After completing Thursday’s post, I was reflecting on the the nature of the Proust Questionnaire. As Ian Wiki will tell you, “[t]he Proust Questionnaire is a questionnaire about one’s personality. Its name and modern popularity as a form of interview is owed to the responses given by the French writer Marcel Proust.” You may have seen it in the pages of Vanity Fair or Q magazine. In fact, Vanity Fair’s website has a fun little interactive page that will set you a Proust Questionnaire, and tell you to which famous person you most closely correspond. It seems I’m very much like Karl Rove, half like David Bowie, and not like Michael Caine at all. But then, you knew that.
I noticed that in the past eight or nine months, my answer to “What is your greatest fear?” has changed. Whereas it was previously death, it’s now locked-in syndrome. Or loneliness. Or something. Nevertheless, death, or more precisely, the experience of death, has been much on my mind recently. Paul linked to a version of Talking Heads’ Memories Can’t Wait in the comments to Thursday’s post. ultimateclassicrock.com lists Memories Can’t Wait as one of Talking Heads’ top ten lyrics, with the following commentary:
Byrne’s harrowing delivery of this ‘Fear of Music’ track doesn’t give any solid clues as to the song’s meaning. It’s more or less about reaching a level of consciousness that’s as open to eternal bliss as it is to despairing sadness. Is it about dying? Possibly. Like many of Byrne’s best songs, ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ can be interpreted many ways.
And the fun didn’t stop there. I then stumbled across this beautiful poem by Clive James on twitter. I can’t encourage you strongly enough to click through and read it. Its sentiments are simple enough: be kind, play it straight, don’t let work dominate your life to the exclusion of all else. But as the poem makes clear, James is writing with the benefit of the experience of “late sublime”. Having been diagnosed with emphysema and kidney failure in early 2010, James, who has been an impressively heavy drinker and smoker, has been beaten by B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and is near the end of his life. This, I would suggest, has given this successful man the perspective to be able to accurately identify what is important in life.
The wages of experience I earn
Would service well a younger life than mine
I should have been more kind. It is my fate
To find this out, but find it out too late.
On the same Thursday I read Paul’s comment and found Clive James’s poem, I found the latest middle school letter from the director of my daughter’s middle school in my in box. This described a near death experience he had, trapped in a kayak. The piece describes how, since this experience, he has been aware that “simple awareness is the path to salvation,” and that by committing to a life of empathy, we can lead a worthwhile life, even in the absence of absolute, final answers. I read this on the way to the gym, where I listened to Gravenhurst’s The Velvet Cell Reprise. Its motorik-influenced rhythm is perfect for the mindless repetition of physical rehab. So much so, that I let my iPhone meander on to the next track, Cities Beneath The Sea.
What with the vaguely Goth-y state of mind in which I found myself, the lyrics crawled into my ears and sunk their claws into my mind (who knew earworms have claws?):
In deserted towns and burial mounds
There is beauty that no-one will see…
…The dead see through the eyes of the living
The dead know all of our names
Powerless to stop us repeating the same
Careless mistakes that they made
Many of you will be aware of the near death experience I had at the time of my hemorrhage. I don’t think it made me special, but I am grateful for the clarity it has brought me. I have had the fortune to have earned some of Clive James’s wages of experience before it is too late, while I am still young. In that spirit, I note that it’s not terribly original to observe that nobody ever lay on their deathbed wishing they had given over more of their life to work, or been harsher to their friends. Because, with the value of the oversight of a life lived, and nothing but the void in front of us, we can see more clearly.
As we prepare to leave Brooklyn, I wish all of our friends in New York all the very best, and thank you, for Beth and myself, for your love, kindness and support. Be kind to one another — no one ever lay dying regretting they had been kind — and we’ll look forward to seeing you again.
And take a walk around Greenwood Cemetery. It is beautiful.