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the after life.

November 27, 2013

i was listening to a CBC podcast (“How to…”) – a “How to Die” segment, and it really got my brain working. look, i’m a stoic eastern european. we don’t mind talking about death. sometimes, we laugh at funerals – not because we’re heartless, but because we also believe in celebrating life and being irreverent shits while doing so.

but the older i get, the more serious things get, too. people get sick, and it makes me think of my own mortality. not in a bad way – why are we so afraid to talk or think about death, when it’s the only certain thing that will happen to any of us? – but more in a logical way. if i wasn’t a writer, i don’t think i’d be twigging so much on the idea of a will and divvying up my creative work, but i am a writer, and so now i’m thinking.

i did an informal survey (read: weird, non sequitur text messages) of my writer friends. poor sods probably picked up their phones and saw “have you every thought about what would happen to your writing if you die an untimely death?” but they took it in stride.  the responses were both varied and similar. similar in that an overwhelming majority said “yes” – god, yes, they had thought about what would happen to their writing after they die. that’s because, for many of us, i’d hazard a guess, our writing is some of our most important stuff. varied in that some of them spoke of not letting unfinished writing see the light of day, or hoping that raw writing, scribbled in a moment of passion or extreme emotion, would never be uncovered, so as not to hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it. still, a few spoke of wanting to get the unpublished published. for those who are published – who would manage their writing estate? as i said in one of the messages – “no-one wants to be like ralph ellison and have a shit compendium published post-mortem.” (ralph ellison, who wrote invisible man [to be honest, one of my least favourite books] hit great success with that first novel, became paralyzed by fear or something and worked on his next novel for FORTY YEARS, writing over 2000 pages. 368 pages were published as a ‘book’, posthumously. yikes.)


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what really interested me was the allocation of writing – kind of like picking teams. a tweet turned into a lively back and forth conversation, with friends (half-jokingly?) proclaiming who, of our cohort, they’d leave their writing to, and who they’d task to burn the unfinished shit compendium. responsibilities were swapped back and forth in 140-char messages, with people either laughing their heads off and agreeing, or getting a little weepy thinking about the great beyond. i think we all have people we’d want to helm our writing career if we were to leave this earth – i know that i have one or two people in mind, and they aren’t my family members because my family doesn’t deserve that onus. (and my writing friends do? sorry, writing friends.) but i would pick a writing friend because only they realise the grit and grind of the industry.

and what of pending pieces? i have things that are scheduled to be published next year and onwards. i have plans. i also have a password-locked computer (as one writer said: “i have things in place to keep the unpublished from seeing the light of day” “such as?” “… passwords, mainly.”) and protected email accounts. if someone had to take over the writing reins without any knowledge of how to get into my life, my web of folders and drafts, they’d be up the creek without a paddle. without a boat.


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no-one specifically spoke of executors unless prompted. a few of my writer friends (need to make a portmanteau for that) have wills in place, some have started thinking about them, and some do not. again – our society doesn’t love talking about death, does it? we’ll take pictures of ourselves in the bathroom or post our after-birth on facebook, but we don’t want to talk about what happens when we leave this realm.

i think it’s time to be break the damn taboo, really. posting about death does not jinx me. it does not mean that i am tempting fate. it means that i am an adult and i am thinking about my future – specifically, my intellectual property, which is what means the most to me at the moment.

i started thinking. i need a will. and not because of my monetary assets, because if i died, those would be absorbed into my parents’ accounts, as i am not in partnership and really do not plan on being for a while. but for my less-easily-nailed-down effects. word documents. so… I THINK THERE’S A MARKET HERE – wills for writers. wills for people who maybe can’t afford a $400+/hour fee – the quick and dirty, less-than-an-hour sit-down where a lawyer will work solely on creative property and pay less attention to who gets your shoe collection and who gets your laptop and who has to take care of fido when you die. i did some googling – funnily enough, neil gaiman wrote a post about this – the posthumous scramble over intellectual property. you can see the blog post here. and, yeah, he hits on how important it is. he also provides a copy of a will – something his laywer friend wrote up for him, called a ‘holographic will’ – for ‘lazy’ writers to fill out.

in canada, where you have to be 18+ and ‘of sound mind’ to write a will (shit), it looks like holographic wills can hold up, and are indeed legal, but are cautioned against because they can be open to misinterpretation. you have to recopy the entire will template by hand – in your own handwriting. if you print the will and fill it out, you have to have two witnesses sign it. so… there’s a comfort. if you’re too cheap/poor/lazy/cat-brained (like writers are) you can sit down and write out a will by hand. i still think, though, that it’s time for me to go to a lawyer. if i appoint trustees to manage my writing, i want to make sure that what i’m doing is legally sound. i have plans for two people to be in charge of my creative work, so that one brain isn’t just at the helm, and i want to make sure that i have fail-safes in place to prevent a deadlock or headbutting.

well, there you do. it’s something to think about. i think it’s time for me, at least, to see the family lawyer. and it’s not macabre to think so.

i’d like to end on a quote from the always inimitable chris urquhart:

i just think about who’s going to be pissing on our graves.

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