Saturday, August 24, 2013

Odd Website

Did anyone else check out the self-departure* website of the sportswriter in Kansas? It's impressive for being so comprehensive. It was definitely a Maude-like decision, referring to the character in the Harold and Maude movie who had already decided she was going to move on once she turned 80. The movie is so good because it has the simplified "suicidal" kid whose fake suicides fail to make his mother see that he's not content...and he meets a 79 year old free spirited woman and gradually learns to love and ignore the expectations of others. But he doesn't know that Maude has already decided to depart this mortal coil on her 80th birthday, which arrives only on the day that Harold proposes they get married. Talk about star struck!

The film's strength is not in character development (the characters are mainly stereotypes) but in the questions it generates in the audience: is suicide justified? What is the nature of a free life? What fears or forces limit us? The answers aren't easy enough to be addressed in a movie but it's clear that Harold finds at least a reason to genuinely feel sad enough to want to die...and it's that feeling that is his unspoken goal from the beginning. The Cat Stevens soundtrack is also a big plus.

So, Martin Manley not only decided that he was going to join the cosmic dust on his 60th birthday but he was going to write a comprehensive highlight reel and publish it on a website that became active the day he shot himself in the parking lot of a police station. This wasn't a prank like so many other things on the internet. He really did it. And his website explains a lot about his life and about his decision to proactively die. Occasionally I happen upon a blog of someone's fight against cancer. The blog usually fades in quality and quantity until a short memorial post is made by a family member. Evidently, the fight against death becomes more important than logging into a blog, and then the weakness and apathy make blogging about it irrelevant. Manley, on the other hand, was writing about the Kansas City Royals' winning streak two days before he killed himself.

My initial reaction was to write an anti-suicide note....something that explains why I don't kill myself every day, similar to my planned essay explaining why I'm not an Eco-terrorist. I haven't written that essay since I've been busy doing the things that keep me alive like playing guitar and listening to The Four Tops, but I think it boils down to being a glutton for punishment, or maybe a morbid curiosity about the future. I also set some life goals that turned out to be the kind that take an entire life to accomplish. I don't think I'll be satisfied until I'm resident musician at Battle Harbor or a lounge pianist on a cruise ship. "Oggy, that can't ever happen," I hear the responsible adults saying...and my response is, "Not with that attitude." I think it's theoretically possible for me to play jazz standards for a cruise audience. Rachmaninoff's 3rd piano concerto? Never. Strangers in the Night? Definitely. And playing a $6000 custom engraved electric guitar for the same audience? Yes, that's another goal. Notice I pick an audience that I expect to be distracted. I'm not talking about sitting down with the ghosts of Chet Atkins and Jim Hall to judge my playing. No. Drunk 68 year old former accountants are more my style of audience.

Anyway, it's a goal worth working towards. I'm really curious what it would take for me to get there when the hoops I have to jump through to even access a piano are comical. I'm an oil field electrician whose daily grind involves vast acres of flare stacks and giant generators and pick axes, 20 miles of dirt roads near Mexico. The thundering noise of ten 480volt generators around a natural gas compression station couldn't be further from a piano practice room. Maybe an underwater welder is further, but I see it as a necessary evil in my quest to board a Carnival Cruise ship with a Jazz Fake book under my arm. It's implausible, I grant you, but the best stories often are. For now I'm content with an out of tune Wurlitzer in a nursing home dining hall.

Manley's argument was that there will always be a way to manufacture a goal that keeps one alive. But the older one gets the less likely the goal will be reached so life becomes a compromise and eventually one's facilities decay. He was a sportswriter and I think that was a factor because his whole career was watching people who played great left field, suddenly hurt their shoulder and end up playing OK first base, and then become the occasional designated hitter. Why, he must have asked himself, when a player is no longer in his prime why does he keep playing? It makes no sense from a fan's point of view. The player only hurts the team. Why not retire? Manley took his own advice.

