Today was a sad, sobering time. The WBUR News brought fond elegies for Roman Totenberg and Maurice Sendak in the very same day --- and the subtext of both stories seemed to be instructions on not only how to live well but how to die well. And since everybody lives and everybody dies, and since on the 4th of next August I will be 80 years old I, perhaps more than most, have taken their instructions to heart.
I'm not hinting at anything here. No doctor has taken me aside with jargon-laced bad news or suggested we talk with my Health Proxy about mumbled matters. But the truth is I'm astonished to be so old (I never expected to live past 25, so I'm experienced at such astonishment), and unlike most of my friends (unlike YOU, I'm certain), I am accutely aware that I Will Die; just, not yet.
A while back, twice in the same week I was almost run down crossing streets. Once it was his fault, once clearly mine, but both drivers stopped inches from me, and the experiences made me graphically aware that Accidents Happen --- so, for a while at least, I took a little extra care, while reflecting on the inevitable. At some point, in some way, my life will come to a stop.
And so, on occasions like this, I wonder what I will leave behind.
Understand: I Know there Is No "Life After..."
That's a comforting and for some necessary illusion, but I really think brooding on a possible future only wastes time better spent on a definite present.
However, I think the Ancient Greeks had a good idea when they said no one truly dies until the last time anyone mentions their name. in their eyes a dead person's shade existed in Hades, fading slowly, until the living forgot them --- unless they had done something so unforgettably great as to keep their memories eternally alive in the Elysian Fields with Hector and Achilles, Shakespeare and Marlowe,
or eternally punished in Tartarus with Tantalus, Sisyphus, Stalin and Hitler.
And so I merely hope to be remembered well.
And there are a few physical artifacts; collections mostly:
There are a bunch of stories, and two or three things that might be caled novels. With one exception they exist only in various comuter archives. I always hoped they'd see print, and I still hope others can get the chance to read them. I've never been lucky with publishers; but a friend once suggested I'd never been published except posthumously, so who knows...
Lately I have been trying to divest my bookshelves of tomes I know I will not want to read another time --- but the complete works of Hemingway and Woolf, most of Iris Murdoch, some Russell Hoban and Whitney Otto, all four of The Alexandria Quartet and of course Kazantzakis' "Odyssey" and Joe Campbell's "Masks of God" I hope to pass on to younger minds.
I don't know what will happen to the comic-books. Of course, I was never a "collector" --- that implies de-acidifiers and glasseen-bags and "near-mint" condition; I actually Read them, re-read the good ones, and couldn't throw them away. There's less and less a market for old comics --- though the 16 bund-volumes of "Cerebus" that Dave Sim spent 20 years making and I spent 20 years reading, and several collections of "Sandman", books by Will Eisner and Dave McKean's "Cages" I hope someone takes seriously.
Then there are the programs --- over 15 years of programs documenting what I insist has been a Golden Age of Boston Theater. I have hoped that some local college with perhaps a major in dramaturgy or a sense of history would ask for them, but so far, nothing.
Truth is, there were two things I really did want to leave behind as sort of legacies --- but I've been frustrated about both.
The first is that "movie" that Bernice Sim made, interviewing every major artistic director here in Boston. We did a fund-raiser-birthday-party I thought would get it done, but that was Five Years Ago. I heard that the Editing is finished, but the perfect musical background is, apparently, yet to be chosen. (I've really grown to hate movies lately.) I don't really think she's waiting for me to die before releasing it --- except on the occasional really gloomy midnight --- but I'd really like to see it once before I do pop off.
The other was the "Gift of Live Theatre" gift-card idea. I did some background work, and then e-mailed about 105 or so theatre companies in Massachusetts asking at least one of them to step forward and sell them. It would cost them nothing, it would be a great p/r tool, and in my manic-phase I even dreamed of putting my picture on the cards. But guess how many jumped at the chance of joining me in immortality:
You guessed it: Nada.
Okay, so I guess I'll give up both those sins of hubris. I'll just try, as long as I'm able, to continue doing what fulfills me every day, which involves going to plays.
Truth is, I like plays and I really love the people who make them.
I'm always surprised and a little embarrassed when people thank me so genuinely for coming to see their work. Don't they realize what every one of them give ME, at every performance? all I am, all I want to be, is the audience they deserve. And all I can give back these days is my undivided, rapt attention and sincere appreciation. No one hears my tears, but at least I have a loud laugh and laugh at what I think is funny --- so maybe, in a sense, I give silently appreciative audiences Permission To Laugh. I like to think so, anyway.
And, of course, I shall try to see every play I can, until something makes me stop.
One peculiar "maybe" has surfaced, however:
A beloved old friend told me that, if I can buy or wangle a trip to London, she could kick in enough cash to cover expenses. Of course I'd love to go --- and if, with a group, I'd certainly explore the same small theatres there that I find here, and might even promise to keep a diary and try to write about whatever I saw there. So if anyone has ideas about sneaking me across the puddle for a couple weeks --- let me know!
And if not, there's still a hell of a lot going on here, isn't there?
( a k a larry stark)