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Posts tagged "obituaries"

Feb 11, 2014
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A small-town Romanian cemetery filled with darkly humorous gravestones

This is so good I can’t stand it:

…in the town of Săpânţa, Romania…at the Cimitirul Vesel or “Merry Cemetery,” over 600 wooden crosses bear the life stories, dirty details, and final moments of the bodies they mark. Displayed in bright, cheery pictures and annotated with limericks are the stories of almost everyone who has died of the town of Săpânţa. Illustrated crosses depict soldiers being beheaded and a townsperson being hit by a truck. The epigraphs reveal a surprising level of truth. “Underneath this heavy cross. Lies my mother in law poor… Try not to wake her up. For if she comes back home. She’ll bite my head off.”

You must read the whole story. My favorite line: “Their lives were the same, but they want their epitaphs to be different.”

Do check out the Google+ album of photos

See also the work of Romanian artist Andrea Dezso

(via @thebookslut)

Jul 30, 2013
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Jan 11, 2013
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Jan 07, 2013
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Near-death experiences for cowards like me

Tim Kreider, in his piece, “The Year After” (collected in his great book, We Learn Nothing), talks about what a wonderful year he had after he got stabbed in the throat and almost died: “it was one of the best things that ever happened to me…. After my unsuccessful murder, I wasn’t unhappy for an entire year.”

I started brewing my own dandelion wine in a big Amish crock. I listened to old one hit wonders, much too embarrassing to name in public. And I developed a strange new laugh that’s stayed with me to this day— a loud, raucous barking thing. It makes people in bars or restaurants look over for a second to make sure I’m not about to open up on the crowd with a weapon.

Trouble was the feeling didn’t last:

You’d like to think that nearly getting killed would be a permanently life-altering experience. But getting stabbed was like a lightning strike— over almost as soon as it happened, and the illumination didn’t last. You can’t feel crazily grateful to be alive your whole life anymore than you can stay passionately in love forever, or grieve forever for that matter. Time makes us all betray ourselves and get back to the busy work of living.

It’s easy now to dismiss that year as nothing more than the same sort of shaky, hysterical high you’d feel after being clipped by a taxi. But you could also try to think of it as a rare glimpse of reality, being jolted out of a lifelong stupor. I can’t recapture that feeling of euphoric gratitude any more than I can really remember the mortal terror I felt when I was pretty sure I had about four minutes to live. But I know that it really happened, that that state of grace is accessible to us, even if I only blundered across it once and never find my way back.

George Saunders, in a wonderful New York Times profile, tells a story about his plane hitting a flock of geese, thinking he was going to die, and the feeling afterwards:

“For three or four days after that,” he said, “it was the most beautiful world. To have gotten back in it, you know? And I thought, If you could walk around like that all the time, to really have that awareness that it’s actually going to end. That’s the trick.”

(Maira Kalman, from The Principles of Uncertainty)

In many cases, a near-death experience has led to the formation of an artist. When he was 16, Wayne Coyne, the Flaming Lips frontman, was held up in a Long John Silvers:

I realised I was going to die and when that gets into your mind that’s a motherfucker. It utterly changed me for a while there. I thought, ‘I’m not going to sit here and wait for things to happen, I’m going to make them happen, and if people think I’m an idiot I don’t care.’

(A post-it note from Roger Ebert, after he almost died from cancer and lost his voice.)

Here’s Steve Jobs:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.

Thing is, I am a coward. As much as I wouldn’t mind that “existential euphoria” that comes with it, I don’t really want a near-death experience. I want to live and be safe and stay away from death as much as I can. (So far in my life I’ve been pretty lucky to be insulated from it.) I certainly don’t want to taunt it or court it or invite it closer. But I do somehow want to remember that it’s coming for me.

I guess that’s why I read the obituaries every morning — it’s a way to think about death while keeping arm’s length. Reading about people who are dead now and did notable things with their lives makes me want to do something decent with mine…

Sep 23, 2012
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Marilyn Johnson, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries

“Obituaries, as anyone who reads or writers obituaries will tell you, are really not about death.”

As part of my project of daily obituary reading, I decided to give this book a spin.


