Ere I am J.H.

[Last night, Monday 31st July, we scattered my friends ashes in a small ceremony near Friar’s Crag on Derwent Water in the Lake District. I naturally took the opportunity to write some more about her to share with the people who attended. It is reprinted here for everyone else.]

In Terry Gilliam’s seminal film Brazil we have an underlying narrative about existence, reality and the nature of understanding. How we can construct realities and not see the world around us. How we can live our life in a dream and be perfectly content despite the horrifying monotony of the industrialised world and corporate government bureaucracy that dominates and controls us.

The main protagonist in the film slowly has the perfect construct of his world stripped away. He is our dreamer and we get to watch his dreams, his flights of fantasy where he escapes and becomes a hero, an angel, a saviour.

He is a Walter Mitty who hides his feelings, and nature, and escapes to his fantasy world. As the film progresses, in its real world, our protagonist finds excitement and love before it is all torn from him.

The film ends with an escape from reality into a final dream world where a lost love is regained and happiness is ever after. A contrast between what is nightmare and dream, real and unreal, our dialogue on understanding.

Only we as an audience know that the dark reality continues.

“I thought the world of you
I thought nothing could go wrong
But I was wrong, I was wrong”
(Linger, The Cranberries, Written by Noel Anthony Hogan, Dolores Mary O’riordan • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group)

It is strange that I would discuss that with you as it seems to have no relationship to Jane. I mentioned in my eulogies at the Funeral and Memorial Service that Jane and I had a shared passion in art, in literature, film and theatre. We would often discuss movies not just in how we liked them but looking for their deeper themes and relationships and comparing them to our own existence.

This is generally the manner in which we spoke, this is the discourse we would fall into within minutes of seeing each other. Barely had the pleasantries of trip and life passed before some theme, meme or fancy would fly out and we would tease and discuss it. We did this type of discussion about most things and so I decided to use the same rhetoric with you all today. I wanted to talk to you as if you were her.

This film Brazil, though, came to my mind specifically when I was deciding what to talk about today, and at the end I will let you know why.

But first I want to mention what I miss the most about Jane, what is still burning in my mind and ripping away at my heart.

You might have noticed that I am a bit of a talker. I waffle along, making loose associations and connections, letting my thoughts wander and my narrative runs with it. I said before that I am a weave talker and so was Jane. I like mixing things and repeating, like a musical from the mind of a maniac.

But I also love the thrust of good argument, and like heated passionate debate. That style of discussion means that hurt feelings can occur. So in my life I have probably had a shouting rant with almost everyone I have met or come to know as friends.

Except one.

To my recollection Jane and I never argued from mere emotions. We had heated debate and disagreement but not bad feeling. We never upset each other or shouted from a purely emotional stance.

It wasn’t that we were cold and calculated, far from it, I just said I was passionate and so was Jane. It was more that the other person usually had constructed a clever position so that you couldn’t get mad it was too much fun being taxed into thinking how to counter what they were saying.

Also Jane was phenomenally good at using a sarcastic swipe to end a discussion and change tactic. I think that Jane was one of the people in my life who knew me on a very deep level for so long that we almost wore each other’s skin. We knew how the other person would think and feel.

What tears at me is that I will never have those conversations, I will never learn from her again, and I did learn from her. I know that Jane was one of my great teachers. A person who was not only my friend, my confidant in many ways, but she also had a lot to show and I had a lot that I had to learn.

The last thing that Jane had to teach me she did so after she died. I have lost a lot of people I know, we all do. I lost my grandparents when I was young and although I know I was sad, I wasn’t that sad as I was too young.

I lost my father when I was in my twenties but that wasn’t that sad, he was estranged and I hardly knew him to understand if I cared that much about his passing, even now I feel ambivalent to his death. He wasn’t that good to my mother and he seemed to care very little for me.

I have seen friends die but no one this close. Jane is the first person that I have lost who was so close to me that we were close family, we were siblings. Jane gave me a final lesson, a study in grief.

Had I lost someone this close who I didn’t have such a conversive relationship with it would be different I think. I find myself talking to her, like now, as if she was still there. This whole narrative, like the two other eulogies I wrote is made for her to hear, for her to approve of, for her to discuss with. I can wear her skin and know which bits she will smile at, which bits will make her roll her eyes and when she will touch my arm with quiet understanding or hug me to let a feeling be shared.

