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:
Doesn’t the air smell of faded leaves and over excitement?! I for one can barely wait to start digging up bodies and spoon feeding them cake and chocolate. That’s what you do, right?
The evenings are drawing in and what better way to relax than with a few informative, yet suitably weird, documentaries?
The Addams Family
These first three really count as one. I’m not sure what TV channel broadcast them first or if they were DVD extras, but it’s a 2007 look at the TV series and original cartoons of the Addams Family.
The Aswang Phenomenon
If you’ve seen bizarre cult classic Mystics of Bali you may have heard of the witch who separates her head from her body and floats through the air…her lungs and spine dangling beneath. Well, apparently they have a similar creature in the Philippines, the Aswang, who oddly seems to take many other forms according to whoever tells the story.
Ripley Believe it or Not!
Ripley’s Museum of Oddities will always hold a special place in my heart as Bill and I visited for our second date (my choice of course).
This documentary charts Ripley’s beginnings from cartoonist to global weirdo phenomenon, celebrating those who always felt a bit different on the way.
Frankenstein and the Vampyre, a Dark and Stormy Night
Two legendary horror monsters were created during the same holiday in Geneva, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and the modern, aristocratic vampire by John Polidori. Also with them were poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont.
Their trip isn’t just famous for their creative output, however, there were also drugs, sexual confusion and scandal. Exciting!
If you’d like to see more documentaries on romantic gothic literature, including the Brontes and Edgar Allen Poe, toddle off to this link here.
An atmospheric wander through urban legends that turned out to have some basis in fact, whether before or after the telling. Remember, Halloween wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t all think nice old ladies were trying to kill us with sweets (candy).
Sacred Weeds: Henbane the Witch’s Brew
This was one of the oddest documentaries I remember from the 90s. It seemed to me that during that period everything went very sun and moon and incense, and to be honest I still secretly love it. There were four episodes in the series; Blue Lily, Henbane, Salvia Divinorum and Fly Agaric, but Henbane deals with Gothic folklore and witch trials.
The premise is what makes it so strange, two people turn up to a castle in the middle of nowhere so scientists in suits can watch them trip out of their tiny minds. The scientists argue before the trial and after, not a single one agreeing or changing their mind in the least. To be honest, though, fair enough if you’ve done the research and others clearly haven’t.
Watch out for the man who seems to have wandered in from some fetish dream, declaring with little to no evidence that witches definitely rubbed ointment on their vaginas and held naked sabbats.
It’s almost Halloween! OK it’s still technically summer but by golly if you squint really hard and pinch your nose against the delicate scent of flower blossoms it could be autumn.
With this in mind I went on a hunt for the spookiest, scariest, creepiest online horror stories. Some are more inventive than scary but please be aware there is a chance you may scream very loudly, causing any housemates, friends or partners to come running.
This Weird Fiction tale is the reason I delved into the world of interactive stories. It’s cleverly done, subtle and very creepy.
Wear your headphones to get the best from the sound effects. You have to click the words in bold to get to the next part, and there is one section where you’ll need a little patience. You’ll know the bit. And keep going if you’re not sure, it will be abundantly clear when you’ve reached the end. Good luck!
The story is entertaining though not terrifying, but what makes it even better is the number above. Call the number after finishing the story and you’ll see what I mean (please check for potential charges though, I have poor impulse control and am now waiting to see if I get an abnormal bill).
This intriguing tale begins with a series of emails you have to click through. At the end, if you click on the Updates page, you’ll find more ‘information’ and links to other sites corroborating the story. It’s very clever and the story itself is fascinating.
Similar to Annie96 Is Typing (another good ‘un) this story appears as a chat history needing the click of your button to show the next piece. Not only that but a link to a wikipedia page correlating with the story appears which is a nice touch.
Annie96 may be slightly creepier but this one is still good. I think the thing that tips it for me is the friendship between the two girls.
Though not interactive, this creepypasta makes good use of facebook chat and pictures. Plus it genuinely gave me the creeping willies so there was no way I wasn’t going to share it.
There’s a few fun interactive spooky stories on youtube including The House, A Knock At The Door and Stillshore Cottage. Enter if you dare, mwa ha ha!!! Um, that’s about it, until next time…no, really, that’s it, I’m going to make tea now, you’ll have to get off the porch. Bye!
These pictures, taken as part of a set called Wounderland by two evil pixies known as Mothmeister from Antwerp, Belgium, are great!
Website CreativeBoom says “The unsettling photography project features bizarre subjects dressed in horrifying costumes, posed alongside taxidermy animals. The concept of the series is in part response to the “selfie” culture that now dominates the web, alongside our often contradictory opinions on the notion of “beauty”.
I need say no more, drink with your eyes and then have a look at their others, you won’t regret it:
Surely not? You say. Such a thing is impossible. I’ll leave you to judge. Can a book composed entirely of animated gifs really have a cohesive structure? Well…no. Is it scary? Only you can say. Some of them are very graphic and disturbing to look at, sure. Some of them are also very silly. However it’s probably the thought that counts, and the idea is definitely an intriguing one.