Confronting My Mortality with Dr. Greene

And you all thought I was done with ER

For those new to this blog and new to my stream of consciousness, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on the medical drama that I used to watch with my parents as a child. I’ve spent the last year or so on a binge of old episodes for a show that went on for 15 entire seasons. Thanks to the pandemic, my efforts increased from passive enjoyment of blocks of episodes on Hulu Live channels to active consumption to get over a slump I hit around season 10. I’ve made it all the way to the episode before the series finale and I’ve learned a lot about the fate of characters I began to admire and care about even as a child. 

I guess spoilers for ER? Do I still have to give spoiler warnings for a show this old?

There’s a strangeness now to watching the older episodes (they’re all old in comparison) but the channel that has been my main source of the medical drama will roll back to season 1 after finishing up the entire series which means for a lot my watch time of the show, I get to be a horrible omnipotent god who has foreseen terrible things for many of these characters. I know what happens to Lucy Knight, making her screen time all the more bittersweet. I know that Peter Benton leaves County to be a better father for his son, Reese. I know John Carter probably has the worst luck with women of any man as rich and cute as he is. I know Susan Lewis leaves to become a mother and Abby and Luka also leave to raise their child. I know Kerry leaves to be the best damn lesbian in Florida and I know Gallant, Gant, Pratt all face tragic deaths; a particularly painful loss considering these were all three black men that were truly great examples of representation for a show that has done some great work in pushing forward as diverse of a cast as possible. I know Neela didn’t deserve Ray and that Elizabeth Corday is doomed to being a widow. 

Speaking of Elizabeth Corday, we need to talk about her husband, Mark. Mark Greene is probably the main character of the series for most of the show’s run. While your POV is meant to be the young and naive John Carter for early seasons most of the drama seems to always revolve around Mark. He is the one with the marriage in trouble, who is struggling to maintain his job at County and he is the one whose child is a brat (Rachel, at least; from what we know Ella is a sweet baby angel.). And he is the one who we find out has an inoperable brain tumor. 

Television dramas always have an issue of disportionately dosing out trauma to their characters. Someone is always the trojan horse, meant to carry all of the weight of pain for the season or half season. Criminal Minds did it with Rossi, Reid, Morgan and Hotchner. House did it with it’s entire damn cast, mostly cycling through used griefs as a means to poke the bear when it comes to pulling sympathy out of a rapt audience. But for some reason ER took particular delight in torturing its characters. Whether it was removing Romano (who is awful) of his arm or the myriad of shootings that happened: ER seemed to really get off on really twisting the knife into some characters (RIP Lucy and I’m sorry, John.). For the first really 8 seasons of the series, that knife was firmly in Dr. Greene. Let’s go over just a few ways the show decided to ruin his life. Lost a high risk pregnant patient, lost his marriage, got an inoperable brain tumor, had what may be the worst daughter in television history, saw his other infant daughter end up drug-poisoned by worst daughter in television history, had to fight a wrongful death lawsuit, was attacked in a bathroom, married an awesome person but had to deal with that while dying, lost both of his parents, was a caregiver to his dying father. 

 It led up to what really ended being just an exhausted shell of a man who did his best to continue to be a father, mentor, husband, friend and doctor during his time on the show. 

And that tired man is who we meet during the episode “On the Beach”. 

“On the Beach” is the episode in which Mark Greene dies. Mark takes his bratty daughter, Rachel, to Hawaii so he can die in peace. He is later joined by his wife and other child and the whole episode is an emotional wreck for someone who doesn’t have dead father trauma but even more painful for someone like me. But it isn’t just the episode that’s hard to watch. It’s every episode before that one that becomes increasingly hard to stomach. 

In Death Note one of the powers a shinigami has is the ability to see how long a person has left in their life span. The number floats above the head of every human and while Misa has this power, Light turns it down because…well, I’m not sure. I’ll say existential dread. In watching that, I also felt existential dread. Knowing my days are literally numbered. And every episode of ER I stacked under my belt was one closer to Dr. Greene’s death; like a time bomb I was powerless to stop. Each episode in which he deteriorated or tragedy befell him was one episode closer to when the show and thus, the audience would lose him forever. Just like my own life that as each day’s curtain closes, I’m one day closer to being lost forever. 

I wanted to find comfort in it at first; the bandage of loss had already been removed. I had already shed tears over this grief and thus it should hurt so much less but each time I got to relive the pain of Dr. Greene’s final days, it all hurt the same. Sometimes I cried, sometimes I just ached, sometimes I felt nothing at all. 

