Of Numbers, Death, and Nonsense

Of Numbers, Death, and Nonsense

        Despite (or because of?) my very clear interest in languages and the more liberal arts, my brain constantly thinks in terms of numbers. I’m obsessed with assessing my own productivity. Today is December 19, which means that 62% of the month has passed, and considering I have a deadline in mid-January, I have to increase the amount of time I work by 50 to 65% for the rest of the month in order to make it in time, considering other commitments and my recent fatigue which increases my average sleep by one hour per night, and the weather which increases the dog-walking time and preparation by 33% every day, and adding in some extra time for eventual unpredictable variables.

        And then I realize, today my dad would have turned 50. And in mid-January, I’m turning 28. The same gap between today and my deadline. Then all these numbers lose their purpose in face of my emotions. At the same time, these numbers have always ruled my life. It’s like a constant fight between the bigger picture and the precise details, the macro versus the micro, in which the micro wins out of sheer quantity, becoming the macro. And then, the unquantifiable, innumerable elements, the beyond numbers, get shoved under the rug until I start tripping on the bumps. Like today.

        Man, my dad would have turned 50. It’s a number beyond numbers. It doesn’t make sense, it creates sense. It’s a quantity which empties yet defines my life. It’s an addition of years of absence, it’s a subtraction of what should have been in favor of what was, it’s an unknown variable that became known too early in the equation and displaying ERROR on my calculator. It does not make sense.

        Or can sense ever be made? In French, we say to have sense, or to be sensical (which isn’t even an official word in English). So, is sense contained, had, rather than made? Do things, events possess sense? No. Neither language is correct.

        Sense is the unknown variable of the equation. We are the ones who try to create or see sense in that which is inherently void of sense. We impose sense onto variables through an emotional equation whose result is entirely subjective. We add up or subtract or multiply or divide numbers in our lives that we put together ourselves to try and give sense to them as a result. I suppose it’s easier to accept nonsense when we make it make sense, or make it have sense.

Happy 50th birthday to my big nonsense, my unknown variable.

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I Forgot

I Forgot

July 25, 2016. I am 26 years old. It’s 5:05 am. I just finished grading a stack of 64 midterm exams. A thunderstorm is roaring outside. My 7-month-old puppy is whining. My poor baby. 7 years ago, at 5:05 am, my dad had already choked to death. An accidental fire, I read in the newspapers. I was 19. He was 42. He would be 48 today (his birthday is in December, mine is in January). I was 5 weeks away from starting university. I was at my aunt’s, 33 du Barrage street. Too many numbers, my head hurts. Their cat was restless. No. It was only the following day that I learned about it. But I already knew. I’ve never told anyone, but I knew before knowing. People waited a full day and a half before telling me. 1 day and 1/2. His one son. But I knew, so I looked it up myself. I found this article in the newspapers: http://www.lapresse.ca/la-voix-de-lest/actualites/200907/27/01-887549-la-victime-na-pu-etre-reanimee.php. I learned about my dad’s death in the newspapers. Online, at night, at my aunt’s. It was that night that the kitty was restless. Yes, I remember now. I didn’t like that cat. I didn’t like the yellow pillow in the guest room either. I called my mom 6 or 7 times before she answered. The funerals were 1 or 2 days after. Why can’t I remember? I’m such a dumbass. I went shopping for funeral clothes at some point. I guess it was 2 days after. But it seemed quicker than that. I also got a haircut at some point but I think that was even before I knew. I mean, I already knew, but before I knew knew. Wait no. I spent the day right after with Karine. I pretended everything was ok. We even went out. We made a silly lip-sync video. So I was wrong, the funerals were 2 days after. I don’t remember how I got there. I don’t remember if it was my mom who picked me up or my aunt who drove me. They both attended. My brother was there too (half-brother, his dad is still alive, but of course he knew my dad well). My mom had separated from my dad a long time before. I have no memories of them together. But my memories are fading it seems, so what do I know. I was on autopilot for two weeks. My brain had trouble registering. I was numb. I didn’t cry much. I understood but didn’t feel. My mom cried, my aunt cried, everyone cried. Did I cry? I don’t remember. I was watching the movie of my dad’s funerals. I could only think of the fire. I was miles away, but I could see it so clearly in my mind. It was right there. I only had to go in and save my dad, but I didn’t. This scene was on endless replay for 2 weeks. That’s all I remember. All I remember is something that didn’t happen. Me not saving my dad, over and over again. Him dying endlessly. Me standing there watching his death. I remember plants. They were given to me afterwards. I still have them. I remember my mom’s tears on my shoulder. My aunt sniffling behind me. People looking at me. The fire. A lot of people looking at me. Some that I’ve never met, wishing me well. I don’t know you, wish well to your father who’s 82 and still alive, not to a stranger. I remember chairs. The fire. I remember not going to the washroom. I remember nothing of the following days. I also remember they didn’t let me be alone with my dad’s body. Those were the only words I said all week, “can I have 2 minutes alone with him?,” but they were denied. It’s the only thing I really wanted, but they refused. If only they let me, it would’ve been much easier. It would’ve been easier to cry. How could I react with so many people around me waiting for me to react. Dying to see my reaction. I remember some kind of priest saying stuff. My father didn’t believe in religion. Dumbasses, why have a priest at his funerals. I think the last time I saw my dad (not his corpse) was at his sister’s house. We drove there. It was kind of boring. I had a cheeseburger. He watched me sleep at some point. Or maybe that was the time before. I was half-aware, but I know he watched me sleep. I never watched him sleep. The closest I got to watching him sleep was in his coffin. He looked sleepy. He looked happy, happier than me. I wanted to join him. There was room for two. I’m not very big. I’m struggling to remember. We went on walks together and found crabs. He made me love crabs. He taught me how to grab them. But I don’t remember today. I forgot so many things. It hurts how much I’ve forgotten. The beautiful memories all gone. Only the feeling of loss that I will always remember. His death. Taking the whole space of my memories of him.All that’s left is his death.

