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Life: A Hereditary Disease
Jess Wynne

Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough. (Groucho Marx).

Precisely. Anyone can grow old; so why jump on the bandwagon? Immortality may be the craze for assorted gods, goddesses and Texan millionaires but dying young has always been much more glamorous. Take the gods of Greek mythology for example, what did they achieve with their longevity? World peace, an end to famine? No, these gods spent their time bickering, having amazingly complicated sex-lives, transforming themselves into various animals, changing others into statues, trees, rivers and… well anything that came to mind really. Actually that all sounds rather intriguing.

But this isn’t ancient Greece. Modernity forces an old age on us which means a sudden interest in bingo and an almost deviant desire for slippers and hot milky drinks. Probably I’m being needlessly stereotypical here and Jesus, does that piss old people off! I recently heard a radio programme concerning the portrayal of the elderly on television. Its focus was a series of interviews with old people complaining that, in features such as One Foot in the Grave, they were consistently shown to have nothing better to do with their time than complain. Well actually I assumed that Victor, in the aforementioned show, was such a whinger because he was a Virgo but obviously the elderly missed this subtlety. Anyway I’ve been feeling a little depressed recently so if any radical old people want to challenge my prejudices with tales of daring sky dives and all night ecstasy-fuelled raves then please email – I could do with cheering up. But Virgoens can just pull themselves together and shut up and perhaps spend a little more time nursing their persecution complexes…ha! (diabolical laughter).

Yes it is definitely wiser to give arthritis and community jumble sales a miss and reach for the early death option. Of course this probably means you will die horribly and traumatically but at least you will be memorable. Try enlisting The Fortean Times Book of Strange Deaths for inspiration. Note: death by snowball-related suffocation, entwining self with a garden hose and pet turtle inflicted head injuries have all been taken. Of course fame acquits you of the crime of conventionality. James Dean, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix – all legendary figures who had the foresight to die young. Ohh uncanny, they all have names beginning with ‘j’; is this a portent? Plus they all became ex-people, ceased to be, expired and went to meet their maker (enough Monty Python references already) at about the same age, twenty seven or twenty-eight. Better do some research and write a best seller. Oh yeah Kurt Cobain – real first name Jennifer. Maybe.

The point is that the public is fascinated by these figures. Commonly we allude to the ‘tragic waste’ in discussing their deaths. But honestly, perhaps we should be relieved. Is this incredibly insensitive? Consider the evidence. James Dean – beautiful, charismatic, wild – dies with his dignity intact. Marlon Brando, once similarly gifted, lives only to purchase forklift trucks in increasing sizes with which to transport both his monumental figure and his ego. Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain: would they have retained their rock ‘n’ roll credibility if they had lived to perform duets with Elton John and a series of rap artists in a misconceived attempt to engage with a youthful audience? A middle aged Janis Joplin performing on the lottery programme? Commentators are always extolling the dangers of the music world – young performers cast into a nightmare world of drugs and debauchery. Obviously the real danger is inherent in the fact that musicians might not get caught up in drugs and debauchery and instead continue way past their prime. Oi Rod Stewart, I’m talking to you. It’s better to burn out than fade away…

Well maybe I don’t believe everything I’m saying. This is my prerogative as a writer. And a pathological liar. I admit it, my perspective is warped, I’m only twenty-one. A desperate need to cling to life at all costs has not yet kicked in. Rather I try to avoid it. By hiding in duck ponds and disguising myself as cheese plants and that sort of thing. Oh dear getting late – where was I? Bloody short term memory. Oh yeah, when I’m ninety-two I’m sure to screech ‘I’m NINETY-TWO you know’ with pride (coupled with relief I suppose) at anyone who will listen.

Nevertheless, I have no aspiration to live to a hundred and beyond. The world’s not actually getting any better is it? Global warming, nuclear threats from religious fanatics, an American president with all the intelligence and grammatical accuracy of an amoeba and a multitude of other life stuff to be labelled under the heading of ‘deeply depressing’. Plus it’s fairly likely that I have mad cow disease – I base this assumption on a recurring desire to leave the warmth and normalcy of my flat and run, run to the fields! Eat grass all day, sleep, then eat more grass. Perhaps I’ve just been working too hard. Er that’s a lie actually – perhaps I’ve just been thinking about the prospect of working too hard. And as Bob Dylan so succinctly put it, time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore… and I left my 3,000-word essay on the boat, a shark ate it, my mum spilt seaweed on it… Actually I’m not quoting him verbatim but I think this is the true essence of his words – at least it would be if he had my workload.

Oh well if I live forever, maybe I could actually get something done…

© Jess Wynne 2001

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