From the elliptical trainers at my new gym, you look out of the window at a nineteenth century graveyard at a crossroads. I was talking to Austin about it this morning and he found it as delightful as I did. Thanks to his manstrological lyricism he thought of it as moving toward a destination and never quite reaching it.
For me it is more of a memento fatso: this is where you end up, tubby. This is where we all end up. Huff away all you like. I will get you.
My new town is something of a colonial Sunnydale. There are a lot of large graveyards and the dead well and truly outnumber the living. This is technically the case for all but the newest built Chinese cities, of course. It’s just that not a lot has happened here since its agricultural decline around a century ago (meth labs and a RAAF base notwithstanding) so it is very noticeable.
I walk back through the graveyard to say my hellos and I can tell you there are no other (living) practitioners in this town. Rarely have I felt so popular. It reminds me of the historic anthropological misreading of the role of a shaman or medicine wo/man through history. Think of the description you will have read in museums: “the shaman dresses as a prey animal to ensure a successful hunt.”
This is to confuse the telephone for the call. The shaman keeps the tribe sweet with the spirit world. This ensures a successful hunt. Now, I’m not a shaman (or a hunter) but I can tell you this graveyard at a crossroads is decidedly unsweetened, in the way of so much of the colonies –as Charlotte and I discussed a couple of months ago. Hence the partially-hostile but certainly vigorous attention I garnered when I respectfully announced myself to its inhabitants. (There are other reasons for the hostility and imbalance I may have to go into later.) No one had spoken to these guys for a while, but then the latest death date I saw was 1946 and most of them clustered around the 1860s. Who would come here now but the local antiquarian or the occasional wizard blowing through town?
Still… how does it come to this? I think about the story of the Grateful Dead of Baar described in The Chaos Protocols. And I think about how Austin and my discussion actually emerged from my fear that I come off as glib around people who are grieving.
But that’s sort of like Ghede’s sense of humour, right? When Chris Bradford was on the show at the beginning of the year, we spoke about how magic’s first ‘great gift’ is an imperishable knowing that your curtain call is far from final. Get a few years past that, get your ancestor work humming and you suddenly find yourself tongue tied around normals who are experiencing loss because you can’t trust yourself not to leaven the mood with a dick joke.
MMTP and I openly speculate about the time and cause of family members’ eventual demise, sometimes in front of them at the dinner table. We plan who’ll likely be alive to go to what event -my nephew’s graduation, my niece’s wedding- and what gifts or words would be appropriate. My partner and I talk through our respective plans should the other one die. I remember Deb telling me a couple of years back that she and Jow would play ‘things I’d buy with the life insurance’ when they’d be out shopping for couches or whatever was out of their price range. I like that game.
That said, having normalised death as best one can does not remove the massive shitness of having someone close to you –as Genesis P-Orridge would say– ‘drop their bodies’. And that’s where I get my fear of coming off as glib. Because it is shit.
It’s extra shit when it happens to mourners wearing headphones. That is, friends who still think Materialism is the same thing as being informed or intelligent or who still read The Guardian for actual news rather than recipes and communist clickbait.
The ones who will say -as it if were some wise consolation- “they’re not really gone if they live on in your memories.” I hate that. It is the blackest of black spells and must top the list of ‘top things stupid people say that they think is actually smart’. To invoke the concepts of personhood, life and memory -none of which the philosophers of the Classical Age came close to solving- in a single sentence and come up with that?
My standard answer is to tell mourners wearing headphones that “there is about 120 years of good scientific research and results that demonstrates the survival of consciousness after death. Keep that in the back of your mind and if you ever want to talk about it down the line then we’ll talk. But now is the time to just feel shit. Because this is a shitty thing that is happening to you.”
All of this is on my mind during Cyprian week because I am regretting never writing a journal. Not a magical journal just… a journal. My grandmother kept a daybook and would just write bullet points that I thought were completely crazy at the time: “Gordon and Allan visited.” or “Margaret rang about the races.” She would write “Gordon visited” as soon as I was through the door. Nan, I’m still visiting!
But it was crazy like a fox because I set myself a task of going month by month through my London experience -just as I did for the prior six years in New Zealand- and bullet point some of the key things that happened. That’s what has got me thinking about death and time because I have had to trawl through my inbox from early 2008 and see all the dozens and dozens of failed job applications, the anguished emails home about our financial situation, the forced jollity when emailing friends I was too ashamed to be honest with, being turned down for apartments, shopping lists of fewer and cheaper items emailed to myself for the daily walk to the shops.
You know, the grim stuff of life. More than that, though. I wrote a travel blog on a platform that no longer exists and I found a few old posts on the wayback machine (because I stupidly didn’t think it was porting over even just for archival reasons) and -let me tell you- that Gordon is dead. His attitude, worldview, opinions… they are all gone. He was mercy-killed for his appalling writing skills.
But that Gordon is dead in another way, too. Those were the glory days of blogging which can be summed up as wheeee! I’m on the internet! It seems so strange now that you could just… post ‘stuff’ about your life and people would actually read it. I got nostalgic for the days where you could have a thought about death on an elliptical trainer and come home and write that shit up. So this post was to be an exercise in nostalgia or digital necromancy (I actually love that I got to summon parts of the old blog via the wayback machine –like Futurama doing science) but the nostalgic goal seems to have got away from me because I am in danger of making an actual point.
I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the journal project because I still get what feels like the unacknowledged bastard child of panic attacks and flashbacks -where the loss of London comes roaring back. But they’ve dropped from about once an hour to probably less than one a day. It is just under three months since the move and the trick is to time it so that the memories are fresh -thus I minimise the risk of losing too many of them- but not raw where I can’t complete the exercise at all.
This is the exact point at which to talk to a mourner wearing headphones.
I’ll close with some videos. There aren’t all that many that properly capture London as most of them appear to be shot by visiting Americans on a 70 hour trip so it’s mostly just the Houses of Parliament from various angles. The best one I found is actually an ad:
My first day at Discovery Channel was Feb 2nd, 2009 (I know that now). It was a snow day so very few people were in. That presented an awkward situation. Do you go in on your first day if you can walk it even though your boss won’t be there? Yes, you do. Anyway I regretted not taking photos that day but I found a video of that actual morning. I’m almost surprised I’m not in it given it describes the exact time I would have walked to work.
And here is just Chiswick -forever mine and my partner’s special place. London of my heart.
Nothing lasts but nothing is lost.