Tales from the Other Side
With Uncle Morty
Some of you have been asking about your Uncle Morty’s condition. How? You ask. Why?
No offense, but the flesh-covered are dense, stuck in the material world like flies buried in Jello. I’m not sure I can really explain my condition to you. As to how? It’s complicated, technical and a little boring when you get right down to it. Why?Let’s just say I might have crossed a few metaphysical boundaries here and there while I was embodied. I might have broken a teensy rule or two on the other side too. Anyhoo…my bad luck is your learning experience. I’ve decided to publish a few tidbits of conversations from the other side.
Here begins Morty’s transcription of messages from beyond.
On old age and dying – Francine; disembodied, age 89
“I always thought getting older would be like building a mountain, a mountain of experience and wisdom. By the time you’re eighty, there you’d be at the top, perched like a white-robed guru. Younger generations would ascend the stones of your life to hear your words. The right way to feed babies, to handle a difficult husband, to work, sew, get up and feed the calves in the morning, gather the eggs, still get your pack of rascals on the school bus. Until I was in my forties, I honestly believed there was something solid ahead. Some perch from which reality would seem reasonable and I would know the answers.
The joke was on me. Reality shifted. Not one amongst that lot makes bread, or gathers eggs, none of ‘em would know how to butcher a chicken if their life depended on it. Seems like the babies are a whole new species the way they cater to them now. If you don’t like a husband…leave him. Instead of teaching them, I sometimes envied them. They taught me how to email and fiddle with the TV remote. I realized there was no path. No mountain.
Instead of building a mountain, I pieced a quilt. No pattern. A crazy quilt. And it may not win a prize or fetch $500 like granny’s old wedding ring quilt did when Anne sold it to go back to school after she left Danny, but it was pretty. I have to say it. There was my husband Frank’s old pajama shirt, there was Anne’s Easter dress I made out of that cheap blue calico. That patch on the corner was a piece of the gown Granny wore at the hospital the day before she died. All in all, it wasn’t bad, that quilt. In my old age, I laid myself down on it and touched this bit of flannel, that bit of calico, the linen from the suit that June wanted for graduation.
The babies crawled around the corners of it on the one end and the dead tugged, tugged, tugged at it from the other.
The teenagers, the adults? Those rascals couldn’t care less what you know or what wisdom you have to impart. If you’re lucky they’ll occasionally ask you now and then if you’re comfortable, there on your old quilt. Any rate, you’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter much anyway. Reality is wearing thin. Let them learn their lessons same way you learned yours. Let them piece their own quilts.
Eventually, babies yanking on it from one end, the dead from the other, one day you know for sure there’s nothing under that old quilt but air. And you know which set will win the tug of war. The voice of your dead mother sounds closer in your ear than the babies laughing.
Granny finally says, “Time to get on over here. Wrap that quilt around you and come on. It’s a cold walk over, but we’ve got a place for you at the table and we’re tired of waiting dinner.”
Mortimer Richard Wolcott is, quite frankly, not very forthcoming with his bio. We're not even sure if that's his real name. His work during his embodiments is not something he'll willingly share. However, his deathography is somewhat clear, at least from the time he showed up at Sacred Chickens Farm for a Halloween Party and never left. He is occasionally pressed into service to help write the blog and you can search the archives here for his wisdom.
He enjoys hanging out with cats, the occasional cocktail, and dispensing sarcastic remarks to the living.
Your old Uncle Morty is old and tired and dead, though not without the empathy that remains in the empty brain and abstract heart of anyone who has ever worn a suit of flesh. His previous embodiments leave him still puzzling as to why the living seem to value the miracle of being human so very little. Even when they can be led to believe that they themselves might have some intrinsic value they seem always unlikely to give that benefit of the doubt to others. I will give you a few scraps of reasonable advice that I myself found when I walked among the living. It was expressed by two of the best men I have ever known, Kilgore Trout and George MacDonald.
