This is very good and sad and angry and sweet.
Money! Death! Death! Money! I’m excited to be writing a column over at The Billfold about everyone’s two most favorite subjects of conversation. First up, a really long chat with Sarah Wambold, an Austin, Texas-based writer and funeral director who’s working to start her own funeral home (or, rather, a mixed-use gallery-space-type-thing that would also be licensed for funerals). If that strikes you as something that is either cheap or easy to do, you are very wrong.
I’ll admit that my main reason for wanting to do this column—to get more cool with my own mortality, basically—is pretty selfish. But when it comes to something this universal, maybe “selfish” isn’t really a thing. It’s true, what we say about death and taxes. They’re both very stupidly certain. It’s a mess, but we’re all in it together. So whatever scrap of wisdom one of us might have pulled out of the tangle seems worth holding up for everyone else to take a look at. Maybe it’s not what you need. Or maybe it’s just the thing.
Anyway, I hope these conversations can be a starting point for many more. If you know someone who might be a good subject for a future installment, or if you think you are that someone, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
I don’t ascribe to the idea that we have on-going souls or spirits, and therefore I don’t think the body is sacred for the reason that it once functioned as that kind of vessel. Culturally speaking, I think the body is sacred because it can reveal itself as a site to engage mortality. In fact, it’s the most apparent site for that engagement that I’ve come across. As I’ve said, Brent Marsh didn’t take that occasion away from me, and so on a personal level maybe that’s why I’ve found it easier to forgive him. And, in gauging the question of forgiveness, I can’t help but think of all the horrible events that occur each day—all the violence by humans against each other and against other living things—that seems to dim the extravagance of a confused crime against the dead. — Brent Hendricks, author of A Long Day at the End of the World, a memoir about his father’s body’s involvement in the 2002 Tri-State Crematory horror, interviewed by the Order of the Good Death’s Sarah Wambold.
Back in December at Write Club Atlanta I told a roomful of mostly-strangers about the time my husband had my briefly convinced that erect grizzly bear penises make a hissing noise. Also about the time I came very very close to calling and asking to speak with “Oskar Grauch” at what turned out to be the Sesame Street Workshop. Why? Narwhals. You can listen to the bout, also featuring the ultimately triumphant Sheronda Gipson, on this week’s episode of the Write Club Atlanta podcast.
Downtown Atlanta, Monday morning.
Lebanon, TN. March 30, 2014.
Tammy most recently contributed her work to the OA’s Spring issue, where it ran within Rachael Maddux’s Points South piece entitled Hail Dayton.
Ghost Photographs, by Angela Deane
That was the thing about all this: it was a brain thing, and I loved my brain and the way it had been going about its business so gamely for more than half a century. Let’s say you have something wrong with your liver or heart. Terrible news. But if you’re lucky, if you get another one and take the right medication you’ll be back to your old self again. But with the brain, the one you were born with either works or it goes wrong and you start sliding away from yourself. Even if a better, cleverer brain – a brainier brain – had been available for transplant I wouldn’t have traded in the addled one I had. And although the problem, we’d quickly discovered, wasn’t in my eyes, that’s where it had manifested itself, and I loved my eyes too, especially here in southern California where half the reason for living, possibly all of it, was to see and be seen. — London Review of Books | Geoff Dyer, “Diary”
Holy Land U.S.A., a Bible-themed amusement park, now abandoned.
Our special issue The American South is out!
Whether you’re partial to images or prose, attempt to capture the American South and you will soon find yourself deep in a thicket of contradiction. And there, not least among your struggles will be the very challenge of defining where exactly it is that you’ve wound up. When we talk about the South, are we referring to a stretch of states below the Mason-Dixon, a frame of mind, a variant of culture, or a region sill reeling from having once ardently defended Jim Crow and the “peculiar institution”? Writing in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Patrick Gerster includes among the stereotypical characters we might encounter: Bible-thumping preachers haunted by God, nubile cheerleaders, demagogic politicians, corrupt sheriffs, football All-Americans with three names, and neurotic vixens with affinities for the demon rum. Add to this roster a host of poets, painters, farmers, freedom fighters, and citizens—scattered north and south—coping with the uncertainties of post-industrial America, and we may just begin to grasp this entity that remains in equal parts a place on the map and a place in the mind.
