—29th February 2020—
“It’s just that I’m too focused on my own mortality, especially when something feels… off within me. It makes me think it could all end very soon. When these thoughts creep in, they go around and around and around. Really, I’m always feeling like this in the background… It makes me focus on death rather than life.”
As we lay in that post-coital clarity, this particular woman always had a habit of asking the types of questions that I didn’t even know needed answered. Every time my emotional armour was removed and placed neatly on the bedside table, another question would come.
What scares you about death? Was the question du jour.
My answer though, was different. Rather it felt different, it landed deeper. I leapt to attention, bare and broken open, to capture this moment of clarity.
* * *
Remember that one day, you are going to die.
It’s an odds-on bet that if you’ve been through the Essentials with me, you’d have heard that at least once. When you’re asking how to approach that beauty, when you’re wondering what to say, when you’re battling with the saboteur, chances are this will be my lead-in to a conversation with you. But life’s big questions feel off when the answers are that simple, so we hand-wave them away, and go back to what is known. Well, what is comfortably known.
Death is here, death is near, and she wants you to know it. The Stoics knew it, the Epicureans knew it. You know it too. Regardless of your personal philosophical leanings and the way that certain school invites you to know her, she is most certainly known to all of us.
At 3am, when the bass is pumping, when the feel-good vibes surge through your veins, when you’re the party mayor who will never die, she may be silent. But she’s there. She never leaves your side. She visits you on those lonely nights when you stare at the ceiling, adding items to your list of misgivings and missed chances. She visits you when you ponder whether there is more to life. The original Femme Fatale.
I believe the main factor in our inaction to truly live is that we spurn death, we leave her ‘on read’. I don’t think you should fixate on her like I did – there is a life to live before we lay down with her, after all – but we should welcome her into our reverie whenever she comes knocking. And we should listen to her wise words as much as we can before we meet her one last time.
Death as a Motivator
When we’re young, we have no concept of death. We live with reckless abandon, because the consequences are intangible – we’re too busy finding our feet in this world. But then our favourite pet passes, or a family member fades away, so our parents sit us down and try their best to explain what this means and what has come to pass. We’re introduced to Death for the first time and from then on, she never leaves our side.
Going forward, we try to live with reckless abandon, to live fast and die young, as any great man does. But for many, this is just a game we play. Our silent nights remind us that we’re distracting ourselves from life’s big questions – indirectly or otherwise. This comes to us in the forms of regret for our inaction, or that seething feeling that life could be so much more. It comes in a sense of vital impotency, that we’re not living up to our full potential.
Now, life can still be a game we play – we don’t have to live ascetic lives in secret monasteries pondering death, but we need to be playing the right game for us. The problem with trying to live life with reckless abandon is that we’re all too often distracting ourselves from the end game – meeting with her – instead of playing a game of turn-on and lust for life.
The weekend warrior buys the booth and bottle service only to be left with the cheque, the Insta-likes, and an empty bed to show for it at 3am. The Peter Pan traveller does something similar, just in more exotic climes. The Capitalist follows the upticks on the market as if it were the new stairway to heaven. This is not to judge anyone – I have been (or am still) quite partial to these activities, but the dread comes from when these activities are mere distractions from the larger questions of life. It comes from engaging in them unconsciously and passively.
So to expand on my trite response to many a request for guidance, let’s first reframe how we hear death’s voice in those early hours: she isn’t mocking us, she’s trying to motivate us. What do you really want to be doing before we meet one last time? What stories do you want to share with me?
Many men meet her, and I’m sure many of them have very little to say to her. So what will you say?
Death as a Dance
So, in finding what we want to say to her, we have so much (potential) material to draw from. Life is a series of moments, one leading to the next. Sometimes we penetrate life with the fullest sense of our being, in others we pull back. We are barreling towards our own personal crescendo, whether that’s Ma’at measuring our lives against the Feather of Justice or a simple montage of our highs and lows – like any great story, we will reach our own conclusion one day.
