a prelude for december

It's hard to believe we've very nearly reached the last month of the year. December! For Thanksgiving I've gone home to eastern Washington, and a truly amazing freezing fog crept in last night, leaving a thick coating that almost looked like snow on the ground. I sometimes forget, in the maritime temperate climate of Seattle, how beautiful winter can be. Or how dangerous. (I've not forgotten the cold. Cold is something you never forget.)

Six months ago I wrote stories about eternity. This month I am writing stories about changes. Autumn is of course usually the season of change, but by the time December rolls around I always feel like everything is in flux. You can't get the sunset to stay still, for instance, but even culturally. We move at a breakneck pace through the holiday season. After Thanksgiving it becomes the race for Christmas, and then Christmas comes and goes and you're left cleaning up the tinsel, just in time to ring in the new year--and the new year is a holiday all about changes.

Some of these stories I've been waiting to tell since I started this project, and some of them, of course, I'm making up as I go. Regardless, I hope, if it can't be warm where you are, it is at least beautiful.


death, pt. 5


When I fled my old life, I spent a lot of time in solitude. I tell people it was "quiet contemplation" but I'm not sure if I was really contemplating anything so much as I was basking in the silence, learning to accept that it was okay to do nothing but exist for a while.

After a while I began to imagine that I had died. That was reason it was so quiet in my new apartment, why I didn't answer my calls or my emails or basically anything. Eventually, the calls and emails tapered off, and only a few dedicated individuals--my sister, mostly--kept trying. I thought that was fitting, really. The dead aren't something we think about. This world is made for the living. When the dead depart, we pay our respects, then we forget.

Once I emerged from my tomb, I started writing again. They were sad stories, stories about death and mortality and isolation. People started wondering if I was depressed (because when I was actually depressed they just thought I was being weird), but it seemed important. It wasn't until much later that I realized I was writing a eulogy for the life I'd led.

Is that so strange? I felt that in some way I truly had died, and some new self had moved in to replace the old one. The habits and quirks of my old self were gone. When I finally realized that, I asked my sister over and we held a wake. And somewhere in the middle of all this I realized I no longer felt like a ghost.


death, pt. 4


I was never more convinced that Eris had no appreciation for death than when she almost died in a freak accident, sometime last year. She kept telling me she should have died, that the odds were as stacked against her survival as they were against the whole event happening anyway. And she was so fucking cavalier about the whole thing. I called her out on it, of course. She just shrugged.

"Worse things have happened."

"You almost died."

"C'est la vie, I guess." Then she smiled like she thought she was the cleverest fucking thing. "Or maybe that should be c'est la mort?"

Which was typical Eris for you, really. For me, death was the only sacred thing. For her, it was a shrug and a bad joke. I'd almost say the idea that it might matter to someone seemed utterly alien to her, but she knew it mattered to me. When she finally, inevitably betrayed me, what hurt most is the fact that she chose the one thing that I held sacred to do it with--a story about death, something that had made me who I am, something so sacred I'd kept it secret until she came along. Then she took my secret and published it in her sister's fucking lit mag, just because she wanted to do something to hurt me.

The last time that we spoke (before she showed up on my doorstep years later, anyway) I told her she'd violated something sacred, and she just shrugged and said, "I don't understand why you're so upset. Stories are meant to be told, aren't they?"

And she really believed that stories might give us some sort of immortality, because as far as she was concerned, death had no meaning. The part that really hurt, though, was the gnawing fear that maybe she was right.


death, pt. 3


I was crashing at Alex's place for a few weeks last year, and since the last time we'd spoken before that was years ago and also ended with a lot of shouting, there weren't many safe topics of conversation. Mostly we just didn't talk, of course. We very studiously avoided situations where a conversation was likely--it's easier than you'd think, really.

Since I'd just had a brush with death, I kept having these dreams where a star fell on the house. I'd hoped being in Alex's house would make them go away, but instead they just followed me there. The first night there, I had the dream again, and woke up with a start. Then I felt her next to me and closed my eyes and tried to relax. We would both survive until the morning.

She woke up next to me and asked, sleepily, "You all right?"