In this special issue of Guernica, the first of four made possible through your generous support to our Kickstarter campaign, we offer fresh takes on a familiar landscape, where the American South is at once a geographical distinction and a bright spot in the imagination, where burden vies with birthright, and where ignorance and renaissance exist side by side.
Jazzed to be among all this great company. The Guernica folks did some really good work here. Jamie Quatro and Rebecca Gayle Howell’s pieces especially thwapped me upside the head—oh, Kiese Laymon’s interview with his mother!—although probably you can just click on whatever and it will be a good choice.
I wondered why Carcosa seemed so distinctly eerie, and found out it’s because they shot it at the ruins of the 19th-century Confederate base Fort Macomb. The past is embedded in the present, as if they were occurring simultaneously, and there’s nothing like a dilapidated Civil War–era site to remind us that America is so not different from any other fallen civilization whose relics and scars have been dusted over by the mist of time. You could not create a spookier Southern faux-Minoan labyrinth than one that actually exists. — Grantland | Molly Lambert, “Feel Let Down by the ‘True Detective’ Finale? Start Asking the Right Questions”
Decatur Cemetery, yesterday. Charlie contemplates mortality/geese.
Many years ago, reading “Harriet the Spy” for what was probably the ninth or tenth time, I realized that both novels contain meaningful scenes in which the protagonist dresses up as a foodstuff. (This may sound silly, but bear with me.) About halfway through her story, Harriet is cast, much to her chagrin, as an onion in her school’s Christmas extravaganza. At the end of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Scout is conscripted to play the part of a ham in a Maycomb Halloween celebration. The distaste that Harriet and Scout have for these roles can be read as evidence not only of their discomfort with the idea of the traditionally feminine—soft shapes without hard edges—but also with the idea that existing in the world often requires the assumption of costumes, the displaying an inauthentic self, and even lying. But each comes to learn that subterfuge and dishonesty are occasionally useful, even necessary. About three-quarters of the way into “Mockingbird,” Scout and Dill meet Dolphus Raymond, a white male who lives with a black woman. Raymond, who is always seen sipping from something in a brown paper bag, explains that he only pretends to be a drunk so that the residents of the town will tolerate, if not fully accept, his unorthodox relationship. “It ain’t honest but it’s mighty helpful to folks,” Raymond tells the children. “Secretly, Miss Finch, I’m not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live.” — The New Yorker | Anna Holmes, “Harriet M. Welsch, Scout Finch, and How to Be a Good Bad American Girl”
This guy came to live with Joe and me on Friday. We named him Charles Darwin but we’re mostly calling him Charlie, or Charlie D or Charlie Buddy or Charlie Butters or CHAAAHHLES or Charlesworth or Charliemange and, at least once, Charlene. Also, lots of singing, lots of horrible nonsense and strangely-pitched vocalizations. I’ve basically lost my mind. I am so in love with this little dude and feeling very woo-woo about the whole adoption experience. It has been weirdly meaningful and profound for something—human acquiring canine companion—that has been going for just about all of human-time. It feels somehow both “duh, yawn” and weirdly impossible until it happens to you and then it’s this earth-shattering, brain-exploding, Instagram-clogging EVENT. I would say “kind of like having a baby” but that seems both tempting fate AND the ire of actual parents of actual babies and those are things I would like to avoid right now, mostly because I am too busy cuddling this freckled Charlie who snoozes with his eyes rolled back into his skull but not fully closed, like a little fur-demon, like he’s here for my soul, and he might be.
When Joe and I started talking about adopting a dog a couple friends said, “Oh, when you find the right one, you’ll know, you’ll have a MOMENT,” and I wanted that to be true but I wasn’t counting on it. But then I met this guy. On Monday Joe and I decided that we would go to Atlanta Pet Rescue & Adoption on Saturday, and it seemed like a reasonable plan at the time, but by Wednesday I had fallen in love with a few from the shelter’s website and that afternoon felt a very strong and certain pull to go over there and see what was what, which sounded crazy but didn’t feel crazy, so I did. I met Ally McBeagle and Clancy and Jim and Mica and they were all very sweet and I began to think this would be harder than I expected, that there was no way we could pick out a dog to be our dog when there was a whole shelter, a whole world, full of dogs that we could love just enough.
