Snoopy's advice sucks

If you know me at all, you'll know that I suffer from a persistent, constant, never-ending existential crisis. 

I think about death all the time. More that you could ever imagine.

In an effort to alleviate my concerns and perhaps offer me a little peace, one kind reader sent me this cartoon. 

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But there's one terrible flaw in Snoopy's logic:

Yes, it's true. There is only one day in our lives when we will die, but we will also stay dead for all the days after we die. For as long as time and space exist, we will not. 

Death sucks, but it's just the beginning of an eternity of remaining dead. And that, even more than my death, saddens me. Constantly. Immeasurably. 

My son has become a non-stop death machine.

Ever since our cat, Owen, died last month, my four year-old son Charlie has been obsessed with death. 

Specifically his own death. 

This has not been good for me, given that I am obsessed about my own death more than anyone else on the planet. My mortality is something that I consider on a (no exaggeration) hourly basis at least. 

You may think I'm crazy, but I've died not once but twice and been brought back by paramedics both times. Had a gun was put to my head and the trigger pulled. I was also diagnosed with the adult-onset muscular dystrophy gene that eventually contributed to the death of at least three of my relatives, including my mother, and will one day effect me, too.

If anyone gets to have an ongoing, ever-present, overwhelming existential crisis, I think it's me.  

But now I have this four year-old existential reminder machine running around the house, constantly telling me that he doesn't want to die. Constantly reminding me of the thing I don't need to be reminded about.  

Our standard response to Charlie's declaration that he doesn't want to die has been, "You won't have to worry about that for a long, long, long time Charlie. You have a very, very, very long life ahead of you."

There's also talk of a heaven that I wish I believed in but don't and assurances that everything will be okay. 

It hasn't exactly eliminated his fear, but it's been enough to move him onto a new topic.

Yesterday morning, as I brought him downstairs, he saw a photograph of Owen. He walked over, touched the photo, and said, "Dad, I don't want to die."

Just what I wanted to hear at 6:30 AM.

I answered as I always do. "Don't worry buddy. That's not going to happen for a long, long, long time."

"But Dad," Charlie said, turning away from Owen's photo to look at me. "A long, long, long time means I am going to die someday."

Damn it. The kid understands. He knows. 

Honestly, my thoughts of death are my greatest burden. The thing I carry with me like a loadstone throughout my life. My existential crisis informs so much of what I do. It makes me who I am. It's responsible for much of my success. It's the guiding principle behind everything that I think and believe.

I'd hate to think that Charlie might suffer the same fate. 

I'd also hate to think that my son is going to continue to pick at this open wound for the rest of my life. It's hard enough already without this beautiful little boy hitting me over the head with an existential sledgehammer on a daily basis. 

I picked him up, hugged him, and did what I always do when my thoughts of death become too great to bear. I opted for distraction. 

"Want to go watch the Octonauts?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. And for an hour or so, we sat on the couch together and forgot about our mortality. The reality of our eminent demise. The terror of the void. 

At least he did. I hope.

A famous writer and I agree on the worst part of sleep

Someone on Twitter sent me this poem:

"Sleep.
Those little slices of Death. 
How I loathe them."

I read these three lines and thought, "Yes! I'm not alone! See? Someone else hates sleep, too! Someone else thinks that sleep is way too close to death! See? I'm not crazy!"

Then I saw the poet: Edgar Allen Poe

"Damn," I thought. 

Then:

"Poe wasn't that crazy."

Deep, scary, philosophical Star Trek thoughts.

Somehow a discussion about how the transporters work on Star Trek had me in an existential panic.

Granted, this is easier to accomplish with me than most people, but still. This is both fascinating and a little terrifying, even if you're not a Star Trek fan. 

Not quite immortality, but 95 is a decent start.

If you know me at all, you know that an enormous part of my mental energy is directed at my relentless fear of death. 

It is more constant and overwhelming than you could ever imagine.

And perhaps for good reasons. Two near-death experiences (one and two) involving paramedics and CPR and an armed robbery that resulted in a gun to my head and the trigger being repeatedly pulled might understandably change a person's view of death. 

As a result, my hope is for immortality. My plan is to never die. While this may seem ludicrous, my ability to believe in its possibility is necessary to get me through each day without collapsing into an existential meltdown. 