It's interesting to note that although I'm 20 years younger than Manley I'm sure he was in better health. He didn't even wear glasses! I can barely tie my shoes. The high pitched C# note I hear 24 hours a day in my left ear would drive pretty much anyone to eat lead. Manley wanted to go out when he was in full command of himself and not when the decay had set in. He admits that his health was good but his reasoning was that he knew his health and mind were guaranteed to decay in the near future. It would be easy to argue that he might actually not see any decay in the next decade, that by 70 he might only have to piss once more at night than at 60. Is that intolerable? The decay in health from 50 to 60 probably wasn't that pronounced. He wore the same pair of shoes that entire time. He could've bought a new pair of shoes and decided to sleep with angels when the shoes fell apart. But that's my own projection of my vanity. Manley's chief argument was that eventually everyone why postpone the inevitable. Confronting his own mortality, he decided to meet it head-on...get it over with.

In his own words:
"But, no matter how much we think about it, few of us stamp a “use by” date on our lives. I did just that 14 months ago. I stamped "Use by August 15, 2013".

In 14 months he had a chance to change his mind, to think twice, to seek counseling. This last option confuses me because he had every opportunity to anonymously call a suicide hot line. He even recommends that to visitors of his website who are considering suicide! And I don't mean to call a hotline to see if they would talk him out of it, but to be comprehensive I think he owed it to himself and to the experiment and his future audience, and to the thoroughness of his project, to call a hotline and really explain himself to the operator. And then to transcribe the conversations or record them and put them on the website. Maybe he did this and I haven't read about it on his website, but I can't find any evidence he confessed his plan to someone. I feel a bit cheated. Possibly, his sister and brother would've committed him and he didn't want to have his self determination taken away. And his ex-wives might've done the same. But an anonymous hotline has no control over you except with words. And I'm curious what those conversations would've been like. I'm curious what Manley's reaction and response would've been. Instead, he had an internal conversation with his alter-ego and evidently never heard a good argument for staying alive. They say only a fool has himself as a lawyer but what do you say about someone who argued with himself to not take a one way walk on the stairway to heaven?

He's very honest in his writing, definitely not delusional or depressed. He was perplexed like every straight thinking person who is baffled by some of the events we all witness and the haphazard, manipulative way they are presented, but his perplexity isn't a reason for his decision. He understood that life is not a sporting event with clear winners and losers. He was not optimistic, but I hesitate to say he was pessimistic. His writing reveals a kind of realism that concludes that the entire human race has not acted rationally and the consequences are going to be extreme. If you see someone chain smoke it's not pessimistic to think they are going to get throat or lung cancer. That's merely a causal conclusion. And when you see the effects of fracking and radioactivity leakage and chemical extrusion on a vast scale it's only scientific to expect serious consequences. I share that sentiment...when the evidence is examined closely, I personally don't see how an apocalypse can be avoided....not that I see an apocalypse as imminent. A heroic effort never before attempted by humanity is all that will save us. I'm talking about an effort that makes my goal to play Jazz piano on a cruise ship seem guaranteed. I want to live to participate in that heroic effort or witness the alternative Armageddon. Either way, it will be interesting and I'll write a song about it. Manley's decision was based more in his own desire to fully control his destiny. It's a quality not quantity type of deal.

 Manlye wrote,
"No, I wasn't fully satisifed with my life, but I was fully satisfied with my death!"

This is a perfect statement to conclude with: see, it emphasizes his desire to determine his future and his death includes his website and his statements on his life and his death. It's the whole package that he is referring to, not merely the final act. But I want to point out that he spelled the first "satisfied" wrong. See? I cut and pasted that sentence from his website. He reversed the f and the i. It's a typo, technically, and not a misspelling, but I think this is perfect because he spent 14 months typing and proofreading his website. He didn't have the advantage of an editor because, obviously, they might've been argumentative. It's too bad he didn't have a friend close enough to bounce this decision off of and help administer the website. I think the site will not benefit from editing and he probably bought a century of domain ownership so his misspellings are going to remain forever. And those misspellings are what a lot of us live to correct. I still go back and spell check old posts of mine and remove dead links or snide remarks of mine. A website becomes a surrogate child, in a way. You think it stays the same but with links and videos and other websites going out of business, what was once funny is now a dead link. While alive, I can keep striving for perfection on my website, deleting petty comments, changing my own phrasing to something more mature. Today I edited a few words of one of the first posts I ever made back when I was living on the street in Santa Monica. I wasn't changing history, it was like I was editing my former self to better express what my former self was trying to convey, even though I didn't totally agree with my former self. It's 5 year old posts but it's a part of the perplexing world that I can control. Manley, on the other hand, was at peace with his misspellings.

*I'm trying to honor Manley's request for another word to describe suicide.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.