In the year 1989, Frank Cole crossed the Sahara Dessert alone on camel back. In the year 2000, he attempted a second journey, but was murdered 60 km from Timbuktu. Tonight, I attended a documentary retrospective on his life at the National Archives. Everyone was there. His father, his brother, his ex-lover, his best friend, (a writer who teaches at my university), and the filmmaker who never met him, but became his biographer. They each spoke of the mystery surrounding his obsession with death.
Cole did not grow up here; he grew up all over the world. His father was a Canadian diplomat. He did go to the same post-secondary schools as me, possibly at the exact same time as my parents. When I told my father I was going this evening, he asked me to get him a copy of the book, Life Without Death.
Early in life, Cole had said that he planned on committing suicide at age 30, but while studying filmmaking at Algonquin College, and making a documentary about the his grandmother’s battle with cancer, something changed him. He developed a new idea about prolonging his life, as long as possible – even if only an additional 20 years, out of say, 100, it made all the difference. He developed a rigorous diet in the name of slowing the aging process.
He was one of those people you either adored or detested. He drew in numerous lovers with his passion and drive, and lost them again to those same obsessions. They were always second. He would oust them from his life if they got too comfortable. Nothing mattered but his film. But what was he trying to say?
I remember that my ex, Karma Chameleon, once said to me, “I realize that I will always be second, and I accept it.” I am sorry, KC. We were too young, and we never understood each other. I always loved you though.
I wondered what Cole was looking for out there in the Sahara Desert. Then I recalled he said something about a feeling he had out there. He said to his father that he felt more alive out in the desert than anywhere surrounded by people. He felt most alive when he was most isolated. He felt most alive when taking that one gulp of water when he was nearly dying from thirst. It was a euphoric feeling beyond the stresses of our senseless “Western” busy-work life. It was pure survival. I looked at the images of vast desert, and I tried to place myself in his weathered shoes and torn jeans. In the desert, you can see nothing but more desert in all directions. And I thought – that’s it. That’s why he liked it. You can see in all directions, and never get any sense of an end. It would seem an eternity of walking in a desolate wilderness. He would never die, and he could walk the desert forever. When he did finally get home, he was already planning to get back to the desert.
In the end, it was in the desert that he found what he feared most: death. He was murdered by bandits and left to decay in the desert for two weeks. When they finally found him, all that remained was his skeleton. But, as per his final request, they cryogenically froze him anyway, I suppose in the hope that they someday find a cure.
He is like me, and yet he is nothing like me, just as I am like you, yet I am nothing like you. When you read my blog, you see some of yourself in me, and when I saw his film, I saw some of myself in him. What I saw was a man away from everything most people cling to. In a moment of weakness I ran from my life with N/A in Toronto. Yet we can never escape who we are, no matter where we go. She will always be part of me, and I will never be able to forget. Cole is part of me now too. And I am part of you.
The second person I “discovered” tonight was my co-president from ELS. You recall I did not feel ready to give any of them names yet? Well, now that I’ve had time to get to know her a little, I feel she deserves one, and I’m calling her Scrapbook Girl, because she keeps the most adorable little scrapbook, with poems, notes, ideas, and thoughts. It’s a very oldschool writerly habit. I love it! Though I hadn’t spoken to her much before the meeting last week, I have noticed her for quite some time. She really does love to talk; we probably didn’t have one moment of silence all night. She’s brilliant, really. Her mind must move at a hundred miles an hour. I found it inspiring. She told me at one point that she’d been on a hermitage for three months in her little apartment. She just wanted to get away from people, and their petty little opinions and idiotic beliefs. Well okay, those are my words, not hers, but still, I felt like I was looking into the mirror. She writes poetry and has a blog too – and it occurs to me that she may be getting a link to this soon, so I should probably watch what I say, lest I offend her like I did Nurse Betty. Then again, what can I say against her? I’m actually quite fond of Scrapbook Girl, and I am glad to have made a new friend. I owe tonight to her, too. Had she not invited me out tonight, I would not have looked into either mirror.