Six Feet Under and Clawing My Way Up

I don’t get HBO, so I have to wait for the shows I love to come out on DVD, and still it takes a long time for me to see them. So it was only yesterday that I saw the series finale of 6 Feet Under.

I was deeply jarred and disturbed. I cried continuously through the finale, and then intermittently for the next hour. Even today I find myself tearing up. Every time I hear the Sia song Breathe Me I start weeping anew. My throat is so choked up now that I can barely swallow. The final sequence, where Claire drives away from the Fisher home to start her new life in New York, while she has visions of the deaths of all her family, including herself, collapsed something inside my heart. I just lost it—and I can’t find “it” again.

Why did this disturb me so profoundly? Granted, the final four minutes showed how each of these characters I had come to know and love met their demise. Such a wrap-up was expected from a show in which every episode dealt with a death and its aftermath. I think what got to me so much was Claire’s story.

Claire accepts a job in New York to pursue a career in photography. At the last minute the job falls through, but her dead brother Nate advises her to not tell anyone and just go anyhow, banking that she will find something else soon enough. This is perhaps the point where Claire pushes through and I have failed. I am so overwhelmed by my anxieties and fears that unless a job is 100% secure, and I have an apartment lined up in a good neighborhood, and all this incredible bullshit list of worries is satisfied, then I can’t go. Perhaps these fears will never end, never be satisfied, and I’ll never go.

I’ve thought as I’m driving to teach some class that I should just keep driving past the college, past the Central Valley, past the Sierras, out of the suffocating claustrophobia of California, and be well into Nevada before I get out of the car. John Kennedy Toole, after he wrote Confederacy of Dunces, drove all around the country, aimlessly, going to the houses of famous writers, going to the coast, before he stopped on lonely road and directed a hose from his tailpipe into his sealed car. I feel as if I should cut myself off from everything I’m doing now. Start a new life. Get another chance. Have an adventure. Fall in love. Raise a family. Buy a house. Start my life. Feel, in some small corner of my heart, a measure of happiness. Yet, I know that none of these things will ever, ever happen for me if I continue like this.

Am I David then? David keeps the family business going when while Nate goes off to Seattle. He’s playing the father role even before his father dies (episode 1). Is this responsibility such a bad thing? Or do I feel drawn to responsibility as an escape from fear?

Recently I explained to a friend how little I’ve traveled, how I’ve never been to Europe or New York for example, because I figure that if a trip is going to cost me $2k, then I should really pay off $2k of debt before I incur that sum in debt again. Responsible, she judged—but boring.

Why do I feel such overwhelming fear over imaginary problems, and yet so little trepidation over real dangers? When that punk popped my tire on Telegraph while my brother-in-law and I were sitting in the car, and we confronted him and ran him down in the street, my pulse didn’t even rise. I see how my life is spiraling downward and yet I don’t feel an impetus to act, to do something, anything. I don’t know what to do. This isn’t the life I hoped for, yet I have no idea how to change it, or where it went wrong.

I thought graduating from Berkeley would help me find some sort of future, but there are just no jobs anymore, no real jobs with benefits and a livable wage. There are plenty of part-time, no benefit, no advancement dead ends. In theory there are real jobs, but I never got the offer, I never got the entry-level position I needed to move away from jobs where I ran a cash register. How many times after I graduated did I break down crying and think that I had it all completely backwards, that I should have studied a trade like plumbing? That I should join the military? When I was a student I imagined that the years of scraping money and worrying about how I was going to pay rent were only temporary, that this would change after I had a degree. If I could go back, would I tell my younger self that this was only the beginning? That a dozen years later I would still struggle to pay rent, be far in debt, never have enough money, never take vacations, always be scratching just to live and not have a hope of any financial security. That I still wouldn’t have health care? Maybe I wouldn’t tell my younger self how life was going to turn out—at least back then false hope kept me going.

So why do I keep going now? I really cannot say. Claire’s death scene involved her lying in bed, at 102, surrounded by photographs spanning her illustrious career. I suppose that on some level I still hope for success, I hope for love, though my experience so far suggests that these won’t be mine. I have hope that somehow the gnawing, terrible hunger will go away and I’ll lose weight before I go crazy and cut off my excess rolls of fat with a knife, claw the skin off my fat face.

Why do I get up in the morning? As Beckett said, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Why don’t I give in to the dark, melodramatic, self-pitying urge take that last, final stroll over the Golden Gate? I can’t say why, but I won’t give up, not yet, even though I feel I have failed so miserably in so many ways, that I am such a disappointment to myself and to my family, that I cannot form even a basic human connection other than to tell trite, meaningless jokes and perform mediocre impersonations. Perhaps this is the core of why I feel so inspired by Claire’s departure to New York. Perhaps it is not too late for me yet. Here Tolkien speaks to me: Despair is a theological error, as one does not know how the story ends, so the hobbits struggle on, without hope but without despair.


  1. Anonymous said...
    I seriously doubt your family is disappointed in you.

    I notice you have no problem sleeping in a tent for 6 weeks. Not many people can do that!! You love the freedom of just grabbing your tent. Yet, you have overwhelming fears of getting an apartment lined up for a new job? You are contradicting yourself, my friend.

    Take a chance. What the hell have you got to lose? At least you'll get a good story out of it. Say f-it and do it.

    A former student who has been sucked into your blogs and who, by the way, is rooting for you.
    Anonymous said...
    Sounds like you are living the scenes that the famed lyricist Morrissey has painted countless times in his songs.

    Listen to any of The Smiths albums, and you know you're not alone in feeling this way...

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