The ticking clock of impending doom also made me appreciate the screen time I had left with Dr. Greene. The moments where he laughed or saved a patient mattered so much more knowing that my time with him was limited; knowing that I would lose him. 

And maybe that’s a worthwhile lesson to keep in mind: knowing that all of our time is brief and coming to an end to cherish the moments that are good or bad or just the ones that affirm that we indeed are mortal. 

On Mummies, Thanatology and Rest for the Ancestors

I have had a morbid curiosity about disease, death and medicine since I was a child. My parents left me with a physicians desk reference as company oftentimes and I continued to be enamored with medicine and all the ways the body could possibly go wrong. It was a strange way of coping with having chronically ill parents.  And even then as a young child: I was fascinated with mummies and skeletons and bones. I loved  dinosaurs and archaeology and the pharaohs of old. 

However, as I grew older, I grew very aware of a simple fact: the bodies I looked at with such wonder and awe were once people like me. And with that empathy and understanding, I came to realize that maybe, just maybe; this is not how the people I saw with reverence and curiosity through thick glass wanted to spend their eternity. 

With that in mind, I’d like to talk about death studies, mummies and how to let our ancestors rest.

It started with Body Worlds- an exhibit I saw when I was too young but really stirred me to curiosity about what could be done with a human body upon their death. When I saw the posed bodies on horses, flayed, open, displayed: I began to wonder if this is what they wanted. Did the pregnant woman and her lost child want this? Did the man want to be on a mounted horse? I had assumed the answer was yes because I understood bodies donated to science but even as a young one I had curiosity about the ethics of displaying bodies in such a fascinating way, especially considering that (and I know this will likely sound classist) that not everyone can appreciate them in the same way. While I was there, a child nearly knocked over a plastinated heart and to this day I think about that and how horrible that could have gone.  

I do know that some people are fine with being displayed, like Jeremy Bentham. Some signed over their bodies willingly to be displayed. Some want to be studied. Others had their bodies taken and disrespected. Others have been displayed like props and some are very far from their homes. 

Which brings me to a contentious point: mummies. Now, I have loved Egypt and its pharaohs since I was a little one and I love seeing the old bodies of those most famous. I got to see King Tut when he visited Dallas. I saw Hapshephut and was reminded of the power of a woman. I have long respected the kings and queens of old. But what are they doing in Texas? Why are there so many so far away from their homes? Would Tut want to be away from his mother? Did he want to be examined? Is this what he hoped the afterlife would be; being in the back of a truck on his way to Dallas?

Well, many of these mummies likely didn’t want this. As a culture, the West has taken many mummies for many centuries. Some were eaten as powder. Some unwrapped at parties. Others placed in museums as they were stolen from their eternal resting places. 

Egypt has asked for its mummies back. To be fair, many places have asked for their artifacts back. And not judge Egypt. Families, cultures, people have asked for their ancestors back; to let them have peace, to let them rest. And for the most part, in modern history, museums have capitulated. But that has been a long-fought battle and there are still people on display that likely wouldn’t want to be displayed. 

It leaves people like me in a curious place; burdened with the knowledge that the mummies I love to study are hostages and foreigners in eternal suspended animation to be gawked at by the masses. What am I to do?

A word echoed in my mind as I continued to weigh my options and that word is intentionality. I strive to respect any body I see. I strive to understand that every mummy, every plastinated corpse, every organ in a jar was once someone. But there is such a fine line between awe and lack of seriousness. I’m not here to gatekeep the world of academia and thanatology but I do think there is something to be sad about who is viewing some of these materials. I think some young children may be best kept at home: unless you have a little deathling but then it is your job as guardian to provide the much needed context around what they are viewing. 

I also think reverence also matters a great deal when it comes to the display of bodies. Glass I think does a great deal to put distance and importance on what was once a living person. I also think that whatever signage and notes around the body or artifact are very important: sensationalism starts with sensational copy and that is a choice made by museums and their marketing teams. 

There is also something to be said about technology. We have more access than ever to be able to view these bodies from miles away using 3D models and CT scans and high-res photography. Seeing inside of King Tut does not have to mean seeing King Tut. Otzi is a great example of this, I have seen his body plenty of times in documentaries and the samples and photos taken of him help give us a very detailed picture of his last moments and his icy death but we can’t remove him from his ice coffin: so we study him in photos. 

