I’m 37 years old and I don’t want to die. A little melodramatic, even for me, but regardless, the sentiment is true. Not that there has been a point in my life where I was ready just to lay down and die. I’ve never been so low that death has felt like a real option. I mean, am I fascinated by death? Yes, especially rock n’ roll’s laundry list of casualties. The pyre which keeps music burning bright, as aptly posed by Pete Townshend, is bodies—youthful death fuels rock be it the 60’s triad of Jimi, Janis, and Jim or Nick Drake or Ian Curtis or Andy Wood or Jeff Buckley or Bob Stimson or Amy Winehouse or Tupac and Biggie or Jason Molina, we are all moths to the flame and some of us burn bright, burn fast, and keep the pyre lit in the dark hours of nightclubs or flip sides of pressed vinyl. The artist deathwish—needles, nooses, or bottles; murder, suicide, or misadventure; writers, musicians, artists. It wouldn’t be romance if we didn’t, to some degree, subscribe to mythology.
What doesn’t get mythologized? The artist who just has a poor diet, makes bad health choices, and quietly passes away from diabetes or heart disease. Think about poor Mama Cass—a truly gifted vocalist who people still think choked to death on a ham sandwich. Denis Leary made her a punch line simply due to the fact that she was obese. Granted, the heart attack which killed her probably had something to do with drugs as much as her waistline but because she was a larger lady, her death is instantly trivialized and demystified.
I’m pretty sure if I keep up my current lifestyle, I’ll be hacking off of my life expectancy chunks at a time. When I say lifestyle, it’s not one of a severe drug regimen or crippling alcoholism. It’s not even a pack a day cigarette habit. That’s not to say they haven’t played a part in my lifestyle but really what it comes down to is my diet and lack of exercise which will bury me. I know—it’s not novel or romantic or interesting. I’m just a statistic keeping with the ballooning midsection of America. Who wants to read about a bender which includes stops at Buffalo Wild Wings and a couple bags of Doritos? The heroin binge is a much more compelling story than the Walking Dead Marathon and an 18 inch large pizzas–such displays of excess and gluttony aren’t finding their ways into Last Exit to Brooklyn. I am quietly killing myself in front of my friends. It’s not a premeditated act but regardless of how you slice it, I am actively choosing the grave over those I surround myself with—moreover, my friends have reinforced this behavior in me just through quiet complicity.
It’s an afterthought. You’re big. You’re overweight but you’re self esteem isn’t affected by it. It’s not like you’re ugly or your weight has ever prevented you from being successful or popular or lucky with the ladies. But the health issue remains. And yes, it isn’t the most compelling discussion to have nor does it make for good copy, unless it’s some overweight house mom from Topeka whose story is retold on Ellen. There is a segment of America that these stories speak to, and usually they are on the couch from 11-2pm weekdays. Being a big guy is just that–they call you “Big Guy” and as long as you’re not a sloppy hot mess in sweatpants, typically you’re seen as just a Falstaffian character, especially if you’re not a shut in and have a semblance of social swagger. You get along. You’re the life of the party. You’re fun. The universe of big funny guys is endless: Chris Farley, John Goodman, John Belushi, John Candy…each of these guys were “larger than life” (yet another cliche they’ll attach to you). Think about James Gandolfini–he dies in Rome this week, too young and too soon, but as much as it is a cautionary tale, he’s seen as living a life suited to the mob boss he played. It’s easy to get swept up in that identity. I know I have been as long as I can imagine. Being a big guy is just who I am and because I have great friends who love me for me they were unable to see how much being a big guy was quietly becoming more and more of a real danger.
Being alone here in my handful of days in Springfield, I have really begun to notice what type of toll my lifestyle has had on my body. It’s not a pleasant thought and I’ll spare you details but there comes a point where you know things are not alright. Maybe because I am out here and I have been in exploration and contemplation mode I’ve noticed little things which seem like red flags. The bottom line is that if I am going to make a serious go at my second act, I need to make some significant changes. Being away from the familiar and known will help make changes stick, I think. Clean slate is a clean slate, right?
Obviously, I am still processing this need for change–and I know I’m all over the place this week. I was watching the sun come up over the Springfield capitol building this week. The city is so flat and sprawling that there are a few places where the sunrise seems to be this dramatic. I was sitting at the window, up for an hour or two, and thinking about the different sunsets I’ve seen just this year. I remember how the sun seemed to melt the sky between snow squalls in Boston this winter with an all seeing insistence which forced a gray sky into submission. There was late night drive back from New York City after the Bob Mould show where Joe Strummer and The Clash kept me company through the poconos. There’s the way morning poured into the McGuigan breakfast nook like a bottomless cup of coffee slung from an overworked third shift waitress. Light moving its way through the soft tissue of darkness to bring insight and mark time as a fluid forward movement of light and insistence. I am as much a witness to time’s momentum. Now it’s time to be an active agent to the days ahead.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Drunken Boat, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. He lives in Springfield.