Sunday, 6 January 2013

Timor Mortis Conturbat Me

One of the weirdest feelings I experience these days is something which the medical profession terms 'A Sense of Impending Doom.'  No really, they call it that. 'A Sense of Impending Doom.'

It rolls off the tongue nicely, like some kinda movie tagline about psychics that can predict the apocalypse. If any amateur filmmakers out there are considering directing a biopic of my life thus far, then I for one would heartily endorse the title 'Callum Henderson: A Sense of Impending Doom!!!' 

(The multiple exclamation points are mandatory)
Unfortunately in practice, despite the amusing terminology, experiencing a sudden sense of impending doom is no fun whatsoever. It's like having sudden, intermittent bouts of hypochondria, usually at 3 'o' clock in the morning, for roughly about 15 minutes. You become obsessed with the fact that you're going to die and the knowledge that it could happen at any time. The utter inescapable truth of you own mortality becomes as distracting as a tennis ball to a puppy with ADHD.

 Now we all know we're going to die, in the Zen sense anyway we're all dying right this minute, (Unless you actually are immortal, in which case I'd love to hear from you. Read, comment and subscribe!) but apart from the unfortunate souls who know for sure that they have only a limited time left on this earth, it's not really a problem. It's like your bank balance: there's always more money there if you just never look at it: if you don't think about death, it's almost like it'll never happen ... except not really. In fact, not at all.

Either that or people have little coping mechanisms in place to stop themselves going insane, sly distractions from the ultimate inevitability. Like religion or marriage or jobs and houses.
Pets are an especially clever and insidious method for dealing with the horror of death. For example, I might decide to purchase a potted Spider Plant for my flat and call it Terence. Now Terence has a great deal of aesthetic and botanic appeal, but the main reason I have him is so I can become emotionally attached to something that's dependent on me. 'The universe can't possibly let me die right now,' is my reasoning; 'because then who the hell would water Terence?'

This is obviously ludicrous, because I've not actually done anything to prevent myself dying. The universe doesn't give a fuck about me and it doesn't give a fuck about Terence. 

(Shit man, even Terence doesn't give a fuck about Terence)
 But in a morbid way children and spouses and friends are just like Terence only on a grand scale: a poor man's Philosopher's Stone. Even love and sex are physical responses to the inevitability of death. I think that, on a subconscious level at least, we know that though our lives are finite we can, in a sense, live forever by procreating and passing our on genetics to a new generation. Obviously this argument falls apart if you consider homosexuals, or at the very least sodomy, neither of which results in babies happening, and my response to this is: Never Mind That Now.

This perspective on intercourse might disturb some of you, and so I apologize for being such a spoilsport. These are just the kind of thoughts people like me have about sex when we're not getting any. Sorry.  

It's especially grim for me to have to go through this unique brand of latent paranoia, because I'm an anxious-avoidant personality as it is. I try and run away from everything: believe me, if a problem exists I'll do anything to not have to deal with it there and then. Unfortunately death is something that even the best of us cannot put off for ever. There's only so much running I way I can do before I end up like Lord Voldermort.

(I mean look at that dental work. I couldn't live like that)
 All this memento mori makes the day-to-day routine of life somewhat troubling, because my brain is not designed to cope with the enormity of mortality. Such metaphysical contemplations are best left to the great French Existentialists: Sartre, Camus, Marcel. You know: wankers. The scope of my intellect is best left to dwell on more humble themes; videos of fat people having trampoline accidents, online pornography, and remembering the name of a children's novel I read ten years ago about monsters made of farts.

So I'll be doing something mundane, like making myself scrambled eggs for brunch or something, and it's all hunky-dory, and my thought process will go something like this:

ME: Stirring eggs, stirring eggs. My god I love scrambled eggs. I wonder if I pretended to be comatose nurses would just have to just feed me scrambled eggs through a tube all day? That would be a amazing, although the flatulence would be hard to cope with after a while. Better add the bacon-bits ... 

(But suddenly an idea occurs:)

ME: Fuck what if I went into a coma right now, or had an aneurysm? I mean, it could happen. I could just keel over while I was making these eggs and no-one would be able to save me. There's nothing I can do to prepare for that. That would be me finished. 
Oh shit I'm going to die now. I'm going to die NOW and all I can think about is the music from the Kia-Ora adverts with the crows and how unattractive my corpse will look covered in scrambled eggs. How the hell will the pretty young nurses take pity on me if I'm covered in egg!? 