So here's some good news in that regard:

Two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have designed a test that utilizes the eight most predictive questions related to American life expectancy to determine a person's probable lifespan. “These are the most important risk factors that we have solid evidence for,” says Lyle Ungar, professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania.

He adds: “If you’re in a happy marriage, you will tend to live longer. That’s perhaps as important as not smoking, which is to say: huge. So feel free to give yourself a little bump if you’ve got a happy relationship."

I took the test, and I was pleased to see that my life expectancy - before the happy marriage bump (which I have in spades) - is 95.

Not quite immortality, but perhaps enough years for the scientists to find the magic elixir.

Or at least to find a way to download my consciousness into some hard drive somewhere, which would be good enough for me.  

Two death bed mysteries and one piece of death bed advice

Why do we climb into bed at night but lie on our death bed? 

Strange. Right?

Speaking on death beds, why do so many people die in the absence of music? 

I have no intention of ever dying, but if I was ever lying on my death bed (merely hypothetical), there would be music playing at all times:

Springsteen. The Beatles. The Who. Van Morrison. The '80's metal bands of my youth.

Why die listening to the beeps and whirs of medical machinery or the hum of passing traffic? Give me Thunder Road, The Bright Side of the Road, and Paradise City.

I'd go out listening to the stuff that I love. You should, too. 

Death bed regrets revisited: 2015

Four years ago, I responded to a list of the most frequent death bed regrets of the dying by indicating that I didn’t think any of them would be mine.

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Then I listed what I thought would be my most likely death bed regrets.

At the time, they were:

  1. I did not travel enough.
  2. I never pole vaulted again after high school.
  3. I did not spend enough time with Clara.
  4. I did not get into enough fist fights.
  5. I started publishing novels too late in life and did not have a chance to tell all my stories.

Two years ago, I revisited this list and decided that the desire for fist fights was probably not wise. Research shows that people get seriously injured and even killed with disturbing regularity due to punches in the head.  

Other than the desire to punch someone, the list held up well.

Two years later, I revisit the list again to determine if any changes need to be made.

1. I did not travel enough.

Still a problem. I still haven’t traveled enough. I was recently asked to spend a week in Brazil this summer, teaching storytelling to high school students, and I spent a few days in Indiana last year, but I’m not exactly piling up the miles. The kids are at a tough age to travel, too, and while Elysha is still home with the kids, the funds for travel are limited. But my hope is that when Elysha returns to work and Charlie is a little older, we can begin to make this happen.

2. I never pole vaulted again after high school.

I actually have an idea for a book that would have me pole vaulting again for a season. My agent loves the idea (it might be her favorite of my many book ideas), and I love it, too, so this is a distinct possibility.

3. I did not spend enough time with Clara and Charlie.

I’ve added Charlie to the regret now, but I’ve reached two conclusions about this regret:

Regardless of how much time I spend with my kids, it will never be enough.

Compared to many parents I know, I actually spend a great deal of time with my kids. My teacher schedule allows me to spend many, many days with my kids while most are working, and I spend almost every minute from the time I get home until the time I tuck my kids in bed in their company. So I’m doing okay, I think, but will also never really think so.

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4. I started publishing novels too late in life and did not have a chance to tell all my stories.

I can certainly try to write faster, and I am, but there’s no way to recapture lost time. Perhaps there will be a day when I want to retire from teaching and can afford to write fulltime. That may help.

And now for an addition to my list:

5. I didn’t spend enough time outdoors.

As a kid, I spent the vast majority of my childhood outside, and I also spent hundreds of days and nights camping. But it’s been years since I’ve slept under the stars, and even longer since I have gone fishing or canoeing or rock climbing or all of the other things that I loved and still love. I don’t swim often enough. I don’t play basketball enough. I don’t go hiking often enough. Golf brings me outdoors quite a bit, but that’s about it. I’m hoping that my children will find a love for the outdoors like I had as a child, and together, I can find a way to avoid this regret. 

Death helps. Steve Jobs knew this, and unlike me, he didn’t need to die in order to learn it.

Nine minutes into his famous Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs discussed the importance he placed on thinking about death during life:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

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The only difference between Steve Jobs’ view on death and my own is that Jobs came to this understanding at the age of seventeen after reading a quote.

It took me two near death experiences (Death #1 and Death #2) and a gun to the head and a trigger being pulled to bring me to the same understanding.

