I received my author copy of The Art of The Occult this week, and I’m so excited that this beautiful book (can I call my own book beautiful? I think I can, because it *is* a thing of beauty) will be making its way to the rest of the world in mid-October.
I’m so excited, in fact, that I may puke! Is this normal? Maybe, right? It’s a big piece of my heart and maybe a little morsel of my soul as well, bound up in these pages, and I hope that my passion for magic and mystery and beauty comes through in the words I’ve written, at least a little.
I’ve dedicated this book to the seekers, the dreamers, and the magic-makers, and I hope you all find inspiration, delight, and a breathless rekindling of curiosity each and every time you flip through these pages.
If I could have told little Sarah that she would have a published book on the shelf one day, she would probably murmur a spacey “yeah, I know,” and then disappear into whatever daydream world she was lost in.
As a child, I wrote little books and magazine articles all the time. I recall one provocative headline I wrote about how the earrings that Tina Turner wore in Mad Max made her head fall off!
As an adult, I am never not writing. It’s not always smart or beautiful or meaningful stuff, but I can’t imagine not taking moments every day to sort out on the page the things whirling around in my head. Did adult me ever know this might lead to a book on a shelf? I’m not sure. So I’ve got to thank little Sarah, that dreamy scribbling weirdo, for believing in me.
The New Faces of Death was a series of interviews I originally wrote, beginning in 2015, and which were published elsewhere on the internet. That site has not been active for quite some time now, so the articles are now housed at Unquiet Things–I have been meaning to resurrect and continue the project for a few years now and I believe it is finally time! I think that ultimately I will be changing the name of the series. The New Faces Of Death worked at the time, for that particular venue, but I’m not really feeling it now, and it doesn’t seem quite appropriate, somehow.
These conversations on death (ah, there’s the new name!) were a series of profiles and interviews in which I chatted with a handful of remarkable individuals passionately involved in the Death Awareness/Acceptance movement– funeral industry professionals, academics, historians, artists, writers, designers, and more. Pioneering mortals 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”; I invite you to read further, learn much, and expand your own conversations on death in the process.
I am thrilled to kick off our return to this column in the form of a Q&A with writer and photographer Claudia Crobatia from A Course In Dying. I’ve followed Claudia’s blog for several years now but it’s only been recently (generally speaking, I guess, because we’ve all lost track of time in 2020) that I’ve worked up the courage to begin tweeting/messaging etc., with her!
Claudia’s writings on her blog, A Course In Dying, are intended to help communicate and disseminate death awareness through exploring the theme of mortality–these offerings include unique interviews with wonderfully unexpected individuals, to personal essays brimming with insight, to hauntingly gorgeous explorations of exquisite cemetery spaces.
Unquiet Things:How did you become interested in death as a way of life (so to speak) and how did that lead to the writing and the work that you do for A Course In Dying? What drew you to explore death & dying & matters of mortality?
Claudia Crobatia: “Death as a way of life” – I like that! And it connects to one of my core beliefs: that death is a part of life and should be treated as such, instead of being ignored or tabooed.
To answer your question more comprehensively, I have been intrigued by death from a very young age on. My father was quite old, at fifty-eight when I was born, and growing up I was confronted with his various health issues. Most of them were heart related and he eventually lived to be eighty-three, but one example that stands out for me was witnessing him having a cardiac arrest when I was ten years old. These experiences definitely confronted me with mortality and made me think about the impact of death. Not only in practical reality-based terms, but they also triggered my interest in the big unknown in a more metaphysical and spiritual sense, and wanting to figure out what death could potentially mean.
What do you want people to take away from the work that you do?
My aim with A Course in Dying is to break the taboo around the subject of death. When I created the platform back in 2016 it started out as a place to share my research. I wanted to know how aware we currently are of our mortality and how death influences us nowadays. Through the interviews I’ve done I discovered that our modern-day society in general does lack a personal connection to death and everything that surrounds the dying and grieving process.
