Archive of ‘interviews’ category

Obsessions, Meditations, And Connections: Catching Up With Photographer Rik Garrett

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I have been fascinated with the powerful symbolism and deep sense of spirit, energy, and connection in Rik Garrett‘s art, since maybe even before the release of his incredible Earth Magic book (from which a stunning Witches Sabbath print sits on a shelf in my office and delights my dark, wild, secret heart every day) so it was such a thrill to catch up with him about his recent work and inspirations for our interview over at Haute Macabre this week!

Banshee + Cinder Interview And Giveaway!

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image credit: WolfTea Creations

Some days I can barely manage to change from my pajamas into my human workday clothes before stumbling to my desk for another day of drudgery, and if that’s the best I can accomplish, I’ll call it a win. Actually it kind of feels like a win if I can even make it out of bed in the first place, and okay, if I am being honest, most days are like that for me. I’m a steady plodder and I’ll get there when I get there and I certainly can’t multitask worth a damn. But then I’ve got these fantastically brilliant friends who are always moving and shaking and hustling and making and I’m constantly marveling at not only the amazing creations they bring into the world but the regularity with which they conjure forth these wonderful things. And then! And then! There are some friends who somehow, on top of everything else they are doing, surprise you with an entirely new endeavor, and it’s like “HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS? Do you have an army of clones? It is sorcery?” How do you crazy-clever people have the time and energy and focus to keep all of these fabulous projects going at once?

The answer is probably that they get out of bed in the morning, they change out of their pajamas into their human clothes….and keep going. They don’t stop!

One such unstoppable human creator is Harlow Skalwold; you may recognize her name from her involvement as art director with Dellamorte & Co., purveyors of high drama gothic eccentricities and décor…but did you know she can now supply you with an otherworldly brew to fill that eerie, eldritch, meticulously sculpted coffee mug with?

Grounded in the most vital of mortal experiences–that first taste of a dark, steaming cup of coffee on a chilly morning– Banshee + Cinder is a small, woman-owned business offering a “bespoke roast-to-door experience.” And having tried it their coffee myself, in a roast and a grind that I picked out with some help from them (because I’m pretty clueless about both), I can speak to the fact that it is delicious! I haven’t quite learned how to talk about coffee but I will say that it tastes beautiful on it’s own–no sweeteners or milk needed. And my partner, who never likes the coffee that I make as much as he likes the coffee that he makes, exclaimed, “wow, this is good! Are you sure that you made this?”

And I do know exactly what they mean when they speak to that first magical sip of coffee in the morning; it is, they share, “the profound intimacy of this ceremonial sip so imperative to our daily ritual” that inspires their passion for coffee. And I know we are not alone in our mutual passion for coffee and that transformative first sip–which is why I thought it imperative to talk with Harlow Skalwold all about her new venture and to offer a giveaway for Unquiet Things readers!

Read below for our invigorating, highly-caffeinated (well, at least on my part–I think Harlow naturally runs on some sort of high-octane genius-juice) interview and leave a comment for the opportunity to win a bag of Banshee + Cinder coffee (medium roast, medium/coarse grind, just like mine!) as well as a Banshee + Cinder coffee mug, with art by Saint Calluna. A winner will be chosen on Christmas eve next week!

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Image credit: Darby Lahger

Unquiet Things: I know you initially through your art–both in your role as art director for Dellamorte & Co., in addition to your own personal work as Saint Calluna. So the coffee connection was a bit of a surprise for me! Coffee + art? What’s the link? 

Banshee + Cinder: Interior decorating, obviously! It’s funny, at the time I was thinking about opening an online boutique with curated items for home decor. A witchy, dark lifestyle brand. I thought it would be an interesting and generally unexplored niche to fill. I started doing a lot of research into opening an e-commerce site, finding suppliers, running logistics, etc., and I randomly stumbled upon this coffee supplier. It was love at first sight, and complete happenstance. I thought, I love coffee, why couldn’t I do this? And so gears shifted and I was suddenly researching coffee. I learned everything I could about coffee varieties, growing, farming practices, roasting, brewing, even the countries the beans came from to get an idea of the social and political climates. I was able to choose some incredible coffees from around the world, with plantations committed to organic and sustainable practices, while providing fair wages to their farmers. And then I found a roaster in Chicago to partner with. Before I knew it, I was running a coffee company!

