Memento Mori

All about &

There’s a short story written by Jonathan Nolan called Memento Mori. Jonathan’s brother, Christopher Nolan, later based the film Memento on this short story. I’ve still not the seen the film but I read the story yesterday.

It’s a short story divided into even shorter chunks, making for a kind of staccato rhythm that compels you to read on through. Which, I’m feeling silly for only just realising, is a clever way of communicating the central character’s stop-start life.

There’s a great passage in the story. It’s quite long but revealing it here doesn’t spoil a thing. Its sentiment and clever conceit seems to sum up why I need lists.

Here’s the truth: People, even regular people, are never just any one person with one set of attributes. It’s not that simple. We’re all at the mercy of the limbic system, clouds of electricity drifting through the brain. Every man is broken into twenty-four-hour fractions, and then again within those twenty-four hours. It’s a daily pantomime, one man yielding control to the next: a backstage crowded with old hacks clamoring for their turn in the spotlight. Every week, every day. The angry man hands the baton over to the sulking man, and in turn to the sex addict, the introvert, the conversationalist. Every man is a mob, a chain gang of idiots.

This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here’s how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That’s the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.

But then the genius, the savant, has to hand over the controls to the next guy down the pike, most likely the guy who just wants to eat potato chips, and insight and brilliance and salvation are all entrusted to a moron or a hedonist or a narcoleptic.

The only way out of this mess, of course, is to take steps to ensure that you control the idiots that you become. To take your chain gang, hand in hand, and lead them. The best way to do this is with a list.

It’s like a letter you write to yourself. A master plan, drafted by the guy who can see the light, made with steps simple enough for the rest of the idiots to understand. Follow steps one through one hundred. Repeat as necessary.

What next?

1. Read Memento Mori by Jonathan Nolan.

2. Watch Memento by Jonathan’s brother, Christopher Nolan.

3. Write a list of things you really should do.