The platform has now evolved into more of a death awareness resource where I encourage people to contemplate death. I am currently working on my first online video course on how to cope with mortality – this way, the name A Course in Dying can finally be taken literal! The course will guide you into exploring your own relationship with mortality and help you integrate death awareness into your life, and thereby possibly even reducing your fear of death.
What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve run into about your work, your blog and to a larger extent, death and death awareness in general… and what do you do to disabuse people of those notions – or not?
The most typical type of misconceptions I get are comments on my work that dismiss it as being too gothic, morbid or just straight up dark. I do try to break this cliché with the general look and feel of my work, for example by shooting all of my cemetery footage in bright colors, but for some people an interest in the subject of death automatically equals a morbid obsession.
Now, the thing is that I don’t necessarily mind these stereotypes being projected onto the work I do. I love everything dark and macabre myself, so yay! But what does worry me about it is that labeling anything death related as morbid and scary will stop people from interacting with it on a personal level, and acknowledging it as an absolutely normal, natural part of life. I suppose this is where ouroboros gets to bite its own tail and the endless cycle of my death awareness journey continues, with the aim of letting people know it is okay to think and talk about death.
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? Conversely, if you have a particularly creepy incident in your experiences, I would love to hear about it!
I think I answered the first part of this in my previous question! As for creepy incidents, here is one that immediately comes to mind:
I visited an old Jewish cemetery in Amsterdam, where I live, during semi-lockdown recently. We never went into full lockdown here in the Netherlands but social life was heavily restricted. Luckily I was still able to go for walks and visit nearby cemeteries. I had wanted to visit this one old cemetery for a while now and thought this was a great opportunity.
However, once I stepped in through the cemetery gates, a very eerie feeling soon came over me. In hindsight I believe it must have been a combination of the surreal semi-lockdown situation I was in, where for a couple weeks on end I hardly interacted with any living being, and the unkept state of decay the cemetery itself was in. It is situated on the edge of a residential area and very small in size, but it was hard to spot any gravestones at all. Most of the area was overgrown with tall grass and shrubs, and the headstones that were visible were in very bad shape. Regardless of it’s tiny size and lack of visible graves, the cemetery holds 100.000 interred bodies! I felt sad for the souls who were laid to rest here, for the state this place was in and for the state the world in general was in. Walking around exploring the graves I felt my heart almost started to race and a voice inside of me was screaming “get out of here please”. I think this was my saddest cemetery visit ever.
I love your cemetery reviews! Where is your love of cemeteries rooted and how did it flourish over the years to lead to writing up reviews of your experiences in them?
Thank you! I honestly love everything about cemeteries – the variety of tombstone sculptures and typography, the way a grave can reflect a persons life and interests, the element of nature that can take over or complement a grave, and of course the immense historical value.
I believe cemeteries can teach us a lot about the world we find ourselves in today. Visiting a cemetery of a specific place tells you about the people who were there before you, who helped build and shape this place into what it is now. I often look up names of specific graves I find that catch my eye and write about the interesting historic facts I stumble upon during my research. I hope my cemetery reviews will inspire people to visit these places more often.
You recently started up a YouTube channel to, I assume, supplement the writing you do for your blog, and reach/connect with your audience in a different kind of way. Can you share a little bit about what your viewers might expect to see over there?
Yes definitely, I think video is a great way to connect with a bigger audience! In fact I plan to do most of my cemetery reviews only in video in the very near future (editing one as we speak). Fun fact: I actually used to be a video director and have my own production company. I did mostly music videos and some artsy short films. My last project was for a Dutch musician and as the song was about death I made a video about a young woman preparing herself for her impending death. This project was actually a big turning point for me, where after completing the video I decided I wanted to fully focus on my own work. It was then when I founded A Course in Dying.
So now, after four years, getting back to working with video feels quite special. Although the way I do it now is very different – not only am I the one working behind the scenes, I am also on camera myself, preaching death awareness and hoping to speak coherent English! It has been a nerve-wrecking ride getting to this point, but I do feel like video is a great medium for connecting with people.