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image credit: Seven Spike Studio

Banshee + Cinder (seven spike studio)

image credit: Seven Spike Studio

What’s the inspiration behind the name Banshee + Cinder?

Banshee and Cinder are my cats- tortoiseshell sisters from the same litter. I adopted them when they were three years old, and Banshee claimed me right away. We were inseparable for a decade until her death last year. Losing her was devastating… Naming the company after her is just one of the little ways I continue to honor her. Thankfully Cinder is still going strong.

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image credit: WolfTea Creations

Tell me about your first experience/s with coffee. What’s your earliest coffee memory?

When I was very young I hated coffee, and through much of high school I just drank tea. I remember exactly when I started drinking coffee. I was out late at a diner with my friends. I ordered tea and poured in some creamer and it curdled. It was disgusting… and sad because I really only had pocket change to buy anything with! Someone offered me their coffee after getting it refilled, and I discovered quickly how to make it more palatable with milk and sugar. I’ve been a fan since, and I adulterate it much less now.

image credit: WolfTea Creations

image credit: WolfTea Creations

Banshee + Cinder (wolf tea creations)2

image credit: WolfTea Creations

What’s your coffee drink of choice? What do you pair with your coffee?

I like the American style, regular coffee (as opposed to espresso drinks) that I make at home. Either drip or pour over, as long as it’s brewed with a paper filter. Paper filters produce a brighter, sweeter cup of coffee with little or no sediment or oils. I primarily drink my Brazilian blend, roasted dark to bring out the chocolate earthiness. I have come very far since I was a child! My favorite way to take it is with whole goat milk and raw alfalfa honey, sometimes with a dash of organic pumpkin pie spice.

 

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Tell us about the coffees and the roasts that you offer at Banshee + Cinder? Any tips for preparing and drinking your brews? How would you advise folks to best enjoy them?

All of my coffee is single-origin, meaning they come from one location in a specific country. It’s incredible how much a change in location, terrain, and climate can affect the flavor beyond bean varieties. A flavor profile is listed on each coffee’s page to help customers decide which region suits their palate best.

Now we’re called a “bespoke” coffee company because we roast in small batches, to order. This coffee is fresh. We will roast any coffee light, medium, or dark, and grind it to your specifications. Or it can be ordered whole bean, if you prefer to grind it yourself. The grind depends on your brewing method, and the roast just depends on your taste. We have guides for the roasts and grinds as well so you can pick the perfect coffee for your needs.

As far as preparing and drinking… make sure your equipment is clean, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise drink your coffee how you like it best. I suggest sipping it black first so you know what you’re getting into, and then lightening and sweetening slowly until you achieve your perfect coffee to adulterant ratio.

I also offer a decaffeinated blend. I want to drink coffee all the time, except I really need to sleep at night. I’ve never really understood the decaf taboo. I can personally attest to the quality of Banshee + Cinder’s decaf!

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Is there anything else you want people to know about Banshee + Cinder?

I have been blessed to be able to work with some incredible women in the arts. Photography by Darby “Old-Hag” Lahger, Casey Capell of WolfTea Creations, and Carla Cury of Seven Spike Studio, and illustration by Nikol King. I hope to keep featuring artists as the company grows. The next illustrator to be featured will Holly Cappello, aka Holigoil. I find it exhilarating to work with these artists and have the chance to bring the arts to the coffee game.

Do you love coffee? Have a favorite way of taking your coffee? Perhaps you maybe even have a morning ritual dedicated to this most sacred of morning beverages? Tell us all about it in the comments and be entered for a chance to win a bag of Banshee + Cinder coffee and a Banshee + Cinder mug?