If we think of these moments as a series of steps in a dance, how much grace and beauty do we exhibit? Are you inviting life to dance or are you waiting on the sidelines, watching everyone else shoot their shot? At some point, this dance will conclude and last orders will be called. Some of you will act anyway in defiance of your fears, and some we freeze. Then regret sets in.
But a voice whispers “there’s always next time”. So gradually, the sting fades away and eventually you are invited back to the milonga once more. You attend, sometimes inviting, sometimes watching, always moving towards her. Everyone hears that whisper, but some pretend not to. Nevertheless, the voice is there, and memories are made no matter how we act in the dancehall of life.
“How do I make the best memories right now?” is your personal invitation to dance. It’s an opportunity to step to your edge as a man, and cry out for what song plays next. Imagine that edge as a cliff, the Existentialists know this cliff all too well, for this is where existential dread plays guardian to those who peer over it. But this dread is not felt because we may fall, but because we have the capacity to jump. One day, you will stand on that edge no longer – you will fall or you will jump. Either way, Death will hold us one last time – the choice is yours as to what leads up to that moment.
Death as Climax
Death motivates, Death challenges, but she desires nothing – she always gets what she wants. That’s not to say you cannot seduce her (and yourself in the process), it just means she knows your meeting is coming. And so do you, consciously or otherwise.
La Petite Mort, or the Little Death is an expression meaning ‘the brief loss or weakening of consciousness’. More modernly it’s been adopted to explain the sensation of post-climax being likened to death. I’m sure you’ve been there before, the spiritual release which is possible in the aftermath, or the short period of melancholy, transcendence or clarity that comes with climax. We expend our life force, and in our recovery, everything is clear.
But this is not the only definition, it can also be used when something happens which affects you in such a way that a part of you ‘dies’. More often than not this is something undesirable, but for anyone who has participated in any kind of meaningful personal development and the pursuit of self-actualisation, a positive cycle of little deaths and rebirths is all too familiar.
Imagine yourself as a lineage of one, everyday an ancestor dies and you are born. Every time you reach your edge, the old you passes and the new you rises. Each time we die, our lineage walks towards death and has the potential to seduce her a little more. Each death is a step closer to conclusion. To climax.
I sometimes wonder if I should journal more, or if I should take more pictures. I wonder if I should be recording my life for a memoir when I’m older, or my take on an Alabaster-Girl-epic when I’m bolder. But if I find that post-climactic clarity when all is said and done, surely all my memories will be clear (the ones that matter anyway) and I’ll lay down with her and recount my tale. And so will you.
An Invitation to Dance
One day, you will find yourself at a dance. A beautiful moment will invite you to the floor. You will pull her close as the world around you grows dim. You’ll spin her, frame her beauty, as the walls of intimacy come up and encapsulate the two of you. After the closing call is given, she will whisper in your ear to take her home, and you accept.
The pull to take her, here and now, is strong, stronger than ever before. A night of revelry and connection culminates in a moment of duality made singular. As you lay next to her, she asks you to tell you about her life. As you begin to ponder this question, you notice how familiar she looks. You remember the cadence of her voice, the softness of her words, and you’ll know that there she lays, holding you one last time.
There’s no way to seduce her with your regret, or talking about all the things you could have done. She’s heard it all before. It’s in this moment, she wants to be seduced, she wants to hear of your victories, your trials, and every little footnote on the epic that was your life. So, what will you say to Death?
* * *
From here on out, from this moment forward, you are writing your love note to Death. Every time you freeze, you write another line. Every time you walk down the road less travelled, you write another. The ink will not fade, and in that final embrace you’ll be asked to serenade her.
The next line of your love note is about to be written, whether you’re ready or not. I hope this journal entry has helped you, but if you feel as though some editorial assistance would help with how the next chapters are written, let’s talk. My books are open for a few more men who are sick of standing on the sidelines in the dancehall of life. Send me a message, and let’s start writing your love note together.
Until next time,