Outer Space Inner Space

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/43094-my-life-on-the-post-road-outer-space-inner-space

I have seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” at least a dozen times, but never like this. Last weekend I watched it on a big screen in Westport’s Town Hall auditorium, with Dave. Bowman, that is. Or, as he’s known in real life, Kier Dullea. And he spoke. And then I spoke to him.

This cinematic opus – a futuristic, sci-fi, mind bending, metaphysical adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same name – regularly appears on Top Ten Films of All Time lists. Stanley Kubrick, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, broke the mold with this one. The film changed film and minds forever.

Its themes and images have become ingrained in our collective culture. The monolith is, yup, monolithic in the gestalt. The jump cut from the large femur bone leaving the ape’s arm to the orbiting spacecraft, accompanied by the Strauss waltz, is arguably the most famous in all of film. The prescient and at the same time nostalgic images from 1968 are all still relevant today: a Pan Am space shuttle, Hilton and Howard Johnson’s hospitality on the space station, and Kubrick’s own version of Skype.

But for me, at least, the most enigmatic and intriguing part of the film is its ability, at each viewing, to cajole me into seeing something new. About myself, my relationship to the world, and our place in the universe. About the meaning of existence. Pretty heady stuff.

This screening was no different. And, other than the lady behind me who decided it was a critical to take a large red delicious apple from her bag and crunch on it during the climactic “light show” scene (yes, really. Check out my Ten Commandments of Moving Going), it was delightful.

But even more than the movie itself, sitting only a few feet from the man who uttered those unforgettable words: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL,” and listening to him regale us with stories from the filming, was, well, out of this world.

Here is some of the inside scoop:

  • When complimented on his acting finesse, he humbly replied, “It wasn’t exactly Hamlet! I mostly just talked into a camera.” I beg to differ. I think it was pretty good acting.
  • Out of two hours and 41 minutes, there are only 88 minutes of dialogue.
  • The renowned Canadian Shakespearean actor Douglas Rain voiced HAL. But since he was not on the London MGM set, a cockney-accented assistant crewmember did the dialogue with the actors.
  • The spacecraft from the iconic jump cut is actually a nuclear weapon satellite, so Kubrick took us from the first, most rudimentary weapon to the latest and most complex.
  • Dullea himself suggested that he knock the wine glass off the dining table on Jupiter to direct his gaze to himself dying in bed. Kubrick liked the idea and used it.
  • During the Los Angeles screening someone jumped up during the “light show” scene, stormed the stage and ran completely through the screen shouting “It’s God!!!”
  • Kubrick (unlike Otto Preminger, who Dullea also worked with) was delightful and easy to work with. And, despite rumor and speculation, was stone cold sober throughout filming.

But perhaps the most momentous revelation came from Kubrick himself, via Dullea. In response to the most often asked question: “What does it all mean?” Dullea read Kubrick’s own words. I paraphrase: He did not intend to deliver any assertion about the meaning of life, the origins of the universe, or the existence or lack thereof of god.  He simply wanted to encourage further, deeper, and more inquisitive thought about these metaphysical questions. He just wanted to make us think.

And that, after all, for me, is the joy and pleasure of all art: it challenges me to reexamine and question everything, and encourages introspection.

Afterwards, Dullea signed 8x10s of the iconic movie poster for a fee to support The Westport Cinema Initiative. What a treat! When I gave him my boys’ names for personalization, he told me long stories about how Dustin was his grandfather’s middle name (and its historic derivation from Hannah Dustin) and how Devon was the name of one of his favorite roles (in The Starlost). He asked that I wish Devon success in his pursuit of the visual arts.

I could feel people in the line behind me start to shift from foot to foot with impatience. I thanked him and stepped aside to make room for other fans, and ! went home, thinking how happy Kubrick might be with me, to think.

I love that, at least for Kubrick, the monolith, the light show, the fetus, and the movie itself, signified nothing preconceived. That he intended everything as a catalyst to encourage each viewer to glean meaning – or not – on their own. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”

Photo courtesy of Diane Lowman

Advertisements

Acceptance 

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/43065-my-life-on-the-post-road-acceptance

The memoir, 38 years in the making, is done. At least this draft, anyway. I hate it. I cannot look at it any more. I do not want to drag my purple felt tip pen over even one more word. I have convened with a coven of memoirists to stir our work in bubbling cauldrons, hoping to make a bitter brew better. Our mentor has guided us, gently suggesting which eye of newt to take out and which toe of frog to leave in. I’ve manipulated and massaged it with the skill of a shiatsu master. So now, it’s time to see if I can set it free into the world, via an eager publisher.

Based on what said mentor shared with us in our last session about that daunting process, I’d prefer to start on a new one rather than subjecting the manuscript, and myself, to the rigor required.

I am about as excited as a high school junior facing the formidable task of selecting and applying to colleges. Only the nagging parents are missing. The way I understand it, I have three options:

1. The Big Five publishing houses. Getting one of these to even read it would be akin to applying to the Ivy League. And I have about as good a chance of doing that as I did of getting into Harvard. My credentials are not glorious enough.

2. Smaller publishers. Better odds, but still a “reach.” If I apply early, the stars align, and I sacrifice something to the writing gods, maybe I’ll get in.

3. Self-publishing. Modern parlance would call this a “likely” option. When I was actually applying to college, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we called them “safety schools.” These days there is no such thing. This is like community college. Easy access, and you can still get a good education, but the degree doesn’t carry the street cred of options one or two.

It wouldn’t hurt if I knew someone who knew someone on an admissions committee somewhere, or if I could afford to endow a building. It would help if everyone already recognized my name. But in the absence of those, or any other tangible advantages, I’m on my own. So I will have to apply myself, work hard, look to my guidance counselor for advice, send off a passel of applications, and hope for a thick envelope in return.

