Sunday, February 3, 2013

Death Proof (Ambulance Blues*)

"I was home. What happened? What the hell happened?"
                                                    - Jake Holman (Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles)

(Watch the clip from the film Fearless, and if you haven't seen the film you need to go and watch it now, and then watch The Sand Pebbles. In the words of Father Ted maybe the film Fearless is a bad reference because not many people have seen it; oh well).

One minute I was looking at a spreadsheet, the next minute I was in an ambulance, and then I was in a hospital. One minute I was there, and then. Gone. Memory erased. Like anaesthesia seeping into my cortex. And then back again. Reality continued without me. Time shift.

I don't want to overplay it, I didn't meet Jimi Hendrix or Mel Siff. I didn't stare into the abyss and it didn't stare back. There was just nothing. (Worse things happen at sea for sure).


You think life is concrete, you have control, you don't. The membrane of consciousness is easily punctured. Memory and reality are two different things, and you're walking a tight rope between them, free-fall a step away.

It turns out memory and imagination are the same (New Scientist no.2885) not separate entities. You construct what you need to survive. We create our own myth, our own narrative. What you remember is imagined.

There will be moments you amplify and play over and over again on constant loop. Other times will be lost, entire years you can't recall; the missing years.

(Mis-rembering it seems can affect whole cultures and populations, collective amnesia, everyone wearing the same rose-tinted filter. Entire decades couched in sound bites and vision bites. The media becomes our memory, music video and news clips welded together to form a false montage. Before you know your recollection is nothing more than what television told you; and you were there but you can't rely on your own version anymore).

I woke up, I was fine. Some people have it worse, they don't get a chance, ended before they started - turned into pink mist by an automatic drone strike.

Guess what, when you wake up, the first thing you think is not - 'I really should get back to work and finish that spreadsheet' - no sir.

You wake up and you're not dead, and all your faculties are still in tact. Uneasy. The first person you think of and the first idea you have are instructive. In the book The Chimp Paradox Steve Peters talks about The Life Force, the essence of you, what is important to you.

"..imagine that you are 100 years old and on your death bed with one minute left to live. Your great-great-grandchild asks, 'Before you die, tell me what I should do with my life?' (Peters, 2011:89)
  Now assuming your answer isn't 'avenge my death' then you this should be how you live your life, if not then

" are living a lie. Don't live a lie: it will unsettle you more than anything else."

You are not Highlander.

There can be only one and you're not him.

The gut punch realisation that you are blood and bones should bring these questions sharply into focus. You are ephemeral. You will die. You are dying.

In Western culture we are squeamish about the whole notion. We hide from it, sanitise it, keep it at arms length. Our TV news shows wars without killing and without bodies everyday. We don't want to be reminded. Eternal youth culture and the gathering of 'things' are our vaccines.

The things you own may not be biodegradable but you are.

We want to believe in order, but when entropy comes knockin' on the door it takes what it needs.

(Furthermore it seems our bodies live on the edge of chaos to stay healthy, irregularity of brain rhythm and fluctuations of heart rate during the day are designed to keep us healthy (Siff 2003). The less variable these things become the more problematic it becomes for health. Ecosystems are not the models of balance we once thought them to be, they are all on the edge of chaos and catastrophe. An erroneous belief in the order of things will not save you.)

We know its coming but we don't want to be reminded.

 "It's said that when a general returned in glory to ancient Rome, he was accompanied in his procession through the streets by a slave whose job it was to remind him that his triumph would not last forever. "Memento mori," the slave whispered into the general's ear: "remember you will die". The story may be apocryphal, but the phrase is now applied to art intended to remind us of our mortality." ( New Scientist 2887 )

On the banks of the holy river at Pushnipath you see the bodies burning everyday. Charcoal and dust. With monkeys scavenging in the water and women washing clothes in the same river a few hundred yards away; not the hygenic hospitalised version we have become accustomed to.

Your move: but what if the grim reaper wants to play chess for your life and you don't know the rules. There's a Bergman and Woody Allen reference for you there: 2 for the price of 1.

In the Hagakure 'The The Book of the Samurai” Yamamoto Tsunetomo states

"Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead."

Of course, the Samurai were obsessed with death and how to die. (And I doubt the Ronins sat around telling jokes). But even in the Hagakure there is acknowledgement that most right minded people don't want to die. Being scared is natural, but don't let the fear lead to inaction. The inevitable ending should galvanise you into action. In a positive way.

Wake Up.

So you wake up and go home. And for a while everything is going to be different. Everyday normality has been disturbed and you can't go back.

(forward to about 2min45secs into the clip below)

You were chugging along. You were the proverbial frog being gently heated in the pan of water, not really noticing, and then someone turned it up to boiling and  you realised - f**k I'm being cooked alive here!

In my case there was no definitive answer, you have to wait, test this, scan this. In a Mu state, Schrodingers Cat, outcome uncertain. (until eventually months down the line, someone says you're fine, we don't know, just one of those things).

At this point you have two choices, live in perpetual panic attack fear, what ifs abound, until you become paralysed by inaction. Or become death proof (note this doesn't mean become suicidal and stupid). It means accept death and when it happens is uncertain, and then start living.

Yes you can spend your time 'waiting for a moment that just don't come' or you can be one of those guys 'who washes up and then goes racing in the street'. Yes its true I learnt 'more from a 3 minute pop song than I ever learnt in school'. Sometimes, you do just need to turn the music up loud, loud enough so 'you don't have to think', the song below is a good start.


Punch the clock.

You can spend your time being homesick for a place you've never been, lovesick for a girl you've never known. Or get on with it.

Go to work and punch the clock, and before you know it 10 years at the post office have passed.

“Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I'm not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you've felt that way.” 

 “We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” 

 “You have to die a few times before you can really live.” 
 “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire” (All quotes Charles Bukowski)

The fortune tellers don't know anymore than you. They confuse imagination and memory too.

The past is as dead as you need it to be, the future is as bright as you want it to be. Loves will be lost, mistakes will be made, wrong turns taken. There will be the one who got away. Bad days in Yuba City and even worse days in A&E cubicles with 12 lead ECG attachments. You can't go back, you can't change a thing, only your reaction to it.

Beware though. The water is warm and inviting. Before I knew it I was punching the clock again, lost in the day to day trivialities, 'small minded people' at the place where I work, its the same everywhere. Old habits and patterns die hard. I went back, I opened that spreadsheet.

It's getting late.

Someone once said to me 'if I was going to do it, I would have done it by now' or maybe I said it, I can't recall. That statement is only as true as you want it to be.

There's a choice - be anxious, settle, become immobilised or realise this will make no difference to to the eventual outcome. These are states of being that waste time, and times in too short a supply to waste.

It's already too late. What are you waiting for? You cannot be death proof, but you can be more. It's not as bad as you think. You are defined by your actions. There are coffees to be drunk, songs to sung, trails to be run. There are lives to be lived. You're alive goddammit!

-'Can you hear that freight train?'
-'Yeah, me too honey, me too.'

(*listen to the whole song or go ahead to listen to one of the best lines ever at 6mins 30secs)

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.” (Hagakure)

New Scientist 2885
New Scientist 2887
Mel Siff (2003) Facts and Fallacies of Fitness
Bruce Springsteen 'Badlands' 'Racing in the Streets' 'No Surrender'
Neil Young - Ambulance Blues
Fearless - film
The Sand Pebbles - film
Charles Bukowski - various
Steve Peters  The Chimp Paradox