I wish I had never learned this lesson, I cannot really thank her for it. I wish she was still here to tell me to cheer up and not be such a miserable old bugger. I miss my friend.

I do though thank her for all the things she did have time to teach me. Jane had the most profound effect on the way that I discussed and thought about things, she still has that effect as I am drastically changed from knowing her. Meeting her at University at a point where I was expanding my thinking and seeing someone who was so clever, incisive, kind, cutting and funny without being selfish or malicious changed the way I am.

Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good
(Lou Reed, Perfect Day)

Last week would have been Jane’s 9th wedding anniversary, and the great constructs that are Facebook and Google reminded me of this. Facebook showed me memories and asked me to reshare my day from nine years ago while Google did an On This Day collage of wonderful pictures of Jane.

Once again she haunted my whole day and every time I looked around I was sure I caught a glimpse of her. I could see her looking up at me eyes glinting from some secret thought, smile broadening as she was about to share some special insight. Again I was thinking about loss and I avoided songs.

I have been avoiding some songs. Some that we knew together, some that we didn’t really listen to with each other but they make me think of her. They bring her back to be an emotion colouring my day.

I was thinking that I would share another anecdote with you. I could talk about the time we drove Jane to London just before her Kidney operation. None of us wanted to talk as we had spoke all weekend and this was possibly a last goodbye. We had Sara Cox  on the radio and she had asked for stories of things that you had to do that were scary, she was facing a horse riding adventure and was worried about it.

Nathan, Leigh and I were with Jane and she sent the message about going for her operation and a song request. Neither Nathan or I can recall the requested song.[*] We spent all of that journey waiting without relief for the song to be played and just as we pulled up to stop the text was read out and Sara played the song. It was a good sign, a sign of hope.

I asked Nathan if he could recall which song it was as my memory was failing me but like me he had so many other thoughts from that day that the song escapes us both. A fragment of history whisked away by time and other feelings.

The differences between the organic and the inorganic, the people and the machine. One remembers and the other knows how to forget.

Our technology mirrors the construct of our minds, sometimes. Designed and built by humans the machines follow the same patterns and emulate the same abilities and affinities.

Even as machines and the software that controls them start to automate the construction and design of their own systems, it too is mirroring nature. The algorithms used to programmatically determine the outcome follow numerical values and are based around naturally deterministic systems. Machines will follow a society as much as we have for we are creating them to understand the meaning and not just the structure of reality. We create complex computer languages that underpins their relationships and understanding.

The dimension we can loosely call cyberspace is an exo-brain for the species, an extension of our shared, and maybe collective, consciousness. As a species our experience of the world is grounded in our interactions and shared definitions. So too is our relationship in the growing online world.

No Last Wishes

I see glimpses of you,
They drift across my mind,
Darkness closes in,
Smiles shift to tears.

Thinking of your words,
Phrases I thought I’d lost,
Memories left to haunt,
Emphasize, and punctuate, sorrow.

I’d trade all the time we shared,
Just to hear your voice,
Just to see your smile,
Just to hold you close.
(Mark Keating, 2017)

My memory already fades and moments of my friend seem to untether and slip away, when I think of her I see a lot of pictures and occasionally a shared experience. But the photos and electronic material are so much richer in colour and definition.

What they don’t have is her touch. If I focus hard I can feel her touch on my hand, the last gentle squeeze of friendship, the last hug where we kissed cheeks and she held the back of my neck.

I loved my friend. It was the love of a brother to a sister or a child to a parent. She was my family.

All that remains are the fragments inside my mind, the human machine, and the ephemera in cyberspace.

In Brazil the protagonist’s father is called Jeremiah, and that name is used as an anagram in an unlock code. In a direct quote from the film a character reveals the code when he tells the hero:

“‘Ere I am, J.H. …The ghost in the machine.”

Jane Haggerstone, who became Jane Harvey, my own JH. I came here to say goodbye one last time.

But I keep the spectres of her as electronic ephemera, shadows and reflections in my thoughts, and the lingering pain, a loss, in my heart.

Here you are Jane, a ghost in this machine.

[*] After reading this Leigh has made the point that we may not have requested a song but merely offered a text explaining what the thing was we feared. This would likely explain why we cannot recall what song was played. Nathan attempted to contact Sara Cox but had no reply by the time we had the service.

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