Maybe tomorrow

Being left without imagination so early in the day, as I was this morning when I sat 'writing' for an hour, gave me a sense of despondency I was even less prepared to deal with. I tried writing again when I got to the office but gave up and tried just stamping documents. It was hard; I had to read numbers and put them in order quickly. I have no patience or efficiency, my work is fraught and slow. I indulged in deeply hateful thoughts about my aimless last few months.
I tried to explain to a coworker who was watching me that I lack the confidence to stamp quickly; I can't just trust that I know the correct order of numbers! She said maybe I should make it my goal to be a faster stamper.
If there is no holy ghost for all mankind then there most certainly is a small one for me, evidence here by the joke made of my present situation. I wish there was a less humiliating way to learn focus and pragmatism but I just can't think of any right now.

Important cremation insight

The other day I received a response from author and LA historian Richard Carradine to my inquiry about scattering ashes as Disneyland.

"Yes, many people over the years have been caught trying to scatter the ashes of a loved one at Disneyland. It's apparently happened so many times that the park has HEPA vacuums and a protocol for such incidents. Obviously there are cameras everywhere in the park and in every attraction, so as soon as someone starts to spread a foreign powder, they can shut down the attraction or area immediately and clean it up. Even if someone covertly deposits the remains in water like on a boat ride undetected, most water-systems are drained and cleaned nightly.  One Cast Member told me that its a shame because ultimately that loved one ends up in the trash. As for spirit energy connected to this, there are two ghost stories linked to this idea of spreading ashes. The Haunted Mansion is said to be haunted by a little boy (seen most often in the unload area), who according to legend had his ashes scattered on the ride by his mother. This was presumably many years ago before they started watching out for such behavior. It is said that his ashes blended with fake dust throughout the attraction and went unnoticed. There is also a little boy that has been seen riding in the boats of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride for the same reason. Although two identical ghost stories connected to two different attractions is possible, some believe this story is true of one attraction, and that over the years it has been falsely attributed to the other attraction to explain the identical nature of the two "boys." Who knows. I hope that answers your question."

Be sure to check out Richard's new book The Park After Dark for many more deep cuts from haunted Disneyland.

It cost nothing

I read this poem today on Craigslist free stuff and it made me think of you:

neighbor has this couch by curb street and I have this stuff by curb / its now gone as of last night
an Ice chest etc
neighbor next has old treated picket fence which r gray color and about 23 years old

 

    An hour, a day

    Wasted time has been a concern of mine for/since/probably my whole life, acutely felt on Sunday when it's late afternoon. I am not alone in this but the delusion is that I am and my agitation starts to look like compulsory actions-eating, shopping, scrolling. Usually I would be recovering from literal 'wasted time' but its been a few years since that occurred and I am grateful for it. 

    My idea of productivity wasn't achieved over the long holiday weekend and in a desperate attempt to make use of what was left of the fading daylight I sat outside to measure the hour in stillness. It helped that it is gorgeous today, easy to sit uncovered. I tried to go to a more 'special' spot where we could both hike and sit, but it was crowded and broke my immersion of being the sole human on the planet. In my backyard, I set my timer for an hour and watched.

    My brain activity ebbed and flowed, replaying the previous nights events, jumping forward into my doubts about the future. When I was able to focus on the present, I could smell the foliage on the air, the barbecue in the neighborhood, hear the rooster next door, the flap of a birds wings, a telephone ringing twice within the hour. I could see, and I could see I wasn't looking.

    I have a lot to do. That is about all I can comprehend at the moment. I also didn't make it the full hour, as Warren came out to tell me something and we walked around the yard using the landscape to depict our plans. He picked up a half circle of chopped wood to use as a base, I clipped stalks of lavender to fill an empty vase I had been thinking about filling for months. Problem solved.

     

    Selective memory

    Late Thursday night a friend tweeted at me asking if I remembered the band we had attempted to see at the Mohawk the last time we hung out together. Neither of us could remember anything about it other than that the audience felt hostile and we left early. The bad energy is all that sticks in our minds and its driving us crazy trying to figure out who it is. If you can help, some clues are: indie/folk music, song about astrology or something celestial, seems like it was just a female with a guitar, 2010/2011. All leads welcome!

    One other thing I remember is us driving under the overpass downtown on 7th and her telling me about a guy she just starting dating who had a pet iguana. They are married now and I think she is expecting a baby. As harrowing as it was to identify a completely black spot in my fairly recent memory, it somehow also brightened my perception of that time of my life. Until Thursday night, I almost exclusively thought of it as very lonely and I am pleased to be reminded of the moments that weren't.

    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'. Buddhism-guide.com 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.