“Mortality,” by the late Christopher Hitchens, is a slim volume that serves as an epitaph not of Hitchens’ life, but the accompanying end of his writing, which fought its death. Most of “Mortality” are collections of magazine pieces Hitchens published while afflicted with esophageal cancer. However, the volume, sans self-pity and written with a curiosity that is not morbid, includes fragments of thoughts that Hitchens felt compelled to write on paper while on his deathbed.
Hitchens was fortunate that he died still able to write. On of the most painful sections of Howard Sounes excellent biography of another writer, Charles Bukowski, is the brief, terse mention, near the end of Buk’s life, that he had degenerated so far that he couldn’t manage the act of writing. To a Hitchens, a Bukowski, and I suspect most writers, that is real death. In “Mortality,” it’s clear writing serves as an enemy to the author’s cancer.
To writers, writing is an addiction. I recall watching a documentary on Oxycontin addiction. The addict, trying to describe what it does to him, said that his lust for the drug had long exceeded a point where he received any initial euphoria from the Oxycontin. Instead, he said, the drug was needed so he could feel normal for a little while.
Of course writing is a positive, and painkiller addiction a negative, but there is a similarity here. Writing is not an easy act. It can be frankly, a royal pain in the ass. But as Gertrude Stein and others have maintained, “having written” provides euphoria.
I suspect, even as he lay dying in a hospital bed, writing provided Hitchens a chance, in a world of pain, to feel normal, if not euphoria.
Hitchens probably wouldn’t approve of this, but I’ll be sappy and express a hope that he’s still observing and writing.