Today in things that make my brains slowly leak out my ears, I present: The citizens of Long Beach.
This is Jonathan Polk.
Jonathan is a business man attempting to open a funeral home and crematorium in Long Beach. Unfortunately for Jonathan, even though he did all the work to obtain the correct licenses to do so, the Long Beach City Council has placed a BAN on any new funeral or cremation establishments because….wait for it… citizens don’t like ‘em.
Of COURSE they don’t like them. We live in the most elaborate culture of death denial that has ever existed in the history of the human species. Exposure to death used to be a constant reality. People died in their homes, processions to the cemetery wound their way through public streets. During times of disease, famine, or plague, corpses would literally line the street. All of these are still the reality in many other countries around the world.
Yes, we have pulled death out of polite society. But that doesn’t mean we’ve evolved. I would argue quite the opposite, in fact.
Mr. Polk believes that it is the fear of death that has turned people against his business. Mr. Polk is 100% correct.
Here’s this guy, in front of the Long Beach City Council. “I have to live next to burning human flesh,” said resident William Snipes. “I have no choice.”
“Burning human flesh?!?” you say? I’m sure William Snipes has a beautiful Buddha soul and is a victim of the prejudices of a death denying culture and whatnot, but how exactly did you think cremations happened, sir? And for thousands of years? Do you realize that all around you people are dying and being disposed of?
Then there’s another resident who is worried about “property taxes.” To be fair, at least she is being honest as opposed to acting like a functional highly regulated crematory is something from a torture porn film… the FLESH, the FLESH IS BURNING.
Am I just a death acceptance militant who is angry for no reason? Does William Snipes have the right to say, “Not in my backyard, mortality!” What do you think?
The members of the Order of the Good Death are all magical fairies, spreading sparkling death acceptance dust o’er the children’s eyes at night.
Reading that sentence back I realize I’m making them sound creepy. They’re not. Ugh, whatever, in any case, here are some of the fabulous projects the Order members are up to this month.
Bess Lovejoy, who has written for The New York Times, The Believer, The Boston Globe, and The Stranger has her first book coming out on March 12th. It’s called Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses.
In the long run, we’re all dead. But for some of the most influential figures in history, death marked the start of a new adventure. The famous deceased have been stolen, burned, sold, pickled, frozen, stuffed, impersonated, and even filed away in a lawyer’s office. Their fingers, teeth, toes, arms, skulls, hearts, lungs, and nether regions have embarked on voyages that crisscross the globe and stretch the imagination.
Mary Roach (author of Stiff) called it “A tasty, sharp, wonderfully unusual book. I enjoyed it like a jar of perfect dill pickles: when the mood strikes, nothing else will satisfy.”
Oh no big deal, just Mary Roach comparing Bess’s book to a tasty jar of pickles. (oh.mai.gawd.)
Bess will be tweeting/Facebooking for the Order next week about the corpses of all kindsa famous dead folk. You can buy the bookling HERE.
Our resident post-mortem fashion designer Pia Interlandi has a documentary of her work airing on ABC Australia on March 26th. Watch the preview HERE. Hopefully it will be coming to England, iTunes, and film festivals in the next year.
Pia’s work is not just about dressing the dead, there are countless layers (dress pun) of thought and philosophy behind what she does. I haven’t seen the full documentary yet but I honestly cannot wait.
We have access to restricted medical and forensic collections, filled with jars of body parts that have been sliced, diced and catalogued for scientific research. But, what about the people who make up these collections? Who are these specimens?
We think it is important to tell the stories of these people who died, as well as the surgeons who cut open their bodies, so that these collections do not remain concealed, misinterpreted and misunderstood.
If I had $1,000 to spare, you bet your skull I would be throwing down on tea and syphilis cupcakes with Lindsey and the curator of the Bart’s Pathology Museum in London. Watch the video and donate HERE.
Expert on the #FUTURE of our corpses, Dr. John Troyer is bringing a merry band of deathxperts to Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) for a panel on death and technology, Platforms for Haunting: The Talking Dead.
If you’re in Austin this Saturday, the 9th, and not riding the hipster train to clusterfuck town, come say hello to John!
Bringing together experts in human remains, memorialisation and new technology this Panel will explore our relationship with mortality in a digital age. The discussion will draw on recent projects which have used new technology to augment cemeteries, populate historic sites with ghosts of their past and instigate twitter conversations with a 1,610 year old woman.
Filmmaker Will Slocombe’s new film Pasadena will premiere as one of the closing night features of the Sarasota Film Festival in April. Will wrote and directed the film, which stars important actors and hits all kindsa fantastic emotional notes. Check out this article in Indiewire about the prestigious company he is in.
Thanksgiving for the eccentric Turner clan, presided over by eminent scholar and patriarch, POPPY (Peter Bogdanovich) turns into a train wreck when “insane” daughter NINA (Alicia Witt) pays her first visit home in 15 years. Nina immediately clashes with her stepmother DEBORAH (Cheryl Hines), and soon locks horns with her sister LINDSAY (Sonya Walger), ultimately spilling a secret from Lindsay’s past that could wreck her marriage. Meanwhile, Nina’s half-brother, JACOB (Ashton Holmes), owes $228,000 to a loan shark who threatens to kill Jacob’s girlfriend unless he ponies up. All the kids need money, fast, but Poppy has his own bad news — he’s dead broke.
