2 hours ago
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
A Long And Fruitful Life, For Which Operating Instructions Were Unfortunately Never Located
Me? I can hardly stand, period, so understand that I'm not pointing fingers.
Good lord, here's a horn chart from Nigeria (c. 1972) that's straight off a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass record from my salad days.
Okay, listen, I do have a message: somebody has to discover the worlds this world refuses to discover.
Once upon a time I intended to be one such person, but I've run out of gas and I've been having a hard time breathing and getting out of bed in the afternoon. I am 100 years old today. That is, I'm sure you'll agree, a long time to live, and almost certainly too old to still be buying Hold Steady records. The fact of the matter is that I may not live through this night, and that possibility, repeated over too many nights, will take an old man's thoughts on dim and bittersweet journeys.
How many kindred spirits, I wonder tonight, does a fortunate man encounter in his lifetime? I'm thinking of truly kindred spirits, the sorts of people in whose company one can be both fully himself and fully alive, and at the same time have the unswerving sense that he's being seen and understood with absolute clarity.
I don't have an answer to this question, unfortunately. I'm sure there are those who, owing to the place or circumstances of their upbringing, or just plain misfortune, never bump into a true kindred spirit in their entire lives.
I once imagined a band of kindred spirits, possessed of almost genetically-linked imaginations, instinctively inclined to easy collaboration and boundless curiosity, working together over many years to create an encyclopedia of that collective imagination, complete with elaborate and fictional biographies, histories, maps, bibliographies, discographies, filmographies, photos, and art.
I guess what I was after was a scene, a movement, something that would be assigned a name that would resonate into posterity.
It didn't happen, of course. I met the occasional kindred spirit, but they've been surprisingly rare. Most people just aren't crazy enough, and the world conspires against long term relationships of any sort. People are always pulling up stakes, acquiring new affiliations, growing up and old, and settling in and down. I've long despised the word "bohemian," but in my dotage I do find myself wishing the modern world turned out more people who genuinely fit the job description, as it were. Plenty can master the pose --and that's often all it takes to make one's name as some sort of artist or eccentric-- but the real deal strikes me as a very rare creature indeed.
I never entirely gave up on my encyclopedia --it has, in fact, sprawled off in many unexpected directions-- but I lost a good deal of steam as I aged, and in middle age turned much of my attention to a series of suicide scrapbooks. I now have a half dozen of these things, compiled at ten-year intervals. In many ways I like to believe I was ahead of my time in at least one respect; back in the 1960s I had an acquaintance who was one of these courtroom artists, and I hired her to produce aged portraits of me as I might look at fifty, sixty, and seventy. I can now report to you that many of these renderings, which she did annually over that thirty-year period, turned out of be uncannily accurate.
I've also written and updated countless versions of my own obituary, penned reviews of the dozens of books I never published (or wrote), as well as fond remembrances from a long list of old friends, acquaintances, and the scores of fictional companions who have proved to be my most steadfast collaborators. I've even, on at least a half dozen occasions, mustered the inspiration to compose poems in my own memory.
Paging through these scrapbooks now, on what could very well be the last night of my long and mostly happy life, I see photographs, random notes on scraps of paper, quotes, book and record receipts, old gym and library cards, as well as dozens of other forms of identification that prove I was once a reasonably active member of society; several sets of dog tags that once jangled from the collars of beloved dogs (and dozens upon dozens of photos of those dear creatures), postcards and other mementos from out-of-the-way places I've visited, and various other found scraps and curiosities.
There are a half dozen set lists (compiled at different junctures) of songs to remember me by, or at least songs that were once capable of stirring in me some old happiness or sense of the preciousness of life.
For each scrapbook there is, obviously, a suicide note (in some decades there are dozens), as well as letters to friends and family members, and some attempt to divvy up my possessions, or at least to insure that certain objects of significance to me were placed in loving and properly appreciative homes. With each passing year I have assembled an ever larger (and, frankly, obsessive) photographic inventory of my favorite things, including individual books and records.
In 1990, when I turned 80, I decided that I wished to have my cremains cooked down until they corresponded as closely as possible to my birth weight. I've made it clear that I don't wish to have my ashes merely flung about, but would prefer to have some inspired person incorporate them into some beautiful piece of art.
Traditionally the last dozen pages of each of my suicide scrapbooks has been blank, and black. That was always meant to be symbolic; so much life yet to be lived, and all that. I now wonder, though, if there might not have been a bit of optimistic thinking behind the gesture --it was possible, after all, that there was still more life to come, and more material for future suicide scrapbooks. I'm not sure, however, that optimistic thinking could properly be said to have ever played a role in the assembly of something so portentous as a suicide scrapbook.
The scrapbooks --along with the tottering mess of my encyclopedia-- are here beside my bed right now, and they will perhaps be of some mild interest to some stranger should this, in fact, prove to be my last night as a resident of this beautiful and merciless world, and this the last entry in the last of my suicide scrapbooks.
I will miss a great deal, I'm certain, but pretty much everyone and everything I would miss I've already been missing for far too long.
I have very little in the way of advice to surviving members of my traveling party, other than perhaps this: Carry a tune. Carry it with you until it's capable of making you and those dear to you dance.
I wish I had done this more often.
"Whosoever brought me here is going to have to take me home."