The Longer we can stay there

Before I got out of my car this morning, I listened to Joe Biden finish his thoughts on the current political chaos. He seemed angry. The reporter's final question was if he was going to run in 2020 and Biden pounded his fist on the table while growling NO. He said his mission was to honor his dead son and give hope to people in a similar situation. He didn't say it but what I heard is that he wanted to grieve. 

I feel for the people trying to move on while grieving, particularly right now, as very few examples of sanity and hope appear in the news or in culture. We have a baby as a president and we acknowledge a random celebrity as the 'sexist man alive'.  I'll admit I forget what a luxury it is to revel in the absurdity of the days news, to push against the edge of my understanding and compassion with curiousity and still feel safe. That seemed to be the place the reporter was coming from when she asked Biden that silly question, though she tried to blame it on public pressure to do so. 

It reminded me of this piece I read last night about the ever-changing meaning of childhood. The author of was making the argument that as we fail to manage as adults due to things like lack of sustainable employment, we cling to ideas like an idyllic childhood as though it really ever existed. I also see this taking place when it comes to dealing with grief, we think we remember a time where it didn't exist or when it was more acceptable to feel our feelings-our childhood, basically. The longer we can deny our grief the longer we can stay there.


I did the thing

Late last week, after I had stood in front of the Austin City Council, rushing through a presentation on why Austin should accommodate green burials in their cemeteries, it finally occurred to me that my imposter syndrome appears in moments of both prosperity and trauma.

This causes me to push away from the positive momentum I’ve built or heal from the pain I am dealing with. It’s not a groundbreaking revolution but I do see it as progress in terms of my mental health. At least now I know part of what is going on.

The rest of what is going on is out of my control, which I realized when I looked around the room waiting to address the council. They do not give feedback nor do they express anything that looks like encouragement or discouragement while you talk. The woman ahead of me gave a passionate plea for kindness in schools and sang a song in French as a parting expression of this. It was moving, but in the vortex of emotion it went nowhere. I realized my voice would fall just as flat.

I did it anyway as it is important for me not to hold onto any expectations of the outcomes. I appreciated the exercise in public speaking; the chance to share my vision with city leaders who may or may not give a shit. It is on me to continue to follow up, making the presentation public and sending it to the cemetery manager. All these things I want to create or to heal from are only powered by me and I continue to be amazed at the way my brain will sabotage my ability to do both.

Even then

I watched a performance called Dueling Doulas tonight that asked questions to audience members related to death and dying. One of the question was "if you knew you were going to die in two weeks, what you do?" Everyone had their mind on who they would see and what they would say and all I could think about was how I would still be wondering how I will die.

weekend work

I spent a majority of my weekend writing, attempting to create a story out of thin air that was at times so thin a hole would wear through the middle of it. Had a discussion with a friend before we went to dinner about the story her family was creating around her grandfather's situation, which is that he is old and dying but not at a speed detectable to doctors. Everyone is working hard to keep him safe and comfortable which means he is suspended in a nursing home. She said the work they should be doing is taking him home and cutting off the medicine, the physical therapy and let him eat what he wants if he want to at all. But she knows there's little chance of that. In this country we choose to believe the story that cruelty and neglect is acceptable if implemented on an institutional level and that our desires about how we die are impossible. We deconstructed that idea for several minutes before it became clear that not only was there a huge hole in that story but that we are all willing to accept the holes because the void of the truth is much bigger. 

Group Eyes

Jen pointed out my use of the word humiliating again last night and she said she couldn’t agree more. There isn’t really a better word to describe almost all situations I’ve been in recently and even I was surprised at the depth of a word I typically only apply to shallow situations.

It has been increasingly more difficult to ignore the authenticity draining from a place like Austin, especially since the election when it became painfully obvious that even these hip liberal people have not been spending much time in the company of those who don't look like them or come from their background. The culture of Austin has been struggling with this for a long time, failing to get together an infrastructure that supports the artists that is says it cares so much about.

