“It’s a really personal thing. It feels really important. Not that I’m important, but it’s a real kindness to people and it’s something that’s easy for me to do and not easy for them to do, and I’m happy to be able to provide it. I almost feel guilty charging for it, and I have to get used to that. I’ve never been a business before, so that’s a hard one for me.”
— For the third installment of Can’t Take It With You I talked with Cecily Hintzen, a onetime high-school counselor turned pathology lab administrator who’s now pursuing memorial planning as a second-act career. I heard about Cecily through David Greenwald, who I’ve known online through music-writing circles for a while—she’s his mother-in-law! He read about CTIWY and thought she’d be good for me to talk with, and he was right. If you know someone whose work—or just general existence, really—intersects with death and money in some unexpected or underexplored way, I’d love to hear from you, too.
“On the one hand, I have this very abstract intellectual interest in death. You know, “I think that it’s ridiculous to spend thousands of dollars on a funeral when you could just bury somebody in a burlap sack in the backyard and that could be just as meaningful!” I’ll occasionally get on a high-horse about something like that. And then something will happen, a friend of a friend will die, and it will become very real and it will suddenly change the stakes. What I have come to learn and take away from it is, the way that we all handle death is really stubbornly personal. I try my best to be sympathetic to that and respectful of that and to see that as part of the human condition, the variety of mourning [rituals]. So despite what one can concoct intellectually, I think it remains a personal relationship that you have with your own mortality and with the people around you.”
Colin Dickey, writer and managing director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum, in the second installment of Can’t Take It With You, my column about money and death over at The Billfold. (If you know someone, or are someone, who might be good to talk to for a future installment, I’d love to hear from you.)

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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.

(image via)

“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.”

Zillions (plus American Girl) helped make me the cheapass feminist I am today. I love this tribute over at The Billfold. I remember so many of those articles, especially the food stylist thing, which blew my mind—Vaseline!

“If there is a line of demarcation in this story, a single moment where I crossed the boundary between debtlessness and total financial mayhem, it’s the first dollar that I put toward achieving a life that had less to do with overt wealth than with what I perceived as intellectual New York bohemianism. It seems laughable now, but at the time I thought I was taking a step down from the Chanel suits and Manolo Blahniks of my office job. Hanging out at the Cuban coffee shop and traipsing over the syringes and windblown trash of upper Broadway, I was under the impression that I was, in a certain way, slumming. And even though I was having a great time and becoming a better writer, the truth was that the year I entered graduate school was the year I stopped making decisions that were appropriate for my situation and began making a rich person’s decisions. Entering this particular graduate program was a rich person’s decision. But it’s hard to recognize that you’re acting like a rich person when you’re becoming increasingly poor.”

Meghan Daum, “My Misspent Youth”

Not related, or at least not consciously related, to my brief rant last week about my inability to comprehend New York City real estate prices, I started reading Meghan Daum’s essay collection My Misspent Youth over the weekend and was of course kind of gutted by the title piece, which was written, I think, in the late 1990s or early 2000s, but, if adjusted for inflation and a few key economic differences (she mentions friends getting rich off the stock market—although, well, I guess that still happens, doesn’t it?), could have basically been written this month, or last year, or at any point since. Much of it seems very tied to living in New York specifically but the general warped patterns of thinking about money and class and ambition apply everywhere, of course. Or at least I have certainly witnessed it in my own very-non-New York life (if not in myself, then in others, for sure). It makes pretty gutting tax day reading, if you need some of that. Or you could just eat some free Arby’s and barf and die like you probably want to anyway.

“This one-bedroom in Battery Park for $3,600 is a good example. It is advertised at 687 square feet, which is so precise I’m guessing the realtor measured the inside of the closet. How big is 687 square feet? Well, for contrast, the Elephant Center affords each adult male elephant 3,100 square feet. (An elephant 2-bedroom, so to speak, is 4,900 square feet.) Sounds palatial, doesn’t it? If you’re just squeezing an elephant somewhere temporarily, say in a stall overnight, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Standards for Elephant Management and Care from 2011 mandate a minimum of “no less than 600 square feet.” But in the long-term, that would be inhumane.”