I have a lot of video ideas in store for the coming months. Viewers can expect a couple very epic cemetery reviews, tips on how to deal with grief, and *cue spooky music* a video in which I share my paranormal experiences!
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 & dying, to allay our death anxiety?
One thing I think is crucial in normalizing death and reducing death anxiety is acknowledging death. Acknowledging death as it announces itself, as it unfolds, and as it happens. Either for ourselves in our own process of dying when our times comes, or with someone in our environment who faces death or loss. Being present and open to whatever arises can be a catalyst for death to be transformed from something we fear into something that connects us.
Also, I happen to know a certain someone who is releasing a course on how to cope with mortality soon…
How have your views on the afterlife affected your work in promoting Death Awareness, or vice versa?
My views on the afterlife only affect my work in that it endlessly fascinates and inspires me.
I do not see death as an ending, but rather as a transition into any kind of scenario that one can imagine. I believe death is as personal and individual as each person’s life is.
…with a guest appearance by our neighbor’s trailer. We don’t know any of our neighbors very well, but this man has a kind smile and always says hello and asks about our garden, and last week he gave us a whole wheelbarrow full of very nice soil and compost. Things like this make me feel hopeful. I know a gift of dirt doesn’t immediately make for a better tomorrow but I believe the hope that it brings my heart is a good place to start. That’s what I’m thinking about on this sad, rainy afternoon in a world that has one less vital light in it. No matter what, I won’t lose hope.
The title of this post is inspired by a friend’s thoughts over on Facebook, accompanied by the following quote:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
I’m afraid that I have used these last five or six months as an excuse to become even more squirrley and sequestered than I already was. I’ve had all of my groceries delivered, I haven’t dined out at restaurants, and I haven’t seen friends or family since March. Other than leaving the house for a diagnostic boobs squish and a few dentist appointments, I’ve been nowhere and have seen no one. And little by little, I’ve become more scared and small as a human. I don’t care for that.
Today I made a resolution. I put on my favorite shoes, I donned a nice mask, and I made a Very Important Outing. Here are the fruits of my courage and reclamation!
I know you know I am just kidding about that last part. I’m seeing lots of friends going out in the world – – safely – – and doing things and seeing people again, and I admire you all for that. This really isn’t a big deal, I guess, except… for me it is, just a little.
I’m curious, though. How do you decide when it’s okay to do these non-essential things again? I can’t even imagine going to a restaurant at this point in time (but obviously I felt the need to mask up and run to the store for candy corns, so no judgment) so…how do we prioritize and decide? What is OK and what is not?
I am almost asking from a social perspective rather than a safety perspective, although I am not sure it’s wise to separate the two in this instance. I suppose part of me is asking this– because if I am being perfectly honest–I am nearly as concerned with what people think of me as I am with my health and safety. And the thought of someone saying “wow, that is super irresponsible and selfish!” with regard to me starting to do normal-outside-the-house things again is just as much, if not more of a deterrent as actually becoming sick or making others sick! So…I might not be venturing out again for a while. I can’t deal with that kind of scrutiny and the consequences. But I’d love to hear your thoughts…
Does anyone else spend a ridiculous amount of time rearranging their coffee table so that they’ve got a revolving selection of the most splendidly tempting titles and wonderfully intriguing cover art in front of them at any given moment? Or …is it just me?
I always used to think that it was important to have an interesting array of things on one’s coffee table to keep your guests occupied –and if I am being honest, to give your guests the impression that you are A Very Interesting Person. Why was this important to me? I don’t know, but I’ve always found the idea of someone visiting my home and coming away with the impression that I was dull and boring to be an outrageously disagreeable prospect which always left me aggrieved and indignant. This was mostly an imaginary scenario anyway, as we didn’t have many guests in the best of times, and now, during the era of pandemics and quarantines, the thought of people visiting your home, well–no thanks to that. So I guess at this point, the only person I need to impress is me!