Now you may protest, “Uncle Morty, Kilgore Trout wasn’t real! He was a character in books. He was made up.” And so on.
All I can say is that being true matters more than being real. And if humans could grasp that they might be a good bit better off than they are. (And you may not know of George MacDonald at all…but he was both real and true.)
If you’ve never read God Bless You, Mr, Rosewater, you should. Even if you have, maybe you should look at it again, especially right now. It’s the story of a rich man who moves to a small town in Indiana to care for the plain and “useless” people there, through all of their troubles, depression, alcoholism, ugliness, and squalor, in big ways and small by simply not judging them and giving them what they need on a day to day basis, and also by making sure their volunteer fire department is extremely well-funded – more on that later. In short, Eliot Rosewater, did not measure the worth of the inhabitants of the run down and sad town of Rosewater as a percentage of someone else’s profit.
At any rate, here’s Kilgore Trout elucidating the beauty of Eliot Rosewater’s social experiment, his treatment of everyone no matter how “worthless” as a human being, someone who needs love and attention:
The problem is this: How to love people who have no use?
In time, almost all men and women will become worthless as producers of goods, food, services, and more machines, as sources of practical ideas in the areas of economics, engineering, and probably medicine too. So—if we can’t find reasons and methods for treasuring human beings because they are human beings, then we might as well, as has so often been suggested, rub them out.
Americans have long been taught to hate all people who will not or cannot work, to hate even themselves for that. We can thank the vanished frontier for that piece of common-sense cruelty. The time is coming, if it isn’t here now, when it will no longer be common sense. It will simply be cruel.
And here’s the bit about the fire department, explained by Kilgore Trout:
Your devotion to volunteer fire departments is very sane, too, Eliot, for they are, when the alarm goes off, almost the only examples of enthusiastic unselfishness to be seen in this land. They rush to the rescue of any human being, and count not the cost. The most contemptible man in town, should his contemptible house catch fire, will see his enemies put the fire out. And, as he pokes through the ashes for remains of his contemptible possessions, he will be comforted and pitied by no less than the Fire Chief.
Trout spread his hands. “There we have people treasuring people as people. It’s extremely rare. So from this we must learn.”
Here’s much the same thing from another perspective in a quote from George MacDonald.
On the rich young ruler
I do not suppose that the youth was one whom ordinary people would call a lover of money. I do not believe he was covetous, or desired even the large increase of his possessions. I imagine he was just like most good men of property: he valued his possessions-looked on them as good. I suspect that in the case of another, he would have regarded such possession almost as a merit, something he deserved. Like most of my readers, he would probably have valued a man more who had some means, and valued him less who had none. Most people have no idea how entirely they will one day alter their judgment, or have it altered for them, in this respect. How much better for them if they alter it themselves.
An interview with Uncle Morty
As some of you may know, Uncle Morty, is Sacred Chickens’ best loved (and…okay…only) blogging skeleton. He mysteriously came to stay with us after a Halloween party a few years ago and somehow never left. Morty doesn’t like to talk about himself too much. He’s been a little close with his history, although he does occasionally dispense his wisdom in the form of a blog post or a pithy saying. But for the first time, he’s agreed to sit down and talk about himself.
Q: The first thing I really must ask is why you have a tendency to talk about yourself in the third person? Some people find it a little disconcerting. Maybe even off putting.
A: Well, your Uncle Morty hasn’t had a very comfortable relationship with himself since he lost his suit of skin. Without a heart beating inside these old bones and a head full of matter and electricity, Uncle Morty hasn’t exactly felt like a “self.” He experiences consciousness in a much less physically unified way you or your readers. It’s difficult to explain for him to explain exactly what he means across such a wide existential gulf. But if you think it will help insure that your readers are not “put off,” the poor delicate flowers, your Uncle Morty, excuse me, “I” can try to use the first person more often in my writing. Of all people, I understand that concessions must be made to the flesh.