I feel the same way about the healers that live in this city, the people who are in tune with the death work I am trying to do and who work as a resource for me when I am unsatisfied with the limits of this world. At one time, this was embarrassing to admit but right now I do not trust anyone else with my questions.

One of the true gifts of sticking it out in a city like Austin for a decade is getting invited to join a dream group that has been meeting on Monday nights for the last 20 years. The other blessing is that they are not in any way bullshit, can read your ass in five minutes from a dream you described in two. I’ve been working on dream analysis all year, mostly from a book by Robert Johnson called “Inner Work” and this group introduced me to two more methodologies that are similar in the belief that our subconscious uses archetypal imagery and the people that appear are shadows of ourselves.

I told them I was getting rained on, denied a ride by a cool acquaintance to location from my childhood, carrying all my belongings, in a hotel, scaling the edge of a pool even though I knew perfectly well how to swim, in fact I’m very good.

I was told there was no way I was going to give myself a lift to a place I didn’t even want to go anyway. All my things I could share, but for some reason I choose to keep  carrying them on me. They said I hold myself back when in the company of others.

It was quick and it was humiliating.

There were other dreams shared, all of which dealt with overcoming conventional obstacles and limiting imaginations. They were quick, revealing, dead on. I asked others questions about their dreams, which was harder than I thought it would be. If felt like asking a stranger to be as vulnerable as possible so I could draw some conclusion about their life. It felt too powerful.

We sat in the car for a few minutes after the group processing the evening. I said I was in awe of the longevity of the group. That they have held out for two decades, kept dreaming, kept probing each other to go deeper. They always find that they’ve been dreaming collectively about a certain subject that gets revealed as the night goes on. It’s embarrassing to think of how unseen we are to ourselves until you sit in a group like that. As our host said at the beginning of the night, some truths are revealed so that only others can see them. It takes humility to ask for help looking.

i can see where this is going

I attended two events this weekend that were part of an ongoing art exhibit that has death as it's focus. The entire event lasts until November, with performances happening in the next few weeks as well. I will wait until the event is complete to write a full post on it but I do feel like mentioning early that the panel on death & urban renewal I attended yesterday really highlighted the problem of being white and lacking a real engagement with death & loss in any way other than to pose questions as to why we are living in denial or why we do not have satisfying rituals at death. No discussion on how privileged this perspective is, how whiteness contributed to the death of ritual by rejecting spirituality or religion or other grieving mechanisms. Also, no discussions of cemeteries as public spaces, which really surprised be given the urban planning focus of the talk.

Speaking of cemeteries, I plan to present to city council in two weeks on opening up space in the city cemeteries for green burial plots. The main reason they should do this is to stay relevant to the community in a way that hasn't been done before, by being forward-thinking in death care. The city has good alternative death care but lacks in green burial space. Making this available within the city limits would be very in line with the other environmentally-minded initiatives the city has adopted. 

guide post

If it's true when they say that the veil between the living and the dead is thin this time of year, my circle seems to be preparing for this assimilation of the spirit world. I have to say I'm rather pleased to have seekers as friends. I've also been thinking about it a lot myself having just finished "Living With A Wild God: A Non-Believers Search for the Truth about Everything" by Barbara Ehrenreich, which I'll write more on later.  The spiritual practices I heard about recently:

Upaya Kaushaulaya in Buddhism, which essentially translates to 'skill in means'. defines it as "the ability to bring out the spiritual potentialities of different people by statements or actions which are adjusted to their needs and adapted to their capacity for comprehension." 

A Qigong practice of standing barefoot on the earth each morning and imagining yourself grounding into it as though you were roots of a tree. You should try to experience the way the soil would feel around you, the creatures of the earth that would crawl on you. This is to help you feel connected.

