Death and its associates are constantly on the forefront of my mind as a Shelleyan, as a student of the Gothic and as a recovering Catholic. Death has been a passively familiar concept to me to the degree that I’ve felt almost completely numb to its nuances and only moved by dead people’s archaic reactions to death in their time (a la Mary Godwin in the absence of Mary Wollstonecraft or Percy Shelley). Outside of the page, death has been a backburner reality: an ultimate (and necessary) destination, unavoidable at its base and not-here-soon-enough on Some Bad Days.
In short, death has been a neutral, sometimes pervading, constant in my life–whereas life itself? Well…
I started thinking about life when Lou Reed died.
I was absolutely desolate and inconsolable. I spent at least 8 of the first 24 hours (according to the number of play-throughs of Transformer) submerged at the bottom of my bathtub (which was only possibly 1/500th filled with my tears but most definitely 110% me drowning in sorrows). It hurt. It hurt so much. Dino Stamatopoulos succinctly summed up why in this tweet:
It’s exactly because of the way Lou Reed lived that his death was a shock to me. I’ll feel the same about Iggy Pop. Survivers shouldn’t die
— Dino Stamatopoulos (@DinosThirdTwitt) October 28, 2013
Lou Reed lived, no, survived as an openly queer man, as a godfather of punk rock, as a Jewish-American and as a heroin post-addict. Lou Reed could and would have died at various stages of his life from adolescence onward due to abuses wrought unto him by others or by himself. But Lou Reed lived. He lived for 71 years. For approx. 11 of those years, he was an icon to me: an accumulation of admirable assets that appealed to me as humbly as a fan and impactfully as a cross-generational protege.
And yet I feel that’s infinitely too short and radically robbed.
Since October 27th, there’s been a gradual evolution in re-evaluating and re-inventing my lifestyle and perspective, most of which has been documented on this very blog.
A few days ago, when Peter O’Toole died, I was arrested into crippling sobbing, yet again. Much of the same assets of Reed were true of O’Toole. The NPR spotlight celebrated O’Toole as a hellraiser, but to me he only personifies endurance in the faces of addictions and prolonged-and-stacked illnesses and passion as the faces of iconoclasts. Though I forwent The Film Major what now feels like a lifetime ago (read: 4 years ago when I transferred majors after a Life Changing Event with the late Ken Russell), Eli Cross remains my patron saint of doing everything the best in the best way with little regard to the mores and socially acceptable functions of industrialized intellectual productivity.
Though O’Toole also outlived the odds and has thoroughly documented a lifetime of doing so in his leading roles, his passing still feels tragic and wrong.
Which spurred the moment of self-actualization for yours truly:
I don’t want to die. I actively do not want to die. I honestly want to live.
So settles the fear, the paranoia, the anger. How do I live? When will I die? How could I possibly have wasted so much of my life either actively anticipating death or passively disavowing life?
It’s not that I was ever lacking in productivity. Certainly I’ve been active. I have a full CV to prove it and a litany of inside jokes and anecdotes. But how proactive have I been? How much can I reflect on myself and chart a lifetime?
Between point A and point B, Johnny fuckin’ Marr asked me what I did with my life and probed me beyond stammering superficials about my credentials. Johnny Marr was seeking the life in me. Johnny Marr believed it was there. And now I believe it’s there, too.
But is it possibly too late? When I go to the doctor after years of having been off medication and dragging myself to the brink of self-induced trauma and shock, I dread the potential of hearing that my own negligence, my own passivity or, even worse, my own active damnation marred my body with considerable, possibly even irreparable damage. What opportunities have I skipped out on? Where could I be now? Who could I be now?
I have to trust that whatever life is in me is valuable and worth fostering–however much longer it lasts.
At the Johnny Marr show, I burst into tears during “There Is a Light,” cognizantly because of its feature on my Shelleys mix because of their own death-focused love affair. But upon reflection? Those tears were mine. They were for me. They were for me and the others I shared the floor with in that moment. They were for Johnny. Every single one of us carries a light–a guilding light, a hailing beacon for everyone in our remote vicinity–that never actually goes out, even when we’re snuffed out. There will always be those lapsing embers, those glistening wispy halos of smoke. Lacking them in some capacity might make it harder to navigate–but we were always captaining our own ships, anyways.
Rather than feeling deprived by death, I have to start learning to feel privileged by life.