It’s something of a tradition, as the old year gives way to the new, that a short moment is given over to reflection on those who have passed in the previous twelve months. I’ve been surprised – rooting around the old Absolute Write threads – that nobody has thought of putting together such a list for the wordsmiths who have passed beyond the veil. Well, that is all set to change, as I have usurped the role of official chronicler from whoever was meant to be putting together such a thing. Yup, that’s the reason I haven’t been so active around the internet, commenting on blogs and such, but I’m sure I can be forgiven my lack of participation in the day-to-day activities as I toil away in my own mad way.
It started out as a few names, hastily sketched down in a notebook, but rapidly grew into an obsession. That’s what you get when OCD begins scratching away in the back of the mind, demanding a comprehensive run-down, alphabetized and with copious links to ensure that a level of understanding can be gained into the work of those who are no longer with us. I’m currently up to four pages of names, though I had (about a week ago) assumed myself to be 80% through the names. I was wrong, and the list grew substantially. It doesn’t help that I have signed up to various news feeds and e-mail alerts, begun digging through old obituaries, read Locus’ online portions, and trawled through Wikipedia.
Which brings up an interesting point – I’m not linking anything directly to Wikipedia. I’ll use the wiki to gather direct information (their links), but the site itself doesn’t meet my criteria for accuracy. There’s a long history of me bitching in forums that surfing Wikipedia is a poor substitute for research, but I’m willing to concede that it (sometimes) manages to throw up the odd name or two I wouldn’t have thought of. That, in case you missed it, is an apology to Wikipedia for my dismissal of its’ usefulness. Don’t hold your breath for a more glowing tribute to it, ’cause one ain’t coming.
The main thing I have realized, as the names accumulate, is the shockingly young age of some writers. My peers, people my own age and younger, are among the departed. It’s scary, and a bit intimidating. Here’s something I thought of – you know that feeling, when you first understood how far away the Earth was from the sun, and how far away the sun was from other galaxies, and how far those galaxies were from the rest of the universe, and how small and insignificant we truly are… That’s kinda the same feeling I had when I stood back and looked at the ages of some of the writers. I also has a few moments when I had to walk away from the laptop before the utterly depressing nature of such an undertaking got to me.
I’ve also begun thinking of the myriad ways in which I might – one day long from now, hopefully – die. It seems that many of the writers over the past year have died of cancer. That’s scary. That’s scary in ways which cuts through the bullshit and hits straight in the gut. My paternal grandmother died of cancer – and my mother has had a few scares – so it runs in the family. I smoke a lot, and my chances of dying from the disease are slightly above average. Slightly. My paternal grandfather had a few heart attacks in his thirties, and my maternal grandfather had cancer at the end. I have genes which are custom-built for self-destruction, aided and assisted by a streak of obsessive compulsive weirdness.
Not the Christmas cheer you came looking for, right? Sorry. I’m not up to dancing the Snoopy dance for your entertainment.
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth: your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
. So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
. You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
The immortals, those whose words will continue to ring down through the ages, may no longer be with us in person. They are gone, but their words will outlive us all. It’s a wonderful reassurance that everything isn’t in vain – we will always be here as long as our work is remembered. I don’t hold on to religious notions, so grasping at immortality by vicarious means is as good as I can hope for. That’s why remembering those who came before us is important, and why time should be set aside to think of those who have gone from our midst. It’s why I’m putting my piece together. It’s why I’ve been surprisingly quiet this last week or so.
Things should be back to normal soon enough. Savor the quiet while you have it.