I met a woman who is creating a Living Funeral ceremony, wherein people are walked through their own end of life service as a means of therapy and healing. This is popular in Asian countries to counteract the suicide epidemic and they've had great results. She is hoping it will aid in relief from depression.

restorative art heads

I had a really good time talking to journalist Molly Fitzgerald
yesterday for a piece she is working on about the restorative art class assignment of modeling a clay head. The assignment is a standard in every mortuary science cirriculum I have looked into and I've swapped stories with many funeral directors over the years on their experience with modeling clay into a likeness of their choosing.
The idea is that this will teach students how to craft features of the face in the event that one of them is missing and needs to be put back on during the embalming process.
I found the exercise to be fun enough in that it was the only time I could use any sort of artistic expression during the entire year but I also found it very dispiriting. Restoring a face mangled by accident is absolutely valuable if it can be done not just well, but perfectly. The stakes are so high. Any misstep here will likely horrify the family. 
There is extreme competitiveness in the area of embalming and restorative art; I saw it when I worked in the back room and I felt it when I was in class. Everyone bragged about how quickly or how many bodies were embalmed, but very rarely did I see above average results.
The clay head assignment really showed this. The variation between good and so bad was extreme, with most falling toward the latter. 
It all seemed in service to a lie funeral service will still tell itself: that restorative art is the reason people have funerals at all. Constantly working toward gaining approval or a grade based on how well I told that lie wore me out so much so that I almost do not have the energy to teach people not to be so afraid of decay. But not quite. I still have my clay head, in a box in my closet. I think the time has come for me to pull her flawless face back out, scrape it off and mold myself something useful.

what could be more true

Writing the evergreen sexual harassment post now because I feel short of breath reading all the recent news. To relieve some of the fatigue I feel I've listed a few of the incidents of harassment in my own life. I used to think these were small enough to go away on their own but they still really fuck with me whenever these scandals break:

My high school's head football coach, also our math teacher, was well known to be favoring young, usually popular, female classmates. I remember being extremely surprised that one of the girls he had groped came forward and he got reprimanded. 

In mortuary school, we had an outing to watch a baseball game. During the tailgate in the parking lot, a male student who had been drinking began to 'jokingly' smack my ass which I told him to stop doing but he didn't, until another male student saw how visibly uncomfortable I was and intervened. 

At the first funeral home I worked at, I was routinely cornered by my manager who asked about my romantic life. He began calling me at home, asking me to come over or go on rides by the lake. He was in his 60's, I was barely 21. I never went, I practiced ahead of time all of my excuses and when time came to hire me after my apprenticeship I was let go. 

While working in a wholesale flower warehouse, I saw a male coworker receive constant sexual harassment from our male manager and coworkers. I offered him support privately and offered to confront our coworkers. He was grateful, but didn't want to disturb his job which he felt lucky to have. It didn't stop me from calling them out the next time I saw it happen. I wish I could have had that same person defending me when I became the target. 

Happy Indigenous People's Day

Somewhere there is a picture of myself and my brother sitting on the National Park momument at the entrance to Effigy Mounds in Harper's Ferry, IA. There is also a comment I wrote beneath a friends instagram picture of the mounds as depicted on the quarter, with my friend wondering what they were exactly. There are many emails I've written to friends who would be in the area telling them to go and check them out. And today there is this post, where I pay all my respects to the indigenous people who created the mounds and sit in awe of their spiritual longevity.

Native culture is still very present in the Midwest where I grew up and we had access to a number of very sacred places. Effigy Mounds stand out in particular to me for it's creative expression at the grave, it's inspiring appreciation of the land and animals by creating stunningly perfect designs that were plotted out without any aerial technology to assist in viewing it from above. 