The Billfold | What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Live in New York City

This gives me hives. I know where and how people live is generally a very personal and idiosyncratic decision often impacted by a number of complicated and uncontrollable factors and desires, and I know that I have literally been to New York City once in my whole life, as a high-school junior, actually just about ten years ago this spring, and I know that as a young writerly type perhaps I should be at least willing to consider the possibility that my “career” would be “better off” if I was willing to make that move, but I very personally cannot comprehend how in the world that would ever be an attractive possibility, mostly because—THAT IS SO MUCH MONEY. SO MUCH MONEY. And so little space. Actually I think that might be roughly around the same amount of space of the house (two-bedroom, backyard) Joe and I just moved into, maybe a little smaller, but we pay roughly one third of that. And that is actually pretty low for Atlanta so I feel conspicuous even telling people who live here about it, but I feel like every so often I need to remind the outside world (ie, people paying so so much as much or less space in New York City—the rest of America is probably more on our scale, or even lower!) that there are other options, and other cities, other places where you will be able to live happy and fulfilled and challenging lives, and also go out to eat more, or buy an elephant, or whatever you want to do with the thousands of extra dollars a month you don’t have to sink into a shitty little box you don’t even own.

“In Manhattan, a $60,000 salary is equivalent to someone making $26,092 in Atlanta.”

Goodbye, New York by Fred Siegel - City Journal (via)

Among other perks of living here.

“Conventional wisdom might say that women over 50 are most concerned about how they look, how many wrinkles they have and how young they appear.”

Barbara Hannah Grufferman: Life After 50: Women’s Worst Fear After 50? It’s Not What You Think

Turns out, they’re actually more worried about NOT HAVING ENOUGH MONEY TO LIVE ON LATER IN THEIR LIVES. Old hags! So silly! So concerned with their finances! Maybe if they tended to their baggity eye sockets they might have a little more jingle in their pockets, eh? Amirite?!

ladyscouts:

The “I’m Worth It” Badge
Statistics that I think I read in a Newsweek or — let’s face it — a Marie Claire or something once a long time ago, say that women are less likely to ask for and receive a raise than their male counterparts. This is ridiculous! Look at the awesome jobs we are doing at our jobs! You took this national problem and created a personal solution: you asked for that raise.
It’s hard to ask for more money, especially since our economy will soon be based on the smoothest rocks we can find and tin cans and scraps of fabric that we will trade for barely potable water in the burned out tunnels of Penn Station, but until our complete financial collapse and/or 2012 (whichever comes first!), you like seeing that extra cash in the bank and knowing you went after what is rightfully yours. Looking objectively at your worth and realizing how valuable you are is a brave and impressive thing. You deserve it! Hunt and gather that!
Pin this badge to your best business lady suit, because you mean business!

Right now my one Professional Goal In Life is to one day be a Lady Who Asks For A Raise. Although I guess I need to be a Lady Who Gets Another Salaried Job, First.

ladyscouts:

The “I’m Worth It” Badge

Statistics that I think I read in a Newsweek or — let’s face it — a Marie Claire or something once a long time ago, say that women are less likely to ask for and receive a raise than their male counterparts. This is ridiculous! Look at the awesome jobs we are doing at our jobs! You took this national problem and created a personal solution: you asked for that raise.

It’s hard to ask for more money, especially since our economy will soon be based on the smoothest rocks we can find and tin cans and scraps of fabric that we will trade for barely potable water in the burned out tunnels of Penn Station, but until our complete financial collapse and/or 2012 (whichever comes first!), you like seeing that extra cash in the bank and knowing you went after what is rightfully yours. Looking objectively at your worth and realizing how valuable you are is a brave and impressive thing. You deserve it! Hunt and gather that!

Pin this badge to your best business lady suit, because you mean business!

Right now my one Professional Goal In Life is to one day be a Lady Who Asks For A Raise. Although I guess I need to be a Lady Who Gets Another Salaried Job, First.