Find Banshee + Cinder: website // instagram // facebook // twitter

Beautiful Objects Imbued With Profound Meaning: Under The Pyramids Interview & Giveaway

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[EDIT: A winner has been chosen! Congratulations to Pauline!]

Life is so funny sometimes! How one connection sparks the next, how distant souls find one another, how reading a stranger’s words, late one lonely winter’s night, can lead you to peeking into the life of a brand new stranger–a life of haunting elegance and filled with beautiful objects and exquisite creations–and, as it happens, a stranger who is a genuinely beautiful human, and who, over the years, becomes a very dear friend.

That is how I came to know Mathyld.

In her Parisian atelier, Mathyld handcrafts potent jewels and portable magicks as Under The Pyramids, inspired by nature, magick, lost civilisations and times immemorial. Working with sustainable, locally recycled silver, each and every creation is entirely handmade, every step of the way – sawn, soldered, hammered, stamped, oxidised, polished, etc. Each jewel is thus slightly different than the next, making them all individual and unique vessels to imbue with your own, personal magic and intimate enchantments.

We have kept in touch these many years, checking in with each new project, always curious as to what the other was up to, and eternally full of support and love for one another. Mathyld is a gem and a treasure, and I am so happy to know her. And I’m especially thrilled that she has agreed to do an interview for Unquiet Things, so that you can get to know her, as well!

I do hope you enjoy reading more about this wonderful creator and her extraordinary creations, and what’s more, she has generously agreed to a giveaway, as well! Please leave a comment on this post to be entered for a chance to win an Algiz Amulet, conjured by Mathyld herself, just for you! A winner will be chosen for this runic symbol of protection, one week from today, on Friday June 22nd.

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GIVEAWAY! Algiz Runic Amulet (chain 42cm / 16,5 inches) – recycled sterling silver.  Algiz is a powerful rune, symbol of protection.

Unquiet Things: You call your works “portable magicks”– I love the idea of  enchantments and charms that travel with you! Can you tell me more about this concept and how it ties in with your own practice and guides your artistry?

Mathyld: If you were to open my bag, you would find many gems and crystals, neatly tucked into little pouches, as well as other tiny items I consider like talismans – a sterling pendulum, a vial of water I collected in a cave, a black miniature Swiss Army knife my brother gifted me when we were teenagers, as well as a rose-wood knife Thomas Cowgill / King Dude offered me. I instantly feel better knowing that they are with me. I have always been like that.

I gather energy from within the things I can see and feel. The seasons, the elements, the cycle of the Moon… All of these things have a huge impact on our lives and I try my best (not to influence them) but to respect them as I know that they are the forces that feed me.

The sort of Magick that we practice – I do magick with my husband – is very simple. We mostly do protection magick, using candles, resin incenses, gems and organic herbs.

So, when I started crafting jewels, it was necessary for me that they had, not only a visual elegance, but to also infuse them with a meaning and properties.

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I’d love to hear about your most recent collections – the runic amulets and, separately, the handfasting cords? Are new collections inspired a by personal need for such things, or external influences/customer requests?

Some pieces were indeed inspired by bespoke jewels I have crafted. But they were never completely new pieces, rather evolutions. For example, I used to craft any Rune from the Elder Futhark alphabet and Medieval Runes of Healing and Magick. One day, someone asked for a Bind-Rune (a symbol constituted of the association of two or more Runes). I then considered adding this option to my collection.

That being said, in the vast majority, my creations do come from a personal need. Everything started with the urge to find Runic pieces that would be both elegant and discreet. I looked and couldn’t find any and so, decided to create my own. Many a time have I dreamt to visit Scandinavia and wander among the stones, discovering the petroglyphs. I was first fascinated by the runes, then came the symbols and this is how my Petrolgyph collection was born! After daydreaming about these little ships, suns, elks… I decided to bring them « to life » and within a week-end, they were born!

