Goodbye 2016, and Good Riddance! It may be a bit early yet to be assessing the past 12 months, but I don’t foresee much of any consequence happening between then and now. 2016 was to be a year of promise, a year for turning things around. Instead, I spent most of the year coasting and waiting for change to happen. I had planned to complete and publish my book, “Black Hymeneal”, but made very little progress at all, despite the help of a few good friends, while several of my colleagues from the local poetry scene put out their 2nd or 3rd books. I was going to go back and finish up some of the many unfinished works I have floundering in limbo, but I only managed to finish one, and added several more works to the unfinished pile. In fact, I wrote very little this year. Aside from my journal, which I write in almost every day, and some odd lines of doggerel, I did very little writing despite having some genuinely good ideas. I fear that I cannot rightly call myself a writer anymore because I do not write.
As I have mentioned before, I suffer from anxiety and depression, which holds me back from doing the things I love. I do see a counselor, which helps, but I am loathe to take medication because of the adverse side effects. I also fear it might block the creative juices. I may have to rethink that though, because I don’t know how much time I have and I have too much unfinished business to attend to before I go and I can’t let my anxiety hold me back.
This year, despite my anxiety, I took a leap of faith and on a tip from a friend left my bookstore job to work at a local mortuary. I was a “removal technician” for 3 weeks. My job was to pick up “decedents” from wherever they might be (hospitals, hospices, and even private residences) and transport them to a care facility for processing before they go on to their final destination. It is not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination, and I respect the folks who can do it without the repercussions I faced. The physical demands alone were intense, even with tricks and tools of the trade, and I was often in serious pain after one of my 4 weekly 10 hour shifts.
What got me, however, was the human factor. I thought that with my interest in funerary ritual and with the right attitude, I could make a career out of this job. What I didn’t count on was my empathy. I couldn’t deal with the grieving families or even the people who died alone with no one around to send them off into the great abyss. I would look at the pathetic husks of human remains and think, “Is this all we are?”
I would obsess all day over this before my graveyard shift of 7 pm to 5 am. Many times I would worry about losing my loved ones, like the time I picked up someone at a hospital morgue with the same exact name as someone from my extended family. I knew it wasn’t them, but it made me think about when I would have to pick up someone I knew. I thought a lot about my own mortality, and would have panic attacks.
Worst of all, I dreaded picking up dead children and messy cadavers, which they called “nasties”. As part of my training I was taken to the “decomp” cooler where they kept corpses in advance states of decay, or messy bodies, like gnarly accident or murder victims, so that I could accustom myself to the sights and smells. It wasn’t too bad, something like looking at a gruesome picture of a crime scene or a horror film, but I didn’t have to touch them, like I would on a run. And then there was the smell…
The smell of death, a distinct pungent smell unlike anything else, began to follow me everywhere I went, even to places it could not possibly be, and whenever I talked about my new job with friends, I would break down in tears. In desperation to save my situation from getting worse, I lit a votive candle with the image of the Santa Muerte and implored Her to help me to find the courage and strength to take on this sacred task of helping the dead in their last voyage, but to no avail.
An Internet stock photo of the vela I used. I got mine from a local Frys supermarket of all places.
After 3 weeks of this, I quit. I had informed them of the possibility of me leaving a week prior, but when I did it was overnight. I had other reasons for wanting to go so suddenly, like how I didn’t fit in with my colleagues, and felt like they weren’t helping me get trained properly before they tried sending me off on my own, but really, the main reason was Thanatophobia a/k/a “Death Anxiety”. Anyone whom has read my poetry, especially such pieces as “Moribond” or even my beloved “Black Hymeneal”, knows my obsession with, and fear of, death. I thought I could use this job to help get past it, but it only intensified it.
The next few weeks were spent applying for jobs and trying not to spend too much money. I finally got a job working at a company that does closed captioning phone service for the hard of hearing. I haven’t started yet, but I am hopeful it will work out.
Twice in recent months I have had family members warn me of becoming bitter. I admit, I am not as hopeful as I have been in the past, and I have developed some negatively fatalistic attitudes about my life, in particular where my love life is concerned, but I don’t think I am quite there just yet.
Speaking of my love life, there is nothing going on there, which has surprised the heck out of me. I thought that within 6 months or so, I would be over my last amorous fiasco and finding solace with someone who would be less judgmental of me and more willing to settle down. Boy, was I wrong. I haven’t met anyone else in over a year with whom I would feel even a little compatible. That’s not to say that I haven’t met people I’ve liked, they just were not available to me or would have been unwise choices to get involved with. With my 50th birthday coming next summer, I fear that I may have to accept the fact that whatever time I have left in this life will be spent alone.
Perhaps this is for the better. I have heard a few times lately that attachments make one vulnerable and distracted. I need to stay focused if I hope to finish all the work I have planned for next year.
I also have family around me, who love me, and a handful of good friends, and that is what gets me through the day. I have come to realize that in this all too brief life of uncertainty and misery that is the only thing that matters.
Etching by artist Dick Kelly for an upcoming illustrated edition of my Krampus poem.
On a final note, I am working on putting together a chapbook of my poem “Gruss vom Krampus” with the help of my good friend, artist Dick Kelly. The illustrations he has done already are amazing, and I cannot wait to see how it all fits together. If it goes well, and if we can recover some of the costs in printing it through sales, I am hoping to make more like it; perhaps a story this time, like “Gothilocks”. We’ll see.
Photo of me with my new hair cut, holding the card I made with the help of a very talented friend, for my parent’s 50th anniversary.
PS: I cut my hair, which I hadn’t done for 7 years, and I like the way it looks. Surprisingly, I look a bit younger, and although I’m still spending my nights alone, it has garnered me a bit more attention from the ladies than previously. Looking towards the future, let’s hope it’s brighter and better than 2016.
P.P.S.: I still intend to publish an e-book version of “Black Hymeneal” with alternate cover art and no illustrations just to get it out there into the world. Eventually, however, I hope to put out the version I originally planned featuring the amazing artwork of my good friend artist Michele Bledsoe.