Q: Question number two is something that I’ve never really been comfortable enough to ask you and even now I’m not sure how to phrase it. Ummm…can you help the reader understand your “condition”…I guess what I’m trying to say is…
A: I get what you’re trying so eloquently to say. (For those of you reading who may not know your Uncle Morty so well…please infuse the previous sentence with a healthy dose of sarcasm). Quit pussy footing around. I’m dead. That’s my condition. I’m not really permitted to go into the metaphysics of my state (nor would you have any hope of understanding the technicalities involved.) But I will say this: it’s certainly not a reward. I prefer to think of it as not exactly a punishment either. It was presented to your Uncle Morty as an opportunity – a sort of correction if you will.
And before you ask…I would prefer not to answer questions about my previous embodiments at this time. I will dispense such information on a need to know basis. And I sincerely doubt that anyone will need to know anytime soon. I would hate for the information to be...misapplied.
Q: I wasn’t actually trying to be nosy about your previous life. So let’s change the subject back to your current…errrr….existence. How did you end up here at Sacred Chickens farm? No one at the party can exactly remember asking you. Not that we weren’t happy to see you, of course. It was Halloween, after all.
A: The Universe has a strange way of working itself out, doesn’t it? And by that I do not mean that it has a plan. Merely that it has a strange way of working itself out. You may take that as you like. I do love bonfires and marshmallows by the way. That was delightful. Although the beer and condiment selections left something to be desired.
Could we please move on to the next question?
Q: What do you see in your future? Anything you want to accomplish?
A: Well, I’m coming off a difficult period physically, literally losing my head for a bit, as you well know. I think it’s definitely time for Uncle Morty to begin sharing his wisdom again. I’m also thinking of starting an advice column for the living and perhaps writing my Automortography. Also, I’d love to update my wardrobe and spend more time meditating. My favorite hobby, startling people, will take a bit more social effort (and possibly skill) on your part. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll take up knitting.
Incidentally, if anyone craves Uncle Morty’s advice or simply to share a story with him...errr... me, please send your clearly stated fears, problems or opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org with Mort-uary in the subject line.
Q: Anything else you want to say to the readers?
A: The same advice I always give to fleshlings. Don’t be Dead while you’re Alive. Be Alive. You’ll be resting your bare skull on a guest room pillow and being asked to write blog posts soon enough.
Here begins the blog of Uncle Morty:
I find that the weather has become less pleasant and I am expected to earn my keep by writing a blog post. (I am pictured at left warming my bones during the brief period of warmth.) After a difficult and somewhat depressing winter - things always go downhill for me after Halloween - I find that I must clear my empty skull of loose thoughts before I can write a proper essay. So before they begin to roll out my empty eye sockets like loose marbles, I have captured these random ideas and placed them here for your perusal. They come in no particular order.
On Civility - The Truth cannot appear friendly to a lie any more than a pediatric nurse appears friendly to a toddler getting shots. Liars loudly demand civility - never honesty.
On Understanding the Universe - Spend the morning playing with a kitten. It will give you a glimpse into the strange balance between tenderness and cruelty for which the Universe is justly famous. (Especially when you remember this delightful creature will shortly become a cat.)
On Other People - The more easily you can consign someone's soul to Hell, the more easily you can consign their body to the grave.
On Evil - No one wakes up one morning and decides to be evil. Most evil people don't know they're evil. Most people are at least a little evil. The more you see evil in other people the less you see it in yourself. The more you try to root out the evil in other people the more you can justify treating them poorly without feeling bad about it. Then one morning, you wake up...and you're evil.
On Listening - If you're afraid that listening to someone else's viewpoint will confuse you or give you doubts. You're right. Uncle Morty approves of that. It's called "being human."
On Being Alive - Don't be dead while you're alive. Be Alive.
Uncle Morty has told me in no uncertain terms that he is not ready to write a blog post yet. (I mean, c'mon he just got up a few DAYS ago.) But whatever.
He wants to share his favorite video with you. It's a video by our mutual friend Troy Lukkarila. Remember Uncle Morty is dead. He picks some kinda creepy stuff sometimes.