The handfasting cords were also the consequence of a personal need. For our handfasting ceremony in the woods, Jef and I originally planned to use a handspun yarn to which the spinner was going to incorporate some elements we sent them. These consisted of chosen gems and antique-looking charms I crafted and stamped with our favourite runes. However, said embellished yarn got lost in the Post…

At that time, far away from everything and everyone, I had an Epiphany and remembered a gorgeous yarn that my friend Drucilla spun for me many years ago. Off-white with some delicate splashes of very light celadon blue (“Something olde, something new, something borrowed and something blue”) … It just made sense! The night prior to the wedding, we embellished it with our gems and charms. We couldn’t have dreamt of a better cord!

I contacted Drucilla a few months later with this idea in mind. I wanted to offer this option to others. Handfasting echoes with nature, yet beautiful handcrafted cords made of natural materials are so hard to come by!

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Photo by Helena Aguilar Mayans

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Photo by Ellen Rogers

You have worked with some extraordinary creators over the years -photographer Ellen Rogers, and musician King Dude, for example. What was that like? How do these collaborations come about?

I am utterly lucky! (Maybe it’s all this Portable Magick I always carry).

I met Ellen through my best friend, Diane Schuh (an astounding artist herself) and was thrilled that it led to an opportunity for us all to collaborate together.

For King Dude, I once woke up in the middle of the night to find out that Thomas (KD) ordered a Nauthiz Vördr necklace from me. I was ecstatic as I had been following his work for years. When we met, he told me that the necklace already was one of his most precious possessions. I will always treasure that memory. I then asked him if he would be interested into a little collaboration and was blessed by his acceptance.

Finally, new pieces, coming soon, will be inspired by one of my favourite bands.

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Photo by Ampelopsis Photography

What’s your studio like? Do you prefer to create in a private quiet, or do you need some sort of stimuli (conversation, music, maybe a movie playing in the background?)

My bench is antique, made of dark, solid wood. I ​bought it second-hand from a jeweller who was retiring and I renovated it myself. The smell of turpentine oil and wax was intoxicating. My favourite hammer is also made of beautiful wood and belonged to my late father. I have that profound need to surround myself with beautiful, meaningful objects. The scent of resin incense or essential oils often fills the air and candles can be found burning from time to time. My studio is no different than any other room in the flat in the way that dried bouquets are scattered everywhere.

Concerning the soundscape, I definitely couldn’t create in a private quiet. However, it is difficult for me to focus on precision or dangerous tasks – like drilling, soldering, stamping… – while listening to something. I have a very intense reception to music, so most music I like tends to drive me a tad too over excited and sadly, if I try to follow a podcast my mind instantly wanders. So that leaves me with series or films that I have already seen and love. Strangely enough, series seems to work ideally. I usually don’t mind missing details because, if I truly enjoy them, I know that I will watch them again with my husband!

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Photo by Helena Aguila Mayans

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Photo by Helena Aguila Mayans

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Photo by Helena Aguila Mayans

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Photo by Aryhadne

You note that your adornments are inspired by “nature, magick, lost civilisations and times immemorial. mist and forests, ruins and megaliths”. I’d love to hear some more about these passions! Can you give us specific examples to give us a feel for these soul-stirring inspirations? Art, literature, film, places local to where you live?

Reading about folklores and legends is one of my fondest thrills. Ancient civilisations – Native American, Egyptian, Pre-Colombian, Norse, etc – fascinate me and in particular the similarities between symbols found across different cultures. I recently got the chance to re-visit my mother’s breath-taking homeland, the Eastern Townships (Québec, Canada) and New-England. I felt an instant, deep connection. New pieces will be inspired by the history of these lands. I strangely get the same feeling of connection when I visit the UK, especially the Lake District, where the nature is tremendously beautiful. Old English lore is also truly fascinating. Ellen Rogers recently introduced me to a text that already inspired a new piece.

