By Daniel Pastan ’13
Volume XXXIV, Issue 3, December 14, 2012
So I’m thinking of a The Newlywed Game sort of situation wherein I’m paired with another individual with whom I share an excessive familiarity. I’ll say, for illustrative convenience’s sake (and, to be honest, the desire for my burgeoning writerly career not to fissure my neatly categorized groups of friends, all of which with I’ve shared at best only part of the so-called “whole truth,” which I’m working with tragic, Sisyphean resolve to uncover on my own) that my The Newlywed Game partner is a semi-androgynous mega-aggregate of any best friend I’ve ever entitled as such. To provide irrelevant sensory aid: MegaAggregate just so happens to look, sound, and smell exactly as if the worst parts of Alex Strecker ’13 and Megan Kepnach ’13 got together at their five year reunion, had between four and five too many Rockaberry California Coolers (depending on both whom you ask and/or the method of calculation: number of bottles vs. total fluid ounces divided by eight), and after nine months of, and I quote, “missed calls,” out crawled the horrific MegaAggregate, ze’s brain bulging with excessively advanced knowledge of whatever constitutes a subjectivity, in this case my subjectivity, ready to stare Bob Eubanks’ irresistible smarminess right in the smirk.
I hate to disappoint you, faithful and likely distracted reader, but I’ve been scribbling on and on about all this only somewhat coherently to illustrate, for all intents and purposes (which intents and purposes, I promise, will make themselves apparent soon, even really soon), an obvious point: if MegaAggregate were asked to describe something about me that surprised zim—the knowledge of which ‘something’ is not necessarily concurrent with ze’s original decision that I’m a worthwhile, likable person worthy of ze’s friendship, but that clearly, at this point of intimacy, forms a fundamental part of my personality, one which, as I’ve described, is perhaps not immediately self-evident, but is nonetheless, beyond question, an irreducible aspect of any formed concept of Daniel-ness that considers accuracy even just sort of important, it would be this: I’m morbid. Despite what others have called the “…obnoxious agreeability,” the “contrived, apparently perennial enthusiasm,” and the “numerous and unnecessary physical acknowledgements of engagement in casual conversation” that underwrite my portrayed personality, buried within me is the desire to think, talk, write, joke about death, dying, suicide, and so forth.
As far my understanding takes me, Amherst College and its associated township are not places that I’d ever feel comfortable describing as morbid. Maybe that’s a phrase that’s worth rephrasing: Amherst College and its associated township are not associated with a culture that I’d ever feel comfortable describing as comfortable with morbidity’s presence. My intuition tells me quite loudly that there’s nothing wrong with neglecting the morbid, that death and dying are uncomfortable, triggering topics of conversation, and that to discuss them casually, to discuss them at the table with levity, is disrespectful, inappropriate, and weird. I’m remembering, as I type this, Thanksgiving ’02, when I kept reminding everyone, as they were eating, like, more than three or four times, that the turkey they were eating had died, with this stupidly adorable eleven-year-old grin on my face. My mother sent me to time out, the irony of which only now strikes me—death being a sort of ultimate time out.
This funky little thought piece genuinely does not intend to offer a cultural critique, nor does it intend to argue a point or provide a more plausible mode of engagement with these issues. It seems perfectly obvious and reasonable to me that culture—and by culture I mean the invisible regime that abstractly determines what is appropriate and seeable and sayable—would refuse to confront its own perishing. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I have trouble seeing such neglect, albeit a benign neglect, as anything other than a feeble attempt to assert an immortality that I don’t believe exists. Like, the ways in which we avoid the morbid are directly related to the ways in which we view ourselves, our society, etc., as fundamentally immortal. And then I think: What’s the alternative? It would involve just as much neglect to focus exclusively on the morbid, and, in this case, neglect that would disable any conceivable ability to engage with the world presently. So, here we are, living and dying all at once.
There’s just this part of me that doesn’t experience the same discomfort that I perceive many others do with the morbid, which unique form of cultural estrangement is not so upsetting or unfamiliar to me at all. There’s this part of me that, furthermore, wants to experience the morbid directly, if only to fight back in my own personal and meaningless ways against what I sense to be a deeply and thoughtlessly entrenched cultural value. I want to know if my friends have ever thought about ending their own lives, and how they might choose to do so, and it doesn’t make me sad to think or talk about. Considering that I’m essentially too meek and inclined toward agreeability to initiate such conversations, I render myself unable to satisfy the dark side of my own personal moon, and I’ve thus channeled my morbid energy in an entirely different direction: spending time in the Amherst Cemetery.
If you’ve never been there before, or didn’t know it existed, I’m not surprised—it’s entirely hidden from sight, located just behind the strip of shops that includes Baku’s and The Toy Box. I have tons to say about cemeteries, and the particular location and function of the Amherst Cemetery. I’m running out of space, so instead of elaborating, I’ll leave you with a very short story: Tuesday, November 4th was a very foggy day, and I found myself sitting under a tree, smoking a cigarette, and writing in my journal (I get it, I live in The Zu, yukyuk). I could hear, in the near distance, the faint hum of commerce-oriented traffic patterns along Route 116, and, in a moment of perfectly charming banality, I reflected on all the time I’d ever spent on 116 producing the very same near-distant hum I was hearing in that moment, and realized I’d never, not in all that time I’d spent on 116, heard the cemetery before, not once, and I knew I never would.