It’s been difficult recently to reconcile my love of mummies and of the bodies of old with the ethics behind displaying bodies. There are just so many cases of people being disrespected that it almost sours the whole thing: but what saves it are enthusiastic and empathetic museum curators and archaeologists who are doing their best to ensure that things are done right. There’s also been public outcry and legislation that has helped and indigenous people  have been increasingly vocal about wanting their dead back. 

We all die and we all deserve a dignified burial. For some, that does mean going on display; for others that means being laid to rest quietly in the ground. But it’s important to let our ancestors rest: it’s the least we can do. 

A Casual Relationship with Death

_Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality._If you look at modern meme culture (which I do because it’s a nice ephemeral distraction from our current hellscape) there’s a lot of talk about death. Responses like “At least we all die.” and easily and casually referencing death as a way to handle any inconvenience or slight no matter how small. “I guess I’ll just die.” has been a rather convenient form of shorthand for a while now referencing how difficult and herculean some tasks in life can be and it’s even one that me (someone who works in the death care industry) use when talking about how hard it is to set appointments or even stay on the line while I wait to refill a prescription.

But I wonder why we have such a casual relationship with the concept of mortality despite death denial never being stronger with all the detoxes and fad diets.

It’s easy to chalk this up to the hyperbolic nature of language now. Death is the ultimate end: it doesn’t get more hyperbolic than saying that going to Trader Joe’s will literally kill you.

I think it goes a little deeper than that. I think it has to do with our current epidemic of anxiety and nihilism in the face of our current climate.

Let’s step back in time: it’s just after World War II in Paris. A city that is still in places rebuilding and is full of wine, absinthe, smoke, bread and ennui. The new wave of existentialists had taken root in Paris and with minds like Sartre and Camus looking at the works of Kierkegaard and Freud. Both come to similar but somewhat differing views on death and meaning. Sartre was more hopeful, a little like Kierkegaard while Camus was incredibly nihilistic about the whole thing like a strange fusion of Freud and Nietzsche. But both saw death as a drive we moved towards and dealt with. Existentialism is being very aware of mortality to a nearly terminal (pun intended)  way. Death hangs round like a passive ghost here to remind you that meaning is useless and we all perish: it’s simply a matter of time.

There’s a line in an early episode of Lore where the brilliant host Aaron Mahnke discusses the Afterglow Vista (which is an amazing episode and one of my favorites) and one of the features of this strange mausoleum are pillars: most of the pillars are finished except for one and the construction note on that is “because Death never lets you finish your work.”.

Existentialism was a direct response to how hollow Romanticism seemed and the Romantic notion of how glorious death and the afterlife must be seemed to only accelerate the death drive. Romanticism fits in with a great deal of the Victorian era and that’s where we really start to get a romanticization (lower case for a reason) with death and memento mori and modern funeral culture. So while the Romantics saw death as a friend who hangs around waiting patiently for you to be finished with your meat prison, Existentialists saw death as a forever looming ghost that you had to fight off daily because existence is painful, useless and never-ending until it, well, ends.

And while we are technically in a Postmodern age (a word I hate), I don’t think that Existential relationship with using dark humor to cope with our current existence. The internet (which seems to be mostly people who have some form of anxiety [because that’s very human and fine]) has perpetuated that feeling. Dark humor, memes and more is how we deal with all that is going on and woah, boy, it’s a lot going on. And it is in dark humor that we return to our relationship with death. Death is a lot to deal with, mortality is not something that’s fun or exciting to meditate on: trust me, I am surrounded by death daily for work and it doesn’t get easier.

I’m proudly mostly Death Positive and one of the main tenets of The Order of the Good Death is confronting mortality but facing it: often, daily. And no member of The Order will ever tell you that such a thing is easy. I joke about it to make me aware and maybe, just maybe to take a small shot at something we are all hurtling towards.

That is one of my favorite things about the French Existentialists, using humor to defuse our fear. Camus was huge on using humor and wit to demystify and remove the wonder from the world and in facing and coping with the absurd, even large things seem less large. It reminds me one of two of my favorite pieces of humor ever: The Galaxy Song and Always Look on the Bright Side both from two old Monty Python movies. Both songs take a firm look at how silly and stupid life is and can be and encourages you to overcome that feeling with a laugh.

There is a lot to be overwhelmed with in our current world. Climate change is nearly paralyzing, world governments are a hot hot mess, the economy is bad and apparently everyone in Hollywood is a garbage human. All of it seems hopeless and futile and the sweet sweet embrace of the quiet, stillness of an eternal dirt sleep seem almost like a comfort.

