Thursday, November 06, 2008

Memento Mori

There's been a lot of connecting threads between the things I've read and seen. Some have been planned, like the back-to-back viewings of 300 and Troy. It was clunky-dialogue over-the-top violent ancient history drama week on my Netflix queu. But here's a couple wild coincidental connections that bear notice.

I read the following quotation two nights ago. From Sweet Thursday, by John Steinbeck, in the chapter entitled “There’s a Hole in Reality Through Which We Can Look If We Wish.”

The seer looked downward at an angle into Doc’s face. “I live alone,” he said simply. “I live in the open. I hear the waves at night and see the black patterns of the pine boughs against the sky. With sound and silence and color and solitude, of course I see visions. Anyone would.”
“But you don’t believe in them?” Doc asked hopefully.
“I don’t find it a matter of belief or disbelief,” the seer said. “You’ve seen the sun flatten and take strange shapes just before it sinks in the ocean. Do you have to tell yourself every time that it’s an illusion caused by atmospheric dust and light distorted by the sea, or do you simply enjoy the beauty of it? Don’t you see visions?”
“No,” said Doc.
“From music, don’t forms of wishes and forms of memory take shape?”
“That’s different,” said Doc.
“I don’t see any difference,” said the seer. “Come along -- dinner’s ready.” (59)

Which segues nicely into another favorite author, Jack Kerouac, and visions he had by the sea. I lucked onto this passage last night. It’s from Dharma Bums, but I quote it from The Portable Jack Kerouac, edited by Ann Charters. The Pacific Ocean dominates, as do visions and the bliss of moments, music in the head, etc.

" I bade farewell to the little bum of Saint Teresa at the crossing, where we jumped off, and went to sleep the night in the sand in my blankets, far down the beach at the foot of a cliff where cops wouldn’t see me and drive me away. I cooked hotdogs on freshly cut and sharpened sticks over the coals of a big wood fire, and heated a can of beans and a can of cheese macaroni in the redhot hollows, and drank my newly bought wine, and exulted in one of the most pleasant nights of my life. I waded in the water and dunked a little and stood looking up at the splendorous night sky, Avalokitesvara’s ten-wondered universe of dark and diamonds. “Well, Ray,” sez I, glad. “Only a few miles to go. You’ve done it again.” Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running -- that’s the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the beach out there, with the Ma-Wink fallopian virgin warm stars reflecting on the outer channel fluid belly waters."

Considering the Steinbeck quote, I saw an episode called "Sounds and Silences," about an annoying, loud man who goes over the edge and gets poetic justice. Click on the link above for a synopsis.

And while we're on The Twilight Zone...

Last Friday I woke up at the ungodly hour of 3:45 a.m., so popped in a The Twilight Zone DVD and watched an episode entitled "Long Live Walter Jameson." It is from the first season of the series and is a simple, Dorian Gray-like story about a man who is immortal and is planning on marrying a new bride, but is gunned down by an old lady, the previous wife, and turns to dust. The DVD liner notes talk about how the aging process was achieved, a very simple change of lights.

From a Wikipedia article about the episode:

The scenes of Walter Jameson's aging was performed by using an old movie-making trick. Age lines were drawn on actor Kevin McCarthy's face in red make-up. During the beginning of the scene, red lighting was used, bathing the scene in red and hiding the age lines. As the scene progressed, the red lights were turned down and green lights were brought up. Under the green lights, the red age lines were prominent. The lighting changes were unseen by the audience because it was filmed in black-and-white. The ultimate result is the appearance of a complete make-up change with no cuts to the scene.

Pretty clever...

So, after seeing that episode, I was feeling a sense of my own mortality. I read the liner notes to the DVD and learned that the episode's writer, Charles Beaumont, died of a mysterious Alzheimer's -like disease that rapidly aged him.

From Wikipedia (again?!): When Beaumont was 34 and overwhelmed by numerous writing commitments, he began to suffer the effects of a mysterious brain disease. His speech began to get slower, he seemed to age much faster than normal and his ability to concentrate and be creative quickly disappeared.[1]. While perhaps Alzheimer's disease or Pick's disease, as commonly assumed, the disease may have been related to the meningitis he'd suffered as a child.

I then went on to read Of Mice and Men later that morning with my freshmen, the very heart-wrenching part of the book where Carlson shoots Candy's dog. That section of the book showcases how Candy's dog was once useful -- "he was the best sheep herder" -- but now that he's useless there's no room for him in the world of work and he is quickly dispatched, a fate Candy fears deeply because he is old and disabled.

Interesting how this basic theme of mortality came up twice in two different mediums with no prior planning. Throw in the death of Charles Beaumont for extra emphasis.

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