(The tension begins to escalate:)

ME: I'm going to die any minute now and this will have been my whole life. My whole life will have been: hopes-and-dreams, books, internet, internet, internet, Netflix, DEATH. I'm almost twenty-one and I have nothing to show for it. I'm unemployed, I'm single, I've got less friends than a Big Issue salesman. Oh god, now the eggs are burning-I CAN'T EVEN COOK A PLATE OF FUCKING EGGS?! MY LIFE HAS SPIRALED OUT OF CONTROL! I'VE GOT TO SUCCEED AT SOMETHING BEFORE I DIE! OH GOD I'M DYING! I'M DYING! LET ME REGENERATE OR SOMETHING! WHY CAN'T I STAAAAAAAY?!?!?

Usually at this point my flatmate will enter the room and ask something innocuous:

HIM: Hey. Makin' eggs?

ME: (Desperately trying to keep a lid on the boiling pot of horror and anxiety) ...Yup.

HIM: Cool.

ME: (Jealous of his casual indifference to the transience of life) ... Yup.

By now I'll be so overcome by it all; the smell of smoke, the squandered opportunities and missed chances, the Kia-Ora advert, and in time the fire alarm, that the whole exercise of making eggs seems like an impossible one. They'll only sustain me for a few short hours; in the long run they'll solve nothing. The only solution to my dilemma is to lie face-down on the couch making groaning noises.

This is how I manage to accomplish so little during the working day.

(Just picture the theme from Jonathan Creek as you look at this)

All this was especially irritating when I was in a relationship. I remember I had one of these crisis when I was in bed spooning with my ex. I panicked because I was extremely pleased with my lot in life just then and feeling all very content with my amazing flat and my amazing girlfriend and my job at the bookshop. But then I wondered if things were going too well for me. If I deviated at all at that point I realized, I would fuck things up completely. Then I got scared that if I closed my eyes I would never open them again. So I went all rigid and I had gooseflesh all over and I started breathing rapidly. Now by this point my ex, who always thought my heartbeat was too fast anyway, became concerned and woke up. She kept asking me what was bothering me and I tried to say nothing and get her to go back to sleep and she tried to kiss me and hold me and get me to tell her what was wrong, but because of the gooseflesh I'd experience this weird sensory overload and it would feel unpleasant and I'd want to throw up.

So picture this; I'm in bed, it's 3am, I'm having what looks like some kind of stroke, and my girlfriend's trying to caress me to calm me down. Even though I all I want is to be hugged and reassured and looked after, every time she tries to do so I feel nauseated and weird and I don't know what to do because I know that just at the point at which I'm happy: I'm going to die.

In the morning I had to make her a lot of scrambled eggs to make up for that little incident.   

(They couldn't save our relationship though. Damn eggs)

 On reflection, I don't think I'm actually all that afraid of death. There have been horrible periods of my life when the thought of oblivion has been almost comforting. When my time comes, I honestly don't think I'll be raging at the dying of the light. What I'm really terrified of is the fact that my life seems directionless and unfulfiling, the fact that I feel that I can't justify my existence to myself is what makes me afraid of it ending.

It could all be because I'm obsessed with stories, and spend long intervals of time immersed in fictions and fantasies. Because of this I feel that life should have some kind of plot: I don't just want the experience of the world, I want a freaking character arc along with it. This year is the chapter of falling in love, this year is the chapter of depression and cynicism, this is the chapter of growth and self-discovery, and so on, building this sort of teleological spiritual progression with death acting as the neat climax that resolves all the dangling threads at the end. If I died now there would be no closure, no resolution.

Of course, life has no sense of dramatic convention; it's not like a novel, or a TV series or a film.

This is the point where I have to do something you might find pretentious of me, because so many blogs and Tumblr pages have one of these printed in Helvetica against a sepia backdrop, without any thought whatsoever. But I'm not doing this to show-off, it's just that The Bard puts this the best with a soliloquy from Prospero in the 4th act of the Tempest:

"Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."

Life is not a story; it's a dream. It's a weird, unexplainable series of sensations; of sounds and smells, music and images juxtaposed with each other, with no rhyme or reason, no true resolution or satisfaction, no real narrative to act as a spine to hold it all together and give an meaning. Then, just before you can work out what it was all about you wake up. That's it. You just wake up.

I think that makes sense. I think that's alright. I'm okay with waking up. You could call it; A Sense of Impending Morning ...

(Today I've been reading Christopher Marlowe's classic play 'The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus' -which is an intoxicating piece of Elizabethan drama by the way - because I have an exam on it coming up and I needed to revise. Actually the funny thing is that Faustus also suffers an Impeding Sense of Doom in the very last scene, when he monologues in anguish in his study about how he sold his soul to Satan for the sake of trivial earthly pleasures, and now faces an eternity of damnation for not repenting when he had the chance. He ends up getting dragged to hell by gibbering daemons to be perpetually tortured ... let's hope life doesn't mirror art in that respect at least.)   

(Enjoy the company of Beelzebub bitch)

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