And our media seems to enforce this narrative. With the influx of genocidal themes and generalized themes around death and dying as aspects of movie plot lines, it’s easy to see a much more casual if not entirely fictive relationship with The End. Comic books and video games make death seem like an inconvenient bump in the road and lord knows that anime has a bad reputation with character deaths meaning next to nothing. One of the biggest things I’ll always say about the earlier runs of comic books is that most of the time, death mattered. When House of M happened, those characters stayed dead. When Crisis on Infinite Earths happened, those deaths mattered and when The Great Blue Boy Scout stopped flying around Metropolis, he stayed gone for a while. Each one had weight and meaning until it just didn’t.

Music seemed to take the opposite direction with pop songs encouraging almost destructive levels of Carpe Diem via excessive drinking, partying, sleeping with strangers, driving fast cars and generally not giving a hoot and a half. Drake said “YOLO” Ke$ha says act like we’re going to “Die Young” and Avicii encouraged all of us to create more of “the nights that never die”. Death stops the party but if you get there faster, you might as well have gotten there faster but doing a kegger in a parking lot after seeing your favorite band one more time.

This isn’t to belittle the actual suicide crisis in the U.S. and around the world. There is a huge different in joking about death casually than those who actively do not see light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s always a tricky line that I am not professionally equipped to answer for you. To each person, a joke or a cry for help are likely very different lines and cues and I am not the one to say there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to it.

For those of us who are anxious, depressive, melancholic, malcontent, filled with ennui and malaise; joking about the end makes it easier to face the end and with our current state of inflammatory language, using The Grim Reaper as a stand-in for a myriad of other issues that oppress, confine and exhaust was a logical step in the right direction.

It’s a road we all reach someday: might as well have a good time while on it.

 

Genocide Lite: Our Current Media Obsession

_A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic._Joseph Stalin.png

When I was growing up and watching the shows that went on to influence me, the villains were mostly cartoony. And not just by the fact that they were animated but also that their plans were quite out there. Think of The Joker in Batman The Animated Series, his plans were almost always just to ruin Batman’s day and maybe hurt a few people and rob a bank or two. Even Dr. Doom’s plans for Marvel weren’t huge, he just wanted to be left alone and rule his made up world. The villains all had tangible goals and their plots were usually just an inconvenience to the hero. It’s one of the reasons the egotistical Loki of the first Avengers movie was such a trip for me: I’m used to comic book Loki who rather just steal Thor’s underwear or something.

But as you’ve seen during this magical adventure we’ve had this year discussing framing, villains and villainy: you’ve likely noticed a theme. That theme is that the current bad thing of the era is genocide. And I don’t mean that hyperbolically. It’s literally the aim of most evil dudes in movies recently.

A Buzzfeed article recently discussed that the theme of the last 10 years of movies has been animals overtaking humans as dominant species as a social commentary for our misuse of the planet. But I think the real theme of current movie bad is the systematic or sudden removal of a large amount of people. You’ve seen me mention it over and over again as I rant about framing.

And it continues to bother me each time because I get more and more angry that the prospect of hundreds, thousands, millions of people can die in a narrative and we still side with the villain. So in today’s post I want to talk about when that shift seemed to occur in comics and movies and why it’s so terrible.

Earlier I mentioned the motives of comic book villains during the Gold and Silver age. Most of them had pretty small goals or mostly non-lethal lofty ones. There was a lot of desire to enslave a population or take over a planet or rob a bank. Many of the Gold and Silver age villains barely even had a body count back in the day. It wasn’t until the 70s or so that comic villains got more intense about wanting death as part of their domination. This actually starts to appear around the first introduction of Thanos in the comics during the 1970s. Thanos’ goal in the comics was to woo Lady Death and the only way to do that is to send her souls. She’s impressed by numbers (the O.G. size queen) and so Thanos does all he can to add to his body count to please his mistress. We didn’t get a shift in his goals being objectively genocidal until much later in the comics. Then his motivation becomes the weird meditation on resources we get in the Infinity War movie. We’ve seen comic book characters go down this route before. Parallax wants to eat the Galaxy in Green Lantern, Galactus wants to do…whatever his motivations are and that usually involves a ton of people dying.

