I’ve always had a preoccupation with “death”. Not so much in a morbid or tragic way; rather, I’m far more intrigued by the personal inertia of dying. The moments preceding one’s stillness. One’s thoughts like churning gears grinding suddenly, or maybe slowly, to a halt. As a kid, it occurred to me that, after I die, birds will continue to chirp. Much later, these birds chirping post-personal-mortem morphed into random mind projections of my undergrad poetry professor, say, slathering a piece of wheat toast with boysenberry jelly, worried about having to replace the serpentine belt in his car, when he learns of my untimely passing and thinks about how terrible it is, how I once wrote a decent sestina for his class, how the word “sestina” almost sounds like “serpentine” and, oh yeah, he’d better call a mechanic.
And that’s that. I’m already long dead by this point. So do the memories in which I exist in my friends’ and acquaintances’ minds count as life after death? Can that still be considered movement after my body and mind have been rendered inert?
Is all of this even worth my curiosity?
This is just a test, by the way. I’m practicing. Presently, I’m not so much preoccupied with death as I am with describing huge and precise moments in general, death being just one of many. There’s also: the realization you’re in love with someone, witnessing or experiencing firsthand a catastrophe — a plane crash, for example; there’s saying goodbye and there’s the happiest moment of your life thus far. And on and on and on.
How does one effectively describe these fast and huge moments?
Well, I’ll use death as an example: I imagine its descriptive process, at its core, to be comparable to a game of Clue. However, instead of attempting to convey the impossibly abstract emotional mechanics of grief, I can try to pinpoint and theorize about the when, where, how, and whys of it and use my findings as my basis for description. For example:
Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick.
First, let’s say I’m attempting to describe Colonel Mustard’s emotional state THE MOMENT he killed someone in the library with a candlestick. Remember, a moment is full of several movements and processes and, if you ask me, a moment has no solid place in the literal space/time continuum. In short, a moment could be several seconds long. But less than a minute.
I can’t just write: He was mad. So he whacked someone upside the mug with a candlestick.
(That’s a tad understated and comical.)
But I can use the fundamentals I’ve already got — the who, where, what — to illustrate the why. (If you’re wondering about the “how” at this point: c’mon, it’s a candlestick; he hit the victim upside the head.) I’ll call the victim “V”.
At first, the candlestick felt both foreign and illicit in Colonel’s Mustard’s white-knuckled grip, the way a human heart or an actively coiling Black Mamba might feel. Death was nearby. Immediately, he saw V. across the library, her curved forbidden back to him, gazing out the window. Colonel Mustard wondered if consolation was even achievable at this point; if it was simply a matter of time. But he knew — like most people know but won’t accept — that life can break open, against all odds and expectations, and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, like V. herself. Only these fleeting explosive moments are inevitably followed by others, far darker, the most sinister of which being this one. Had V. and Professor Plum kissed in this library? By that window out of which V. stared, oblivious to the Colonel’s presence, to the brass weapon in his hand? Had they done more than just kiss? Had the red Persian rug always been askew?
That’s just part of a moment, don’t you think? I could make it last so much longer, fill it with words until I believe the intended emotion has been aptly and appropriately conveyed.
More on this later, I’m about to fall asleep…