Paul is Dead: A Bacon of Hope

Did you know that Paul Quarrington died of lung cancer a few years ago?

Of course you didn’t, because you have no fucking idea who Paul Quarrington was, but even if you did know who Paul Quarrington was you certainly would not have known that he died of lung cancer a few years ago, because if you did you would have told me.

Well, imagine the audacity, he went and did it anyway.

Lung cancer is my least favorite cause of death, as it would happen. Not just because most of the people who die from it could have simply chosen not to do so (If only they were better informed—surely there is somebody out there who is willing to start a letter-writing campaign to inform the smokers and the miners that these are, medically, very bad ideas), but because when you find out that you have lung cancer the doctor usually tells you how long you’ve got left in terms of months and makes a very big deal about how you should not have any kind of hope. That just seems like an inexcusably awkward conversation.

I think I would kill myself.

Not to be a downer, or more of a downer than usual, but evidence suggests that I would kill myself. When I used to play hide-and-go-seek as a kid I would always step out of my hiding spot to confront the seeker as they got close, because it was the only way to stop them from “finding” me. It goes well with my motto for living: you can’t fail if you don’t try. I think I would be so terrified of dying that I’d have to get it over with right away.

My uncle recently died from lung cancer. I think he was in his 60s. My family isn’t all that close, and we really only get together when somebody dies, which brings to mind the Song of Congregation from Paul’s masterful 1986 novel, Whale Music. I picture my family as whales passing each other off the coast of Japan once a decade or so. We took a day-long boat ride out into the Pacific to drop his ashes (not Paul’s) near an island (not Japan) where my grandparents are buried. No whales in sight.

I haven’t decided yet whether or not Paul Quarrington killed himself. As I understand it, he was uncharacteristically religious for a man who wrote a lot of stories with the word fuck in them, and I think being proactive about death is against the rules of most churches. However, he’s said to have died sitting up in a chair in his home, drinking wine and chit-chatting with his friends. I don’t really know how to make sense of that. Lung cancer isn’t really a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of ending. To die from lung cancer, sitting in a chair with a glass of wine and a few good friends, seems to imply a degree of planning. I imagine one would have to list Oh, and then I’m going to die on the itinerary for such a get-together. What an inexcusably awkward moment that would be. But I can’t be sure.

This is all very sad for me on an entirely selfish level, because Paul Quarrington was a rare beacon of hope with regard to my writing. He showed me that a person can write very interesting stories in very interesting ways, break all of the rules, and maybe get away with it. Even win awards. The first time I read Whale Music, and then the semi-autobiographical Life of Hope, and then an older Paul’s tight and refined Galveston (all of these in a week or two), I thought they seemed like stories I might have written, with a bit more practice.

I never really related to Paul, though, perhaps because I knew fuck-all about him, apart from his being religious, which I’m not. However, I relate very closely at times with a character of his, Desmond Howell, who I sometimes channel in my more self-deprecating writings (Paul can’t accuse me of plagiarism now that he is dead and everything). Des Howell was, to flatter him, a fat and lonely hermit man who hated to be around people and oh no I’m revealing way too much about myself but basically he was a real winner. If I were to list his positive character traits I’d come off as a narcissist (which I am, it’s just that as a narcissist I can’t allow myself to come off as a narcissist). He was a bonafide musical genius, for one example which applies to me in no way whatsoever, though I suppose that didn’t end well for him. Des thought the Beatles were his downfall.

The book of Desmond Howell, Whale Music, won at least one award and was made into a motion-picture film of some regard in the kingdom of Canada. I related startlingly much to Maury Chaykin’s portrayal of Des, even though I think the first time I saw it I was only around eleven or twelve years old. Let’s have a look-see at—

Oh, Maury died last year, too. From complications of a heart valve infection, which just blows all of my plans out of the water. I quit smoking a few years back, but I’m having less success quitting bacon, so bypass surgery was totally going to be my saving grace until Maury went and apparently died from the procedure. He died on his birthday no less, as if to challenge my insistence that the cosmos are going to be on my side come what is sure to be a raging torrent of plausible death scenarios.

However, just as Paul’s work gives me hope as a writer, he also had some good advice for people such as myself who have a limited time left on the planet:

“Everyone’s dying right? I think in fact everyone should get a piece of paper saying, ‘Dear Sir: you’re going to die in a year.’ Then you’d go, ‘Better get on that then.’”

Maybe I’ll fry up some pork belly for dinner tonight, after all.


  • spacemonkey

    June 8, 2011

    Good thing I saved you with beer and pizza for dinner, instead.

    • Christoph Malcolm

      June 9, 2011

      And breakfast.


  • sharya

    June 9, 2011

    I know I don’t commented much yet since you’ve started syndicating here, but I’m really glad you started syndicating. I’m a lazy reader, and if I can’t read it through lj, I have this tendency not to read at all, but I can honestly say I’ve missed your posts, and I’m delighted to be reading them again 🙂

    • xtoph

      June 9, 2011

      Hey! It’s Sharya! Thank you, Sharya! I kind of have the same problem keeping me from reading livejournal, tumblr, etc, posts. Fortunately, I seem to have to check to make sure the automagical syndication thing went through every time I post on my site now, so I keep reading entries here. Score one for automation making me do things manually.

      I should really add my livejournal friends page to my Google Reader, but even then I would have to remember to check Google Reader.


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