The first mark in the shift of genocide as plot point can be seen in a comic that means a lot to me but I don’t get to discuss enough: Watchmen. Moore’s brilliant graphic novel tackles this issue incredibly directly with Ozymandias’ terrible plan being spelled out quite clearly: killing millions, to save billions. There, there’s the shift. Suddenly, the madman isn’t mad, he’s just an extremist looking for the most rational solution to a major problem. And I adore Adrian’s plan. His motivations to stop the war by zapping in a psychedelic interdimensional space squid to wipe out most of New York is flawed but that’s the beauty of Moore’s prose: you can sort of see where he’s coming from. But even though the framing tells us Ozymandias’ plan is rational for that universe, the way everyone else treats him after the reveal of his plan reminds us that this is terrible. The movie is a hot mess but the film also does a great job of demonizing Ozymandias’ dumb plan even though he uses Dr. Manhattan nonsense to vaporize a bunch of folks rather than the space cephalopod.

The only mass death in comics that could possibly rival death toll mounted by Ozymandias was House of M for Marvel. This storyline saw the end to mutants in the decades long run of Marvel comics and in a simple phrase more than half of the characters that made Marvel great simply vanished. It was a heartbreaking event in the comics and we considered Scarlet Witch to be a villain for years after her fateful choice: even if we could empathize with her grief that lead up to the choice to utter that powerful phrase, she’s still a monster for wiping people off the face of existence.

DC Comics did have Crisis on Infinite Earths and there were many many deaths as a result and Blackest Night which is a crisis entirely created by Booster Gold because he wanted to be the hero, dammit. But as we’ve discussed, no one considered Booster Gold to be a hero of anything.

Most of the genocidal villains we get in comics and movies are framed as bad guys because that’s what bad guys do: they suggest that removing an entire section of population is expendable. Think of Star Wars: Darth Vader wipes out an entire planet and we know he’s a bad guy for it and earlier when Vader is still just annoying Anakin, he slaughters a bunch of children and Tusken Raiders and it is firmly shown that he is a bad guy for that. And even though Vader is ultimately a very sympathetic character, we don’t ever forget that he’s still a mass murderer.

Speaking of the 2000s, it’s around this time that genocide seemed to be less of a taboo. By this time, I was watching a ton of anime and several series flirt with this idea: you’ve heard me discuss Death Note frequently but also Bleach flirts with a subplot of wiping out souls and Soul Reapers for the sake of a goal, Trigun hints at this with Knives’ subplot and even if it isn’t straight up death as the goal, several anime focus on purity or a unique group rising to the top. Japan is very eugenics-friendly, which should terrify everyone. Media be it Western or eastern has a ton of focus on Chosen Ones and more pure people and if any part of that sounds scary to you, good. We’re on the same page.

Here is the problem with romanticizing genocide and eugenics: we’ve had actual genocide happen in the world. Hitler wanted to remove Jews and other “undesirables” from Germany, Pol Pot wanted to forge a new future by eradicating the past, ethnic minorities all around the world face persecution and death simply for being a little bit different. This is a real thing with real consequences and our continual sugar-coating of the slippery slope nonsense logic that continues to minimize the dangers of racism, misogyny and homophobia only makes those problems worse. When Thanos’ idea in Infinity War doesn’t sound so crazy, that’s a problem. When Killmonger’s Reconquista sounds logical, that’s a problem. We live in a world that is full of natural disasters, terrorism, racism, homophobia, sexism, hatred, bigotry and population concerns: these are real problems and to far too many people the idea of simply poofing some folks out of existence sounds like a great way to solve all of these complex problems.

I think it’s a sign of the times that genocide seems to be our main macabre obsession as was slavery and colonialism were the macabre obsessions of the Gold and Silver age of comics. We have to confront that if eugenics, social Darwinism and wiping out parts of the population for a “clean slate” ticks any box for you, you are on a dangerous path. I’ve had to confront that in myself and it’s made me infinitely more critical of the media I ingest.  

I hope you enjoyed this discussion on the deaths of too many fictional characters.

I promise the next topic will be lighter.

 

A Fetish for Death

Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.” Sigmund Freud

I dwell in possibility…” Emily Dickinson

Psychoanalytical criticism began with the work of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Freud was born in 1856 and began practicing and seeing patients in 1885; from his experience with patients, mostly female he wrote the work that revolutionized the way we see the human psyche and subconscious. In 1900, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams a compilation of deep analysis of the dreams of his psychiatric patients and an examination of the unruly subconscious of these women.

