D.S. Moss' Adventures of Memento Mori is a podcast that will make you think while making you laugh. Moss dives head first into death, exploring the subject with famed transhumanists, artists, psychics, members of the Death Positive movement, and more.
What makes the podcast so interesting is how involved Moss is in what he covers. Moss doesn't stay behind the microphone and explain death at you, he takes you on an adventure- including a personal psychic reading, and a "trip" into the jungles of Peru where he takes part in seven ayahuasca ceremonies. We asked D.S. Moss about life, death, his most memorable episodes and importantly, is this the end of Memento Mori? Read more to find out!
The Adventures of Memento Mori - D.S. Moss
Tell us about your background, and what brought you to doing a podcast about death.
My background is actually in visual media. I have a framed piece of paper in a box somewhere that says I earned a Bachelor of Science in Film with a focus in Screenwriting. Currently, I run a production company that primarily creates insight ethnography videos for brands. So, it may seem that me hosting a podcast on death is a bit of a jump from the ordinary.
My path to the topic is not based on personal tragedy. I have, however, suffered loss, the type of loss that fundamentally changes who you are and how you see the world. But that’s not the catalyst nor point of this show. In truth, I started the podcast because I was trying to impress a girl. During the wooing phase, she had asked me, “if you had a podcast, what would it be on?” “Hmmm?” I thought.
“What would I have a podcast on? I’m a hobbiless, fledgling screenwriter who runs a production company that makes marketing documentaries. What possibly could I talk about with any authority?” A couple days later, while working on a script about a twenty-something going through a quarter-life crisis, it hit me; all of my work, even as a kid writing plays for the local church, had to do with meaning, purpose, faith, and existential fear. Yahtzee! The worm at the core of those themes is death.
“Death,” I said to the girl. “If I had a podcast it would be exploring the cosmos of death.” Then I hung up the phone and called my sound mixer and said, “Hey, let’s do a podcast on death.” Nothing in my background makes me an expert on the topic. Nothing in anybody’s background makes them an expert on the topic for that matter. My existential curiosity, background as a screenwriter and documentary producer, along with my childhood dream to be a radio DJ and my natural ability to get people to open up have all lead me here.
What has been the most memorable episode of Adventures of Memento Mori, and why?
I’ve been incredibly moved by the two part Thoughts in Passing episode in which I interview artist Claudia Bićen about her time spent interviewing and drawing the portraits of nine people in hospice care. It’s not only the words of the dying that I found to be incredibly powerful, Claudia’s insight on life and death blew my mind. Have you ever read a book or heard something and you say to yourself “that’s the perfect articulation of the thoughts I can’t articulate?” That’s how I felt about Claudia. All of this is to say, Thoughts in Passing isn’t the most memorable. Surprisingly, the two part Mass Extinction episode is.
I went into Mass Extinction thinking it would be the “fun” episode. I get to talk about dinosaurs, asteroids, and artificial intelligence. For me, existential risk was an abstract thing that even if it did happen would happen long after I’m dead and gone. I’ve learned that this attitude is not exclusive to me. The thought of one person’s death – be it your own or a loved one – can be emotionally crippling or motivating. There’s incredible power in mediation on it. It makes right now meaningful. However, the thought of everyone’s death or at least a couple billion is shrug inducing, “Meh, that’d sure suck.” What struck me as alarming and disheartening, is that the collective death of humankind doesn’t invoke much emotion at all, let alone motivation. Talk about denial of death. What makes this the most intriguing to me is that us humans are the most likely source of our own extinction, yet have the power to at any point to also be the remedy. Dinosaurs are still fun to talk about.
How has this podcast changed your attitudes towards death, or how you approach death personally?
It all manifests in how I approach life. Although the show is about the cosmos of death - the science, the mysticism and spirituality, and the culture – at the core it’s about how to live a better life. Memento Mori is Latin for being mindful that you will die and when applied and practiced on a daily basis that mindfulness shows up in how you live. For me, so far, the most significant change has been letting go of attachments. Things like letting go of ego pursuits, letting go of narratives and just letting go of the nonsense. I’m not anymore comfortable with dying, but because of this show I’m certainly more deliberate about living.
The French sociologist Philippe Aries claimed that modern humans are death-denying. Do you agree with him?
Absolutely. And I get it. To a degree it serves a great purpose. You could argue that death-denying is what motivates social and technological advancement. Human consciousness is such an interesting and complex phenomenon. I’m only a rookie admirer of the field of study but I agree with Sheldon Solomon in that death is the worm at the core of life. Despite denying it, death is still in the driver’s seat of our behavior.
What do you hope listeners get out of the podcast?
First, I hope people are entertained. At heart I’m still a storyteller. I always tell people, “you’ll laugh more than you’ll cry. I mean, you will cry, but you’ll laugh a little bit more.” I am not the expert in this topic and by following my curiosities and toe stubbing my way through it, I hope that the audience can see a little bit of themselves apply whatever resonates with them into their own lives.
I also hope people take away that the cosmos of death isn’t just about end-of-life care. It’s so much more. It’s about science, religion, faith, fear, culture, love and life.
What's next for you, and for the podcast?
Well, good question. After we finished the first season I was content to call it a completed project. I learned a lot, grew as a person and it ended on a life changing revelation. However, it only took about two months before I started doing interviews for season two. Look for more adventures in Spring of 2018. After that? Who knows?