Uncle Morty is writing another post today. Please remember: he’s dead. He rambles a bit. It can’t be helped. And he’s a little morbid and melancholy – which his doctor says is normal for a person in his condition.
I think his topic today is Fear and Nostalgia. Seems like an odd pairing but things bump and rattle around that empty skull of his without the boundaries of brain tissue to keep them from colliding. Sometimes it’s interesting. I’m off to write some Whistlestop stories. Have fun with Uncle Morty.
Here begins the blog post of Uncle Morty: (by Uncle Morty)
Now that I’m dead, I note something interesting about flesh - skin and bones and nerves
and meat, all connected, indissoluble - that something is FEAR.
I’m not talking about the delicious kind of fear with which we tease our bodies by riding roller coasters or seeing movies starring some of my friends. I’m talking about the underlying bodily fear that dogs our every move (when we’re alive – really there are some advantages to being on my side of the question).
One doesn’t notice when embodied because one must always experience the soul through the skin. The flesh filters reality through a rippling net of emotion and never stops to consider the subjectivity of its interface. And one thing that underlies all flesh at every moment is fear. One function of flesh is to provide for its own survival. Like a traitor to your highest aspirations the flesh must interject the fear of dissolution into every experience.
Oh...I know it’s difficult to believe…and I know many brave humans live lives of courage and honor in spite of it. But until the last nerve quivers to a final halt, you will never understand this most basic of human emotions…the underlying filter…the need for safety that helps you make every decision, illuminating life in sharp relief, light and shadow. It’s only after the clarity of death that you can see the pervasive nature of this pressing emotion.
And this basic fact of human nature, if unacknowledged, leads down strange pathways in search of safety. One thing I notice, of late, in your culture is the steady and hypnotic attraction of nostalgia. I see people speak in glowing terms of their own childhoods as golden ages of peace and superior child raising techniques. I hear people speak of eras dead and gone as times of peace and prosperity, reaching heights of spirituality and manners – even when those times included the subjection of whole segments of the population as slaves or second class citizens or considered half the population to be property. Oh yes…your Puritans were pretty in the Thanksgiving pictures in your school books, but where are the pictures of them whipping the Quakers out of town?
I’ve lived a long time my children and I can tell you that the golden age is always beyond grasp…either in the past or the future. That gold won’t shine in the present. But I want to do more than disabuse you of your fantastic notions that somewhere sometime on this old earth there was nothing but safety and protection. I want to tell you what drives you to this island of nonsense. It’s fear. And fear particularly drives us into the past. The future is for the radical, the mad optimist. The past is for the fearful.
The past is safe. It’s over. The children who tormented you have gone away. Your father – whose belt tore your flesh and left scars on your body and your mind – is gone. You now understand his bewilderment, his inability to control life and the fear for the flesh of his flesh that pressed him into punishment, into making your world as small and safe as he could make it. The mistakes that you made – remember when you drove your car through the fence because you were tired and you’d been up all night at a party – those mistakes that could have killed someone, including you, by the grace of God or random chance, those mistakes left you standing. However it happened, the past has been lived through. It has walls and boundaries. It is a fortress of concrete and steel that can never be assailed by the winds of change.
How many dystopias have been created, not by the breaking down of walls of the present to let the future flood in, but by trying to build walls around the present, and to paper them over with images of the past?
Unfortunately this is a pipe dream. The past was once the present, rife with choices and possibilities, with more horror and more happiness than any one person could experience. Were you to be lifted to a point previous on the timeline and allowed to experience it from that vantage point, the same fear would grip you; the same choices would have to be made.
There is no escape from fear only ways to avoid looking at it for a few moments. Indulge but don’t become addicted.
Since I have been experiencing some difficulty in managing to sit down and write a blog post, Uncle Morty has agreed to take on this task today. I find that his condition gives his writing a certain rambling quality. Nevertheless...here it is....Uncle Morty's first blog post.
