Yesterday I was reading the introduction to Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, a book pieced together from two trunks full of writing he left behind after he died. It was also Kafka’s birthday, and because I don’t really believe in coincidence, I started thinking about other writers who left behind trunks full of writing, writers like Emily Dickinson, etc.
Years ago, I read Marian Bantjes’ suggestion for students who want to interview designers for school projects: “Pretend we’re dead.” I stole it for my own contact page: “Pretend I’m dead.”
It occurs to me that “Pretend I’m dead” could also be a compositional method. I hate writing books so much I have goofy fantasies about faking my own death (the COVID era seems like the perfect time to do it — who would know?) and publishing books posthumously.
“Why don’t you assume you’ve written your book already,” Stewart Brand once suggested to his friend, Brian Eno, “and all you have to do now is find it?”
Why not pretend you’re dead and start piecing together a posthumous volume?
Might be a way to get started, at least…
* * * Update 7/12/2021 * * *
A reader sent me a funny parenting version of “Pretend I’m dead.”
Mom gets a call from her adult daughter, who’s in a panic about a trivial situation. “What should I do, Mom?!?”
Mom says, “Calm down. Now, pretend I’m dead. What would you do?”
Another reader said she wished people could read their obituaries before they were dead, which reminded me of the Better Things episode, “Eulogy” (S02E06): “Sam, feeling unappreciated, encourages her children and closest friends to pretend that she’s dead and speak at her pretend funeral so that she may hear how they really feel about her.”