‘Letters To My Dead’ is an experiment in writing a fictional blog of remembrance to paint a portrait of Patrick Donovan, a seventy-two-year-old man approaching the end of his life.
The story will be presented as blog posts written by Patrick Donovan in remembrance of his dead and posted each Saturday.
Hello Reader. My name is Patrick Donovan and this is my blog.
I was told by those who know that I should start by introducing myself and that I should include a picture. The one of the man on the beach will have to do. He’s not me of course. I’m too private a person to put my picture on the Internet.
So, if I’m so passionate about privacy, why am I writing a blog?
Well, because, at seventy-two years old, I’ve reached a point in my life where most of the people I have ever known are dead or lost to me in Alzheimer’s memory mazes and I find that, without them, I no longer feel fully real. I’m slowly fading, like a photograph left too long in the sun. Soon, I will become invisible, even to myself.
If I were a different kind of man, I’d address this by going down to the pub and having a drink with some other poor soul who needs to know that they’ve been noticed by a least one other person today. Sadly, I’m not that sort of man. I have never been gifted at making friends. I’m able to do so only by long association supported by a framework of shared interests or endeavours.
Listening again to that last sentence: dry, over-formal, mildly robotic, I can easily understand why people do not immediately warm to me.
I sometimes wonder whether I would actually pass the Turing test or whether my interlocutor would judge my intelligence to be artificial.
Now I’m sitting here wondering if you, Reader, know who Alan Turing was and if you got the joke. Should I dumb this down a bit? Or stop and explain? Or just leave it as it is? Well, it’s my blog. If you, Reader, don’t get it, then you don’t have to keep reading.
Hmm, that is probably another example of the attitude that limits the number of people who become my friend.
I was never particularly gregarious. I have always needed solitude almost as much as I need sleep. It refreshes me, returning me to myself after too long spent surrounded by others. Recently, well, since my wife died really, which was two years ago, which feels like forever and like no time at all, solitude has been slipping into the shadow of loneliness.
Even a man as introverted as I am needs some human interaction. Narrative without discourse soon becomes a dull monologue.
Of course, this blog is also a monologue in the sense that I am speaking alone but I hope that neither you nor I will find it dull.
In theory, I would like to meet people. Interesting people, who know how to speak and how to listen. In practice, I have no way of finding them. The meeting places that might once have given me an opportunity for contact: libraries, museums, bookshops, are either closed or have transformed themselves into an online user experience that I find as arid as my own company. I have never been inclined to join clubs. I don’t want to immerse myself in a group identity and I’m intimidated by the thought of all the clumsy steps I’d have to make in the new member’s integration dance. Restaurants have become places for couples or for groups with something to celebrate. A lone man is tolerated but not welcomed. I’ve never felt as if I belonged in pubs and now that I’d don’t drink I have no legitimate reason to be there.
As the need for… company? contact? being heard? hearing myself? staying human? …pushed at me, I decided to try Social Media. I started with FaceBook and immediately realised that I had no idea what it was for. It seemed to be a mixture of ego wall, live reportage of life’s daily minutiae and simplistic like/don’t like statements about music, films, books and people. The alarming lack of privacy was accompanied by a remarkable lack of intimacy, leaving me feeling like the only clothed person in a nudist camp.
Other Social Media seemed to be a similar mix of shallow public display and context-free intimacy, so I left them behind and decided to go old school and create this blog.
Blogs were originally meant to be about the here and now: this thing happened to me today, or I’m excited about what I have planned for tomorrow, but, in my case, this will not work. My days are driven by a routine that is my only shield against inertia and despair. It is not interesting to live through. It would be excruciating to try and write about.
So I have decided to write this blog for the dead in my life.
I understand that they won’t be able to read it. I haven’t lost my grip on reality. I’ve been an atheist for as long as I’ve been able to think clearly. I know the dead are dead and aren’t coming back. I’m not writing to them as either invocation of exorcism.
I’m doing this in the tradition of the Mexican Los Dias de Los Muertos which contains a very old belief that we all die three deaths. The first death is when our bodies cease to function. The second death comes when the body is buried. The third and final death of a person comes only when there is no-one left who remembers them. This makes a lot of sense to me. Perhaps, when I write to my dead, the memories may sustain both me and them.
At the top of this blog, I have a letter in a bottle. The letter is to the dead but the bottle is for you, my Reader. Every bottle that finds its way to you increases the number of people who remember my dead. I’m going to launch one bottle a week until I’ve run out of people to write to.
I hope you will visit me again next week.