Emily Dickinson’s work titled for the sake of this analysis “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” is a complex work that under the broad lens of psychoanalytic criticism can be easily described as the work of an author desperately seeking to control her own subconscious and expel aspects of her neurotic psyche. This will be achieved in three key steps, firstly in analyzing Emily Dickinson herself, and then to analyze the work as a whole, lastly would be to understand both concerns of the fetish and its relation to the tripartite psyche of the author.
One of the major aspects of psychoanalytical criticism is the divided psyche, which is separated into three distinct areas. The first aspect of this is the id, the aspect that embodies “erotic primal urges” (Abcarian 1138) and immaturity, including aggression and desire. The second is the superego, this is considered to be the conscience of the individual, and this provides guilt and “struggles to control the id” (Abcarian 1138). The last of this is the ego, this aspect is the self; “ego” being the Latin word for “I”, the ego strives to balance the struggle of the id and superego and represents reason and logic. The ego strives to balance desire and responsibility. Classic psychoanalytic criticism “reads works as though they were the recorded dreams of patients; interpreted the life histories of authors as keys to the works; or analyzed characters as though like real people they have a set of repressed childhood memories” ( Bain 119) .

Freud, through the lens of psychoanalytical criticism also brought about a new concern with the fetish. A fetish can be an innocent attachment to a certain item, person, or place. Freud turned the fetish into an aspect of sexual and social deviance. Under this scope, the fetish is not just an attachment, it is a neurosis. Neurosis acts almost glitch in the psyche. It can be as simple as a slight obsession with someone relatively innocent or something as significance of a obsessive compulsion but is always a defective function of the subconscious in the Freudian model.

According to Freud, all writers are neurotic; these hidden neuroses riddle the works of poets and novelist. In the Freudian world, each step, each word, every aspect of the human experience is full of hidden whims of the subconscious slipping out from the psyche to the natural world. Even Freud himself is attributed to saying “Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar.”

Emily Dickinson was born one of three children in 1830 to a wealthy family in Amherst, Massachusetts. She spent most of her life in her parent’s home, unmarried. She led a reclusive life, wearing on only white and refusing to see visitors. She spent less than a year studying at the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary which from there she promptly returned home. She communicated to the outside world mostly through letters and wrote extensively in the years she spent at home.

She had one trip to Washington D.C. while her father was serving a term in Congress; there she met a married man, Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Dickinson considered Wadsworth to be her “dearest earthly friend” (Abcarian 1149) in 1862, Wadsworth moved to San Francisco, California and Dickinson experienced another burst of creative potential. It was also during this time that Dickinson began “literary correspondence” (Abcarian 1149) with critic T.W. Higginson. Many of her greatest known works were written during the time until her death.

Emily Dickinson died of typhoid fever in 1886 at the time of her death, Dickinson asked that all of her countless bound journals filled with poetry to be burned. Her work was published posthumously by her sister Lavinia found the large amount of work done by her sister. Lavinia then did as requested by her sister and burned most of the work but then did her best during the remainder of her life to ensure that the poems were published.

Dickinson’s writing can be difficult to manage; none of her works are officially titled. Several critics and authors have come up with elaborate numbering systems and methods taking the first line or key words of her poems to act as titles for the dozens of pieces of individual written pieces we have in our literary collections today. This can easily be considered as neurosis within many deeper neuroses.

The inability to claim her work through the intimate relationship of titling may be hidden insecurity or fear of her work. Dickinson’s mental status can be a bit difficult; as said in the quote from her above, dwelling in a land of possibility is either a strong indication of her creativity or a deep psychological issue that could either be schizophrenia, depressive or dissociative disorder. Both of these disorders in modern psychology are considered to be repressive aspects and in Freudian terms would be strong neuroses of the id and superego. These can result in prolific creativity in the arts to help cope with deeper issues around the subject.

Emily Dickinson lived a reclusive life. She barely left her parents’ home in her lifetime and during those years she spent a great deal of time writing hundreds of poems ranging in subject matter from birds to death. Dickinson’s relationship with her parents could be described as mostly normal considering her lifestyle as a hermit, locked away in her room. Her refusal to leave her room could be a strong anxiety such as agoraphobia or simply social rejection and an intentional cloistering of herself to focus on her writing work.

Her selective choices in wearing white, a color that symbolizes purity could be a hidden neurosis from her childhood and more likely an aspect of her id doing its best to make its presence know in the levels of her hidden psyche. There is a possibility of repressed memories from her childhood that seem to leak out into her poetry.

