My childhood pet bird died the other week but it's okay because I didn't like it much.
That being said, the 19 year old animal had been around long enough that my grandfather was still alive to mind it while we went on holiday. So in that sense the event is another little string cut between the past and the present. The creature died less than an hour after my parents left their house to head to the Galapagos. They've been in this house, their death house, for less than a year and everyone remarked that the bird is far less annoying in the new environs. Perhaps it liked it there? Or perhaps it was just dying.
I found all this out on a skype call with my mother the psychonaut on Monday. The bird was discovered by one of her best friends who was also our house cleaner for about twenty five years. After calling MMTP to ask what to do with it, she buried it under a tree in their yard. That's when I knew this little life tidbit was probably the beginnings of a post. I had just finished reading Jodorowsky's Manual of Psychomagic. Here is the man himself in a trailer for a documentary you really must watch.
The tree and the earth from the backyard struck me as particularly relevant. Here's why: In Jodorowsky's marvellous book -which I finished the same day as the skype call- he suggests several psychomagical cures for the specific sort of homesickness that afflicts émigrés. His first suggestion is to return to your homeland and plant a tree. This one really appealed to me because there is a new garden attached to my parents' new house so it would be less weird and more functional. The second suggestion -which I just love- is to have someone from your homeland send you ten pounds of earth that you periodically put your feet in... like Dracula! Of course, such a suggestion is only really practicable if you're in the same customs area but it is an adorable notion nonetheless.
As is so often the case, it seems that the universe is a giant origami crane where one side of the paper is your own mind and the other side is physical reality. Because the weekend discussion in our rented west London shithole surrounded what to do if one of us died suddenly. And I mean that operationally. When I first moved to New Zealand, I took a perverse delight in the idea that people I barely knew -my flatmates or whoever- would be left with the task, in the event of my death, of going through my phone, contacting random Australians and generally living through what could be the world's second-worst reality challenge show.
One of our London flatmates is mine and my partner's shared-custody fag hag that we picked up in NZ more than a decade ago, so she is basically family. In London, she is also currently single and the rest of her family is back in kiwiland. Which means the reality show challenge of her death would fall on my partner and I. After much discussion, we all mutually agreed on a series of protocols in the event that one of us dies. It's so much more complicated if you expire so far from Polynesia, rather than just a couple of hours away. The steps are:
- Notify far-flung relatives.
- Wait for them to arrive and be cremated somewhere local. (Following organ harvesting for donation, of course.)
- Have some kind of post-cremation event on this side of the world.
- Take the ashes back for a second event on the other side of the world.
This works really well on purely a cost basis -flying corpses home being quite expensive- but also opens up ashes-scattering opportunities. Our flatmate wants some of her ashes to be scattered in Rome -definitively her Turangawaewae- and the rest to go back to NZ. She's on the fence about London but if it comes to it, I am to take her ashes to a specific theatre in Covent Garden, leap up on stage and throw a handful of them in the face of the actors mid-show, and then flee in a taxi with her mother. (She's a theatre director and these reasons are personal. And awesome.)
As for me? I know her name is (hypocritically, if you ask me) a dirty word in occult circles, but I have a very Sylvia Browne perspective on my mortal remains: I'm no longer there, so throw me over the back fence because it's cheap and I hate my neighbours. Rituals involving physical remains are pretty much exclusively for the benefit of the still-incarnate. I have no finger bones from my grandparents on my altar but they still show up to be fed and have a chat. Mortal remains are useful but far from essential. As I tell people in my family or friendship circle, just try and stop me materialising in your room when you're about to masturbate or have sex. ("In the mean time, can I interest you in these ghost wards for your bedroom? Only five hundred pounds.")
So I'm going to be burned just down the road from where we live, some ashes will go in the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge. (My partner wants some of his in London but not the Thames, even though a river is a super-lazy metaphor for the life/death journey... I think he's making this too hard for himself, plus his choice is a park. Booooooring. Just for that, I tell him I will scatter him in the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.) Then I will have my ashes taken back to Newcastle, Australia, where there will be some kind of memorial, then the ashes will be taken in a dinghy off Merewether Beach to be sharked by the inevitable sharks that show up. In the event of my death by shark attack, this step can be skipped. (But you see how detailed the discussions were.) In any other event, I recommend enlisting the services of these eloquent locals:
The rest are to be scattered from the top of Mt Eden in Auckland. I appreciate the river that spawned the greatest empire in history, a shark's face and a volcano might sounds like the opposite of not taking funerals too seriously but they are genuinely all on the way for the people I would leave behind. So it's no trouble. It's just a bit weird.