Bless all of their black hearts for the wonderful work they’re doing. Every day it is an honor to be associated with the members of the Order and the impending death revolution. Just kidding, there’s not really a death revolution! Or IS there? *shifty eyes*
The founder was interviewed by our friend Jian Ghomeshi (I was on his program once, that counts as friendship, right?) and gives a very good pitch for the site, which is that attaching profound significance the last word gravitas of famous people is a little ridiculous on Twitter. Especially since Twitter lends itself to totally goofy, absurd posts like “Cant wait 2 c u gurl much <3 lol” or “This hambuger is HELLA dope.”
I don’t know if it’s necessarily honoring those who died. Not everything has to be about honoring the dead. But it’s not disrespecting them either. It’s just an honest reflection of people’s engagement with the modern world. More importantly it is a memento mori for the fact that we can die at any time in completely out of left field/ insane ways that cannot be predicted.
As an example, here are some tweets that TOTALLY could have been my deep, profound last words if I had died in some kind of accident in the past few weeks.
The site is not “morbid.” At least not in the sense that people love to throw that term around. Morbid, unfortunately, has become a catch-all term to describe anything remotely related to our relationship with death. Any interest in death (or how death happens) can be labeled “morbid” as a way to dismiss it. As if interest in mortality is somehow less valid than other interests.
Tweet Hereafter isn’t showing you murder scenes or dead bodies or describing in graphic detail how someone was killed. They’re simply showing you a series of innocuous Twitter posts and letting you draw your own conclusions about what they might mean, and where death may be going in the future.
Because I do so loathe euphemisms and silly death-denying language, I love this piece by the lovely Jen Aitken about the necessity of doing better with your obituary writing. More of her work can be found at Last Words Obits.
Like the mouldy veggies in the bottom of your fridge, obituaries are a petri dish for stale language way beyond its best before date. While I adore the intention, I’m bored of the same old phrases. It’s tough slogging through mediocre writing to find a few good lines in the obit pages. “What an awful thing to say!” you’re thinking, “These obits mark the life and times of dead people near and dear to many!” They do indeed…which is why you should do them justice and write well. Snap. To clarify, a bad obit is not about a dull life: it’s about poor writing. Much of that comes down to word choice.
Here are some ground rules: a good obit should be around 200 words. Why? Because it’s expensive to post in print media, and readers have short attention spans. Obituaries aren’t a forum in which to testify, and lengthy stories belong in a eulogy. This is précis writing at its finest! Every. Word. Matters.
Euphemisms are substitute words used to avoid saying something that makes us feel awkward. Euphemisms to hide “dead” are the grand-daddies of them all. “Sleeping with the angels, succumbed, crossed over, gone with Jesus, achieved greatness, eternal rest, having gone to one’s reward, no longer with us, gone, lost, passed on/away/over/to the other side”: apparently, people are uncomfortable with death. But we can’t sanitize the truth.
Here’s the deal: grief isn’t made better by naming death “passing.” Call it what it is and move closer to being at peace with death and dying. Remember, obituaries are true stories, and euphemisms are a way of skirting that – plus they use a lot of our 200 words to say one small word. Died: see, it’s ok.
Dog down! Roger, copy that! Military lingo is so ubiquitous in obits that many read as though they were written on the battlefield (and Pat Benatar will tell you, it’s “love,” not “death” that’s a battlefield). My point is that death isn’t a war. When we “battle,” “fight,” or “struggle” “valiantly” and “courageously,” we’re setting up death as something evil that we can “beat.” Death isn’t failure. It’s inevitable. People don’t “lose,” they simply die. Avoid the military jargon.
In obituary writing, authentic is the new flowery. The most potent impact you can make is to write the way you speak. When you do, the content comes from the heart – people will relate and be sucked in like margaritas on a Friday night. Also, you’ll likely avoid my contempt, but that shouldn’t be your motivation. Instead of the stale, “lovingly remembered by her adoring family” (you just lost 6 words and my attention by the way), I’m looking for, “Jim ran with a tight crowd of yahoos.” Yes, 8 words, but intriguing. Think this is obvious? When faced with raw grief, even the most counter culture creatures can revert to the sentimental and formulaic. Keep it real.
Obituaries are the last words written about someone: no do-overs, so they better count. Honest, succinct language without the baggage of euphemisms and military lingo will get you started. The words you save will be needed for the next task of telling their story. It’s going to be great. This ain’t your grandma’s obit, well, maybe it is, but you’re going make people wish they knew her when…you’re going to do her life justice.
Order member Barbara Chung recently completed her design thesis on the architecture of funeral homes and the sensory experience. For Chung, the design and architecture of a place of death is not just a visual experience, but “should also generate emotions and trigger the human senses.” Her project extends from the cleaning of the dead body to the cremation, with the Mortuary Bath House being the main focus.
A poem and renderings from her thesis, The Anamnesis of Being, are below.
I am here and yet, I am not.Scenes flicker before my eyes.A restless mind.I wander about.Cold concrete floors.I glance over.Her face is calm.My canvas.Red lips and a tinted glow.The rush of city traffic embalms the air.The outside world.I am unable to hold my gaze.Blink.I paint her lips and picture a smile.A lifetime.Time.Where did the time go?Light bounces off the solid walls.Reflections of the sun.Light.Breathe…She is here and yet, she is not…bbc.