By Johanna Stein
You’re gonna be dead soon.
That’s what I tell myself every morning when I look in the mirror.
And no, it’s not my nuclear-strength morning breath rising up into my nostrils that inspires me to say it. I say it because if I don’t remind myself that I’m on the morgue-train, then I may spend another day watching Victoria Principal infomercials, reading ex-boyfriends’ Facebook posts, and obsessing about the time I asked a bikini-wearing woman “When are you due”? (You can pretty much guess what her answer was.)
Basically, if I don’t remind myself daily of my own mortality, then I spend my time wasting it.
We have a bad habit in this culture of casually forgetting that each one of us has an expiry date. We behave as though we’ll all be hanging around for eternity, wearing jetpacks and experiencing virtual sex with robots.
The unfortunate truth is, we probably won’t.
All this points to one thing: I’d better get my ass in gear.
I have stuff to do. Not just bill-paying, thank-you-card-writing type-stuff -- important, give-life-meaning type-stuff. The stuff that is really frickin’ easy to put off, because it’s really frickin’ hard to try. Or, more specifically, to try and then fail -- like “write that book,” “take that class,” “say that thing” and “live a life that will make my daughter proud” (not an easy one, considering I have the sense of humor of a 14-year-old boy).
I don’t go much for self-help books, spiritual tchotchkes, or weekend retreats filled with yoga, tofu and crying. (The first time I lit a meditation candle it proceeded to burn my bedside table, my curtains, and my relationship with my landlord.) Don’t get me wrong – if these things work for you, then do them, buy them, attend them. I’m all for it.
But me, I get inspired by telling myself “You’re gonna be dead soon.” That’s my version of a positive aphorism. I just need that little kick in the ass to remind myself that life, health, and time are fleeting. That big ol’ party-crasher Death is coming for all of us and I’ll be ding-dong-danged if I’m gonna let that cross-dresser stand in the way of me and my plans.
Those five little words force me to tackle the biggie questions, like:
What do I want out of life?
What am I putting off?
What would I regret if tomorrow I were to choke on a cherry pit or get my guts gored out by a bull?
If you’re having trouble asking these questions of yourself, ask a pal to do the prodding for you. I prod all the time.
When my friend says she wants to start a flower business, I say, “Get on it, your daisy-pushing days are just around the bend.” When my neighbor says he loves his girlfriend but he’s not sure if he’s ready to take the next step, I say, “Figure it out soon, time’s a-wasting and so are you.” When my mom says she’s thinking about taking salsa lessons, I say, “Hurry up ma, it’s hard to dance with rigor mortis in your legs.”
And when the editor at womensconference.org asks me if I have something I want to write about, I say to myself, “Do it now, Stein. This is important and they may not have Internet access in the afterlife.”
Here’s the ironic upside. Once you accept that you and everyone you know will be dead one day, when you attack your goals with death-defying fervor, you find yourself less attached to the outcome. So maybe that script you write won’t win a squizillion Oscars. Who cares, you're gonna be dead soon! And so what if you suck at trapeze lessons… who gives a Flying Wallenda? (They don't, they're dead!) And yeah, I once asked a chubby woman if she was preggo, but what’s the diff? In a hundred years, nobody's gonna remember (other than her kid, because I swear that woman was pregnant, she just didn’t know it).
So do it. Everything you intend to do.
And smile. Because the news is good. You’re gonna be dead soon.
Johanna Stein is a writer/director/comedian/forward/slash/abuser whose work has been seen on Comedy Central, Disney, PBS, The Oxygen Network, The Movie Network, Showcase, VH-1, Noggin, CTV, CBC and on the Worldwide Internets. If you'd like to learn more about Johanna, see more of her work, or send her an email, then click on over to her website: www.jojostein.com.