Jobs path to this bit of wisdom seems a little easier and a lot smarter.

I meet people everyday who can’t understand the way that my ongoing existential crisis and my obsession with death motivate me. They can’t begin to understand how someone can be so focused on the idea of mortality for so much of their day to day life. Nor would they ever want such a burden.

But it’s not their fault.

The ability to constantly remember that you will be dead soon apparently requires that you be as brilliant as Steve Jobs or as unlucky as me.

Both of these are conditions not easily achieved. It makes me wonder if the advice that Jobs gives is worthwhile.

A former life coach client once told me that he’s known two near-death survivors in his life. Me and one of his friends. He said that the two of us are alike in so many ways. The way we talk about goals. The way we try to maximize our minutes. The things we choose to ignore and disregard in favor of things that matter. The systems and routines that we create to increase efficiency and productivity. Our levels of self confidence.   

“Even the way the two of you walk through a crowd is the same.”

I say that I am unlucky, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. But I wonder where I would be today had a bee, a Mercedes, and three armed men not tried to kill me.

I’m just not as smart as Steve Jobs. A little bit of death, spread out over the course of a decade, might have been just what someone like me needed to get ahead.

I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone, but I’m not sure that if given the chance I would change a thing.

 

I worry that George R.R. Martin will die before finishing his Song of Fire and Ice series, and yes, that’s not a nice thing to think.

George R.R. Martin is the author of the popular Song of Fire and Ice series which you may know better as Game of Thrones.

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He’s currently writing the sixth of that was originally going to be seven books in the series, though he recently hinted that there may be an eighth.

Martin is 65 years-old. He’s not exactly the picture of health.

It took him six years to write the most recent book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, and it has taken him 15 years to write the five books written so far.

At this pace, he will complete the final two books by the time he is 72 years-old, and if there really is an eighth book planned, he will be close to 80 when he finally wraps the series.

For these reasons, I have decided to wait to read the books, fearing his demise before the series is complete.

This is not an entirely unfounded position. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (which you should all read immediately) was nearly cut short when King was hit by a van and nearly killed in 1999 with three books to go.

When I first heard about the accident, my first thoughts went to The Dark Tower’s Roland and his ka-tet. As saddened as I was to hear about King’s death (it was originally announced that King had died in the accident), I was equally distraught over the idea that Roland’s journey to The Dark Tower would never be realized.  

Perhaps fearful that he may never finish the series if he didn’t work quickly,  King promptly completed the final three books in the series  in 2004 (publishing one in 2003 and two in 2004).

Then he added a book for good measure in 2012.

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So yes, I worry about Martin’s ability to complete his masterpiece. He’s not a young man, and he seems to require about five years to finish a book. I was nearly left hanging in the midst of a masterpiece once before. I don’t want that to happen again.

Apparently I am not alone in this sentiment. Others have expressed this concern openly and often. Martin recently addressed the many people who have expressed concerns over his ability to complete the series before his demise:

“I find that question pretty offensive, when people start speculating about my death and my health. So f**k you to those people.”

He added a middle finger for good measure.

I deserve the rebuke. He’s right. It’s not exactly polite to speculate about an author’s longevity. If I were him, I’d be angry, too.

But when you want to stick it to someone like me, there are four words even more satisfying than simple vulgarity:

“I told you so.”

Finish the books, George. Make me look like a fool for ever doubting you.

Napping will kill you. Science says so.

A 13-year study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has revealed that if you take naps during the day, you are more likely to die sooner than those who do not. 

The study, which was performed by researchers at Cambridge University, studied the habits of over 16,000 men and women in Britain and found that those who take naps during the day are almost a third more likely to die before they turn 65.

The biggest risks come from respiratory problems that napping is likely to induce. People who slept during the day for more than an hour had more than double the chance of dying from a respiratory illness than those who didn't nap at all.

I’ve always thought that napping was stupid.

A waste of time. A sign of weakness.

Now it’s deadly, too.

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Every death in A Song of Ice and Fire, displayed in rainbow-like horror

I have yet to begin reading the Game of Thrones series (actually called A Song of Fire and Ice). I’m watching it on HBO, but I’m afraid to begin reading the books. The author, George R.R. Martin, is 65 years old and has written five novels in the series since 1996, with six years elapsing between the last two books. He has two more books to write in order to complete the series, reportedly more than 1,000 pages each, and I refuse to start reading until they are finished.

