I read this book in a single day, which should tell you something. No, the book wasn’t two pages long.
I chanced upon a YouTube channel called Ask A Mortician and found her not only informative on all things death related, but also funny and charming. Caitlin Doughty seemed like someone I’d want to hang around with.
This in turn led me to her book Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (And Other Lessons From The Crematory). I expected and enjoyed the anecdotes of working with corpses and the awkwardness of experiencing another culture’s grieving rituals for the first time (the segment on the Chinese family is fascinating).
The horror from outsiders, too, wasn’t a surprise, such as a hospital security guard’s distaste at her picking up ex-babies, that “it didn’t matter how many times I smiled at her, expressed my new-on-the-job status with bumbling Hugh Grant– esque apologies. This woman had decided that I was dirty and deviant. Handmaiden to the underworld.”
I also anticipated moments that made me laugh out loud, such as when “the family had placed a Häagen-Dazs coffee-and-almond ice-cream bar between her hands like a Viking warrior’s weapon. Those are my favourite. So I yelled, involuntarily, “Those are my favourite!””
What I didn’t expect were the many literary quotes and philosophical thoughts. Not that I didn’t think mortuary workers were capable of them, but I didn’t expect to be thinking about them so much afterwards. Caitlin believes the West’s relationship with death has gone astray, that “death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. As Kafka said , “The meaning of life is that it ends.” Death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create.”
She feels that hiding death away and pretending it doesn’t happen is creating greater fear of the inevitable end. She advocates for a more natural, eco-friendly approach, and for not allowing funeral homes to dictate to the family how the final proceedings should go. I’ll let her explain it in this Ted Talk:
She also believes (more in America, not so much here) that embalming is often sold to people as the only way and is expensive and often unnecessary:
At first I thought, well, is it really so important to be more involved with a body before a funeral? How much can that really change things? Then I thought hard on her point that we also hide old age, stashing the elderly and infirm in sometimes substandard homes, while other cultures move ageing relatives in with them to deal with the consequences of the years together. I wonder if maybe she’s right. What do all of you think?
Caitlin also began The Order of the Good Death, where “funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists explor(e) ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” I’d like to go to one of their talks one day. I’ve also pre-ordered her book From Here To Eternity, in which she travelled far and wide gathering information on the death practices of various civilisations.
As an added bonus, here are a few fun videos from her Ask A Mortician series:
This is, no exaggeration, one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I follow the author on facebook as well and, seriously, her status updates are miniature masterpieces.
Jennifer charts her non-linear journey from reclusive childhood to Portland artist with description as biting as William Burroughs and prose as rich as Anais Nin, but also completely unique. Sometimes she just remembers a character from her past, sometimes a full anecdote, sometimes she’s just looking at people on the bus, but all are beautiful. How can you not be fascinated by an intro like this:
“My directives, as established at seventeen—to experience real emotion, real contact with other people, all of the things you only learn by sucking cock, smoking rock, climbing cliffs, sleeping in catacombs, getting pregnant, and making a lot of mistakes—were fully enforced at this time. Within a year of my arrival I was playing in an electronic noise band. On and off-stage, we made—or perhaps “were”—performance art.”
I have genuinely never laughed so loudly and consistently at a book. If you’re unfamiliar with Tommy Wiseau’s complete mess of a film The Room, first of all where have you been, and second please watch it right now. Our fascination with it is hard to explain to people who don’t love terrible films. Example conversation with a friend:
Friend: Are you coming to Ian’s later?
Me: Yep. I’m bringing The Room
Friend: What? Not again. I’ve got Lolita at home, I’ll bring that
Me: Noooo, I can watch a good film anytime. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MEEE!!!
And so on. Greg is the guy who played Mark (Oh, hi Mark) and he recounts the complete debacle from beginning to end including the first time he met Tommy and the events that led to his making the film. What elevates this above merely poking fun at an eccentric is the genuine level of affection – though sometimes tested – and desire to understand Tommy. He’s not a monster, he has real feelings and a desperate need to be an actor, and perhaps another reason we enjoy The Room is his sheer determination to make that happen. As Greg says, “The Room is a drama that is also a comedy that is also an existential cry for help that is finally a testament to human endurance.”
There is a film coming out, called The Masterpiece, based on this book. I, for one, will be watching it.
Everything Wrong With The Room In 8 Minutes Or Less:
“Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a peacock without a cause, I am a piece of transcendent trash – a futile blast of colour in a futile colourless world.”
If Sebastian had been born in the 1800s he would be one of those sons paid by their wealthy family to stay away. He crashes through life like a mixture of Byron and Withnail, rarely likeable but always interesting, an artist who’s biggest art piece was himself.
On a whim he goes diving with sharks, has a fling with gangster Jimmy Boyle, bets on the stock exchange and becomes horribly addicted to heroin and crack. When he has money he doesn’t respect it, when he doesn’t he’s desperate. He makes no excuses for shoplifting and generally being a louche, entitled rich boy and if he did I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed reading him as much. He died aged 47 of a suspected overdose.
