Thursday, March 30, 2006

In the End, Death is Unbecoming

I was browsing in the local bookstore and a strange book cover with what looked to be a smiling dead woman caught my attention. I picked up the book (which had no title or wording on the front cover) and began flipping through the pages. On each page there was a photo of a dead black person laid out on a black sheet.

I am not making this up.

These were not autopsy photos, but photos that had been taken after the bodies had been prepared for burial. The book was arranged with the photo on the right and a caption on the left that gave the person's name, when and where they were born, and then the date of their death. The subjects ranged in age and were equally representative of gender. For the most part, each person appeared to be dressed in their finest--one woman had on what was probably her wedding dress. Each person wore the same self-satisfied expression, as if they knew the punchline to the joke about human existence:

"Why are we here?" we ask. "Hell if I know!" they reply.
The average person would have felt like a creepy voyeur after viewing the first two photos, but as I have a fascination for most things morbid, it took a bit longer for my brain to process the appropriate gag reflex. Mine finally kicked in when I was about about halfway through the book, but it still wasn't instense enough to make me put it down. Instead, I flipped to the back to see if there was any credible explanation.

Apparently the photographer is someone who lives in Harlem. Three years ago, she took a photograph of someone's recently departed 101 year old great-grandmother and was awestruck by her "beauty". She took 30 more photos at the same funeral home and somehow determined that this would make a great coffee table book.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine that the "models" would have appreciated being photographed and cataloged like artifacts in a museum exhibit. Furthermore, I can imagine that most of them (especially the women) would have hated the way they looked. No matter how attractive they might have been in life, in death they all had the same eerie, bloated look. If not bloated, then ashen. Or plastic. Grotesque.

Death may be a natural part of life, but there is nothing natural about the preparations we pay morticians to perform on our dearly departed loved ones. We believe that by participating in these elaborate funereal rituals, we are restoring some sense of dignity to our lost loved ones. If a person was ill, we place the emphasis on who they were in the vibrant days of their life. We ask for the extras to camoflague the weight loss, cuts, burns, bruises, etc in the hopes that the final glimpse will represent what we believe to have been the person's essence. In the end it always seems that those efforts cross the line from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Years ago in Jet magazine, there was a photo of a man who was to be buried in a custom-made casket that had been fashioned into a car. He was seated in the driver's seat, with his stiff hands arranged around a steering wheel. His relatives reasoned that he liked to travel in style. In the book, one of the young men was dressed in a new Sean John sweatsuit, and in his hands there were crumpled dollar bills. Several of the women were buried in their Sunday hats.

I am not sure if any of this is particularly dignified. Death is the ultimate state of vulnerability, the ultimate loss of control. After they slice you open, remove your organs and stitch you back up again, I wonder if it really matters that whatever remains gets buried in your favorite suit.

In the end, death reveals more about us than we ever knew about ourselves.

Monday, March 27, 2006

My Latest TV Obsession

I've pretty much gotten over most of my old TV obsessions. I don't watch soap operas anymore, and my court shows have lost their allure lately. I've generally moved on from Cosby Show and Different World reruns. Although I still appreciate the earlier episodes of As Time Goes By, it depends on my mood. I have totally lost my enthusiasm for the countdown shows on E! and VH1.

We recently had an HBO preview, and I have to say that it was not at all as exciting as it was the first two times. We stayed up half the night trying to cram in episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but now that we have Showtime, The Movie Channel, Encore and Starz, it all seems so redundant. I am just not all that interested in Six Feet Under marathons.

I am getting hooked on makeover shows again. The premise is so simple and presented in just the right amount of time. Who wouldn't want to have a complete lifestyle change occur in one hour? I am so addicted to What Not to Wear.

I am actually becoming more attached to these women's lifestyle networks, although that does not include those crappy Lifetime movies. I am becoming a fan of Bridezillas on WE, and I still like Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? on the Style network.

I'm also a big Keith Olberman fan. His is the only countdown show I can stomach these days. I like anyone who dispenses daily disses to Bill O'Reilly (so I also like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert).

