S08E03: Let’s talk about death


Alright, so you remember how last week — shut up, time is weird in the pandemic — last week I talked about how my organisation’s hiring rules meant I might be moving soon? It happened. I’m moving. Specifically, I’m moving to a small arm’s length body of another department to write code. I’ve got enough time, just, to close off all the things I’m doing and write good handovers for the rest.

I’ve also just finished Bojack Horseman, and it’s weighing on my mind.

So. Death, and finding meaning. Let’s go.

Content warning: I’m going to talk about death and grief in a metaphorical way. If that’s not for you right now, give it a miss.

It used to be that two things were certain for all of us. Death, and taxes. Nowadays there’s really exciting branches of fraud-adjacent accounting, which means the only unifying factor left for us is death. We are all going to die. Isn’t that exciting? Isn’t that thrilling? Your days are numbered. Your life is yours, insofarasmuch as anything is yours. You are condemned by an uncaring universe to a free life, to a life with choices.

All of this is preamble. I am now gearing up to end a chapter of my working life, and endings are important. The death of anything is painful. There is a poison among myself and my brothers that says we don’t cry and, more basic still than that, that we don’t feel pain. It is immensely stupid. Of course we feel pain. We feel joy, and we feel anger, and we feel lust — and lord knows we express those. So I am in pain, and I am grieving. It’s only a little grief, but it’s important to name it.

Sometimes life’s a bitch and then you die

Humans are weird. You knew that already, of course. You know how weird we are, though? You know how attached we get to inanimate things? My robot vacuum cleaner has a personality, and that personality is himbo. I knew someone at school who’d always buy chipped tea cups because they needed extra love. And everyone has a story of a sentient, malice-filled printer that can smell your desperation. My god, we care so much. We domesticated wolves. We — well, let’s not say domesticated, but we brought tigers into our homes. We are filled, all the time, day and night, with love and concern for everything around us. What sweet sorrow parting is, then, when those things leave us.

I’ve had a lot of therapy, and it’s great. Do spend money on it, if you can, because it’s money worth spending. But nonetheless one of the best lessons I ever had about grief was watching a small Japanese lady explain that you have to thank your possessions before you throw them out. You are, if you are reading this, a human being. You cannot help but love things. All you’ve touched now has a patina from contact with your soul; your amazing, beautiful soul.

And if you’ve spent any time at all on a project and it ends: respect your humanity and say goodbye to it properly. Don’t chuck it away or bottle it up. Raise a glass to your endings. Cheer that you were here, with these people, doing this thing. The thing is no more. It has been taken apart, perhaps, or embalmed and fixed. It is not what it was, and nor are you. From body to corpse: differing in nothing save the only thing that matters.

You may not live through it. And if you do, the you that lived through it will not be the same you that lived before it. In that sense, you will definitely not exist after, and I’m sorry.

Welcome to Night Vale

I don’t want to go.

I’m excited to be somewhere else. The new projects I’ll work on sound fantastic and the people are great. I’ve met two or three of them and I’m already eager to start, and I think that’s a good sign.

But I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave the party. I don’t want this to end.

I don’t want it to die.

But the thing will end. There’s not enough money — there never is — and running things on the goodwill and free labour of others isn’t sustainable. There’s a point at which you’ve got to accept that less is better. I’m still fighting against that idea, I think, and it’s probably natural. Natural doesn’t mean good, you know? It just means it’s my instinct.

Sometimes life’s a bitch and you keep on living

It’s important that things end. Nothing is supposed to go on forever. You ever work on a never-ending project? You know, the “transformations” that have been going for five years. They’ve not transformed anything except the people, who have transformed — been transformed — into semi-feral animals. Things should end.

Endings lay out boundaries for us. Boundaries force us to make decisions.

You know what winds me up at work? Folks who work every hour to get things done. People pulling 10, 12 hour days. It offends me. It feels like cheating. It means we’re not playing the same game. The rule is: you get 37 hours a week to be productive. If you have the authority, you can use your 37 hours to decide what other people do with their 37 hours. But that’s the game. And it winds me up no end when people breeze past these constraints. It’s like starting a game of Monopoly and finding out someone’s got three times as much money as you.

When you have a constraint, you are forced to make a decision. When you have no constraints, you can avoid making a decision. For example, if you’re not constrained by 37 hours a week, you can write the presentation and manage people and sort out your spreadsheets and run that employee representative group and –

– but if your day has to end at half past five, then you have to choose which of those very worthy things you’re going to do. And you have to accept that the others probably won’t be done; or might be done by other people but not as well as you would have done them. And now you have to choose, really choose: what is important? What can you do, and what must you cut? And with each cut you find the shape of your meaning.

Now scale that up and come to the realisation, the recurring realisation, that your whole life is that same constraint. Our brains can’t understand it, but you’re under that same constraint. You’ve only got a certain number of hours in your life. There’s a finite number of sunsets left to see. And institutions that outlive you will owe more to luck and momentum than your design.

When you — when I — am out of the other side, things will seem different. There’s this archetype in storytelling, of the ‘Hero’s Journey’, where the Hero dies and is transformed and finds he can’t go home again. Home hasn’t changed, but he has.

I mentioned on Twitter that I was reading this and my friends and colleagues and followers have very kindly offered many, many suggestions. All of those I’m going to write up into a proper article in the coming weeks. Thank you all so much, and thank you for reading this long stream of consciousness. It doesn’t have a proper ending.

Which is odd, given I knew it was coming…

Originally published at http://caffeinatedpunctuation.co.uk on August 21, 2021.

S08E03: Let’s talk about death was originally published in Web of Weeknotes on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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August 21, 2021 at 09:47PM

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