I believe his topic today is "The Fear of the Apocalypse Among the Living." Sounds more academic than it probably is.
Good luck. I'm off to take a nap.
Here begins the blog of Uncle Morty: (by Uncle Morty)
Hello my flesh covered friends. It's your Uncle Morty, here to deaden up your day and give the living a little perspective.
I was once covered with fear and flesh myself. There's nothing wrong with blood and nerves; I remember the feeling of the cool wind on warm flesh, sliding across my arms like water in the hot summer air. I probably appreciate your position more than you do as I've seen this thing we call life from both sides now, as I sit on my bare and unforgiving bones, under appreciated and nigh forgotten.
However, I will give up complaining for a few moments as I have a chance to give you an outside view of the culture of the living. Think of me as an anthropologist of sorts. When I am bored, I watch a bit of television and some of your films, just to see what you are up to. (Something I would have said I wouldn't be caught dead doing when I was alive...oh well...you die and learn.) And something I've noticed is that you've caught a collective fear of the apocalypse - zombies (some of my best friends and I can't say I appreciate how they've been portrayed), disease, nuclear war, asteroids - you name it the living will fear it. The living fear death and being narcissists, the death they fear - their own - becomes the death of the world itself. But their fear of death is also a longing. There is a part of every living person, no matter how good, no matter how unselfish that relishes in the destruction of the sensual and the physical. Why do they long for the end? Perhaps it's the need to just get it over with. Perhaps they have been infected by that noxious philosophy of the living that tells them that evil resides in the carnate flesh. (Do without flesh for a day or two or have a conversation with a vampire; you will see that living flesh is not evil and evil does not need living flesh as a residence.)
Of all people, your Uncle Morty understands the pleasure with which one might consider the destruction of this rat race, if for no other reason than to rid the world of Reality TV. (By the gods, but life is wasted on the living sometimes!) Dead or alive, the thought crosses your minds that starting over might be all for the best; and that ending it might be all the better. Most of you feel this way because you are weary of the weight of your flesh, and the spinning of this old world seems to be in the wrong direction often enough. So you indulge yourselves in a mythology which allows you to explore the possible endings and judgments and the moral implications of being a living creature hurtling towards death with all the other fleshlings inhabiting this planet with you.
If you're building a bunker or asking your local gun shop owner which ammo is better for killing zombies? Or some of you religious people who can't wait to see God smiting your enemies and tearing the place down...I don't even know how to speak to you about such longings. If you are that far gone, you will probably be unmoved by the advice of either the living or the long dead.
But back to the rest of you...for whom this is a normal and probably somewhat healthy fear/fantasy. I have a couple of things to say about your cultural obsession.
First, you have it all wrong...it's not going to happen the way you think it is. Case in point: Underarm hair. I haven't seen one TV show or movie depicting the apocalypse where the women have armpit hair or unshaven legs. If you can't even predict that the ladies aren't going to have the time or interest to comb through the ruins of Walmart looking for razors after the apocalypse then you probably should just quit making predictions at all. At least you should acknowledge the somewhat mythic nature of your predictions and enjoy them for what they are instead of getting caught up in actual preparations and fears for a thing that will most likely never happen in the way you imagine it. The creation of a death story should be a spur to live in your flesh while you have it; not a means of separating you from the world you must inhabit.
Second, while you must think about the future to some extent, those of you still covered in your suits of skin must live in the here and now. Your puny little arms can do a surprising amount of good in the present you must inhabit but they are quite useless in the future, which is not yet your country. It seems to me that such an array of terrible stories, apocalyptic stories, would have you fleshlings running about like mad rabbits, trying to combat the prophesies therein contained. Instead, they merely serve to make you cynical and useless. (My living host for instance, is taking a nap...fiddliing while Rome burns...sleeping away the moments that count).
At any rate, it doesn't quite matter to me I suppose. I will take my old bones back to the library and rest up. (I have a good bit of complaining to do this afternoon and I need my energy.) See you on the other side.