Ricky Gervais and the Wrong Way to Grieve

After Life, created by Ricky Gervais, seems to be a quest to show just what it would mean to grieve in the wrong way. While grief counselors and well-meaning supporters will often assure us there is “no right or wrong way to grieve,” the central character, Tony, is destined to be an exemplar for how badly things can go when someone takes that advice to heart.

Tony recently lost his wife along with his will to live. Even without a will to live, though, he keeps living in spite of himself, partly because the dog needs to be fed. Maybe he really does feel an obligation to the dog, or he really wants to live, or he is just afraid to die. It doesn’t really matter why he keeps living, maybe, but several characters do make note of the fact that he does, in fact, find a reason to go on each day, even if he can’t say what it is.

So he goes on without wanting to live, which he feels gives him the freedom to do things he never would have done before. Of course, he always had the same freedom, but his suicidal ideation has now made him aware of it. The fact that suicide is on his mind tells him that if something he does causes things to get even more unpleasant for him, he will simply end it all.

This is, of course, a central tenet of existentialism, especially as articulated by Jean-Paul Sartre. Humans have radical freedom to choose their actions because they can annihilate themselves at any time. This annihilation can come in the form of suicide or simply choosing to become a different person. Sure, you can’t actually become a different person, but you can choose radically different actions, and we are defined by what we do.

Suicide is also the central question for another existentialist, Albert Camus, of course, but for Camus the question of suicide should challenge us to find meaning for our lives each and every day. If I’ve chosen not to kill myself today, I must have a reason. I should be aware of what it is I am living for. If it is just to feed the dog, then so be it.

But Tony isn’t so far along his journey yet. He’s engaged in a little game theory such as that discussed by Robert Nozick and other philosophers. He’s decided that being a decent person isn’t a good bet in the game of life. While it would be better if everyone were nice, that is not the case. Consequently, nice people consistently lose ground to the selfish people around them. Tony reasons it is better to be a rotten person benefiting from the kindness of a few naïve but altruistic people than to be a nice person expending energy on people and getting nothing in return.

So Tony is pretty awful to everyone around him. I don’t think there is any need for a spoiler alert here as this is all laid out in the first minutes of the first episode. Tony does some awful things that have awful consequences for people who come into his contact. Brief flashes of remorse or regret let us know an empathetic individual still lurks in there somewhere, but people risk real harm by coming into contact with Tony.

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Buddha tells the grieving Kisa Gotami to go to all her fellow villagers and collect a mustard seed from everyone not touched by grief. She returns empty handed, of course, as everyone is touched by grief. Like Kisa Gotami, Tony slowly learns this lesson, and it changes him.

In the end, though, I think existentialism drives the series more than Buddhism, but it is Simone de Beauvoir who gets the final say. Beauvoir believed, as did the other existentialists, that to be human is to be free if we constantly practice freedom as an act of will as Tony has decided to do. However, as we will ourselves to be free we must also recognize the freedom of others and will them to be free as well.

We must all suffer, but our suffering is shared by all those around us as both Kisa Gotami and Tony learn. Recognizing that means we will move forward with compassion and kindness, and that is the greatest freedom there is.

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Growing Demons in the Garden (#poem)

They hate him but everyday say his name.trump rally

The insults and mocking are more powerful

Than the most potent growth hormones.

As he grows, he bellows, drawing

Minion demons near, frightening the herd.

Luckily, it seems, the demons are weak

And easily defeated, but each

Lopped off head seems to summon

Ten, 100, or 1000 more automata

Bringing the battle to their betters.

Perhaps someone should have built a wall.

Perhaps someone should have built an entire house.

While flailing at a dust devil in the desert,

The hordes, who previously had little to do,

Were stirred to action—to destruction.

Perhaps it is time to turn away from spectacle

And focus on preservation or even flourishing.

The jokes have grown repetitive, anyway,

And the audience is weary of laughing desperation.

Just say you want to do good, you know what is good,

And you love the others.

Set your shoulder to the stone,

Dig in your heels,

And push.

If Sisyphus can do it,

I’m sure you will be at the crest soon.

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Languages and Viruses

Some writers use poetry

To propound great thoughts

Through deeply intoned vowels,

But poetry is only language,

And you can use it as if

Chatting with a friend

About passing daysScreenshot 2019-02-19 at 14.01.53

And pastimes.