I've been working for a year and a half on a conservation burial project that will allow people to have a natural buried in state parks. We are working on ways to create new rituals that are healing and sacred, respectful to the earth and each other. I am constantly thinking about the mound builders of the Midwest and their visions to mark a sacred space with shapes that represent protectors, providers and guides. I love the idea that the shape of the grave tells more of a story than the headstone and can be told for many generations to come.

water cremation spa in the mall

I was thinking about alkaline hydrolysis today, probably because it took center stage in my dream last night and I was also emailing about it as soon as I woke up. All day I was obsessed with the question of if I had an opportunity to try it before I died, would I do it? If there was a way to try it at 50% it's strength, to just get to the very edge of disintegration where you start to feel very hot and liquidy, perhaps like being in a swirling sweat lodge, would I participate?  What if it was styled like one of those hydrotherapy spas you pass in strip malls?

At first I decided I would but thinking about it now I am not so sure. I have never been buried alive or in a closed casket (I have laid in one) but I still recommend it to people for a method of disposition. I think my initial impulse to say yes says more about my insecurity about not knowing every single aspect of this death business and willing to almost dissolve into my own soup to get just a little more knowledge. 

FInally read it

College comes too early for many of us, at a time when we aren't yet ready to take seriously the idea that other people exist outside of just ourselves. I am always a little envious of those who choose to put off college until they have experience working alongside people who humiliate or affirm their own existence. The consequences of quitting or overworking are clear. Without those, college can be an expensive extended dream.

It's a precarious space to try and bring to life, but Rachel B Glaser succeeds in Paulina & Fran, her first novel. It follows two women from their first meeting in college through their first jobs post-graduation. Glaser's short stories and poems have been more instructive and life-giving to me than any other work by contemporary writers so I wasn't surprised that her novel would impact me in a similar way.

Paulina and Fran are two art students brought together by a trip to Norway for a class. Their bond wears thin when they return to their art school and begin separate though sometimes shared relations with a male classmate. 

Glaser dips in and out of the minds of all of the characters in a way that effectively gives weight to the otherwise flighty emotions of the students. Having multiple POVs can read as messy but in Paulina & Fran it clearly demonstrates their obsession with each other in the face of their own insecurities, a feeling I know too well.

After college, the two split and Paulina turns her aggressive confidence turns it into a flashy career. Fran struggles with decisions, ultimately ignoring making art in service of working a dull full-time job. Glaser's observations of the what a come down working a 9-5 after college can be is chillingly accurate. Always imagining someone somewhere is living a more glamorous life is well observed here.

By the time the two are in contact again, they've been engaged in a psychic love affair for months, punctuated by missteps in the real world, leading them clumsily into one another's presence. The ending may leave some wanting but I felt satisfied seeing the exact moment where everyone decides to grow up. Glaser's reverent observations to the slightest change in temperature and her character's wry dialogue made this a cathartic book as well, one I'm glad she wrote so I can get on with my own life.

aim to die

If AOL Instant Messanger is gonna shut its little door forever at the end of the year, then I guess I am running out of time to admit that I was SavageBeast89. 

All in all, I think it was a work of service that I created an AIM name so brilliantly disguised and not at all suspicious sounding so as to give Dan S. a safe space to live out his fantasy of telling some stranger that he was very popular and that I was his girlfriend.

I did eventually expose myself, but not until I had exposed him and I got my first experience with making an amends for bad online behavior. What stayed with me was how he seemed more upset he couldn't go on pretending to someone each day after school, even if he got played for a fool. If I could tell my 16 yr old self one thing its that I've been online in 2017 and he'll be just fine.

who gave you that

I've been thinking all day about Tanya Marsh's presentation at Death Salon, during which she spoke the most useful phrase I've heard in my funeral career, which was "Occupational Licensing Regime." It so effectively describes the barrier that keeps meaningful change out of the funeral industry and bears witness to my weariness about always renewing mine. I think, of all the fictions we let ourselves believe, licensing in any capacity is the hardest for me to buy into. 