It is just about mid-September–which I know for most of you is the beginning of autumn, but for your friends in Florida it’s just another variation of summer. I keep waiting for those tricksy autumn feels to creep over me, but…they’re missing in action this year. Typically there are not much in the way of seasonal shifts here, but I start feeling a powerful nostalgia for a place and time in my life where for a time, autumn did make a glorious appearance.
I have written on these feelings before, but ultimately, they are a trap. The past is another country and for the most part, that locale was not the same as the memories you now conjure of your time there. You must be careful not to get snared in those recollections and reminiscences; they are a tangle of rose-tinted half-truths and perfect fictions, and I always have to remind myself that hidden in the shadows of those early autumn sunsets were monstrous things that crunched those lovely fallen leaves under their beastly feet as they stalked and terrorized me.
I suppose it could be due to the state of the world which is quite literally burning to the ground around us in some places right now, or perhaps because I have been back in Florida for nearly a decade now and the reflections of my time spent in autumn country have begun to flicker and fade, but I’m not falling for nostalgia’s traps and tricks this year. Perhaps I have become immune to them, or I’ve got other things on my mind, or maybe those feelings don’t exist anymore, but whatever the reason, it’s now just late summer in the southeast, and there are no more ghosts of autumns past to haunt and confuse me. An endless droning cicada song that enters even my dreams and the near-constant threat of massive hurricanes every weekend– well, at least they haven’t gone anywhere! I guess some things never change.
But you know me. All of this was of course a lead-up to show you my new sweater.
I know it’s going to be several months before we experience anything near “sweater weather”, that one marvelous 59° day in January or February, but I fell in love with this voluminous, cocoonimous thing when I saw pre-orders opening up for it over at We Crowing Hens, and had to snag one for myself anyway. It’s possible they are already sold out at this point, but I will tell you that I like my midnight-crone-cottage-core cardigans really roomy, and so I purchased an XL…and I think I could have gone down a size. Maybe two! So this is a little swimmy on me, but I think its oversized aspect maybe adds maximum coziness, so in the end, though it wouldn’t work for this video, it is pretty perfect for me.
Pictured with my new house slippers, which I have recently learned that I cannot live without. My partner is tearing up all of the carpeting in the house and my feet don’t care very much for sensation of walking on bare concrete. I had a previous pair, but they wore out and aren’t available anymore. The old ones were much more adorable, but these are kinda cute too, albeit in a granny-with-curlers-in-her-hair kinda way.
In terms of another kind of nostalgia, when I think of summertime afternoons, I often hearken back to when I was a child in elementary school, ten or eleven years old. I would spend every day from about 11:00am until dinnertime, stretched out on the sticky vinyl cushions of a rotted old chaise lounge on our screened porch, reading every lurid paperback that I could get my hands on. This memory is a bit rose-tinted as well (Florida mid-afternoons in late July are brutal when it comes to heat and humidity!) but I’m still convinced that summer doesn’t get any better than sweaty thighs embossed with the imprint of cheap porch furniture, endless pitchers of Crystal Light Lemonade and grotty, used bookstore copies of paperbacks from hell.
Lately, though, the thought of sitting still has got me awfully antsy. I’m reading (or attempting to read) a wonderfully perfect short story collection, Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due, and it is SO GOOD. It ticks every box for what I want in a summer read. A vast spectrum of supernatural business, characters that I care about, writing that is emotive and nuanced but not super dense or difficult. It’s got everything! But I can’t sit with it for very long. I want to be doing things. I want to be planting, growing, harvesting, chopping, mixing, baking! My partner says there’s a word in Icelandic for this, it’s a mood having to do with movement. He says I’ve got the “stuð” –which I believe is pronounced like “stoothe”–and though if you look it up, it apparently translates to “shock,” I like its colloquial connotations.
Anyway! I’ve got the stuð and I want to do the things! One of these things began when I got it in my head back at the beginning of the summer that I was going to learn how to make sourdough. It took a few months of trial and error, but I finally got a beautifully robust starter up and running, and a few weekends ago I baked two beautiful loaves. They were not perfect (they could have used more salt and the crust didn’t stay crisp and crackly for very long) but after 20+ years of bread failures, I finally made a loaf that is neither a brick nor a doorstop. These sourdough blobules were major kitchenwitchery breakthroughs for me!