Going Global

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/43053-my-life-on-the-post-road-going-global

I ventured off the Post Road again to the very tip of Manhattan for verification. Validation. Clearance. I had an appointment with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection folks to ask that they let me come and go through airport security checkpoints with relative ease.

The train took me as far as Grand Central, and then the (delayed) 5 train to its furthest downtown stop: Bowling Green (the rumored site of that recent unrest; all I saw was the behind of a big bronze bull…). Those who had gone before me had warned me to be fully prepared and prompt. They regaled me with Emerald City-like stories of refusal at the gate: “If you’re even five minutes late, you lose your spot.” The gatekeeper, they cautioned, had the iron fist of Seinfeld’s Soup Man. I feared being summarily dismissed with a firm “No global entry for you today!”

The federal offices share a space with the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of the American Indian. Even though my GPS assured me that I’d arrived, I had to ask a CitiBike attendant, museum official, and police officer before I found the unmarked side entrance. You’d think I was trying to find one of Stephon-of-SNL-Weekend-Update’s trendy secret clubs.

After passing myself and my belongings through the security checkpoint, I dutifully gave my name to a government issue blue pantsuit-clad matron who eyed a list of the day’s appointments on her clipboard and checked me off with a yellow highlighter. She pointed me, with that same highlighter and a slight tip of her head, toward a vaguely native American pattern upholstered banquette where I joined the other hopefuls.

She called one crisply suited man who was engrossed in a very, very important phone call. He raised his manicured pointer finger when he heard her call his name, in the silent communication of “one minute.” But she was taking no prisoners. “Sir,” she said, coming one step closer, “if you don’t end that call and come with me now, you will forfeit your appointment.” Which, by the way, we had to make six months in advance. The small woman’s big voice struck the appropriate chord. He hung up hastily and did as he was told. Much to my chagrin. If she’d thrown him to the curb, I might have gotten in earlier.

A frazzled Millennial pushed stick straight, ombre-highlighted hair back from her forehead as she tried to push her way to the street through an ‘emergency only’ exit. She, too, was distracted by an urgent call.

“Ma’am! What are you doing?” Matron barked. “You cannot exit there!”

“I have an appointment, but I forgot my passport,” she answered. “I’m trying to reschedule.” She held out her cell phone as proof of the latter.
Oh, no she di-dn’t, I thought. Waited six months for this moment and left the most important thing they ask that you bring at home? Oh, surely I could have her spot! I was so early and so prepared.

She turned tail, heading out the proper door, still on the phone, hoping to arrange to return within the half year.

“Diane,” Matron said. “Come with this group.” So the Millennial’s loss was my gain. One for the Baby Boomers. Prompt and prepared. My mantra.

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you ma’am.” I was sucking up ridiculously and unnecessarily, as if she could fail me if I didn’t react quickly enough. She walked briskly and spoke quickly as our group of three candidates followed her. “When you get inside, sit down and watch the video. Then wait until an officer calls your name.” Sort of like at Disneyworld, where they concoct elaborate multimedia diversions to minimize the impact of eternal waits.

The video showed us, with actual serious actors at actual airports, how we would use our newfound magical powers, should they be granted us, at said airports. The serious actors turned happy when their Global Entry passes worked and they sailed, slightly smugly, through security.

“Diane?” my personal officer beckoned as soon as the actors left for their imaginary destinations. He handed me back the passport I remembered to bring. He asked two questions about my criminal background or lack thereof, photographed and fingerprinted me, and granted me not only Global Entry, but TSA PreCheck status as well, and sent me on his way with a wave of his magic wand. Ok, he had no magic wand, but I swear I felt fairy dust.

I spent more than half the day traveling and waiting for what ended up being a three-minute appointment. But it was worth every moment I invested if I can avoid the serpentine, snail-paced security ordeal as I venture further off the Post Road in the future.

Photo by Diane Meyer Lowman

Missing

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/43040-my-life-on-the-post-road-missing

I keep thinking I see her. In town. At the gym. I expect to see her kneeling in her garden on an unseasonably warm day as I round the curve by her new house. I almost say hello to people that resemble her, maybe subconsciously believing that if I do, it will bring her back.

I, and all who knew her, struggle to process the loss of a friend, of a contemporary. Struggle to make sense of someone going “before his or her time.” Struggle to make sense of death and of life and of our own place in the world.

Her family held a Celebration of Life in her memory last week, so that we could gather and share our memories of her and show support for her family. We were patches, hastily sewn together, in the quilt of her life.

Maybe, we fantasized, if we got together, we could figure out why or how this could happen. The church hall overflowed with mourners. We stood, somber and a bit awkward, reminiscing and straining futilely to digest the loss. We, mothers especially, stole furtive glances at her children, unable to imagine the vacuum that her absence will create. Graduations. Weddings. Grandchildren’s births.

We lowered our eyes and shook our head and murmured all those trite but keenly appropriate clichés that we forget until tragedy strikes:

“You just never know…”

“Hug your children and tell them you love them…”

“Make the most of every day…”

We asked after each other’s families and made feeble attempts to catch up, but kept falling back into silent reflective reverie.

There were no tributes, no speeches, no eulogy. Just a large screen with a rotation of photographs of her. Smiling. With friends. With family. Watching over this veritable throng of people, happy, I hope, to see us all together.

I wish I could say that the gathering brought even a modicum of closure. For me, at least, it did not. I wish I could say anything clever or witty; words fail me. I lost a friend, and still keep hoping, against all reason, to see her smile in person again.