For some reason I find these discussions or mental exercises tremendously relaxing. And I see the same effect in the non-magical folk around me, once they get over the shock of me interrupting their weekend breakfast with pointed questions about their death. A repositioning happens, a revaluation rather than re-evaluation of your existence. This is an activity I have to embark upon at regular intervals because a combination of actually facing the reality of our wildly fucked collective situation here on earth as well as a personal tendency toward the histrionic runs the risk of unbalancing a properly macro worldview.
I want to return to that point later but first we need to pick up the story from the day before yesterday. It began wandering around a foggy Fitzrovia, attending various breakfast meetings, having coffee in various media hipster dives, before dashing off to the airport for a flight to New York. And I really didn't want to go. I'm busy, I'm tired, I want to get back to regular gymming rather than spend every night out eating and drinking. One of the possible reasons I struggle to write 'life posts' is that I wholeheartedly acknowledge that the 'challenges' I face can actually sound pretty fucking desirable to a lot of people. Boo hoo, he has to flit between inarguably the two greatest cities on earth. One someone else's dime. So I get that.
Continuing the curious origami of events and thoughts that began with a dead bird, it turns out that one of my very good friends, in fact the person I first lived with when I moved to London and the ex of my theatre director flatmate, was actually moving to New York and leaving the same day, on the same airline, from the same terminal, on the flight twenty minutes after mine, meaning we got to have our traditional 1.5 year catch-up in a plane-side bar at the airport. For most of the year, Heathrow is the busiest airport on earth so you can appreciate this is a really low probability event, and I could sense it was an origami fold somehow related to the bird and death and beginnings and endings. I briefly considered the possibility that I was about to die in a plane crash, to be honest. You would too. But that wasn't it. In my head I was already stringing together these events into a post, probably something about blah blah chin up blah blah life is an adventure blah blah steer the course.
And then I flew through the Northern Lights.
Flew through the Northern Lights. Which is a thing that happens. On a plane that was probably about 15% full -something I haven't experienced in twenty years. It meant I had run of the windows on either side of the cabin while basically everyone else was asleep. From 30,000 feet, the Northern Lights look more like those videos of them you see from the international space station, except instead of HD you are peering through that shitty, double-paned plastic of commercial airliner windows. But it is still truly remarkable. They curve with the shape of the earth and dance slower. (I was saying to VI that their pulsating movement reminded me of the snakes I used to see shedding their skin as a kid; slow bulge actions in random places along its form.) From that height you can see clear into the empty, starlit sky above them and you are very aware that this shit comes from space, yo. From the actual sun. The separation of heaven and earth collapses back down to a compelling, iridescent green. For the last five years I have been trying to move 'see the Northern Lights' from the bucket list onto the to-do list and then they show up miraculously -literally- while I am at my grumbliest and deathiest point in weeks.
So that's probably why the death planning is so relaxing. By facing the inevitable you are freed to look at -and pounce upon- the random, remarkable moments that happen in your life. I tried the gratitude thing a few years back -where you end the day by noting five things you are grateful for- and it certainly improved my general mood and may have triggered some background luck. But I eventually moved away from the idea because I really struggle with the ethical challenge implied in the suggestion that "you should be grateful for your life." It's hard to get out from under the obvious power politics in the statement, especially when any attempt to apply the belief universally becomes pretty dubious. How grateful are the mothers of the Tunisian terror victims feeling right now?
We need -or at least I need- a framework that forces us to confront the reality of our individual and collective situation without falling into despair... or without falling into the much more annoying, hippy dippy coping mechanism of saying everything is going to work out okay in the end... because that is just intellectual and often literal cowardice.
Let's not sugar coat it. Yes, things are grim. But also, we don't really know what's going on. That gives me tremendous solace, especially as it seems that none of the things going on are happening for anything we'd recognise as 'a reason'. Bad stuff happens and it is interspersed with the 'blink and you missed it' nature of the miraculous. When you really stop and consider the implications of synchronicity, or how pagan festivals can rebuild themselves like the T-1000 while we're off jumping over little candles in hotel conference rooms rented out by the day, there is considerable cause for optimism... once you get past the Lovecraftian horror of realising you live forever in a multiverse of tentacled, transdimensional chaos, of course.
The thirteen year old kid who came home to find a pet bird in his living room in regional Australia never thought for a second he'd be writing about its death one evening some two decades later with a view of the Empire State Building, across Midtown and out to the East River. The universe may be some kind of origami crane but we can barely guess at who is doing all the folding. For all I know, it is my dead bird. It certainly was a deranged, shrieking maniac, so I wouldn't unequivocally rule out 'devious, time-travelling mastermind'.
Huh, perhaps I shall miss you after all. Journey well, bird.
Enjoy the light show.