Sorry to bail on you last week, blog-followers, but on the positive side it did mean you got another week of my good friend Chris Nickson, which had to be a bonus.
The reason I passed the baton was this: I sat at my desk, staring at the screen, for a good two hours, and the only thing that filled my head was... death. It’s still there, so this week I thought, what the heck, I’ll post about it.
No, I haven’t been given a terminal diagnosis, and nor, to my knowledge, has anyone among my friends and raletions (which is not a typo, in case you were wondering; look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t get it). It’s just that my working life, which is about half my waking hours at the moment, has seemed to revolve largely around the Grim Reaper for several weeks.
It began when the local paper, my main source of freelance writing, restyled its obituary pages, and I was asked to write a series of profiles of funeral directors. That dried up – there’s a limited supply in a relatively small area – and the feature slot morphed into aspects of death: different kinds of funeral, bereavement counselling, memorial headstones, you get the picture. That’s still going on, and has extended into more profiles, this time for another paper which covers an adjoining area and therefore has a whole new set of funeral directors.
So death, as Colin Dexter once put it, has been my neighbour for more weeks than I like to count.
And, being an avid reader of the most popular genre of book in existence, it’s never been far away when I stop work. OK, I eat, sleep and watch TV like normal people, even once in a while have something that passes for a social life, but when I’m not doing any of those things, and sometimes when I am (mainly eating – breakfast and reading happen at the same time most days) my other activity of choice is curling up with a good book. Which almost invariably means a gripping murder mystery.
In the midst of life we are in death, intones the Church of England’s (translation – Episcopalian) funeral service. Literally true in my case. Not just in mine, though. I’m not the only person whose working life consists of writing about the end-point of everyone’s existence. The very fact that I read about so much of it, and so does almost everyone I know, means that other people are writing about it too.
I have friends who write about it. I edit books by people who write about it. We surround ourselves with it, research ways for it to happen, set fictional sleuths the task of investigating it. Heck, I even watch TV dramas about it – don’t you?
By rights, you might think, I should be deeply depressed, and so should almost everyone I know – see above. I don’t know about you, but I’m... not. I’m quite a cheerful, positive person by nature. And crime writers (crime in fiction almost invariably means murder), at least the many I’ve encountered in person, rank pretty high on the scale of nice guys. (And women. Mostly women, I have to say. Why is that, I wonder?)
I do get depressed, or more often angry, but more about the state of the living world than what may or may not come afterwards, which I can’t do anything about anyway.
(What’s that prayer? God give me the strength to change what I can change, the patience to bear what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.) Maybe surrounding myself with all this death makes me better able to appreciate life.
PS Jeff, Josh, Terri, good luck with the Missing Head charity appeal. I can’t easily join in without invoking the dreaded A*****, but I promise I’ll buy the book next time I’m in the USA. And once I figure out a way to give the charity more than I’d have to give the bank to get the money overseas, I’ll make a contribution to ASPEN myself.