The Cycle of Life
Pictured above: Philante Bay, Port Hardy, D’Urville Island, which Bill McEwan describes as 'a sheltered haven and a favourite place'.
[Photo by Bill McEwan]
MAY 8, 2022
The Cycle of Life
Death in Print: What Days Are For by Robert Dessaix, Meet: Septuagenerian climate activist Bill McEwan, Death on Screen: Nelson Poetry Map featuring Bill Manhire's poem, 'Kevin'
Listen to Episode 2 on the following podcast platforms
Or, if you've already listened to the show, scroll down for more info and links . . .
What Days Are For by Robert Dessaix
Photo by Jacob
Photo by Leio
Robert Dessaix's 2014 memoir is a thought-provoking contemplation on mortality from a man who outwardly spurns spirituality. The back cover blurbs reads as follows:

One Sunday night in Sydney, Robert Dessaix collapses in a gutter in Darlinghurst, and is helped to his hotel by a kind young man wearing a T-shirt that says FUCK YOU. What follows are weeks in hospital, tubes and cannulae puncturing his body, as he recovers from the heart attack threatening daily to kill him.

While lying in the hospital bed, Robert chances upon Philip Larkin’s poem 'Days’. What, he muses, have his days been for? What and who has he loved – and why?

The publisher Penguin Random House describes Dessaix’s 2014 memoir as 'witty, acerbic, insightful musings'. Witty sometimes, acerbic often, insightful… maybe. Dessaix gives hints all over the place that he is searching for meaning, while vigilantly ensuring he will never earn the label ‘new age’, a belief system he despises.

In some ways, while he is experiencing a heightened sense of his own mortality, Dessaix takes us on a tour of other culture's belief systems - Egyptians, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, indigenous Australians and those 'fatuous' new agers who have essentially designed their own. He writes:

'How outmoded it all seems now, this interest in radical spirituality. Nobody could care less about this sort of thing nowadays when bushwalking or a bit of homeopathy is about as "spiritual" as most people seem to get. The word "spiritual" seems to me to have broken free of any sort of semantic tethering at all.'

What Days Are For is an extended essay on the semantics of the numinous. It is thought-provoking, and Dessaix has an elegant way of describing what is wrong with the modern world. While his worldview is very different to mine, which frequently provoked a feeling of antagonism as I read the book, I've realised I can learn a lot about myself by being aware of when other people's behaviours or beliefs trigger me, and pausing to ponder why.

Find out more about the book here.

Meet Bill McEwan
Bill is a self-described 'earthy, grounded, nature boy'. He was born in Picton in 1944 and spent his early years, and went to school, in Blenheim. After spending most of his working life in Canterbury, Bill returned to the Marlborough region in 2006 to care for his elderly parents and has lived there ever since. He is living an active retirement in his home town, where he is one of the founding members of Climate Karanga Marlborough. He is also the organiser of both the Marlborough Thermette Society and the annual Blue Duck midwinter nude swim at Lake Rotoiti in St Arnaud, Nelson Lakes.

Bill is a kind and gentle man who has taught me much about compassion, tolerance, whakarongo (listening) and . . . aging disgracefully.

Bill nominated Meditation from Thais composed by Jules Massenet as a song he would like played at his funeral or wake. He prefers full orchestral versions, like the Radio Filarmonisch Orkest version conducted by Markus Stenz on YouTube below, but you can also listen to the song in our 'Farewell songs' playlist.
Meditation from Thais
Composed by Jules Massenet
Nelson Poetry Map featuring 'Kevin' by Bill Manhire
The Nelson Poetry Map, which is hosted by Volume Bookstore, records and shares connections between poetry and places. It was first launched in time for a past National Poetry Day (which takes place each year on 27 August).

Poets can contribute poems to the open-access map, tagged to the locations they associate with those poems.

Poetry lovers can visit the locations and read the poems on your mobile device (or to take a virtual tour without leaving home). Use the navigation menu at the top left of the map.

In episode 2, I briefly introduced Bill Manhire's poem, 'Kevin'. See if you can find it on the map!
Listen to previous Season 2 episodes
  • OUT APRIL 24, 2022
    Death in PrintDeath and its Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Beautiful Lessons by Becky Aud-Jennison, Meet: Deathwalker and author Becky Aud-Jennison, Death on Screen: 'Good Grief'
Catch up on Season 1 episodes
  • OUT OCTOBER 3, 2021
    Death in Print: Before You Knew My Name, Meet: author Jacqueline Bublitz, Death on Screen: 'Dead to Me'
  • OUT OCTOBER 17, 2021
    Death in Print: Listen: How to Find the Words for Tender Conversations, Meet: author Kathryn Mannix, Death on Screen: 'Phone of the Wind'
  • OUT OCTOBER 31, 2021
    Death in Print: No Pressure, No Diamonds, Meet: legal executive Marie Austin, Death on Screen: 'I Told You I Was Ill: the Life & Legacy of Spike Milligan'
  • OUT OCTOBER 31, 2021
    Death in Print: No Pressure, No Diamonds by Teri Dillion, Meet: legal executive Marie Austin, Death on Screen: 'I Told You I Was Ill: The Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan'
  • OUT NOVEMBER 14, 2021
    Death in Print: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, Meet: poet & playwright Donna McLeod, Death on Screen: 'Living with Ghosts'
  • OUT NOVEMBER 28, 2021
    Death in Print: Mortals: How the Fear of Death Shaped Human Society by Rachel & Ross Menzies, Meet: psychologist and author Rachel Menzies, Death on Screen: Lisel Mueller on 'The Marginalian'
  • OUT DECEMBER 12, 2021
    Death in Print: No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Meet: author Bonnie Etherington, Death on Screen: 'My Beautiful Broken Brain'