(Be warned, I suspect he says things because he likes to be ‘shocking’):
Yes, yes, there’s the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square blah blah. Where are the corpses? A common cry, and one this book would like to answer.
Beneath the respectable layer of London’s past is a hidden world of information, such as the peculiar shrub in Chelsea Physic Garden that gave John Wyndham the idea for Day of the Triffids, St. Sepulchre’s watch house in Holborn (built to keep an eye out for grave diggers), the Haymarket cat opera (exactly how it sounds) or the leftover ‘snob screens’ in The Lamb pub which protected delicate wealthy eyes from the sight of the common man.
It’s separated into districts so you can have a flick through next time you go to London and see what’s about. If you’d like to see a bit more of weird London via a guide have a look at this spooky tour we embarked upon for Halloween.
A cavalcade of truly terrible films, this collection takes you from Maniac ‘director’ Dwain Esper‘s exploitation efforts, through fifties B movies to nonsensical modern day fare. Some of the descriptions made me chuckle out loud, particularly in the WTF section.
If monster movies are your thing, or perhaps overseas oddities, each film has been separated into categories ( I like categories, don’t I? I never realised that before), making it easier to dip in according to mood. Enjoy!
As well as being a member of The League of Gentlemen and a playwright and author, Jeremy Dyson is a big fan of Robert Aickman (as am I). This is definitely noticeable in this themed collection of ghostly weird tales, which is a fictional account of a journey across the UK to collect local scary stories. Like Robert his stories are often not spelled out, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about what happened and why. It’s very clever, atmospheric and genuinely creepy.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a nice children’s book about a married couple who are foxes, but it’s not. There are barely any real foxes.
I found Helen Oyeyemi‘s book very exciting simply for the way it bent my mind. Was it a collection of short stories? Not really. A novel with a single, flowing narrative? Well, no…
Mr Fox is an author who kills off all his female leads, and Mary Foxe is a character of his whose head he chopped off (there are many references to the Bluebeard fairy tale). Or perhaps she was his real wife whose head he chopped off? The pair of them imagine various scenarios in which she’s a romance novelist, a florist, a model and many more, the stories getting darker and stranger but always beautiful.
Helen Oyeyemi manages to take an idea that was cliche by the time it appeared on The Twilight Zone, a character speaking to it’s creator, and turn it into something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. My brain crackled like popping candy and I think yours will too.
These flash horror stories are deviously good fun. Split into sections covering the different aspects of horror (gory, supernatural etc) they often don’t become clear until you’ve thought about it for a few moments, and then you’ll be pondering them for quite a while afterwards.
If you have a spare few minutes you can dip into any section and read a tiny story, or sit down for hours and read lots in one go.
These short stories are very beautifully written and there were so many sentences that made me green with envy. They span science fiction, fantasy and horror, but each tale has a dark Gothic magic behind it.
You’ll find Siamese (conjoined) twins navigating their sexuality, something happening to the children of an earth colony on a cold, barely inhabitable planet, Gods running the government and much more. Nicely creepy and very intelligent.
Ta dah! Have a wonderful Halloween and try not to eat too many sweets (who am I kidding, stuff yourselves silly).
Merry October and a happy birthday to me! That’s right, my birthday is during the best month of the year. I’m…21 today (shhh).
For The October Frights Halloween Blog Hop I’m going to share some free fiction with you, thoughtfully using tea party props. Oh, how I suffered eating all that cake and drinking all that tea, but I got through it.
Please check out what the other authors are doing by clicking the button at the bottom of the post, there’ll be more free fiction, giveaways, and plenty more.
The story is called How To Host A Dinner Party Without Awakening The Dark Ones.
Alrightyroo (?) I’m off to Florence in a matter of days so I shall be leaving you for a week or two. In the meantime here are a few films by award-winning husband and wife Christopher Kezelos and Christine Kezelos, otherwise known as Zealous Creative. Find them on their website or their youtube channel and have a peek at the last two videos where you can help them out with their latest project. Adieu (or rather Ciao)!
Among other things I like to write erotica, and it just so happens I have another tale out with Forbidden Fiction. I’m working on getting a collection together, so if you like that side of my writing there’s more to come.
This new story features a Victorian actress determined to be taken seriously. When she lands a part in The Grand Guignol she decides not to get involved with any of her co-stars, but that all changes on the opening night.
On her Model Mayhem page she says: “I’m always looking for these textures, finishes and effects that transform my models. I innovate with different materials compatible with use on the skin. In this way, latex, gold leaf, gelatin, photo transfer and makeup, characterized my work and allow me to convey my creativity on the epidermis…I give as much attention to the composition and details. I am looking for all these features to achieve a true transmutation of the body, then breathes life into my painting and my art who turns into true living canvas.”
Merry almost Valentine’s day! For the first time in five years I will not be spending the day in a dark corner, bitterly hissing at anyone who passes. For anyone else who has a date, or just wants to attract a member of the living dead, here are a couple of gruesome and spooky Valentine’s day tutorials I found on youtube: