Tag Archives: dying

W is for Weary, Work, and the Wonders of the Web

 

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April by Martiros Sarian, 1947 Oh, April – what a speedy month you have been! In, out and yikes! May is just arond the corner!

 

Wow. What a month! It looks like I might just make it to the end having made my goal of a post a day, but sheesh – it’s been touch and go! I suppose I should have known better than to try to combine a big book deadline with much of anything else, never mind a daily blogging challenge and a trip or two!

 

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Woman at Her Writing Desk, by Lesser Ury, 1898 Yep. That’s pretty much where I’ve spent the month of April. 

 

I can’t really complain. I’m so lucky to be able to do the work I love and even more lucky to be able to do it from pretty much anywhere in the world, as long as there’s an internet connection available. I don’t know where I’d be without being plugged into the web, I must say.

This book I’m working on now, for example. It’s about medically-assisted dying (euthanasia, assisted suicide, mercy killing, murder) and all the many medical, ethical, legal, moral, and personal considerations that lie behind the decision to live or die. The Internet has proven to be a rich source of raw material. From documentaries and news clips to lengthy articles in mainstream newspapers to scholarly dissertations in all manner of obscure academic journals, as well books and audiobooks, I’ve been kept busy plowing through more sources than one could hope for in terms of finding lots of background on the subject.

 

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Death and Wife, by Albrecht Durer, 1510 In a strange way, Death has been my companion for the past many month and thousands of words… 

 

I’ve also been talking to people online – through texts and emails but also through online ‘phonecalls’. I’ve been able to use an online transcription service to record and then transcribe some of those conversations. Even ten years ago, such a wealth of information would have been much more difficult (impossible?) to access. I’ve been working on this book for 18 months or so, reading, researching, thinking, listening, watching and learning in Paris, Spain, the Rocky Mountains, the Caribbean, and on the west coast. I’ve downloaded books and articles onto my phone so I can read while I’m standing in the lineup at the grocery store or while trapped in waiting rooms or getting from here to there and back on planes, trains, and automobiles. I’ve dreamt about death. Thought about it pretty much every day since I took this project on.

 

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Birmingham Reference Library, the Reading Room by Edward R. Taylor, 1881 I bet this library had a card catalogue. I must be among the last humans on the planet to have been taught how to use a card catalog. Computers were creeping in everywhere when I was at university, but to find a book at the library, one still had to thumb through the soft-with-use cards.  

 

The problem isn’t really ‘can I find the information’? it’s, how on earth do I distill all this, organize it well, and then shoehorn it into what is actually quite a limited word count, considering the vast quantity of information I’m starting with?

Whenever I think, impossible! I need to expand the manuscript! I need more words! I think of something my mother once told me. She said that you don’t really understand a subject properly until you can explain it to your grandmother from another country. By which, I think, she meant that if you really know your stuff you should be able to explain anything, even the most complex of topics, clearly and succinctly to someone who has absolutely no background or understanding of the subject.

 

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Scissors and Lemon by Richard Diebenkorn Cut. Cut. Cut. That’s what I’m doing next. Which seems a bit odd since what I’ve been doing for months is add. Add. Add. Write. Write. Write. 

 

The other lesson I learned early (in my capacity as a copywriter at a radio station) is that you should be able to convey a complicated idea (in that case, usually about a business, product or event) in very few words. A thirty-second spot can’t last 35 seconds. Concise. Precise. Economical. Those were buzz words back then, and that early training has made me aware that cutting and paring are more fun if treated like a puzzle and a game. Just how many words can you take away and still tell your story?

 

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Death of the Countess by Alexandre Benois, 1910. This might just as well be named, Death of the Writer as this is a pretty accurate likeness of me at the moment. 

 

With that in mind, I’m going to embrace my next couple of days of slicing, dicing, chopping, and cutting as I whittle away at what is currently a too-long draft. I have 72-hours before the deadline. I can do this. I can.

D is for Dying (#atozchallenge2018)

 

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Édouard Manet’s Dead Eagle Owl, 1881  Transforming death into art… 

 

The theme of this month’s blogging challenge is Transitions, Travel and Transformation. Dying could be said to be all three.

This past year I’ve read more about death (more precisely, the process of dying) than I would have thought possible. And, no – I have not developed a morbid obsession with the subject and no, I am not ill and no, nobody in the family has been stricken with a terminal illness. But I am writing a book for a new Orca Books series about the subject of medically assisted dying. What a rich and complex topic this has turned out to be!

 

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Pyramid of Skulls by Paul Cézanne, 1901

 

I remember my mother once telling me she had a terminal disease. I was, of course, horrified. She was quick to add, “well, so do you. So does everyone.” I was perhaps 11 and still didn’t quite get what point she was trying to make. Sensing my confusion she asked, “You do know what terminal means, don’t you?”

“You’re going to die?”

She nodded and laughed. “Aren’t you?”

The fact I still remember this exchange so many years later is indicative of how rattled I was at the time. I knew, in some theoretical way, that one day my parents would die. And, I suppose, I knew that we all have to go at some point, but it all seemed so removed from reality. So unlikely. I had not experienced death at that point. Had no idea what I was in for.

 

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Paul Cezanne’s Young Man with a Skull

 

As a result of my reading and I research I asked my father (now in his early 80’s) if I could interview him for the book, you know, have a chat about death. He was a bit offended, I think, and replied that he wasn’t planning to go anywhere anytime soon.

 

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Gustav Klimt – Death and Life, 1915

 

This pair of conversations with my parents pretty much sums up our North American discomfort with the inevitable. Yes, we sort of know it’s coming – but later and to someone else first.

 

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The Three Ages of Man and Death by Hans Baldung – 1541-ish

 

As a result, few of us have had proper discussions with loved ones about our wishes for end of life care. Even when we’ve carefully written out medical directives, the system (medical, legal) doesn’t always know quite what to do with them. It’s very hard to write a directive that will cover all circumstances. And, when the time comes, people sometimes change their minds and families are notorious for not wanting to let go.

I’m writing this post in the airport while waiting for my flight back to Canada from France. Assuming nothing goes dreadfully wrong, I’ll be back at home in about 20 hours from now. Given all the thinking and reading and ruminating I’ve been doing about the subject over the past many months, getting my thoughts and intentions regarding what I do and don’t want done with my dying body has now moved up on my To-Do list.

 

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Found Drowned by George Frederick Watts, 1850

 

What about you? Do you have an end-of-life directive? Do your loved ones know what it is? Have you had a conversation (or several) with those who may have to make those decisions on your behalf when the time comes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below… See you tomorrow on the other side of the pond!

You know, you don’t need to wait until you are dead to consider how best to share your wealth around… If you find yourself in a contemplative (and generous) mood, consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works. One of the things Patrons will find out about me in a private post is the location of my grave. I’m not in it yet, obviously, but we do have a family plot and I have staked my claim!