I also tend to get very emotional in museums, whenever I come across a piece that really touches me – usually XIXth century art, Pre-Raphaelite and suitors, Arts & Crafts movement – I start shedding tears. Art has that powerful effect on me.

Film-wise, one of my heroes is Guy Maddin, especially his work in the 90s, very early 2000s. I have admired his work since I saw Careful back in 1996.​ His style, inspired by German Expressionism, his painting over the negatives technique, his surreal yet elegant decors made of paper mache… Everything in his work was responding to questions I never realised I was asking myself.

That said, I also love to travel and discover areas that are closer to me, museums, house museums, caves, ruins, old Castles, churches, parks, etc. Coming from Paris there are indeed many fascinating places to visit. But I try to favour the less known, quieter places.
I recently took my husband to the French Kings & Queens’ Necropolis, in the Basilica of Saint-Denis. The crypt there is painfully eerie. I love house museums, too. There is that little house and garden museum, not far from where I come from that I absolutely adore. XIXth century entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre lived there. All his life he studied nature, collecting insects, shells, plants, minerals… His house is filled with his collections, notebooks and sketches. A personal Natural History Museum nested inside a tiny Provençal house, complete with a quiet, sheltered garden. A true gem!

Not far from my husband’s hometown is a breath-taking cave. One walks through many different caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites of all kinds and even an atoll… One of the most otherworldly experiences I’ve ever encountered.

Brittany is another area that never fails to mesmerise me; the megaliths are glorious, the ocean moody and the nature so very lush…

I am unsure how all of this translates into my work, but some details are rather evident: ​the importance to create everything from scratch, ​symbols from ancient ​civilisations, natural history & antiques collections ​(vials Talismans ​filled with gems and elements found in nature) etc.

I am unsure how all of this translates into my work, but some details are rather evident: ​the importance to create everything from scratch, ​symbols from ancient ​civilisations, natural history & antiques collections ​(vials Talismans ​filled with gems and elements found in nature) etc.

Find Under The Pyramids: shop // instagram // facebook // tumblr

Elsa Lanchester, Herself: Memoir & Giveaway!

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Drawn to the fringes of the odd and the mundane, Tom Blunt is a brilliant writer, producer, and performer who was absolutely instrumental in the recent reprinting of the outstanding memoir, Elsa Lanchester, Herself. Head over to Haute Macabre for Tom’s wonderful insights into this striking and unusual Golden Era entertainer and his quest to ensure that so many decades later, she finally finds her people.

Read the interview and be sure to leave a comment at hautemacabre.com for a chance to win a copy of the book as well as some tie-in scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab⚡️

Interview With Adrienne Rozzi Of Poison Apple Printshop

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This week at Haute Macabre: an extensive interview with Adrienne Rozzi of Poison Apple Printshop, wherein we discuss her art and its inspirations, as well as, her great passion for knowledge and truth. It’s rare when the subject of your interview actually makes *you* feel special and amazing, but Adrienne is one such rare, remarkable soul.

Thank you for your candor and your genuine, generous nature, Adrienne.

Realms Forged Within A Vast Imagination: Adrienne Rozzi Of Poison Apple Print Shop

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Interview With Maude Nibelungen

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This week at Haute Macabre, I interview Maude Nibelungen, a textile artist with a passion for knitting intimacies and exquisite objects of desire, in the form of evocative apparel and accoutrements.

Take a peek for insights on Maude’s inclusive vision, her desire to express her feelings and exorcise her demons through her craft, and the special bond she creates between her knitted intimacies and those who would wear them.

Slipped Stitches & Stitched Slips: Maude Nibelungen’s Evocative, Elegant Knitwear

Interview With Dellamorte & Co.

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Today at Haute Macabre, meet Michael Locascio And Harlow Skalwold, the dark hearts and creative minds of Dellamorte & Co., and with whose fantastical creations you’ll soon want to fill every nook, cranny, and corner of your home.