Dickinson’s work also lacks titling; that can be an aspect of a neurosis with deeper neuroses. The danger of this step is not having the live subject. Emily Dickinson died years before Freud’s work had be published and the likelihood of her being psychoanalyzed properly even if their time periods had coincided would be very unlikely. Dickinson would have never left the safety of her home, nor is it confirmed that she had a deep psychological problem; since she would not have seen a problem with herself she would not be likely to receive treatment.

Analysis of the work including a consideration of the tripartite psyche involves first the specifically odd meter of the work. The work is heavily dashed, creating rigid pauses during both visual analysis and aural analysis. Certain words as capitalized that normally would not be in any other work, such as “Fly” and “Stillness”. The tone of the poem is melancholic; death is not usually a subject in which joy is associated with.

The Fly in this work is not our narrator but acts almost like the oppressive superego, this lingering figure that does not affect the scene as a whole but provides a source of contemplation. The fly does not stop at the time of the narrator’s passing, an event normally regarded with great respect. In this case the narrator acts almost as both the ego, representing the self as Emily Dickinson and the id, representing the desire to want this moment of her life to be noticed more.

Dickinson’s had an odd fascination with death and morbidity throughout most of her life and many of her works revolve around the subject of death or dying. The tone of these works range from a quiet acceptance to a reverent happiness. Dickinson could have been said to have a fetish for death and morbidity. Fetish is not exactly a negative term; it is simply an affinity for an item. Most humans fear death as a subject and that reflects in our attitudes and writings when we encounter someone who is not afraid of the subject we mark this as social deviance. The fetish only became an aspect of social deviance through Freudian critique. Dickinson’s fetish for morbidity can be explained as either a strong acceptance of her own mortality or an even stronger fear of the subject that is expressed through poetry as a coping mechanism.

Sigmund Freud believed that all writers are neurotic, that deep within each line and word was a hidden defect of the subconscious, an imbalance or imperfection. Aristotle coined the term “catharsis” or healing, this is a more acceptable of an explanation than the neurosis of the Freudian model. A writer does write at times due to a defect or an issue that cannot be discussed in public. Emily Dickinson’s work “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” can be described as a marked example of writing to help solve either a slight mental defect or to help assist healing of a profound fear.

Works Cited

Abcarian, Richard, and Maravin Klotz. Literature, the Human Experience: Reading and Writing. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2006. Print.

Bain, Carl E., Jerome Beaty, and J. Paul Hunter. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.

Dickinson, Emily. “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” Literature, the Human Experience: Reading and Writing. Ed. Richard Abcarian and Maravin Klotz. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2006. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. Ed.Rivkin, Julie. The Interpretation of Dreams Malden, Mass. u.a.: Blackwell, 2008. Print.

 

Mediations on the Nature of Grief on the 5th Anniversary of My Mother’s Passing

“There is no place for grief in a house which serves the Muse.” ― Sappho

June 7, 2010 was a normal day. And even the years before on that day were normal: some even joyous. I graduated from High School on June 7, 2008.

My aunt got married on June 7, 2001. But June 7, 2011 was not a normal day. It was by no means a normal day.

June 7, 2011 my mother died.

 

On that day I lost the one remaining of my parents and became the very last of my already terribly small nuclear family.

I’ve talked a lot about how struggling to cope with these days and anniversaries a lot over several blog posts: here and here. But I’m here to mention something bigger.

Today: June 8, 2016 for the first time in nearly 5 years it was just a normal day. I got up. Got dressed for work. Drove to work. Talked with friends. Was excited to post something about A-Kon (which got shelved until tomorrow.). I had gotten a message from my Godmother last night and I simply shook it off. She sent prayers and it wasn’t for any lack of gratitude that I shook it off: it was for am immense desire to return to being normal. I wanted today to be any other day and I thought it was going to be. In fact, for a brief moment I almost forgot. I even flubbed the dates. She had in fact passed yesterday the 7th but I had switched the dates from the day she died to the day I had posted about it after midnight that evening: the 8th. It was actually Facebook that reminded me that 5 years ago today I lost my Mother. (Thanks, Facebook.)

I felt absolutely normal up until that point and for the first time in a while I was reminded of that feeling that today was in fact not a normal day and despite my efforts to make it a normal day for many of my friends and family members it can never return to that normalcy that I desperately crave. And I say “normal” over fine and happy because I do not wish to worry those closest to me. I am not sad. I am not broken. I am actually quite content and calm enough to crank out a blog post, obviously.