The smart thing to do was say "I'm fine, just a bad dream," and go to sleep. Instead, I said, "I keep dreaming I'm dying. Some nights I'm scared to go to sleep, and I just want it to stop."

"You always used to tell me you weren't afraid of death, because life is narrative and your story will always live on, or some bullshit like that."

"All philosophy is bullshit when it comes to death. That's why we keep trying. We always think we've found the sole exception. But we haven't. And when we actually deal with death, we have to confront that."

"Sounds like more philosophy to me."

"Probably. But it's bullshit that helps me sleep at night."

And for the rest of that night, at least, I slept soundly.


death, pt. 2


Did they ever destroy that 24-hour place where we used to hang out? I know they were going to. I was crushed when I found out, and spent the evening writing down little stories I remembered about the place. Things we'd said, or things that happened there--you know how it is. I probably sent you one or two, for the sake of old times.

We have this macabre fascination with dying things, you and I. Not that we'd ever admit it, or even really talked about it. There was a time once--it must have been at the diner, I guess--where you asked me about it, and I almost talked about it. But we talked about everything but death, because that's the one thing that's always on our minds, isn't it? And since nobody ever says what they mean--least of all me--how could we ever actually talk about it? Besides, words have no power in the realm of death. It's something you experience. You can describe the shape of it with words but not its texture, its color. Words can't look death in the eye, and they certainly can't grin back at it.

So that moment came and went. You kept looking at me like you thought I was going to cry, and I wasn't sure what to do, or what to say. Which, as you might imagine, is new to me. It's been years since that day, and probably the diner has been destroyed now, but I finally figured out what I should have said.

"We should go to a funeral together."


death, pt. 1


When you were in London, I used to think of what would happen if you died while you were there. That probably sounds worse than it is--it was just this fear I had. As if distance made it more likely that you'd be hit by a bus, or something. I don't know. Anyway, when you came back, and we finally met at a party and sat out back and watched the wind tear the leaves off the trees, those thoughts didn't go away. We'd been talking philosophy and how people change, and as you talked I imagined you still and cold and composed in a coffin somewhere.

Eventually I just asked you, "Have you ever thought about death?" and then when you smirked at me I immediately regretted the question, because of course you had. But you actually suppressed the smirk. I still don't know if that was on purpose.

You told me how you used to go to funerals of people you didn't know, for reasons you could never quite articulate. "I guess I was just obsessed with death," you said. "Maybe I still am." Then you smirked again and said that you didn't want to get all morbid tonight. But your smile seemed thin after that, and your smirk looked more like a mask than ever. You looked as human as I'd ever seen you look. Who was I to intrude on that?

a prelude for november

There are basically only two holidays that I really appreciate: Halloween and New Year's. (There's also May Day, but that's not really a holiday in the US, and anyway that one is much more personal) They're the only ones that feel genuinely human to me, because they aren't trying to be about anything else. I've written about the new year extensively (just look at January and December in my archives), but less so about Halloween. I guess it's harder to know what to say, because it's mostly a holiday about having fun. But it's also, inescapably, about death, which is why there's ghosts and zombies and vampires crawling around.

But now we're moving into November, which opens up cheerfully with the Day of the Dead, and, more to the point here, is six months after May. When I started this project I knew there would be a pairing of life and death, and I knew that May had to be the month of life, so it fell to November to be the month of death. It would have worked well for October, of course, but it's fitting here, too. November is the point where you can't pretend that winter is still a ways off. It's coming, and it will always come sooner than you think.

Of course, despite the fact that I've always known I wanted to write this month about death, I haven't had the faintest idea what I'd write about, because my usual framework of ghosts and the absurd isn't here for me to fall back on. I had this idea in my head that death required some sort of special treatment that I was afraid this framework wouldn't support.

And that's absurd, of course, because I talk about death the same way that I talk about anything else I've written about here. Death has been a part of my life from a very early age: I can't talk about who I am without, ultimately, talking about death. Why should my characters be any different? Even if they haven't known anyone who's died, death is a constant companion for us all. So perhaps I can learn something by approaching it from someone else's perspective, for once.