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If you’ve ever wondered where you can find the eerie statuary that adorns my shelves, or the writhing vase in which I keep strange, spectral botanicals, or if you wish to learn more about the talented folks who create such things, peep at my interview with the Dellamorte & Co. team over at Haute Macabre today.

The New Faces of Death: Interview with Amber Carvaly

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(The New Faces of Death is a series I originally wrote, beginning in 2015, and which was published at Dirge. The site is no longer active or updating.)

The New Faces Of Death is a series of profiles and interviews in which we celebrate women passionately involved in the Death Positivity / Death Acceptance movement. Women who seek, in different ways, to educate our repressed society regarding the various facets of death and how to cultivate a relationship with death that is liberating, humanizing – and ultimately – life-enhancing. From mourning and memory to pathology and the intricacies of the human body, from the meaning of a “good death” to The Order of the Good Death, and The Death Salon: we invite you to read further, learn much, and meet the new faces of Death.

Our first installment highlighted Sarah Troop, Executive Director of The Order of the Good Death and Social Media Editor for Death Salon, as well as, a blogger for Nourishing Death and Death and the Maiden.

Next we spoke with Bess Lovejoy, a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. She is the author of the bestselling Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses, and is a member of The Order of the Good Death and a founding member of Death Salon.

Today we focus our attention on Amber Carvaly, a California native, mortician, and Service Director at Undertaking LA. Undertaking LA is a fully licensed funeral home, whose mission is to allow families to reclaim rightful control of the dying process and care of the dead body. Along with owner and author Caitlin Doughty (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death), they aim to raise awareness that families are empowered, both legally and logistically, to be involved in the care of their own dead. Changes like this, they assert, will help our society to better accept death.

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How did you become interested in death and how did that lead to your current role in the death industry, or as a death positive activist?

Amber Carvaly: I think that I have always been interested in death. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t preoccupied with the thought of it. Mostly, it would just sort of come and go as I grew. My prior background is in the non-profit industry advocating for the homeless, so it makes sense to me that I would now advocate for the dead. I think that my lot in life is to speak for those who may not have access or ability.

What drew you to your particular profession?

At first I wanted nothing more than to be an embalmer. In my heart I am completely and hopelessly an artist. I am fascinated with learning and how things work, and being an embalmer was a great way to study an art that is reserved for only a few.

What do you want people to take away from the work that you do?

I really only hope for one thing: that people will accept the reality of death and use it to free themselves from the torment of everyday stress; the things that don’t really matter, like standing in a grocery store line for too long or making someone’s bad day a personal offense. I just want to help people see the big picture, because if they could, it would change the way we interact with one another – which would change the world. Whether or not I accomplish this isn’t my concern. It doesn’t take away the desire from me wanting to live this way.

What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve run into about your job, and to a larger extent, the death industry in general? What do you do to disabuse people of those notions – or not?

The biggest one is that dead bodies are somehow scary. They are not. Really, truly. We are afraid of dead bodies because we are afraid of death. This is why it is so crucial that we work to help people open a healthy dialogue on death. People also think that if you work with dead bodies you are somehow creepy and morbid. I used to get offended, but to be honest, now I’m just sad for people that sneer at me or this line of work. I believe that what I am doing is really important, and I take it incredibly seriously.

Many people find working with the dead or talking about death creepy, or macabre or morbid – how do you enroll those people into the conversation? 

In September, we at Undertaking LA did a fun 30 Days of Deathtember game that is inspired by a deck of conversational cards given to me by my friend Lea Gsceheidle from Berlin. Every day for the month of September we post a question related to death, either logistical or existential. It’s really nice because it allows people to come to us and talk if they would like, or abstain if they don’t want to.

I try to, as carefully as possible, engage with people to encourage deeper thought. It is hard because writing to people about a sensitive topic, especially in an online forum, can be difficult in making sure that you denote a warm and non-judgmental tone, but so far it seems to be going really well.