But then there was this little scruffmonster. He had just been brought in Wednesday morning and wasn’t on the website, wasn’t fixed, wouldn’t be able to go home with anyone until at least Friday. The shelter had named him Frodo but I knew as soon as I met him that he would not be called Frodo for long because he was going to be our dog and our dog would absolutely not be called Frodo. When they brought him to me I think I said “Oh no,” because I knew he was it and it was him and because I also knew there was no way to guarantee that no one would come get him first before Joe and I could get over there on Saturday and my whole life felt suddenly on the verge of complete emotional ruination. In other words, I fell in deep stupid love. I KNEW, And Joe knew soon as I played the video of me saying, “You wanna be my buddy?” and him jumping up to put his two little freckled paws on my knees. We knew. We had the dang MOMENT. It’s real. Or maybe it’s not, but anyway, we had one.
The Dog Formerly Known As Frodo got fixed on Thursday and wasn’t available to adopt until Friday, and we couldn’t put a hold on him, and I was so afraid someone would get to him first and break my heart into a thousand little dogless pieces, so Joe and I cut out early from work on Friday, drove out to Smyrna and made him ours. I’m not sure anyone else even knew he was there. They listed him on the website about 20 minutes before we got there, when we were already on the way. We drove back across town in Friday rush-hour traffic with him sitting in my lap. When we got to the last big intersection before the turnoff to our house, he stood up and strained forward, sniffing around, like he knew. Did he know? Probably not, but maybe.
The first night and day he did a lot of looking around at us like, “OK, what’s the catch?” but I think now he’s starting to understand that even when we leave we are always coming back. He doesn’t know I was also feeling like there might be a catch, like we were suddenly going to see very clearly why whoever had him before no longer wanted him. He’s slept in at least three different crates over the last week, in three different cities, and who knows what before then. I didn’t think I would be so compelled by the mystery of his previous life. We know nothing about where he was before except for somewhere up around Gordon County in a home with a doorbell—his first night here, when a doorbell rang on TV, he sat up and looked up at our door for a long time. We have no doorbell. Who knows what else we have, or don’t have, that wherever he came from had, or didn’t.
Someone in his former life seems to have housebroken him, at least, so thank you for that, otherwise inexplicable person. Joe and I went out today and left him at home for the first time, just for a couple hours, and the whole time I kept checking my phone like maybe he was gonna text me.
"LOVE U MISS U WHERE U WHERE FOOD WHERE U WHERE U"
Meanwhile, a few of the dogs I met on Wednesday that were Not Charlie are still looking for homes. Clancy, Jim and Mica are all sweet sweet sweet little goobers and I feel oddly attached to them and keep checking the website to see if they’ve been scooped up yet. I want to be a dog matchmaker and find them all homes but I’m too busy rewriting every pop hit of the last 50 years to be about Charles Darwin the wonder schneagle (?!). But if you’re in the Atlanta area and looking to adopt a dog (or a cat), I really can’t say enough wonderful things about APRA. Every human we encountered there was extraordinarily sweet and helpful, the facilities are bright and nice and clean and well-taken care of, and they seem to give all the buddies as much love as they can, but you can give them MORE! Plus you can blame your farts on them, and they can’t say a thing. Sorry, Charlie.
Back in November, I spent a couple days on the job with Dr. Linda Ellington, the kind of veterinarian dogs love even more than their own humans—but even among the humans who love her, just say her name and their eyes turn into giant pulsing cartoon hearts. Cats don’t even completely hate her!
Shadowing her was fun and sad and really really smelly. After two days I had more than too much to include it all, so just one day made it into the story, which you can read now in the new (animal-themed!) issue of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.
Andy Lee took the photos (which I wanted to happen even before I knew his Great Dane, Leon, loves Dr. Ellington almost more than anyone else on earth).
I’m really proud of the whole issue—illegal dorm pets! frat bros and their giant dogs! bees (not “animals” but I decided not to care)! And after nearly three years with the magazine, it’s my last. New adventures begin next week and I’m so excited.