There was one a week earlier for an 8 year old

There wasn't a drop of rain anywhere at 5 o'clock tonight but I still had my blue rain boots on from this morning when the impulse to pour was still a possibility. I heard a woman sobbing just out of sight when I walked into the small foyer of the funeral home, a low moan in what sounded like an empty room. I went up the staircase without seeing the mourner to talk to Melissa who said suicide and only then did I remember that she had told me earlier in the day that he was 12 years old.

We continued to talk about the business we had wanted to discuss and I observed a feeling of fatigue spread like gauze around my brain. I  listened to her dispatches from a recent conference and confrontation, then tried to explain that I didn't have the immediate energy to do the things I had planned on doing. Baby steps were brought up, as was gathering small pieces of information. I looked around the office we were meeting in, piled so high with loose paper and half opened boxes it had to be a joke.

Several calls came in during our conversation and each time we tried to pick up again, I struggled to remember where we had left off. Probably somewhere in our adolescent years, when we thought we had really good reasons and only now looking back can be thankful for the pauses in action.

my humble contribution

When celebrities die and the collective mourning sets in we give ourselves permission to indulge in some suspended moments of obsession. It's cathartic and it's pretty fun, if I'm being honest. I have not yet known these celebrities personally, just their work, which is really for the best and I enjoy hearing about all the weird behind the scenes stuff people start telling about them. It's true that some losses really hurt (I'm anticipating one that I won't even say aloud for fear I'll break down) but that's when the social media funerals are really good!
This is all to say that I am going to list my top Tom Petty thoughts I had on this, the occasion of his untimely death.

  1. My first introduction to him was this scene
  2. He makes me think of my brother, who has seen him live a few times, most recently this summer when he took my niece. It was her first concert.
  3. I once dated a guy who rarely emoted and seemed only to care about Frisbee golf. He played guitar once in a cover band that covered Tom Petty.  Upon discovering this and in the only instance I can recall of him ever raising his voice in excitement or showing interest in anything other than Frisbee golf he exclaimed shirtless, in the rain "I don't give a fuck, I love Petty. I saw him once." 
  4. Esme loved Tom Petty. I think about Esme a lot and think I understand what people mean when they say the day the music died. 

A Morticians Tale

My inbox is crazy right now with questions from students who want to know about the differences between a conventional funeral and a green burial, young women who want to know how to become a death positive funeral director, random people who want to know if [insert alternative death practice] can be done where they live, journalists who want to talk about my various projects....

I love that these conversations are happening and am grateful people think to ask me to be part of them at all. Because of the generally obscure nature of the funeral business, most of these questions are the same but I still struggled to put into words precisely what it looks like to do both conventional funeral work while also working toward something more sustainable. This will inevitably get easier when I start recommending they play A Morticians Tale, out October 18th from Laundry Bear Games.

I've been following this game since it’s early stages. I was in touch with the game’s creator, Gabby DaRienzo, to help clarify different aspects of working in a mortuary that she had questions about. It was fun to see it come together and Gabby has a great interest in the death positive movement, making the game a really progressive example of the day-to-day experiences of a funeral director.

I review games as often as I play them (not at all!) so I appreciated A Mortician's Tale for being simplistic in its game theory and using careful pacing to walk me through each scene. The muted purples and pinks combined with a dreamy soundtrack create a calming atmosphere that still looks vibrant and feels just a touch lonely as well, all of which is to say it’s similar to the way planning a funeral feels to the uninitiated.

You character is a female mortician (Charlie), fresh out of mortuary school who gets a job with the female-owned firm Rose and Daughters Funeral Home. Charlie's daily email is where you find out what your next funeral task will be, which requires you to prepare a body for an embalming, cremation, or burial while also learning about industry topics like corporate vs. independent funeral homes, indigent burials and green funerals. It aims for education and sparks thought-provoking conversation, as evidenced between my partner and I when I got to scenes like the cremation (“you can be cremated with your clothes on?”)

True to life, the story is largely told through email and the overheard conversations at the funerals. Charlie’s inbox is where we find out information about the company (they get bought out by corporate), her personal life (she’s queer friendly) and the larger industry issues happening (the alternative death movement is gaining speed). Everything feels very timely about the game, which is a refreshing change if you struggle (like me) to find cultural examples of funeral service that does not uphold antiquated stereotypes, ie. old white men in suits.

There is an impressive amount of death industry information packed into this fairly short game which took me about an hour to complete, even with my exceptional embalming tools knowledge. I was charmed by the details in the email exchanges that referred to current industry trends like mushroom burial suits and eco pods and felt surprisingly moved at many of the mourners observations at the funerals. When Rose and Daughters has to sell out to a corporation to stay in business, we learn it via a remorseful email from the owner, a very real experience that is now all too common.

At the risk of revealing too much about my current emotional state, the hopeful ending of the game nearly made me cry. That I didn’t openly weep was only because I was pretty cried out for the weekend. I wrote early in the game's development that I expected it would be the only place people could see the inside of an embalming room, not realizing that it might also be the place where they could see green burial as well. It was incredibly satisfying to see my dream for the future of the funeral industry rendered with as much heart as it was in A Mortician's Tale. It forgoes the standard 'win' in favor of something much more rewarding: showing death
work centered on shared grief and healing, empowerment and inclusiveness.

3rd year post

I am still thinking about the conversations I had at Death Salon in Seattle, many that revolved around mental health and the funeral director. There wasn’t anything specific presented on the topic, but outside the doors of the lecture hall it seemed to dominate the space. I met a funeral director from California who was always rushing in and out and away from all of the events due to her tending to the calls of the funeral home she worked at, even while out of state. I was introduced to a director in Seattle who worked for a firm I would love to work at. When I asked how it was going, she hesitated and said she didn’t really know, that she felt exhausted and grateful but wasn’t sure she could continue to do it. Then there was myself, who when talking with my friend about letting my embalming license lapse, said I was burnt out-couldn’t he tell? He could, but he advise me against getting rid of it because never know. I took his advice because I didn’t hear anyone else’s.

I stayed with several death professionals from Austin and elsewhere in the Airbnb. One was a funeral director who suffered from anxiety so badly that they self medicated and retreated to bed for most of time we weren’t at the conference. I have been there, so deeply conflicted about work I love that it feels like it is taking every moment I have away from me. The time I when I wasn’t working, I felt filled with anxiety, without any good solution for alleviating it. Three years ago today I made a big change in the way I dealt with those feelings and have been able to walk away from a lot of the situations that caused them to begin with.

Not everyone has the support I had, though and the industry, both the conventional and the alternative sides, don’t talk as much about death professional mental health as they should.  I see more space for it on the alternative side, however as many people in Seattle seemed to have more language for this type of health and there was a lot less drinking happening. The conventional industry events I’ve been to have invariably become huge frat-like drinking parties full of toxic gossip.

Given the feminine driven force behind the alternative death movement, I have hope that this sort of thing will be given more consideration over the next few years. I was very interested to read about and talk to the people from the Ernest Becker Foundation, who have some great writing about death and feminism on their website. Basically, they acknowledge Becker’s genius in death acceptance work but take it further by examining how it is definitely a gendered topic. Many women I talked to in Seattle were exploring their own methods of self-care that also supported their caregiving work, a topic I would have run screaming from but after the last three years that I’ve had, couldn’t be more interested in.

My final September post

I poked my finger on to the greasy type pad at the HEB on Oltorf several times while the cashier and bag girl admired my purchase.

“Aztec. Green. Mask.” the cashier said while he examined my purchase and then the girl asked what it was.

“It’s the best,” I said, finally getting to the screen that suggested I skip it.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw them rolling the squat plastic cylinder container back and forth between them, while one of them murmured ‘healing’ and the other whispered ‘ancient’. I didn’t get a receipt, but I think it cost me about $7.50, which is well worth it. I get a sense of detoxification and well, healing, when I use this mask more than any other beauty product and I was happy to have a fresh supply.