What can we do to open up the conversation on death? To not just increase awareness of it, but to make more sense of death and dying, to allay our death anxiety?

I think that what everyone at The Order of the Good Death is doing is a wonderful way to create change. Talking about death requires finding every applicable avenue and method of discussion; everyone is different and we all have different ways of learning. I believe it’s necessary to get as many different personality types involved so that talking about death feels accessible. Death shouldn’t be something that is talked about only in a church or educational setting. It has to be continuously delivered in new and innovative ways.

How have your views on the afterlife affected your involvement in the death industry, or vice versa?

I don’t really believe that there is anything after this. I want to. But I don’t. It forces me to feel that any and all chance I have at creating change has to be done here and now.

And lastly, what is your ideal death scenario – your dream death, a “good death” as it were?

I hope that I die in my sleep. if I am married, I hope that my husband is by my side, and it doesn’t freak him out too much!

The New Faces Of Death: Interview with Bess Lovejoy

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illustration: Mark Stutzman

(The New Faces of Death is a series I originally wrote, beginning in 2015, and which was published at Dirge. The site is no longer active or updating.)

The New Faces Of Death is a series of profiles and interviews in which we celebrate five influential women passionately involved in the Death Positivity / Death Acceptance movement. Women who seek, in different ways, to educate our repressed society regarding the various facets of death and how to cultivate a relationship with death that is liberating, humanizing – and ultimately – life-enhancing. From mourning and memory to pathology and the intricacies of the human body, from the meaning of a “good death” to The Order of the Good Death, and The Death Salon: we invite you to read further, learn much, and meet the new faces of Death.

Our first installment highlighted Sarah Troop, Executive Director of The Order of the Good Death and Social Media Editor for Death Salon, as well as blogger and writer at Nourishing Death and Death and the Maiden.

Today we focus on Bess Lovejoy,  a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. She is the author of Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses a bestselling book which promises tales of the zany adventures of famous folks who have shuffled off this mortal coil: “The famous deceased have been stolen, burned, sold, pickled, frozen, stuffed, impersonated, and even filed away in a lawyer’s office. Their fingers, teeth, toes, arms, legs, skulls, hearts, lungs, and nether regions have embarked on voyages that crisscross the globe and stretch the imagination.”

She is an editor for Mental Floss, and a researcher for books and film. Her work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalTimeSmithsonian.comThe BelieverLapham’s QuarterlyThe Boston Globe, The Public Domain Review, Atlas Obscura, and elsewhere. Previously, she worked on the Schott’s Almanac series for five years.

She is a member of The Order of the Good Death and a founding member of Death Salon.

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How did you become interested in death and how did that lead to your current role in the death industry or as a death positive activist?

I’ve been interested in death since my late teens. Not so much the physical act of death as the idea of mortality, the idea that life is finite. I was sort of surprised that I wasn’t hearing more people talk about this basic fact, and that people seemed to go about their businesses ignoring it. I just thought it was an intellectually and emotionally interesting thing to contemplate, something refreshingly honest in a world that seemed full of fakery.

When I decided I wanted to write a book, I stumbled upon the idea of Rest in Pieces. When I started to get active on social media as I was researching/writing the book, it led me to connect with a group of death-positive activists and really progressive funeral directors. They enjoyed the morbid tidbits I was gathering on the strange fates of famous corpses for my book, and I enjoyed learning more about the practical realities of death. It kind of hooked into an interest that had been bubbling along for the past 15 years or so.

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What drew you to your particular profession?

I’ve always known that the only thing I’m good at is writing, researching, editing. And even that’s debatable, some days!

What do you want people to take away from the work that you do?

In a general sense, I work to connect people to the hidden histories of the world around us; stories that make the places and objects surrounding us become more alive, more intimately connected to us. We’ve often been presented a version of the past that’s scrubbed of all the death, sex, and magic, as well as a lot of class and gender issues, so I try to find those stories and share them.

