I thought I’d share this today, after what feels like a chain of celebrity deaths that are hitting people really hard. This entire year (hell, the last couple of years) has been awful for people who admire the old school actors and creators who happily produced some of the weirdest and wildest stuff available. Icons for oppressed communities have been keeling over, as have the kinds of people who stood out as beacons of strength for creators who would come after them. Watching Umberto Eco, Harper Lee, Jim Harrison, Elie Wiesel and others all fade out in less than a calendar year is pretty earth shattering if you’re someone who followed and was positively influenced by the things they wrote.
Stepping back a little bit to 2015 here. I had just woken up to find Terry Pratchett trending on Facebook. There wasn’t a new book coming out that I knew of, so I got a sinking sensation in my gut even before I saw that Neil Gaiman had written a short, beautiful post of morning. I opened my inbox to find about a dozen “I’m sorry, dude, I know he was one of your favorites” messages from close friends. I spent that weekend re-reading the entire Watch series from start to finish, and then the Witches, and then Rincewind, and the one-offs, and finally the Death and Susan series over a week or so.
I got to talking to a friend who was as big a Pratchett fan as me, if not more so. He’d been into the Discworld a few years longer than I and regularly attended Discworld conventions when I had no way to do so, and he sent me a message I’ve had saved since then.
When Terry Pratchett realized he wouldn’t be able to attend the 2014 Discworld Con due to his health problems, he compiled a small book as a gift for the attendees. It contains some fragmented stories, poetry, a dedication, stuff that is private and only for the eyes of the devotees who came to see him. You won’t find these books on sale anywhere, I hope. He had them distributed freely to the convention-goers under the condition no one try to sell them. They’re individually numbered and the convention heads keep a master list of who each one belongs to, so if anyone does decide to go for a quick buck with their book it’ll be readily apparently. He also included this essay. My friend typed it up for me and gave me permission to share it with the context and background story. It’s an incredibly important essay and something I think about during dark times when people you care about seem to be dying with rapidity. I read it what felt like weekly when Bowie, Rickman and others died early this year. I read it the day Leonard Nimoy passed. I read it when Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died on nearly the same day. It’s about how things aren’t all terrible.
It goes like this.
A Little Advice For Life
I have been blessed with good fortune in my life. I’ve turned a passion into a profession, and those who know me know that I know that they know that I still enjoy it immensely. Through what some might call my ‘craft’ I’ve brought interesting characters and worlds to life and through the power of words I have, I hope, shone a little light into some of the darker corners of the human condition. I’ve always maintained that it is better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness. But my prime purpose has always been to tell good stories. The fact that people seem to like them is simply a bonus.
While I may have ten doctorates (who’s counting?), I confess that I never had the educational opportunities people have today. I never attended or completed university; my learning came from doing and from reading and from experiencing life as a husband, father and journalist. I have occasionally been accused of literature. Some say I have a pack-rat mind, and I’ve learned over time to put this to good use – sharing my knowledge in the way that I know best, through my stories. In university parlance, this is known as knowledge transfer and I, right here and now, would like to transfer some of my knowledge over to you.
I know first hand that Fate can be cruel and unusual at times, but she is hardly ever deliberately malicious: she just suffers from bad timing in the main, so use your gifts and your talents to greatest possible effect while you can. Spread joy whenever possible. Laugh at jokes. Tell jokes. Make puns and bugger the embuggerances. Read books. Read my books. You might like them. You might find something else you like even more than them. Look for these things in life.
Question authority. Champion good causes. Speak out against injustice. Do not tolerate bullies or bigots or racists or anti-intellectuals or the narrow minded. Use your education to challenge them. Broaden their perspectives. Make the world you interface with a happier place.
These are your choices. Choices you have been fortunate enough to have been given, so don’t waste them while you have them. Don’t look back in years to come and wish you had grasped a fleeting opportunity.
Grasp it now with both hands.
I don’t smoke, but Sam Vimes enjoys a cigar or two and there’s possibly more of me in Sir Samuel than in any other player on my pages. He would probably tsk at so blatant a plug for good. He’s been known to harness darkness, but he puts it to good use. Love changed his life and life is now something that he loves. I believe that the sum of our experiences, good and bad, is what makes us who we are. That has the making of real magic. Please. Go out into this world and experience its wonders.
We live in interesting times and so it is best to enjoy the journey while you can.
I find the occasional brandy helps.
There’s not much more I can add to that, I think.
I’ll leave you with a picture by the amazing Paul Kidby, and a quote from one of the more underrated Pratchett novels that, again, I find comforting on levels I can’t imagine. Pratchett once said that people who tell him that they hope Death is like he writes it cause him to pause and stare at the wall for a little bit, and I’m among those who would contribute to his staring.
ALL THINGS THAT ARE, ARE OURS. BUT WE MUST CARE. FOR IF WE DO NOT CARE, WE DO NOT EXIST. IF WE DO NOT EXIST, THEN THERE IS NOTHING BUT BLIND OBLIVION. AND EVEN OBLIVION MUST END SOMEDAY. LORD, WILL YOU GRANT ME JUST A LITTLE TIME? FOR THE PROPER BALANCE OF THINGS. TO RETURN WHAT WAS GIVEN. FOR THE SAKE OF PRISONERS AND THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS.
Death took a step backwards.
It was impossible to read expression in Azrael’s features.
Death glanced sideways at the servants.
LORD, WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT FOR THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?