Poppy-Wearing and National Grieving as Political Tools

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Poppy-Wearing and Memory as Political Tool

            I do not wear the poppy. I feel guilty and shameful for not doing so and therein lies the problem. There is a problem when not wearing a symbolic pin makes more of a statement than wearing it, when local shops and restaurants all sell the same pin that gets thrown to the garbage every year so that people can buy it again the following year — basically, when the State implicitly forces its members to mourn strangers with a tangential capitalistic, imperialist, and wasteful component. Let us remember British journalist and newsreader Charlene White who has faced racist and sexist abuse for not wearing a poppy on-screen, and that many people in the UK have been arrested for burning poppies.

            The poppy is a pin people wear in the Commonwealth in the few weeks before (and often after) Remembrance Day to honour the victims of World War I. I would first like to raise the question: until when will we commemorate these people? Considering all of them are deceased, and many of their children are as well, when will we stop mourning these people as a nation? At this point, aren’t we just mourning idealized, semi-fictional people? Turning people into heroes as a state effort to align its people behind them? In fact, there is nothing romantic about the war. This is not something we should strive to turn our young men and women into. The people that were forced to fight are not heroes, they are victims. Victims of their heads of state that play chess with them in an unquenchable thirst for power.

            By guilting us into wearing the poppy, into admiring victims, the State, as our ultimate patriarch, is telling us boys to look up to our fathers and walk into their steps — steps that It forced them to walk into. It is telling us what real men are and what we should strive to become. By refusing to wear the poppy, I’m not disrespecting our men and women that died on the front, on the contrary, I’m refusing to obey to the implicit order of grieving them, in order to respect people who truly should grieve them. Grief shouldn’t be used as a political tool, as something that people must forcefully flaunt. Columnist Dan O’Neill wrote that “presenters and politicians seem to compete in a race to be first – poppies start sprouting in mid-October while the absence of a poppy is interpreted as absence of concern for the war dead, almost as an unpatriotic act of treachery,” while in the past, the poppy was only worn on Remembrance Day itself. Poppy-wearing becomes shallow, void of the emotional baggage mourning is supposed to bear, and becomes used by the capitalistic State to control the masses. It is an insidious tool that society has internalized, its members surveilling each other to make sure that everyone is falling in line, mourning and admiring the same unknown dead people. It is indeed an Ideological State Apparatus, as Louis Althusser would call them. The State sells poppies with one hand and guns with the other. It preaches remembrance one month of the year but wages wars the other eleven. Attention is indeed distracted from current geopolitical and economic crises when we (pretend to) remember events from a century ago.

            It is out of respect for the humanity of each fallen individual that I choose not to buy a poppy, for mourning is not meant to be flaunted, forced, or marketed, but subjective, much like any healing process. I do not want to appropriate this symbol when none of my close relatives have fallen in the war. Individuals may indeed find solace in the unity of this mourning, so I do not criticize people who wear the poppy, as most of them only see it as showcasing respect, much like holding the door for someone behind you. But the process itself has rotten over the years, and some people perpetuate this forceful grieving by imposing a manner in which one should grieve, and grieving is indeed entirely subjective. Two siblings affected by the same death of a parent may heal in opposite ways: one by wearing a poppy and relishing into beautiful memories, one by not wearing it and moving on as fast as possible. It isn’t up to society or the state to impose a way, or to impose grieving. Showing off your grief doesn’t make you a better person. It might help you heal, which is entirely legitimate, so do not feel bad if it helps you personally to commemorate. But do not perpetuate this silent (or not so silent) shaming of people who don’t wear the poppy. They are not any less respectful than you are. Some might be even too hurt to want to show it openly. And please understand how it is used as political tool if you decide to wear it. You might not personally see it as such, or may wish to disregard this aspect of it, but people who do not wear it are not doing so out of disrespect, on the contrary, they don’t wanna appropriate your grief, they have too much respect for it, while also making a statement against its use as an Ideological State Apparatus. Lest we forget but lest we be distracted from the actual catastrophe of warfare and manipulated into remembering strangers.

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mourning as in morning

mourning as in morning

the morning after

I take a pill

but you’re not gone

from my body

from my mind

 

deuil as in deux

two, the two of us

split, rift

in two different times and spaces

me in my double bed

you in your single coffin

I have space for you

you have none for me

 

grief as in gris

gray, gray matter

your death inscribed in me

in my brain

my identity

your death is me

I am your death

we are one again

inside my memory