The end of the beginning.
There is a post that I had put off writing. That post, is this post. It's the last post written before Basho begins his journey around Japan. And it's also the last post before we get a few guest writers in to kick-off the Big Morbidity Project (BMP).
But this post is more than that.
Basho stands ready. His rucksack is prepped and on his back. The door lies ajar before him.
For the past several months, I'd been playing with the idea of opening the blog to guest spots for other writers. As if the comic wasn’t already morbid enough, I wanted to open a grand kind of communal memento mori. An inclusive obituary. To us and ourselves. To our past experiences and to our prevalent fears.
I had, however, dallied on this idea. I used all the excuses: that I couldn't invite the guest writers before the final scripts were ready; that we first needed more readers to justify the workload of the guest writers; that we didn't have the time yet. But the real reason, was that I was anxious. Fundamentally anxious. I was worried that opening this door to the cemetery of lost thoughts could send me into a massive tailspin. That I would be surrounded by death, and nothing but death, for a year. And that maybe I would never climb back out.
The irony of this fear - both to someone who wrote a comic whose basic premise is that of human mortality, and to someone whose sole aesthetic furnishings tend to be Día de Muertos ornaments - is not lost on me.
But, I've always struggled with death anxieties. And more seriously than I'd admit. I didn't want to touch the precipitous balance of my mind versus my fears. However, my dear friend Caroline - ever the voice of anti-Ross reason - convinced me that it may be cathartic.
So here goes: this is the post that I didn’t want to write.
Existential nightmares have affected me ever since I was about eight years old. Dangerous, creeping fears of death which squeeze their way up through the floorboards and try to pull me inside out. Mostly fears of my own death. But also sometimes the death of others. These nightmares got so bad that my parents sent me to the local vicar. He recommended the reading of a kid's version of the Bible. It didn't help.
The existential panics would pervade through nighttime and daytime. They centred around two general themes. The first was that my mother would die. Or at least this is what she tells me (my own memories of this are somewhat vague). This was probably driven by insecurities of being alone.
The other, more resilient, fear was the idea of eternity. That long, unperturbed nothingness. Where nothing happens, and I.... where am I? Watching? Waiting? The eternal spectator to a mindless purgatory? Forever.......
Scars can heal pretty hard. While I don't think I'm over it, I got better at forgetting it. At least in the day-to-day humdrum of normal routine. But even discussing it with Caroline that night in the context of this blog, I could still feel a few shards of the ill-fitting scab beginning to pull loose. The old vortex underneath winking at me. A few warning shots of spittle landing on my chest.
There it is: my kryptonite. In all it's unglorified glory.
There are two major corollaries to these forgotten panics. The first is my hypochondria. That nasty feeling that every dirty door-handle is a pandora's box of germs that will hasten me to an immediate end. That every cough is a sign of something much bigger. And that the vortex is closer than I might wish.
I used to scrub my hands till they were almost worn away and walk around the house like a surgeon. I'm still not always that much better.
The second corollary is the feeling that I've had since my mid-20's that I would die by my mid-30's. The fact that I've broken the 3-0 barrier has not made this go away. Again, I'm better at forgetting. But the feeling remains. In some senses it's great: I'm pressed to finish the things I wouldn't otherwise do. I've completed more personal projects in the last nine months than in the preceding six years. But there is also a lot of running around. A lot more banging my head. But maybe that's a good thing.
We all know that we are going to die. Few of us admit it.
Basho takes a step forward. He sets his stride, and leaves. I close the door behind him.
Maybe I don't even need to wash my hands this time.