Bizarre Book Club: Caitlin Doughty From Ask A Mortician

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:

Crematory Scandal That Changed The Death Industry

Victorian STANDING Corpse Photography?

The Punished Suicide

The Self Mummified Monks

Medieval Zombies?!

La Pascualita: Mannequin or Corpse Bride?

Lead Based Make Up Tutorial For Spring

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New Weird Fiction Horror Story In Dark Lane Anthology Volume 5

Good day and a merry afternoon. You can purchase my Victorian set weird fiction horror type story here. There are weird drugs, cults and spooky things so enjoy!

Bizarre Book Club: Bizarro, Victorian Sideshows And Junji Ito

Merry afternoon to you, or whatever time you exist in. I continued my experiment with mouth noises by talking about weird and interesting books I’ve read.

Everything mentioned:

Laura Lee Bahr, Angel Meat

Matt Payne, Robot God/Hybrid Brain

Andrew J Lambie, Carnival Of The Flesh

Junji Ito, Snow White

Trash Cinema, Weird Travel And Freaky People: Bizarre Book Club Non-Fiction Special

Merry morning my little chimpanzees in the planning stages of taking over the world. I’ve been reading lots of weird things and here they are:

Death Confetti: Pickers, Punks and Transit Ghosts in Portland, Oregan, by Jennifer Robin death-confetti-510x801

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.”

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero ohm

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:

Dandy in the Underworld by Sebastian Horsley dandy

“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’):

A Curious Guide To London by Simon Leyland curious

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.

Midnight Movie Madness by Ian Watson midnight-movie

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!

Some Documentaries on Gothic Horror Literature and Writers – Full Episodes

Hello my little bottles of multi-coloured decorative sand. I’m watching more weird films for my next blog post but in the meantime here are a few documentaries from the web featuring our gothic horror writing ancestors, dodgy re-enactments and ominously misty trees included.

Edgar Allen Poe: Love Death And Women is an informative and entertaining account of Poe’s life and the women around him by crime writer Denise Mina. Plus whoever did the music is a serious goth; Bauhaus, The Cure, The Hunger soundtrack and more.

Frankenstein and the Vampyre: A Dark And Stormy Night illuminates the exciting summer in which Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) and the Vampyre (John Polidori) were created. Mary Shelley was only 19, which is fascinating, but less known is the author of the other story, a man mercilessly ridiculed by Byron.

Here’s a little more on Mary Shelley’s fabulously unusual life in Birth of a Monster.

Nightmare! Birth of Horror was a documentary from 1996 I remember being very excited by as a young ‘un. This episode looks at Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.

This one looks at Dracula

…And this one at Jekyll and Hyde.

The Art of Gothic series explores gothic literature and art in Britain from the Georgian to Victorian era and beyond.

And finally In Search of the Brontes is a two part series on the sisters in six parts each. That’s a lot of parts. However it’s worth it, many of the Bronte’s writing is firmly rooted in the gothic tradition, particularly the psychopathic Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.

Part 1:

Part 2:

New Story: Live Performance At The Grand Guignol

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.

Enjoy!

The Changing Face of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Today’s pretentious book picture is brought to you by The Mad Hatter’s Tea Room in Southend. May you also stare intellectually into space whilst sampling their seriously amazing cakes. Honestly, I mean it, go. DSC_0013-2

Alice in Wonderland has meant different things to me at different times, much like it has throughout history. When I first read it as a child I hated it, it ‘didn’t make any sense.’ Slowly I was drawn back in and I remember my excitement when I realised my imagination was free – cue many stories in Primary school where the teachers probably thought I’d had some sort of breakdown but were afraid to ask.

The first filmed version in 1903:

Then, of course, I re-read it as a student, this time aware of Carroll’s possible opium use (not unusual for the time, it was sold freely in shops) and the links to psychedelia owing to homages such as this:

Incidentally model/Warholite Edie Sedgwick was keen to make an underground film version in the mid sixties but sadly it was not to be. DSC_0011-1

Recently I entered Wonderland once again, this time with all kinds of knowledge (though not as much as I’ll have in the future). I’m aware now of the possibly disturbing relationship between Lewis Carroll and the real Alice (see the documentary below, also featuring writer Will Self among others).

However I’m also aware that it unlocked fantastical and unrestrained worlds in my own brain and doubtless did for many other creative types. The pace is quick, the dialogue fun and the characters iconic. I’d like to see a new film version of the original story done well, but for now I’m perfectly happy using my own imagination when reading the weird words of Carroll.

Documentary The Secret World of Lewis Carroll. Keep watching to see the eerie discovery towards the end: