being the copy of a man from Mercury. He was worried about one thing and one thing only: his voice.»
The answer to the question how the deepening of my writing is connected with my mother is not available to me at this time. It’s just a feeling, or rather, a shapeless knowing, but I didn’t want to leave it unmentioned since I believe in living my birthday as I wish to live the rest of my life.
Picking up on my gloomy pre-birthday mood, my lovely, talented, gorgeous wife wrote me a funny birthday card:
«Happy Birthday my dearest husband (or should I say my imperial pretzel). Doom. Death. Decay. Sound of bells tolling for me and thee. See, it’s not so bad. Rather jolly, lots of alliteration.»
That cheered me up. Not so bad the story, so far. 48. Plenty of love and lots of looking at the stars. Perhaps we’ll spend the day coming up with many more D-words, driving the demons of death down the drain…
Death, decay, doom? Diddly-squat. Birthdays are dandy and deconstructive. Dollops of delight, don’t doubt it.
Since it’s my birthday, here’s the unabashed vanity part of this post; I’ve had publications all over the place in December: Northville Review; Airplane Reading; Fatboy Review (ongoing for 12 days until January 5th, 2012); Dogzplot; Letras Caseras; Necessary Fiction (including the first publication of my daughter’s art) and The Rumpus. Very, very happy about that & thanks a lot to all the editors!