  The computer seems a poor medium for reading obits. The inherent impatience of the machine, its constant hum, its cursor beating even at rest, the ads glaring along the borders—all conspire to speed you up. And there are so many people dying, and the cascade of the dead is so relentless, that speed-reading obituaries can cause you to miss the point. Obit reading is an act of contemplation.


I read the obits mostly on my (silent) phone, and there is a bit of thumb-flicking that goes on, but again, “the cascade of the dead” is endless, and it’s hard to get your favorite sites read without losing the whole morning.

Mostly what I’m looking for when I read the obits is some little gem, some little sparkling sentence, or some piece of trivia that will send me down a research rabbit hole, or some kind of wisdom nugget that I can build my morning on. Here’s obituary writer Jim Nicholson quoted in the book:


  Some people read the obits to look for the secret to a successful or happy life. How did this person get through seventy or eighty years, what can I learn from it?


As Maira Kalman says, “I’m trying to figure out two very simple things: How to Live, and How To Die.”

Want to give reading the obits a shot? Every day I post an obituary worth reading (#dailyobit) on Twitter: @austinkleon 

Filed under: obituaries, my reading year 2012

Marilyn Johnson, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries

“Obituaries, as anyone who reads or writers obituaries will tell you, are really not about death.”

As part of my project of daily obituary reading, I decided to give this book a spin.

The computer seems a poor medium for reading obits. The inherent impatience of the machine, its constant hum, its cursor beating even at rest, the ads glaring along the borders—all conspire to speed you up. And there are so many people dying, and the cascade of the dead is so relentless, that speed-reading obituaries can cause you to miss the point. Obit reading is an act of contemplation.

I read the obits mostly on my (silent) phone, and there is a bit of thumb-flicking that goes on, but again, “the cascade of the dead” is endless, and it’s hard to get your favorite sites read without losing the whole morning.

Mostly what I’m looking for when I read the obits is some little gem, some little sparkling sentence, or some piece of trivia that will send me down a research rabbit hole, or some kind of wisdom nugget that I can build my morning on. Here’s obituary writer Jim Nicholson quoted in the book:

Some people read the obits to look for the secret to a successful or happy life. How did this person get through seventy or eighty years, what can I learn from it?

As Maira Kalman says, “I’m trying to figure out two very simple things: How to Live, and How To Die.”

Want to give reading the obits a shot? Every day I post an obituary worth reading (#dailyobit) on Twitter: @austinkleon

Filed under: obituaries, my reading year 2012

Jul 19, 2012
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Jun 21, 2012
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#dailyobit

In the spirit of @shamblanderson's sentence of the day, I'm posting my favorite obituaries from my morning obituary reading on Twitter under the hashtag #dailyobit.

I’m @austinkleon on Twitter→

Jun 13, 2012
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He rode empty trains all day with markers in his pocket, and he wrote everywhere.

Jun 12, 2012
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On reading obituaries

So, I’ve decided that my mid-year’s resolution is to read obituaries every morning. I first got the idea from Maira Kalman — she reads the obits every morning:

This week there was an obituary about the man [Curtis Allina] who developed the Pez dispenser. It was an incredible obituary because he was raised in Vienna, lost his entire family at Auschwitz, and came to America and worked for this company that made peppermints, which is what Pez is short for. He did something that was considered completely trivial, which was designing and marketing Pez dispensers. But I think the sum of every obituary is how heroic people are, and how noble. So it gives you a nice beginning to the day.

And then read this in Charles Wheelan’s book:

Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives.

And when I was on tour I read this lovely obit for Leo Dillon which gave me a ton of ideas for a book I want to write someday, my colleagues at Workman gave me the 2012 NYTimes obits collection, and Joan Rivers’ hilarious explanation for why she reads them: “To meet new men!”

The NYTimes app has a dedicated obit section, the Economist posts theirs online, and there are a few twitter feeds for ‘em: @NYTObits @washpostobits @guardianobits

Where are some other great places to read obituaries online? Who writes the best ones?

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[I read obituaries first thing every day.] That’s how I meet new men! The minute it says ‘Sadie Schwartz’ I know, ‘Go to that funeral.’ It’s great. Funerals, there are things you can talk to the bereaved husband about immediately, like, ‘Boy, you really know how to carry a shovel. Wow.’ And I always let them know that I’m the same size as the wife because then they don’t have to give away the clothes.
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