Sent Back To The Manufacturer

Something noticed last week: No, Warranties are not “boring,” Princess. When I went to buy my new coffee grinder recently, I was comparing two grinders, different brands, similar prices, and I wanted to see the warrantee information, right? This is the logical next step, it’s smart shopping, it’s informed consumption. Style is somewhat important, function-wise they are all about the same, color's rather limited, but the consumer-report-ish side of things, that’s what guides this smart shopper. Until I realize--and have to chuckle--I no longer have to bother myself about warranties because any product warrantee I find is going to last longer than I do. Shit. If a salesperson starts to explain service protection plans, Apple Care, x-years and just-so-many miles to go, I no longer pay any attention. Back in the grocery store, I shake my head at this, and then grab the grinder in the color I like best and get the hell out.
So on the phone, my mom goes, "Oh, did you know Scott Swaner?" "Yeah." "Dead. Pancreatic cancer. 38." Of course, I knew his age. We were punks in high school together. Slamming to Black Flag and Madness punks, not "move your Honda, punk!" punks, that is. Being smart was not really an attribute highly prized among our beer bonging, basement concert-going SLC Punk contingent, so Scott--and to a lesser extent, I--toned it down a bit, but you could always tell his synapses were firing a hundred times faster than anyone else's, so it shouldn't have surprised me to hear he got his PhD from Harvard in Korean literature and was a star professor and a poet.

No, what surprises me, even though I've had a front row seat to the rough, short pancreatic ride, is the utter lack of surprise, just the opposite. Yes, it's extremely disconcerting that cancer took someone I went to school with, a friend, even [though it was really just temporary, situational friendship, like, you know, prison, only our prison was just the same excruciatingly conservative, affluent high school, and instead of orange jumpsuits, we wore torn, white t-shirts--and Polo].

Pancreatic cancer is its own thing; it rarely, if ever, leaves you guessing about the outcome, and yet it usually gives you a finite, yet manageable window--some months, a year, maybe--in which to wrap things up. The kind of stuff you'd call "living," if only living were actually Living instead of the cheap substitute we too often put up with. It's like a whole life in microcosm. That whole "live every day as if it were your last" thing. In fact, if it weren't for the never-ending pain, sounds like a great way to all-but guarantee the conscientious human a guilt- and regret-free exit strategy. [OK, not at 38.]

Scott began keeping a blog of his final act. I'm only a couple of months in so far, and it's fascinating and confounding mechanism for getting to know someone again whom I haven't known or seen for 25 years. I'd say I felt like an interloper, but his writing makes it clear that he's very aware of his different audiences--his exasperatingly Mormon family, friends and students from his life out of Utah--and his comments about comment volume and hit rates, and referrer logs now strike me as hilarious. [Pretend you have six months to live. Do you a) finish your book of poems, or b) refresh your stats one more time?] Until I imagine the reality and comfort that connectivity and communication could be in a situation like that.

Scott's writing is ascerbic--the dude's idea of consolation is to quote Gravity's Rainbow?--and it has a bit of the impatient, maybe-anger I remember, but it's also very heartfelt. Though he tries to stay true to his belief system--though to his parents' regret, no doubt, he traded in Joseph Smith, et al for Bataille--it sounds clear to me that there are no hermeneuticists in foxholes, at least not in this one. Scott read and wrote poetry and literature for its ability to bare and touch the human soul, even if he tried to stay skeptical of their existence. I kind of wish we'd kept in touch.

Do Not Go Gentle — Poetry & Cancer, Life & Death [blogspot]
Scott H. Swaner []

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

find me on twitter: @gregorg

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first published: January 4, 2007.

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