So asked Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in the biopic The Doors. Did Jim Morrison really stand up on a car and ask the living world of passersby around him this prophetic question? Who knows? Furthermore, who cares? The fact that it was asked in the movie is enough. How many of us really do know we’re alive? Sometimes I’m almost certain I’d have to be run over by a tank just to realize I’m breathing. But that’s the thing about breathing. You don’t need to practice it. It just happens. It’s one of those things-like blood flow-that just happens to us…come what may.
But is that enough? Do the facts that our blood pumps and our breath breathes make us, in fact, alive?
I say no. These facts just make us slightly different than rocks. They keep us alive. Alive is different than living. You have to live to be alive. You have to breathe the light fantastic. Or is that skip the light fantastic? Ooh…a cliche. Those things we’re never supposed to use. Anyway, I prefer to skip the light fandango…turn cartwheels across the floor. Now that is living.
I’ve lost the thread, haven’t I?
How many of you people know you’re alive? When Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison screeched that question into the Los Angeles night he was higher than a kite. He thought he was alive. He was passing judgement on everybody around him who he saw as ants struggling within the human condition. In other words, he was living.
At times like these, when I am knee-deep in my writing, I sometimes stop and ask myself that question. Do I know I’m alive? I mean, I’m involved in all this STUFF. And yet…none of it really touches me. I have 2 plays being produced within the next month. My 3rd novel was just released. I just helped pull off a hugely successful writers’ conference. I’m stepping into an important role on my local writing community’s board of directors. All these things should give me pause. Should make me feel something. Should make me think, ‘yes…I know I’m alive.’
But they don’t.
Those things are just for fun. Sure…I get excited about them. But only on a surface level. They are not proof of my existence. In other words, as much as I care about getting these things right…about people enjoying the work that I process, the writing that I create…they don’t help me in the least to breathe. These things are incidental. They are just things that I do. When I write, I pass the time. It’s almost the same as breathing…no effort on my part. It just happens. Does my writing answer the question that Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison asked while perched up there on the car looking down on the little people who surrounded him?
No. The answer is an emphatic no. Writing doesn’t even scratch the surface. It doesn’t suggest to me that I’m actually alive. I love it…don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t seem to create a reaction in me that tells me I’m living life. On the contrary…being a writer sometimes requires one to remove oneself from the treadmill of life. I agree, you must live to be a writer of any talent. What we do as writers is reflect life. If we are not living it, we cannot reflect it…we would be nothing more than vampire attempting vainly to look at ourselves in the mirror.
What the hell am I even trying to say here?!
I live life. Spending a week at the cottage staring off into the bowl of paradise from my Muskoka chair, my wet dog at my feet. THAT is living. Holding my grandson’s hand as he walks me to the light standard in the middle of our court because he’s fascinated with lights and he wants to tell me that said light standard is… “It’s OFF!”…that’s living. Taking in a Leafs game with my son…who can make a hot dog disappear in ten seconds flat…THAT is living. Laughing at my daughter’s crazy sense of humour and wondering where on earth she gets it from? THAT is living. Hurting to the point of being ripped apart? Laughing to the point of pissing myself? Getting lost in a movie at the theatre and holding my breath as I wait for the big something to happen and transform my life within the confines of that dark theatre? THAT is living. Christ, even filling the grocery cart every week and making sure we have the things on the list that my teenage dirtbag son requires to make him artificially happy? Even THAT is living.
Writing…putting words down one after another? That’s not living. That’s just breathing. Anyone can do that. You don’t even have to try.