Finally, my most embarassing TV obsession is A Baby Story on TLC. Last week, I watched at least six episodes. I am not at all excited by the "miracle" of childbirth, but I have to admit that I like the back stories that come with the arrival of the new babies.

Most of all, I like having a remote control that can go through 150+ channels in under 5 minutes. When I add in the movie channels, it means that at any given point in the day, I can either discover something new to watch or choose to rely on an old stand-by.

Which means that I need to get out of the house more...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Finish Lines

I'm approaching the end of one semester and the mid-point of another one. Actually, I should rephrase that in terms of classes--one class is ending on Monday while the other class enters mid-term. I am also very close to the end of my tenure as local chapter president. If all goes well, I have a case that may end very soon.

I can clearly see the end of the line, and for once, I am beginning to breathe easier.

I was crazy to take on so many things all at once. I had been a board member for a friend's foundation, and that required so much from me. Even she realized that I was just too busy to focus on her stuff, so she gave me an out by letting me retire. The fact is, I might have held on to the position anyway because of that nagging sense that I could actually juggle so many actitivities.

The truth is, I am not superwoman. I am not even a superwoman in training. I am a woman who can't say no, and who desperately needs to add that word to her vocabulary. Or else...

For example, I used to operate under the assumption that I could get more things done if I were just organized better. Yeah right. The first strike against that plan was that I am NEVER organized. It just isn't in my DNA. Whenever I do get organized, I get confused.

There are aspects of my life that are somewhat well organized, but I still have moments when I have to insert some chaos into the mix. I can keep all of my handouts neatly labeled in folders, and they are kept in a central location where I could find them on a moment's notice. But they are sitting on the floor of my living room in a corner, so I am not sure if that counts as being organized.

Now I operate under the notion that there are 24 hours in a day, and given that I spend at least 8 of them in bed, 2 of them eating, 4 on the computer (I still have dial-up), and 2 in my car, that only leaves me with 8 additional hours in which to get anything accomplished. Well, then I have to factor in my TV shows, my crossword puzzles, my coffee breaks, and dance classes, and that whittles the time down to about 5 hours. I don't engage in all of these activities every day, but they are significant enough for me to determine that on any given day of the week I have, on average 3 good hours in which to accomplish anything of real importance.

Today, that will be grading papers. I probably will not finish them all, so then that project will spill over into tomorrow's time, which includes a meeting in the middle of the day and possibly church in the evening (the hub has found God again because it is softball season). See how easy it is to lose track of time?

Like now, I have spent about 20 minutes or so composing this post. But at least it is now finished. Ciao!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Catching Up

I have several things that I've written offline in the past few weeks, and if I get the time, I may transcribe them for inclusion on my blog. I might as well make them public, since that is what this space is for.

I've been ever busy with my students. Another mini-semester is about to end, so for the next few days, I'll be in a grading frenzy. I often wonder what I look like when I'm sittting in the corner of my coffee house focused on student work with my red pen in hand. Do I look professorial? Or more like a grad student?

I vote for graduate student. Whenever I don't have to go to meet people, I dress like a regular person, so that means jeans, a casual shirt, my favorite clogs and possibly even a hat. To complete the ensemble, I am usually listening to my portable CD player...which upon second thought should actually make me look more like an out-of-touch professor. Who listens to CDs anymore?

Anyhoo, the crisis alluded to in the previous post has passed for now. I still need to be more diligent about the way I handle my business, but overall, I believe that at worst I'll get a slap on the wrist. Of course, it sucks to even be accused of wrongdoing and any punishment or chastisement seems severe.

Here is a bit of advice to anyone reading this: Never make a black woman mad enough to want to kill you. Not only will your ears burn, but every fiber of your being burns--you are damn-near combustable. If I were to even think that the person responsible for all of this was even in my vicinity, he would drop dead. An angry black woman can kill with her thoughts in the same way that everyone else kills with looks.

Enough coded messages. I'll come back to post something normal in a few days.