I think everyone who attempts sourdough finally has some sort of eureka! moment, or that one recipe that finally steered them in the right direction. For me it was the Pro Home Cooks guy. If you’ve been on a similar journey, I’d love to hear how you finally arrived at something decent!
One thing I didn’t love about the whole process though, is that as part of feeding your starter, it required you to discard a portion of that. I didn’t like how wasteful that felt. Naturally it turns out that people have felt similarly for a very long time and the internet is full of recipes and suggestions of things to do with your leftover discard. Above I have included photos of the few ideas that I have been playing around with, and if I am being perfectly honest, I think I like making these type things more than the actual sourdough bread, itself!
Not pictured, but which I made a million times at this point, is basically a fry bread type thing. Heat some butter or oil in a heated pan, gloop your starter into the sizzling fat and swirl it around, sort of like you might do with a pancake. Top with a handful of chopped scallions or chives and a sprinkle of salt. Flip it over after a minute or so and brown the other side. Serve with your lunch/dinner soup or salad. It’s super tasty and a quick way to use your discard if you’re feeding the greedy starter every day.
Other things I have made recently:
Chili oil. We’ve been eating a lot of frozen dumplings and dim sum lately and it occurred to me that some chili oil would be a perfect accompaniment! I used Joshua Weissman’s recipe, but I’m fairly certain you couldn’t go wrong with anyone’s recipe for a from-scratch version of this stuff. I have also used this guy’s recipe for chicken tikka masala and it’s freaking fantastic. The only time I have ever made this dish and it’s even tasted slightly like it’s supposed to. I know Weissman is a little bit obnoxious, but this recipe is worth sitting through his particular brand of goofiness for.
Dill Pickle Pasta Salad from the Southern Vegan cookbook. This recipe is ingenious. I mean basically it’s just a regular pasta salad recipe, but it’s 90% dill pickle, and therein lies the brilliance. Pickles are always the best part of every recipe that they’re in! But I am a hard-core pickle lover, so your mileage may vary. This is the same person who runs the Rabbit & Wolves blog, and pretty much everything they ever post about sounds delicious.
Bath salts. I don’t have a recipe for this, but I ran out of the jar of fancy CBD salts from Lord Jones, and lordy, I was not about to pay $50 to replace them, no way no how! I don’t think CBD does anything for me, anyway. I don’t take proper bath-baths, because I hate getting wet, but I love all of the trappings and rituals of the bathing experience…so …what’s a water-averse weirdo to do? As it happens, I don’t mind dipping my toes in, so I just give myself super-extra-fancy foot baths! Yes, all of the bath bombs and bubbles and soaks and salts that I buy are for my feet. This is a mixture of epsom salts, pink Himalayan salt crystals, powdered coconut milk, some dried lavender leaves and buds that I grew myself (before my plant died, RIP lavender) and a bit of lavender essential oil. I added both the leaves and the flowers because I think they smell very different–they petals have that distinctive sharp, astringent scent, but the leaves are sweeter, almost a powdery vanilla-hay.
All the plants! All the clippings and cuttings and new plant bbs! So far the mortality rate seems pretty low, so if I am becoming a crazy plant lady, well…at least I am not a murderous one! I actually bought some clippings off of Etsy (what a time to be alive, right?) and I had pretty good luck with them, believe it or not.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Ok, wow. So, I actually loved this. My partner cringed all the way through it, experiencing uncomfortable levels of fremdschämen. But I adored this silly story and all of the costumes and characters and music, and I could watch it again tonight. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack nonstop and I and can’t get through Husavik – My Home Town without uncontrollable hiccupping sobs.
And The Flight of Dragons, which is something I never saw as a kid, but it was really pretty and a fun watch. Also: we are watching Lovecraft Country, which is nuts and I am really enjoying (but whyyy is Marilyn Manson in the soundtrack) and I have started just What We Do In The Shadows season 2. I am already having horny dreams about Guillermo.
