Thursday, September 27, 2007

Undying Words

I've finally decided, a month before its release, keyed to The World Fantasy Con, that I will dedicate the first issue of The Whirligigzine (which will be numbered 1a for reasons I'll explain on TW's blog at a later date) to my father.

While my father was surrounded with all the trappings of middleclassdom, with a few added privileges for having been born into a modestly privileged family, there was always a restlessness and gnawing unhappiness behind his mask with the deferential smile. And his conforming deeds and compliant words were belied by a rebelliousness that was the underpinning of a soul that desired anything but what he was fated to do.

I always got the impression that he would have been much happier in some little cabin on the border of a treed wilderness, of the kind many take to so they can avoid the drag and pull of the nine to five world.

But it turned out I was the one who wound up almost in the woods. Brattleboro Vermont does seem like one of the last outposts before the real wildernesses of the US northeast, though it is still far too civilized and full of the conveniences that keep the wheels of commerce turning and bringing ever more people to enjoy unspoiled nature, which may not remain in that condition for much longer.

But Brattleboro is the last outpost of my personal wilderness. I'd been here for two years and had not made one true friend. And I'd forced this upon myself because of all the potential writing time I wasted for years. I could not deal with being alone for any significant amount of time as I wrote, so I partied and hung out. This was one of the less exemplary legacies handed down to me by my father. If anything, he was, more than I, unable to be alone: in a house by himself for more than 5 minutes, he was dialing the phone to talk to someone...anyone.

I remember walking into his hospital room as he was dying. His eyes closed, the end quite near, his hands were beating at the air in search of...what? The magic numbers to let him talk to someone so he wasn't really alone? All the others in the room looked on in pity and despair. The look on my father's face was fear and desperation. His hands continued to beat the air...And still no one did anything!

I walked over and grabbed his hands. He was in an odd state of semi-consciousness, but it wasn't on account of drugs, because all the drip tubes and mysterious lines of life-support had been disconnected.

Hands in hands he calmed, all over; his face relaxed. Was that a smile? He never opened his eyes but I felt he knew it was me. We held each other's hands for minutes and I occasionally touched his head.

As his grip started to become tighter I knew that the moment of giving up everything had come to him. (Later I thought how crass and moronic is the well known expression "everyone dies alone." Only a fool and a coward that doesn't have the guts to help another being at perhaps the moment of their greatest need could have coined that phrase.)

My father didn't die alone: I was right there with him.

Like all writers I need someone -- the reader -- to be with me or my words die alone. Separately we writers are mostly little noises, not much more than individual pathetic squeaks that few will take notice of. But together, even if only together in spirit, we can shake the rafters. And we can thank each other, but especially the reader, for being there for us. And our work will not die alone, even if the marketplace and the naysayers declare it unworthy. And The Whirligigzine, among the many outsider publications that have been featured on the site I share with others, The Guild Of Outsider Writers is here to assure any writers in its sphere with a soul, a voice and something to say, that they are not alone, and to remind them that it is not our role to "go gently into that good night."

Altered States