We nearly lost Stephen King in a car accident before he was able to finish the Dark Tower series (an event that ultimately plays a role in one of the final novels in that series). I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt, never knowing the fate of Roland and his ka-tet. It would’ve been devastating.

Similarly, I can’t afford to invest that much time and energy in series of novels of this size without a guarantee of them ever being finished.

I realize that 65 isn’t as old as it once was, but the guy took six years to write the last book. There’s no telling how long these last two books will take.

I look forward to the day that Martin pens his final novel and I can begin reading. Until then, HBO is doing a fine job.

I wish I could credit the person who took the time to do this, but this photograph was sent to me without credit. It’s a stack of the five books currently written in the Song of Ice and Fire series, with a post-it note marking the death of every character.

The HBO series has already taught me not to get too attached to any character, but this seems a little excessive. 

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Now I have to worry about falling cows. Great.

The Telegraph reports on a Brazilian man who died after a cow fell through his roof and landed on top of him.

As a person who suffers from an ongoing, intense existential crisis, the last thing I want to hear about is a new way to die.

The world is perilous enough already.

From The Telegraph:

Mr. de Souza's brother-in-law Carlos Correa told Brazil's Hoje em Dia newspaper: "Being crushed by a cow in your bed is the last way you expect to leave this earth.

His grieving mother, Maria de Souza, told Brazil's SuperCanal TV channel: "I didn't bring my son up to be killed by a falling cow."

I agree with both of them. There are certain things in life that we should not be worried about. Falling cows is one of them.

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The fact that I engaged in a few spirited sessions of cow tipping as a youth does not make me feel any better.

Karma can be a killer. And it’s patient as hell.

I’m not afraid.

Gerascophobia is the fear of growing old.

I would be consumed with gerascophobia if I was to ever accept that I was getting older, which I would never do because I am not getting older because getting older would mean that I am also getting closer to death, which frightens me a hell of a lot more than getting older except that I refuse to accept that I will die so it doesn’t frighten me at all. 

Got it?

Deathbed regrets revisited: 2012

Two years ago, in response to a piece listing the most frequent death bed regrets of the dying, I listed what I thought would be my most likely death bed regrets. There were:

  1. I did not travel enough.
  2. I never pole vaulted again after high school.
  3. I did not spend enough time with Clara.
  4. I did not get into enough fist fights.
  5. I started publishing novels too late in life and did not have a chance to tell all my stories.

Looking at this list two years later, it holds up surprisingly well. I have still not traveled nearly enough, I have yet to pole vault (though I may do so in the near future), I never feel like I spend enough time with Clara, and I still have a pile of story ideas clamoring for a place on the page.

In terms of fist fights, however, I may need to change my thinking a bit. When I was younger, I fought a lot, and though there was always inherent danger involved, the adrenaline rush, the primal nature of hand-to-hand combat, and my surprising ability to take a punch and remain calm in the midst of violence always made fighting a thrill for me.

Then I grew older and fighting ceased to be a part of my life. There were simply fewer and fewer instances in which people wanted to throw down.

Actually, fighting didn’t entirely stop. I punched a guy last year in an effort to break up a fight at the local gym, but that was a single sucker punch. Hardly a fight at all.

And perhaps I’m lucky that this was all the fight amounted to. Slate’s Brian Palmer recently wrote a piece about how easy it is to kill a man in a fistfight:

It happens more than twice a day, on average. Fists and feet were responsible for 745 murders in 2010, or 5.7 percent of all murders that year, according to FBI statistics.

Though Palmer goes on to explain that although most of these deaths are the result of the continued beating of the victim once he is unconscious, single blows to the head and chest have also resulted in death.

Although I may regret the lack of fist fights in my life, perhaps it is a regret that I should more readily accept. As he father of a three-year old and a baby on the way, there is no need for me to risk my life or the life of another human being in order to enjoy a brief adrenaline rush or demonstrate my proficiency at fisticuffs.

Best of all, in the two years since I first assembled my list of death bed regrets, I cannot think of another regret to add to my list, and the list of most common death bed regrets still do not apply to me.

Yes, I’ve made no progress in eliminating any regrets, but I have yet to add any to my list. A small victory.

Not that I plan on ever dying, but it makes for an interesting means of examining one’s life.