I find it alarming to contemplate the dark thoughts some people carry around in their skulls on even the finest day. Even more alarming is their need to share these thoughts with anyone and everyone they come in contact with. Like a contagion, their gloom is spread. I always have my notebook and pen with me to create a sanitary barrier to such walking, talking contaminants. Yet, occasionally, despite my fortifications, they manage to penetrate and gain access and in the blink of an eye I too am infected with whatever bacteria they are spreading.
Why, it happened just yesterday. I quote from my journal, which in this case was not enough to protect me from infection:
Some of the people around here are starting to really piss me off. They seem compelled, driven even, like the Ancient Mariner, to share their grim stories with me.
The other day, an acquaintance of mine felt compelled to tell me about his “levels.” I have no idea what these levels pertain to, and furthermore I don’t care. Now for some reason, I know what his levels are (I believe he said 20, but 20 what, exactly, I have no idea) and now I know that at 20 they are dangerously low, or high (I can’t remember which). When pressed about my own levels, I said, “I don’t have any levels.” He replied, “Everyone has levels.” “Not me,” I said. “Are you telling me you don’t know what your levels are?“ he asked? “That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” I said, packing up my notebook and pen. “You better get to a doctor and get your levels checked,” he cautioned. “After talking to you I better get to a bar and get a drink is more like it,” I said, on my way out the door.
Suddenly I was in the wrong, not knowing what my levels are. Yeah? Well, fuck you and fuck your levels, too.
There’s always someone with a grim story to share. Today it was a person of only the most fleetingly insignificant relationship to me who felt the need to share his concern over his taxes. “Here we go,” I thought to myself, slamming shut my notebook and closing up my fountain pen.
And so began the drone of the taxes – I now feel I know as much about this man as his accountant, maybe even his wife! – droning out the cheerful chirping of the newly-returned robins on an otherwise fine spring day.
It may come as a bit of a surprise for some of you to learn that I occasionally darken the doorway of a particular church in southwest Calgary. Don’t worry, nothing too serious, just the Anglican Church. Catholic lite, one might say. All of the ceremony, none of the guilt. The 10 Suggestions. That kind of thing.
A few years ago, we had a visiting minister come in when our own man fell sick one Sunday morning, and of course we in the congregation were all mightily miffed about this. “Who’s this asshole?” we were all thinking to ourselves, especially as the sermon began. We were used to our own man Brian’s sermons which are mercifully short and always peppered with a few off-coloured jokes.
Well, the replacement preacher stood up there in the pulpit and glared down at us long enough that we were all squirming in our pews wondering collectively “What fresh hell is this” (to quote Dorothy Parker) when finally he spoke and this is what he said:
“When did you stop living and start dying?”
This was met with a somewhat lengthy and extremely uncomfortable silence. When, indeed? Maybe the hardest part about living is to embrace it, and the hardest part about dying is to ignore it.
Don’t get me wrong, at the slightest ache or pain or change to the intake/output ratio I am hardly one to suffer in silence. Just last week, on this very blog (in the poetry aisle) I waxed eloquent about my impending death, these musing being the result of a mild flu I was suffering through.
But you know what I’m saying. There has to be a limit. Sometimes – in the immortal words of my friend Bob White, quite often aimed specifically at me –sometimes it’s best just to “shut the fuck up.” Especially when you’re talking to virtual strangers, who, when you get right down to it, don’t really care anyway.
As for death and taxes, I’m trying my hardest to avoid both of them, thank you very much – even on a conversational level.