Some day, I will die. (No, no. It’ll happen. I’m not that worried. Plenty of terribly inept people die all the time. How hard can it be?)
What happens then, as Henry Ward Beecher said on his deathbed, is the Mystery. I do not believe in a conventional heaven or hell, but like many an artist before me, as a cultural metaphor, they’re excellent.
Let us assume for the moment that we’re dealing with one of the humorless religions where entry to heaven is not predicated on being a basically okay person who tries not to make too much of a mess of life, and thus that I will go to hell.
I have occasionally, in the past, contemplated what hell will look like for me.* And it has taken various forms, mostly related to being sunk hip-deep in eternity in the realization of all the things I was unable to create in my lifetime.
I still think that if there’s a hell, that’d be part of it. But while I am forced to contemplate, down through the mindless ages, all the paintings I never painted, and perhaps even all the words I never wrote, I suspect that Satan is going to have a job for me.
I will be working in Hell’s printing press.
I will be cleaning Hell’s printer.
(Ellen, you’ll probably be down here with me. This is a two-soul job.)
Hell’s printer is huge and dribbles black ink on everything, like an incontinent mechanical ogre. Every sheet of paper is your last, and the printer cartridges are always on their last gasp. The stray hairs that get into any printer and made little ink flecks are, in hell, twice as numerous, and carried by leperous rats with the faces of debauched bishops, who dash between the carriages and rub their bodies ecstatically against the printer heads, leaving hairy clots of ink behind.
When you call tech support, they tell you it’s your fault and the warranty expired yesterday, and then they’ll suggest you turn the printer off and reboot. Because this is hell, you never learn not to call, which is arguably no different from earth in that regard.
More ink can only be acquired by milking the scabby sacs of the Hellsquid, but I’m pretty sure that’ll be somebody else’s job. I will not be allowed to leave the printer for something so relaxing as prodding the obscene udders of a monstrous cephalopod (who will have Holstein spots and wear a little bell around its neck and answer to “Bessie” because Satan is just that way.)
I will stay at the printers. I will never leave the printers. The printers were the first, and they will be the last. When the universe ends, when all is silence and chill and a few stray hydrogen atoms decaying in the dark, I will be required to print up a report about it. When the earth was without form and void, and God moved on the dark surface of the waters, when he drew breath to shout “FIAT LUX, YOU MUTHAS!”** into the silence, in the background was the soft, ceaseless hum of the printers–
on and on–
prints without end.
*I wrote an essay once called “Art is Hell” about artist’s hell, which you can read over at Quantum Muse. http://www.quantummuse.com/editorial_june02.html
**What? You can have your creation myth, and I’ll have mine.