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Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Meaning of Life as Told through Ghost Stories, New Orleans Cemeteries, the 3 Types of Mexican Death, and American Literature

            In Mexico, there are 3 types of deaths. The first is when the body stops living. The second is when the body is lowered into the ground. The final type of death is when the person is forgotten about. If we go back in their history, the picture above (at Chichen Itza) is a representation of people that the architecturally awesome, but brutally murderous Mayas killed... just because that's what they did.

           As a person who reckons himself an armchair philosopher (i.e. I don’t get paid by some academic think tank to philosophize / I don’t hold a degree in it / still, I freely share my opinions on it, contemplate it, and read up on it when I get the chance), I think this makes a lot more sense than the American types of dying / death.

dying is fine)but Death
wouldn’t like
Death if death were
when(instead of stopping to think)you
begin to feel of it, dying
 ‘s miraculous
cause dying is
perfectly natural;perfectly
it mildly lively(but
is strictly
& artificial &
evil & legal)
we thank thee
almighty for dying
 (forgive us, o life!the sin of Death

            I’d like to think that  the words of the poet e.e. cummings above (punctuation “errors,” to include lack of capitalization in his name, are the author’s) had it right. Americans often view death as something to be feared, though other authors avoided this with a more eastern philosophical view of life as energy for life (recycled into Transcendentalism). This is shown “well” (if you’re an aspiring literary type) in William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis.” 

            Otherwise, death is a monster movie where our bodies are food for the worms. Here, we end up like skeletons in a horror story, except our cob-webbed forms are unable to spring back to life in order to chase terrified teenagers to their untimely deaths. Death is portrayed in nihilistic terms like a suicidal body that can't be thrown off a bridge anymore (since a town like Ithaca, below, installs nets on bridges to stop this - for good reason - though, it is aesthetically unpleasing) or a homicidal fetish done by serial killers. Other times, it’s purely random rage of gangland murders to kill someone “like it ain’t no thang.” When we aren’t doing that, we live in fear that we will be forever separated from those we love by a wall of alive / deceased, more out of selfishness for our togetherness than the hope that their existence will offer more to others if it gets to keep on doing what it does.  

What’s wrong with this interpretation? What’s right about it? If death is natural and every life is a journey to it, what happens when we get there? We contemplate Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, floating clouds, ghosts, angels, demons, God, the devil, and absolute nothingness (as well as multiple variations of each) when we shuffle off of this mortal coil, but what happens first? What about the living? Why so much focus on the dark parts of death?

If you want to read a very long series of interconnected ideas that I have about the meaning of life, that’s HERE. Long story short, thoughts like this and the combined feeling of a loss of my 2-year old great niece to Alper’s disease, my “Gram’s” Alzheimer’s disease, and my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (September 27, 2016, for all intent and purposes - you can read my story beginning HERE, which is what most of my blog is about - other than living life to the fullest, travel, and random thoughts on life), say that we need to choose to live life to make our lives memorable so we’re not forgotten after death. 

Even if it’s only by 1 person or random people reading our stories, looking at our creations, spreading our advice, staring at pictures on our work desk, then there is a permanent memory being created.

Yet, in my opinion, we mistake death for the need for gore, and gore for horror, when real horror is a sense of fear of many different things (to include the failure of our bodies - a particular concern with people with Parkinson's). When we live life as a challenge to overcome hardships, to adventure to greatness, and to overcome evil, we have a lot of chances to test ourselves at a high level. Why get caught up in the train wreck of failure or the chance we might not succeed?

Salem Witch Trials Memorial

We mistake villains for the protagonist, when they are the antagonist. In life, they may stand triumphant against our heroes, but shouldn’t we celebrate those who vanquish hatred, evil, corruption, murder, and enslavement (in all their forms)? Shouldn’t we celebrate that effort, even in failure, as opposed to the knife that kills them or the bullet that “pops a cap” in them?

Rise of the Jack O' Lanterns - Long Island, New York

We demand the visualization of death in its most extreme form, but we forget the feelings Aristotle spoke of when he expressed how the spectacle should never take over the emotion of the scene (in Poetics, if you’re interested in reading it). Why gross people out when we can simply reflect on the effects of the action? Isn’t this what characterization and author’s purpose are about?

