Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Emptying the Bucket List

A few years ago a movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out, popularizing the notion that everyone should make a list of all those things one wanted to do in life, and then try to do them before you “kick the bucket.” This list should not be merely a bunch of life duties, but the extravagant, unnecessary, personal dreams that only fear or laziness has kept you from fulfilling. I’ve always had a kind of inchoate list floating around in my head, and being a bookish and sedentary type of fellow it hasn’t included snowboarding down Mt. Everest or diving with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef. Having recently passed my fifty-first birthday (which I celebrated Hobbit style, by providing the feasting and giving presents instead of getting them—cross that off the list!), I realized that even if I live to be a hundred (unlikely) the bigger part of my days was past. So during the otherwise paralyzing heat of a Texas August, I’ve been steadily pursuing items on my bucket list and checking them off. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

1) I’ve completed the first chapter of a memoir of my life, covering the early years from birth to the age of six. While my autobiography might best be described as the story of a nobody who accomplished nothing, I’ve found it satisfying to preserve memories that, with the passing of my parents and my elder brother, are increasingly to be found only in my own mind. It is, of course, all from my point of view, and probably only of interest to my younger siblings and my nieces and nephews. One of my treasured possessions is a bundle of a few pages my mother wrote about her early life, and which I have found very enlightening about our own family history. I’ve often thought how fascinating it would be if all the members of the family had done so; now I’ve made at least a start on mine.

2) I’ve finally got and read a copy of On Pirates, a limited edition chapbook purportedly written by William Ashbless (the dual nom de plume of famed authors Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock) and definitely illustrated by the great Gahan Wilson. Besides the short story “Slouching Toward Gayalou” and the poem “Moon-Eye Agonistes, A Tragedy” by Ashbless, there are the forwards and notes by Blaylock and Powers, continuing the long literary joke of them assuming that the old poet is finally dead and publishing some of his work as a memorial, only to be confronted by the irascible and very much alive Ashbless breathing fire at them for tampering with (and profiting from) his work. This little book also has ties with Blaylock’s Langdon St. Ives and Magical California books in the (fictional?) person of William Hastings, who supplies an afterword about the aftermath. It was very satisfying to me to finally supply this missing link in the chain of my enthusiasm for Blaylock’s work.

3) On the action figure collecting scene, when I went to a local “con” with my brother and his family I was able to get an Auron from the Final Fantasy series put out by Square Enix (desired by me for its connection to Kingdom Hearts II, where he appears as a character) and a Meryl Stryfe from Trigun: The Planet Gunsmoke. I’ve wanted them for quite some time, and they were both there for very reasonable prices. These were not huge items on my list, but they were nagging little lacks that have been put to rest.

4) To continue on the anime theme, I finally sent away for the complete Read or Die series, which includes the original three part OVA and the two TV series. I had started to watch the first TV series almost a decade ago, but never got to see how it all played out, so it was a relief to see that at last. I found this show very appealing: its main themes are the joys and rigors of reading and writing, the power of books and the dangers in the control of knowledge, all garnished with the occasional gainaxing. These qualities are embodied in the Paper Masters, a group of people (mostly women) whose love of books give them bending skills that allow them to shape and manipulate the actions and material properties of paper, so it becomes sharp enough to split steel or hard enough to stop bullets. I could have watched it all streaming on various sites over the years, but I’m a material kind of guy who wants a hard copy around.

5) Speaking of copies, I broke down at last and sent off for a VHS copy of You Can’t Take It With You, starring Jason Robards. I had watched and recorded this way off in the early Eighties, but sometime in the late Nineties my tape of it went astray (I suspect my brother Mike recorded over it). I hadn’t seen it in years, and now this official release was the only format available. There have been other incarnations of the play over time (I’ve seen Lionel Barrymore and Art Carney play the pivotal role of patriarch Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, and I hear that James Earl Jones is now trying out the part), but the Jason Robards version is mine. The gentle, humble philosophy of the play had a lasting influence on my outlook on life (“Life’s not so crazy, just the people in it.”), and I definitely wanted to see it again, both for nostalgia’s sake and to find out how it holds up. After a little finoodling with a long disused VCR (thanks, John!) I was able to watch it once more, and it is great.

6) The last item to be scratched off my list has got to be the oldest. This is the 24-volume set of Man, Myth and Magic, an encyclopedia produced in the early Seventies covering mythological, magical, and religious practices. This used to be advertised everywhere when I was a kid, and the cover of the first volume scared the heck out of us. My uncle eventually got a set of them, but we were allowed only a limited access, not because of the occult subject matter so much as the native ceremonial and satanic ritual nudity. These books are a snapshot of the supernatural styles and obsessions of the time, dangerous, transgressive, and daring, before the New Age came along and washed it all twinkly with crystals.

Oddly enough, my pursuit of most of these items was facilitated by sudden price drops that made them more accessible to my budget, sometimes by half of what they had been going for before. It was almost as if things were conspiring to help me along with my bucket list, which, depending on how you look at it, is either encouraging or a little scary. One positive thing I have found out is that when you finally clear the decks of the past you have only the present and the future to think about, and you can sail on a little freer.


AlanDP said...

A fascinating post! Does Meryl's cloak have a bunch of tiny derringers in it?

I hope I get to read your memoir someday.

Brer said...

Besides one loose gun and an alternative hand with a gun, she has 24 other pistols that fit in her cloak.