year of the dead

From the very first day of 2006, tragedy has struck on what feels like a daily basis. Our lives have been touched by illness, accident and death. As the planet heaves under the pressures of global warming, we as individuals seem to be experiencing a trickle down effect of climate change. On Friday, Brni and I mourned his aunt’s passing and on Saturday we spent his birthday at a funeral for the sister of a dear friend. Of course, the usual cliches came unbidden to my brain…

  • make sure you live each day as if it’s your last
  • treat each person as if this is the last time you will see them
  • never go to bed angry

and on and on

And then I decided that, although these adages, or whatever you would call them, are well worth noting, there’s more to consider. How do we really want to spend our days? How do we want to be remembered (if at all)? And what do we want those still living to do when we leave them to handle our passing?

Recently I’ve been under a lot of stress that has culminated in quitting my job of 18 years. Of course, I’ve been worrying about this being a colossal mistake–a financially irresponsible move that will bring us to ruin (yes, I do go overboard about shit like this). All this worry and self-doubt has magnified my stress levels and turned me into a very annoying person to be around. Yesterday, on the way to the funeral, I woke up.

As we were heading into Long Beach, I put in a favorite cd, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere” by Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco. I highly recommend that every person on earth listen to Utah Phillips. In fact, if you are not wholly self-actualized and ready for Bliss, this should be required as therapy.

In the best storytelling tradition, Utah Phillips tells us that freedom is not something handed to us by others, but something we have to consciously assume, sometimes by force. Once we assume our freedom, we have to defend it if we wish to keep it because there are forces at work designed to take that freedom away. This idea of freedom–freedom of purpose, self-direction, of personal truth and conviction is something that I have taken for granted for most of my life. I thought I was free simply by virtue of living in a “free country,” but I have been terribly mistaken. I have been a dupe, a lackey, bound by socially and individually-imposed restrictions and obligations that I did not assume willingly. What is worse, I was unaware that I had given up my liberty for the comfort of conformity.

I am ashamed of myself for that

With freedom comes the obligation to speak and live from the heart. To act as you believe. This is a very hard thing if you were raised to be polite person. But, there is no room for manners when your life is at stake. I’m not talking table manners. I am all for polite eating habits at the table. I’m also not saying that speaking the truth is license to cause pain or humiliation to others (unless they deserve it). No, this sort of truth is the kind that you must face squarely with the veils pulled from your eyes. You see, I have talents and I have things that are very important to me. If I fail to use my talents or if I give up what is truly important for the convenience of others–bosses, governments, gods, or even just to avoid confrontation with someone at odds with me–then I’m not just being untrue to myself, I am handing over my power–my freedom. I become nothing more than a performing monkey.

A long time ago, Harry Harlowe ran a series of famous experiments designed to find out the influences that nature and nurture have on behavior. The infant monkeys used as subjects in these experiments had all their physical needs met, but were isolated from social contact of any kind. Some were fed by a wire “mother” and others by a soft, cloth-covered mother and their resulting behavior was studied. Many fed by the wire mother failed to thrive, but unfortunately, all the monkeys exhibited poor social skills which came to be known as isolate behavior. At the end of the studies, Harlowe was left with a bunch of neurotic monkeys who exhibited very aberrant, atavistic behavior. One such behavior was termed the “phantom arm” whereby a monkey’s arm would slowly move as if sneaking up on itself and then suddenly give a good whack on the back of its own head. The monkey would scream and yell as if it had been attacked, obviously in ignorance that its very own arm was the offending beast. So, good Harry decided to see if he could remedy the situation by exposing the young isolates to normal monkeys, the idea being that the isolates would learn how to be normal. But this proved not to be the case. In fact, what happened was that the normal monkeys began showing isolate behavior.

I have found this phenomenon replicated many times over the years among us balder primates. All it takes is one very convincing asshole to move into an intact, productive, “normal” group and disrupt the hell out of it. Why is that? I don’t really know, but I wonder if we can make this phenomenon work to our advantage. Can we, as free people, people who would advocate for peace, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the greater good as well as our own good, “disrupt” the status quo and get the assholes of the world — those in places of money and power — to rise up and smack themselves upside the head?

but, i digress

I have decided that my own, personal climate change is in order.

Since the only certainty in life is death, we can’t hope to die right if we aren’t willing to live right. We have to resist doing nothing about our lives and we have to resist taking things for granted. No one knows what we want or what is important to us if we don’t speak up. And I do not, under any circumstances want anyone to dictate to me the manner of my life or the manner of my send-off from this world.

To that end, I hereby tell you what I want and what I do not want when I kick that proverbial bucket.

What I do NOT want

  • I do not want a viewing, funeral or memorial service of any kind in any sort of establishment run by an undertaker, church, or any sort of place where there is a profit to be had at the expense of my loved ones.
  • I do not want to be preserved, fumigated or made toxic to the environment.
  • I do not want anyone to spend any money on my passing that they normally would not spend for a modest dinner with friends.

MY DEATH WILL NOT BE AN EXCUSE FOR STRANGERS TO MAKE A KILLING!

What I DO want

  • I want to be composted, but if this proves difficult due to zoning restrictions, then I want to be cremated. CHEAPLY! Do not let them talk you into buying a box, or crypt or other expensive thing in which to deposit my ashes. Any ol’ receptacle will do.
  • Eat sushi! Juliet came up with the perfect idea at the funeral–get a bunch of spicy crunchy tuna from the Hana and put it in the middle of Charlie and Kim’s pool table. Now, if you haven’t already disposed of my ashes, feel free to “feed me” one of those little morsels before dumping me into the compost pile.
  • Climb into the hot tub and have a good, long soak.

That’s it really…keep it simple, tasty and get nekked.


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