Shepherdstown, West Virginia, ghost hunt

For me, I believe in Jack London’s credo ("I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."). I believe that I may have Parkinson’s, but it doesn’t have me. I believe that there’s a lot of people to love (in varying ways) with the rest of my life (46-?). I won’t stop doing the things I can do in the ways I can do them, with people who enjoy them (unless to do them puts myself and others at an unnecessary risk).

Hawk Mountain - boulder loop with hand over hand ascents - last summer, solo.

I want to follow Dylan Thomas’s words (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”) or at least Thorton Mellon’s interpretation of them (“I don’t take shit from nobody!”). I want to overcome my negativity like Robert Frost did (“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”).

And yes, even though I write ghost stories that feature monsters, demons, and things that go bump in the night, I feel that in creating this world, it’s all about facing up to evil with positive energy. To be honest, the hardest thing I had to do was to create a really violent murder in the book Dead Mouths (available here). Sure, it was done, but it was more from the perspective of having found the body afterward. What was done was stated. It was gruesome, and it took a lot out of me. It took so much out of me, in fact, I couldn’t write the book again for a month after that. What’s more, it was one evil person killing another person, who was also evil, though not as dark and deadly. This created the sense that said murderer was heinous, and I would do it again, but at the same point, it was hard to do.

Even eliminating good characters isn’t easy. If they die in the right way, I feel it is necessary (and better than creating invincible characters that leave no suspense), but it’s not easy to just write a life and then to lose that person. When written well, characters can be just as alive as people. I guess that’s why I love the message of Luigi Pirandello’s 6 Characters in Search of an Author.
In the end, a character or a life should be memorable. We should write things to have them inhaled. Even at over 600 pages, all actions in my last and current should be memorable (or Anne Rice’s 950+ pages that are about 1.5 times in the Mayfair Witches, which are as filled as 1 of my pages!).

For me, this is a direct correlation to why I like cemeteries. Even before Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (a collection of epitaphs written to reflect the lives buried in an Illinois cemetery), I found certain graves magnetic. Maybe they were those of a hero. Maybe they were just architecturally wonderful.

In order, Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott graves in Concord, Massachusetts.

These 2 pictures were taken in Nottingham, England

For that, I loved the graves of New Orleans, Louisiana. Whether they are the future resting place of Nicholas Cage (well, not his - that looks goofy) or the pretend and real resting places of voodoo queen Marie Laveau, there is something that draws people to the mausoleums of the Crescent City. Depending on where you are in the city, some stones are haunting, but some are well-kept. All of them tell stories. They mark the lives of beautifully imperfect people whose lives were lived for something that they wanted to be remembered and never lost to time. Rather than to go into the ground anonymously, they left behind a statue that tells that they lived.
As William Faulkner said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

First 5 pictures Metairie Cemetery
Next 3 pictures Lafayette Cemetery
Final 6 pictures St. Louis Cemetery #1
Of these, #2 Marie Laveau's "fake" grave
#3 her real grave (unmarked - has X marks though)
#6 Nicholas Cage's grave to be

All pictures, color and black and white can be found in albums HERE - scroll down.

Sure, Thoreau said, “Nations are possessed by an insane ambition to perpetuate themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave.” However, for all the minimal living he did, he left a hammered stone, too. I guess he knew something... even if it was only a small stone on the family plot.

Thoreau's grave is in the same cemetery in Concord as the above 3 authors

This brings us back to the beginning. If the first type of death is the body, then it’s going to happen. Things go kaput. So it goes. Why prolong the inevitable to live off of machines to age 120?!! Live out loud as Emile Zola said. Then, we should accept that we’ll go into the ground and so will our loved ones. Sure, there will be tears, but for me, I want a jazz band funeral. I think they can play the part of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” where he repeats “Everything is gonna be all right, everything is gonna be OK” over and over. Then he can go into any Louis Armstrong they want since that’s what jazz bands do. After that, everyone can just tell stories about how awesome / goofy / weird / deep / annoying I was. I’ll be OK, and so will they.

After all, I’ll be batting third for the Cosmic All Stars and playing first base.

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