So today: after 5 years of being officially an orphan I’d like to say a few things.

I do miss my parents immensely. I do love my parents. But I have no choice but to move on. I have to keep going. My sadness and my grief do not negate the right that I have to a life. And my parents would not ever want me to waste a single moment of my very finite breath on grieving them incessantly. So if I come off as callous or cold; if I seem detached from the date. If I seem unaware of its significance: do not assume my normalcy is out of rudeness. It is in fact the highest honor I can pay to my fallen parents. I will move on. I will keep going. I will live.

You have to keep moving forward.

The Day If Becomes When

Corpse Door

“Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”-W. Somerset Maugham

When I was 12 I lost my father under sudden circumstances and complications to chronic illness. But even at 12 I was no stranger to death. I had lost my grandfather at 9 and Death’s cruel shade would continue to haunt me well into my adulthood. It’s no surprise, really. It’s the one thing we all have in common. Mortality. But we as a group, collective or society don’t talk about it or deal with this fact well and today I’d like to talk about that a little bit more.

Don’t worry. Things will lighten up soon.

When I was 9, my grandfather passed away as mentioned above. He was a great man but he was sick. It was at 9 that I remember being one of the first times asking about my own mortality.  As children here in the West, our parents quickly changed the topic of conversation when such serious topics arose. The wording was always very careful.

If you die, you go to heaven. 

If, not when.

As if to say because I was a child, I was somehow immune to the nature of entropy. Now, I understand being discrete with children. I’m Southern. And it’s a painful topic to discuss with a child. And not an easy one especially considering that most adults don’t seem to have a solid grasp on mortality. It was also at 9 that my mother told me that I shouldn’t cry at my grandfather’s funeral. I was the oldest of the grandchildren and “had to set an example” for my younger cousins. I was as I said before, 9 years old.

It was this verbiage of if that dotted my childhood. Through natural  disasters, terrorism and disease. If.

When my father died at 12, I received a book on how to “cope” with loss. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Dino Life Guides for Families) [if you have read this book and had great feelings about it, please let me know. I’m almost tempted to give it another read now as a cynical adult to see if angry 12 year old Amanda just didn’t like being given a book to explain the grand mysteries of life and death or it was just a piss-poor book] and I maintain that it’s the most tone-deaf piece of literature ever. It did not help me cope with the loss of my father. It just made me angry. But it was the first time that I remember the tone of loss change. “When we die, this is where we’ll go.” my mother said, standing in front of the open plots. She had purchased two plots: one for me and one for her, shortly after my father’s death. At 12 the fabled if of loss became a when. Life became a ticking clock.

It happens to everyone. It’s just a matter of when. 

The reason to bring this up? Recently I joined The Order of the Good Death. A collection of those that say they are Death Positive. Mortality isn’t a curse, it’s a fact. We’re all headed to a grand greater something. What that something is…yet to be unknown. But we’ll all be there.

Another point to bring this up, many of my favorite web celebrities (John and Hank Green are honorable mentions) have been very concerned about mentioning mortality in popular culture. Hank Green recently posted a song to his very popular Youtube channel titled: We’re All Gonna Die. And it’s a brilliant, if not subtly cheeky way, to deal with the fact that our time is finite. I’ve always admired the Green brothers and their candid discussions on their anxiety with the matter; John especially.  The Ask a Mortician channel on Youtube is incredibly informative and witty while still being human and it quickly has become one of my favorite new sources for videos.

But as a culture, we’re still uncomfortable talking about death. Some outlets have taken a stand against this and has started to take a stand on realizing that life isn’t something that just goes on forever. We’re mortal. Our lives are very finite and it’s about time we start realizing it. When YOLO first became popular it was a catchall phrase to rationalize somewhat reckless acts because we do in fact “only live once”. Being finite doesn’t mean that our lives are meaningless, it means if anything, it means more. We have so many days, minutes, seconds, weeks and so on. Let’s all do something with the time we have. We’re not Wonder Woman, Superman or a sitcom character: and even some superheroes die; they just come back later on. Our universe is even finite: it will eventually end. All of it.

However, being Southern it’s still a taboo topic. We still struggle with the memory, memorial and sanctity of our dead. We value and rush through life with vigor and we mourn the dead as if death never comes. But Death…the handsome gentleman caller that he is, has very little concerns for our Southern ignorance; he just waits.

Enjoy your existence, whether you believe in the cold nihilism of the mostly unforgiving universe or the warm tender embrace of an afterlife as something greater.