While it solidified into a thick, flaky mess on my face and neck, I thought about the painting I had bought earlier in the evening from an art show Alamo Collective off Webberville Road, in the building where Eastside Bikini’s used to be. It’s a small Jenaro Goode painting of biology.  In it, two cells with their mitochondria exposed sit on a blade of grass among other blades of grass beneath a tree in front of a lovely blue evening sky. There is a drop of dew visible, giving me that same sense of healing I seem to be seeking these days.

I’ve met Jenaro before, when he gave me a private tour of his studio a few months ago. I’ve planned on buying his work for awhile and when I finally did, I bought it from his manager/hype man Ricky Morales. Ricky referred to himself as a collector; a former bud dealer who spent his earnings cultivating a solid art collection before deciding to focus on promoting the artists he loved. He was a lot of fun to talk to and it was easy enough to hand over a few hundred dollars for something I know I’ll love to look at.

Maybe it’s because I had a similar monetary exchange last week that I felt good buying the art if not also a little irresponsible. I bought a tarot card reading as a late birthday gift to myself and sat in the reader’s garden before my appointment feeling like I was in a Mucha painting, surrounded by dripping plants and metal plumes while chimes rang somewhere off in the distance. The reader swiped my credit card and wished me the money back a thousand fold. The reading was huge and has stayed with me for days. I cannot say here exactly what was told to me, but I will say I am glad this exchange came first in the timeline of things. The decadence of spending money on myself has worn off and been replaced by the circular feeling of support. If you want to keep it you have to give it away.

Wrong title

The 32-year old had a large tattoo across his sternum of a cow skull decorated by roses and a rope burn around his neck. There was no escaping the permanence of his choices in the cramped prep room where I saw both. They were mine to tussle with now as I stretched his skin back into place after his autopsy.

I am familiar with that claustrophobic space in the mind where it feels like each decision is a final one or should be a final one or god, let’s hope it’s the last one because the thought of doing this shit again or making the wrong decision is devastating. It’s the control corner of my brain, the place where I fall under the illusion that everything depends on me.

I am less familiar with just accepting whatever results come from my decision. I try. It feels like a constant state of confusion.

A week later, my friend got a call that her father had died. She wept for a while before another friend and I drove her back to her house in the dark countryside, east of town. On the way there, she talked about her father’s 3-year illness, her clairvoyant abilities, her cat’s death a week earlier and how peaceful she felt now, having decided back then to move home and take care of her father.

When we arrived, her dad was in a bed in the living room while groups of family and friends crowded into the house, spilling into the yard. I sat in silence most of the night on her porch listening to our friends try to verbalize the moment.

Later in the car, while a high hat shimmied across Kool Keith’s Super Hero, I realized I did not want to renew my license as an embalmer in the state of Texas. It has been on my mind since I the last time I paid to renew it, but next month is when it would actually expire, bringing the reality of the choice to bear.

“Embalming” in Texas doesn’t just mean injecting folks with chemicals; it encompasses all parts of prep room work, including the necessary washing done before green burial cases, which I prefer to do. It would greatly limit my ability to work as an independent contractor by restricting my abilities to only arrangements and paperwork. It would undo a lot of the work I have done to distinguish myself from other funeral directors in the state as a hands-on body worker who rejects chemical intervention.

Yet, I am weary of keeping it. It would require me to pay money to the state that would further support all the fallacies of embalming, starting with the name itself. If the license was for “mortuary tech” or some other body preparation title, I’d more likely reconsider. But “embalming” just upholds a label that I’m pretty against. It is almost confusing to see it next to my name.

“What a great choice,” my friend said about the high hat on the Keith song. “That’s the kind of music I want to make, a single beat over some dope lyrics.”

I’m not an embalmer, I need to be real about that.