I am so excited to announce Death Salon, a new yearly gathering of intellectuals, scholars and independent thinkers engaged in the exploration of our shared mortality. This year it will be held over four days in October in Los Angeles, hence the name Death Salon LA.
When we say salon, we mean salon in the sense of, “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.” Basically the greatest death people in all the land hanging out together and presenting on their area of expertise. I’m thrilled that the Order is partnering with Morbid Anatomy and Atlas Obscura, two places I have nothing but respect and awestruck admiration for, to curate three days of death scholarship. There are also incredible independent scholars involved, you can meet all the organizers here.
Here is main organizer (and USC rare books librarian) Megan Rosenbloom’s description of the event:
“The idea for Death Salon LA came about when the new round of inductees to the Order of the Good Death and other like-minded folks wanted to meet each other and talk about each other’s work. One thing led to another, and now Death Salon LA is a full fledged conference, with public symposia, short film, and musical performances. We will also be bringing attendees the best of morbid LA by providing wares from like-minded local businesses at our events. If you’re interested in having a pop-up shop at our event or for providing beverages or food, we’d love to hear from you.
Our preliminary list of impressive presenters hail from all over the world and from many different perspectives. Friday’s programming is being curated by Caitlin Doughty, star of Ask a Mortician and leader of The Order of the Good Death. Joanna Ebenstein of Morbid Anatomy Library will curate Saturday’s programming, which will include many contributors to the wildly successful Morbid Anatomy Anthology. Sunday there will be a thematically-appropriate field trip hosted by our friends at Atlas Obscura. Keep an eye out on our meetings page for updates on the weekend’s presenters…the list just keeps getting better and better!
We’re very excited to be hosting the daytime Death Salon events at the Center for Inquiry in Hollywood. CFI is a great organization that helps foster the kind of discussion we at Death Salon like to encourage. Also, there is free parking on-site, which for Hollywood is nothing short of a miracle!”
Click here for a description of the meetings, events, field trips, and presentations we have scheduled thus far. It’s only April, so who knows how death-filled and wondrous this will look by October!
Follow Death Salon on Twitter for event updates.
Still lifes are works of art that depict “mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, flowers, plants, rocks, or shells) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, and so on).” They date back to the ancient Romans, as artists never seem to tire of fruit and strategically placed goblets.
“You sort of grow up with roadkill in Australia, and people—me included—try desperately to ignore it,” said Drew. “[Doing the series] seemed like a way to translate the situation of animals dying as a consequence of our dominance of the environment.”
It’s important to note that none of the animals were unethically killed for her art, they are all donated after being found dead or as roadkill. Unless, of course, you consider killing animals with our massive futuristic driving machines and leaving them on the side of the road a little unethical. Then, you know …
I was in Washington DC this past week for a wedding. The wedding of Order member Will Slocombe, in fact. Mazel tov, young man!
I haven’t visited our nation’s capital since I was a bright-eyed 17-year-old touring Georgetown University because I was convinced I wanted to work with the ACLU as a constitutional lawyer. As a note: holy SHIT 17-year-olds can be really really wrong about what they want to do with their lives.
My amazing literary agency also happens to be in DC. My agent Anna Sproul-Latimer took me to have some delicious Ethiopian food and then we drove to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Springs, Maryland.
Oh look, it’s fragments of Abraham Lincoln’s skull and the “bullet that took the president’s life.” Right there on display! With all the people at the Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theater, you would think that Lincoln’s death was big business. But hardly anyone was here at the museum. Can we not face much more tangible, literal memento mori like skull fragments or do people simply not know this treasure trove is here?
You can look into a little window where scientists are preparing organs. “I’ll just take a snap of these organs” I said to myself. And I did. That’s the end of that story.
We’ll end with slices from Einstein’s brain. Seriously, there are super famous corpse parts here. If you can get to Silver Spring, go! Five stars. Take the kids!
I was recently featured in the University of Chicago Magazine. This was a huge honor for me and thrilled my mother to no end, especially since she was fairly sure my medieval history degree would lead to me living in my parents’ basement (we don’t really have basements in Hawaii, so, like, basement equivalent).
After my death theories arrived in hard copy to alumni all over the world, I received an email from Pete Groat, a U of C alumnus from 1951.
“My wife of 58 years (and 83 on her own) died about six weeks ago. She had been in poor health for a number of years and yet, until Christmas was in her studio at least four hours a day, painting up a storm and other activities. The day after Christmas she went to the ICU for five days and then home. We knew her prognosis was death within a short time, but she hoped to be able to finish her last painting “Glimpse.” She was not able to do so, however her final two weeks were made bearable by Hospice.
She died at home, looking out upon her garden with its Buddha statue. It was a relief to her to be free of a body that had become burdensome, and painful. And that was a relief to me as well. We had an evening ritual (she slept in a separate bedroom owing to her medical needs) we had observed for years in which we promised each other to wake up in the morning! Not a bad or trivial thing to do when one is in the eighth decade! One evening, after her hospital visit and when we knew there would not be much time left to us she grinned hugely at me and said, ‘Soon I’ll know the Great Mystery!’ ”
His wife Jenny was a dancer, calligrapher, and painter. The picture above was taken in the 1960s.
Pete is having a custom urn created for Jenny by a local potter, but until then her ashes reside in a red ACE Hardware container to celebrate her life as a painter. On the way home from the crematory in Novato, California, a trip they had made many times in the past, Pete commented on “the sights she loved, the verdant hills, the oak tees (of which she did a series of paintings), cows going about their lives, and brilliant yellow fields of wild mustard. I know she enjoyed the journey.”
Pete, who I was fortunate enough to correspond with, takes solace in bringing Jenny coffee every morning “half milk, three lumps of sugar in her favorite Quimper ware mug. It has been a good death which she so well deserved. ”
“Jenny has been gone almost 2 months and I busy myself with deciding what to do with her large corpus of artwork & materials occupies most of my time, but on days like today, I am overwhelmed, even though our bargain with dying and death was a better one than most people have. She lived a long (83 years) life productive of art and kindness and I was fortunate to share 58 of it with her.”
I will save the commentary and say only that we should all be so lucky. Lucky to have a death (and life) like Jenny’s. Thanks to Pete Groat for allowing me to share this with you.
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?