You can pull them in,

Get a laugh or two,

And make them

Trust you

Before thrusting

The knife deep

Into the abdomen,

Drawing it up

Toward the eyes,

As you let evidence

Of your betrayal

Provoke glares of

Rage and bewilderment

That linger in

Those final moments.

 

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The Kids are Proper Communists (#poem)

(Note: This poem is about the younger generation in general and not about specific individuals.)

I’ve always supported freedom and equalityScreenshot 2019-02-18 at 09.28.18

I wanted minorities to have equal opportunity.

I believed in promoting a liberal social order,

Showing non-aggression and peace at the border.

I wanted to teach the world to live in perfect harmony,

So that our new Utopia would all be down to me,

But my kids are proper communists,

They want to overthrow the state.

They will give everyone what they need,

And take whatever the wealthy can pay.

Workers will take the means of production,

And profit will be a thing of the past.

Even if there’s no greed reduction,

The billionaire power will never last.

They’ve declared private property a lie,

And reliance on investment income will die.

The worker and his value no longer alienated.

The greed of the bourgeoisie no longer sated.

My kids are proper communists,

Syndicalism will arrive any day.

My kids are proper communists.

You better get the hell out of the way.

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East Texas tribute to Robert Burns (#poem)

I wrote this poem for a Burns Night celebration.

Now ol’ Robbie Burns was a good ol’ boy,

And we good ol’ boys stand up for each other.

But that ol’ boy was less cowboy and more of a lover.

That scoundrel was wilder than an acre of snakes,

And he thought the sun rose just to hear him crow.

He’d chase anything in a skirt that shakes,

Whether for love or just for show.

He hated farm work and was a real buzzard if you get what I say.

He got his mother’s servant, Elizabeth, in a family way,

But Robbie already had his mind on one Miss Jean Amour,

But Jean’s father said her and Robbie’s love would be no more.

Robbie didn’t mind as he loved another lady, Mary, anyway.

And he expected to get hitched to her any day.

I tell ya that boy was so full of himself he could strut while sittin’ down,

And when it came to the ladies, Lord, he sure did get around.

He was just fixin’ to move to the Carribean

To marry Mary when she up and died,

And he published a book of pretty good poetry,

And decided to stay in Scotland with a braggart’s pride.

So what in tarnation did that boy do next

But up and move to Edinburgh to make his fame.

When he couldn’t get in Nancy McLehose’s pants,

He just got out his cards and dealt a new game.

He started wooing her servant, Jenny,

And got himself a son from this new flame.

As he got older and his fame grew,

He moved back to the country to start life anew.

He gave up the wild ways of his past,

And joined Jean Amour in a marriage that would last.

Together they had nine children, but only two survived.

They stayed married till the end, but he was only 37 when he died.

During his life, Robbie was known for many of his wrongs,

But you can bet your sweet behind he wrote great poems and songs.

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Ancestral Burden

They say we carry the dead with us,wren footprint
And most are surprised by the weight.
We hoist them up on our shoulders,
And imagine our strength is adequate.

But invariably we fault and stumble.
We stagger and trip and fall.
We can’t see a way out of this trouble.
Each partition becomes a wailing wall.

We drop them in the middle of our marriage.
We trip over them when we try to dance.
We always feel disparaged,
As the dead look on askance.

So bury your dead before too long.
Let them rest and rot in the ground.
And you’ll find you will grow strong.
If you don’t keep the corpses around.

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Monsters (#poem)

It’s years since I slitheredbegging devil
From the antediluvian muck
And took my first steps
In a reeking miasma.
Prying open eyes
Unaccustomed to light,
I recognised, first, evil.
I awoke to enemies.
I set out with purpose.
They must be dispatched hastily
For the good of the world.
I drove a stake through the heart.
A rake across the face.
Forced hands into wood shredders.
Poured molten lead through ears.
Drug bone saws across the crotch.
Water boarded with acid.
Castrated and then decapitated.
Immersed in boiling oil.
My knees crushed the trachea.
A sledge hammer smashed the spine.
I yanked fingernails from their beds.
I opened and salted wounds.
I disregarded feelings.
I disrespected wishes.
I locked grudges indefinitely.
But all my efforts have failed.
The monsters, demons, and evil spirits
Are still with me.
If you wish to stay,
You must get to know them.

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