Death Self

The poems of Death Self were started in 1993 when V.B. Price was in his 52nd year. Fifty two was the age his great grandfather, the American tragedian Lawrence Patrick Barrett, died in 1891. It was the age at which his mother, the American stage actress Edith Barrett Price, had always feared she would die. Edith Barrett, in fact, lived to the age 73 and died in Albuquerque after a long career on Broadway, in films, television, and the California stage. In 1993, V.B. Price decided to shake off whatever ghost fears might be stirring in his imagination and make friends with his own death. He was helped in that happy task by Rini Price's robust recovery from cancer and by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke's perspective on the inevitably private and unique nature of each person's death. The title Death Self comes from Price's intuition that what we were before we were born and what we are after we die are of the same stuff as who we are when we're alive, or at least part of the same flow or essential spectrum.

Twenty years earlier, in 1974, V.B. Price's appendix perforated. As he was being wheeled into the operating room for emergency surgery, he realized, to his astonishment, that he was completely without fear of death. This unexpected response to a potentially fatal emergency, Price reasoned gratefully, must be rooted in his conviction, gained from his father and mother, that the life experience, the universe, and the divine, were all in the realm of the good, the fair, the just, and the forgiving. In Rini Price's odyssey from multiple operations for cancer to her refusal to submit to faulty and dangerous prognoses, V.B. Price saw that making friends with one's death is really all about making friends with one's life, as it actually is.

Some 15 years later, in Chaco Canyon, working on a book called Chaco Body, with photographer Kirk Gittings, Price experienced another gift of liberation in which he felt that the world, and anything that might happen in it, and to him in it, was beyond the realm of fear or worry or "wrongness."

The Death Self poems are recollections of encounters V.B. Price sought out with his death self, as well as of conversations he had with that part of himself which is happier and wiser and full of more humor than he has ever been without it, without the society of his life before birth and after death.

The paintings of Death Self arose in Rini Price during the months that the Death Self poems were being written and read to her. The paintings are not responses to specific poems, and are not illustrations of them, but the process of death-self thinking, long familiar to her, released in her these images in spontaneous ways, following another near Rilkean outpouring of 27 paintings the year before which were referred to as "the angries" until they received their more formal title from Rini's father-in-law-"In Your Face"-a short time before he died.

Rini Price holds that "whatever is is OK because that's where you start from. It's got to be OK because that's what is. What you do with it, how you approach it, is what matters." Both Prices ascribe to the view expressed in Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning that the only freedom that can never been taken away from a person is the freedom to interpret and give meaning to what is happening to them.

Death Self is Rini Price's and V.B. Price's first formal artistic collaboration in 36 years of marriage, although many of V.B. Price's books have been designed, and their covers conceived and carried out, by Rini Price. The exhibition of these paintings and poems, along with a printed book, was in process during the last weeks of the life of S. Jack Rini, Rini Price's father, beloved by his family, and a master at living, and dying, with attentiveness, generosity, and a loving good will. S. Jack was the principle investor in Century magazine in the early 1980s in New Mexico, a collaboration among Rini, her two siblings, Jim Rini and Jacki Fuqua, and V.B. Price.

V.B. Price and Rini Price
Albuquerque, New Mexico
January 2005


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