The venerable LA Times still comes to the door on Sunday, or actually, some random driveway within a half mile that the delivery person, bless her soul, thinks somehow belongs to the address on her list. But I am out of the habit of reading it as my news delivery methodology has shifted almost entirely to annoying email forwards of NY Times articles that I can’t open because, like a parent trying to gain control of herself, tells me I have “reached my limit—”. I do want to support journalism, and although I have always had to pay for newspapers, there were always ways to get the free press for free, and I suppose I have been spoiled. But also, when you received a newspaper made from paper, you actually HAD something you could, albeit awkwardly, hold in your hand, and maybe that’s one reason I refuse to pay a dollar a day to subscribe to something I can’t use to start a fire with should it ever get cold enough in California again to need one.
I do occasionally tear open the green plastic wrap covering the LA Times, there presumably because someone had the peculiarly optimistic notion that it might rain again in this desert wasteland. I skim the disappointing headlines, and fall back into my old pattern of seeking out the obituaries.
Oh, sweet death. I know I’m not alone in the arguably macabre habit of seeking out the obituaries, not, as the old joke goes, to see if I had made the list, but to see who else had. To this day, my favorite part of the Academy Awards ceremony isn’t seeing who most successfully lobbied to take home a statuette, but rather the brief montage of the faces who bit the dust in the preceding year. And in the aviation magazines that clutter my house, I have a keen interest in reading about legendary flyers who recently kicked the bucket, usually described with the reassuring undertone that the cause of death had nothing to do with aviation.
I don’t completely understand my preoccupation with obituaries, because I am much better at understanding others’ motivations than my own, though I do think that it has something to do with the fanciful term anticipatory grieving. In reading other people’s obituaries, I feel the pain and angst of grief, but it’s unclear to me how much of that grief is about them and how much is about the anticipation of my own demise. Maybe there’s really no difference after all; we are all both the eggmen and the walrus.
Lest you be left with the wrong impression, I don’t believe I am obsessed with death, nor would you necessarily care if I was. Come to think of it, maybe I am, but I would prefer to think it’s more about having a lot of difficulty with aging. I don’t mean to say that it is my body in need of spare parts, but instead it is my mind that may be due for an overhaul.
When I decided to take flying lessons at age 50, I thought I was being clever by asking to be taught by the oldest, most experienced pilot at the school. That was nearly 20 years ago. I have been told I was the last official student of Floyd Jennings. Floyd didn’t actually teach me how to fly, but rather flew next to me for two years while I somehow absorbed from him how to do it. After all, no one taught him how to fly, except perhaps, as he put it, “the seat of my pants.” When I look at the photo of me and him in front of the Cessna 150 I wore after my first solo, he doesn’t look that old, and at the time he was likely younger than I am now. (Cue Bob Dylan?).
I have gotten to that point in my life where those people who taught me in school, the people I would happily call mentors, have either kicked the bucket, are pushing up daisies, bought the farm, or have gone tits up. I am feeling lonelier and lonelier. When I try to find someone to look up to, they’re no longer taller than me. In fact, I can’t see them at all.
My go-to poet, W.S. Merwin, who also died recently and has been an important part of my life, wrote “Now all my teachers are dead except silence.” It’s getting quieter and quieter out there.