I will end this missive by mentioning a handful of weird obsessions I am currently indulging in. While it is not strange to see me fixating on fragrance, it is a bit odd for me to decide on a holy grail-type scent, one that I will elevate above all others and say “that’s it! this is The One! FOREVER!” But Bergamot, Orange Blosson, and Vetiver from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is that scent. I am not quite ready to talk about it yet, all I can say with certainty is that it smells like painful revelations and forking life paths, and the bittersweet but beautiful clarity that comes with all of that.
No. 2 is that I am a bit preoccupied with nude lipsticks at the moment, which is strange because I thought I liked outlandish lip colors, greens and blues, etc., and well, also…I don’t actually wear that much makeup. But again, I think I have found my holy grail and I am a bit embarrassed to share that it’s a Kylie Jenner lippie called Commando. Ugh! But it’s perfect! You can’t see it very well, but I’m wearing it in the perfume video I recently uploaded to my YouTube channel.
Lastly, and bringing it full circle, I suppose, is that while I am not feeling nostalgic for autumns in New Jersey, I am yearning for autumn aesthetics in general. Which is what led to me placing an order for Bath and Body Works candles. What! I know! I’ve got stupid-expensive tastes when it comes to certain things, I can’t even remember when I last had a B&BW or White Barn candle in my home. But you best believe I’ve got some PSL and Perfect Autumn candles in my cart right now.
Make fun if you like! I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m also laughing at myself a bit right now. But you know what? Either way, we’re having a laugh, and considering how I’m usually feeling at this time of year? I call it a win.
Thank goodness for books and stories. It’s nice to entangle yourself in imaginary dramas while trying not to freak out too much about your own human problems. I’ll not say that I was totally unaware of the passage of time while I waited an eternity for these results, but resourceful Blossom Culp scaring bullies from Old Man Leverette’s outhouse really helped to distract me.
“Probably” benign, huh. I guess that’s maybe “reassuring”?
I mean…the title says it all, doesn’t it? I’ve never been comfortable calling myself “goth,” and I think this mostly has to do with the fact that I didn’t listen to The Cure in high school (it was Iron Maiden and King Diamond for me) I’m lukewarm about Nick Cave (but I guess I am coming around to him) and I have never once made myself up to look like Siouxsie Sioux.
I’ve written about this before and it’s no big deal, but I just don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression, like I’m some sort of dyed-in-the-wool, old-school Goth Kid. I like cats and darkness. That’s about it. Oh yeah. And black clothes!
So I guess the title of this post should have been How To Wear Black Clothes In The Summertime When You’re A Goth Fraud And Summer Is Almost Over But Summer Is Never Really Over In Florida And Oh Yeah I Guess I Like Nick Cave Now.
Many of these are older ensembles I created, but honestly, looking at them all, I feel like I could have put these together yesterday. They all feel pretty timeless to me! No details are included for these particular ones because as they are from a few years ago, the information is no longer available. Otherwise, I have linked to more details! As always, if there’s anything you want to know more about, drop me a line or leave a comment, and I will try to recall it for you!
A gathering of death-related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From heart-rending to gut-splitting (sometimes you gotta laugh, you know?) from informative to insightful to sometimes just downright weird and creepy, here’s a snippet of recent items that have been reported on or journaled about with regard to death, dying, and matters of mortality.
After yesterday’s complaint lamenting my disappointment with regard to inappropriate cardigans and their accompanying pop singer’s fall music, a few individuals asked if I might post a playlist featuring some favorite seasonal music as the summer wanes and we enter the dark and dying time of the year. So I thought it might be time for a new mixtape!
While these are not all-time favorites, they are some things that I’ve been enjoying recently, and no doubt sometime over the next month or so, I’ll compile a bit of a remix of a decades+ worth of fall favorites. Until then…
A presage of echoes, an autumnal presque vu: The Unforgetfulness of the Hollow Heart