With the death-oriented stuff, I’m trying to remind people of the realities of death and the virtues of confronting it: less fear and an enhanced sense of living.

I’m inspired by Montaigne, who said: “He who would teach men to die would teach them to live.”

I also want remind people that they have choices about how they die and what will happen after death, and the importance of being prepared.

What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve run into about your job, and to a larger extent, the death industry in general? What do you do to disabuse people of those notions – or not?

People think I’m incredibly brave, or have an iron stomach, and neither of those things are true. I’m actually extremely sensitive and I don’t like blood and gore much at all. But I just have the will to follow my curiosity. If you open your mind just a crack, a lot of what our culture thinks is “gross” is terribly fascinating.

I don’t “get off” on suffering and pain. For instance, I’m not into serial killer stuff, partly because I grew up around a number of them in the Pacific Northwest. So people will tag me on Facebook when a new serial killer documentary comes out, because they heard I “like morbid stuff,” and it drives me crazy. Or send me stories about dead babies. Argh!

Many people find working with the dead or talking about death creepy, or macabre or morbid – how do you enroll those people into the conversation?

In any given room, half the people will open their mouths in fascination and step forward, and the other half will retreat in terror. (That’s an exaggeration, but I’ve seen a simila scenario giving readings.) I think it’s important to respect people’s boundaries, so I never push. I just lay out the facts, and tell the stories, when and where I’m asked to. People can take it or leave it. But I do find that sensitivity, openness, and humor help people feel more comfortable. Humor is kind of the gateway drug into the macabre world, but it has to be done with taste.

Can you tell us about the death community in your area, is it welcoming and/or responsive to what you are doing?

I’m lucky in that I came from Seattle to NYC, and both places have a nice death-positive network. Seattle is where Death Over Dinner started, and it’s the home of the People’s Memorial Co-Op, one of the first (if not the first) funeral co-ops in the nation. And there’s fantastic green funeral directors like Jeff Jorgenson . New York has people like the fearless Amy Cunningham, a great green funeral director and educator, and the Morbid Anatomy Museum, where the death-curious can go for wonderful talks, among other things.

Death Salon: Mütter Museum on October 4-6, 2015.

Death Salon: Mütter Museum on October 4-6, 2015.

What is your role within the Order of the Good Death, and can you tell us a little bit about what you talked about at October’s Death Salon?

For me, it’s fairly informal. I’m part of a group that contributes to what (I hope) is interesting and insightful death-positive content out there in the world. We share interests, we cross-promote, and to be perfectly honest, I think it removes some of the competitiveness that would otherwise be there.

At Death Salon I spoke briefly about Hart Island, which is New York’s potter’s field. There are close to a million bodies there, and burials have been going on since the 1860s.

What can we do to open up the conversation on death? To not just increase awareness of it, but to make more sense of death and dying, to allay our death anxiety?

Whenever people talk about it, that’s useful. Gradual, open, honest conversations – preferably in comfortable settings – reduce the fear and the anxiety and lessen the stigma. Being confronted with the physicality of death is also helpful – I felt much less fearful about cremation when I saw cremains for the first time.

How have your views on the afterlife affected your involvement in the death industry, or vice versa?

I’m really not sure what I think about the afterlife. I have no certainty on the subject, and I’m only interested abstractly. It’s a great mystery, but most of the time I don’t feel like I’m burning to answer that question. I like keeping it at arm’s length. This occasionally creates mild conflict with others who are more spiritual or religious and think they know for sure what’s going to happen – but for a writer, I think skepticism and an open mind is a useful combination.

And lastly, what is your ideal death scenario – your dream death as it were?

I’m still working on what my ideal death scenario would be. I know I’d like to be in a beautiful place, to have been able to say goodbye to loved ones, and to have struck some balance between not being in too much pain and not on too many drugs. After death, I’d like to be cremated and scattered in Puget Sound, I think, or perhaps in the San Juan Islands, where my family used to camp growing up.

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