Monday, September 27, 2010

Funeral Food

Saturday, September 25 was the last day of labotanica's School of Latitudes. For the occasion, I prepared self-serve, pot-luck style funeral food (a.k.a. casseroles, cake) along with a wall of photographs from the Eulogy/Wake Workshop held privately for the latituders on Thursday, September 16. The wall was painted pink and had mirrors covered with a black cloth referencing my research into Victorian mourning rituals. Mirrors were covered to prevent the deceased's soul from becoming trapped in them and to prevent mourners from seeing their own reflections and possibly leading to their own demise.

ABOUT WAKE: Wake is an interactive performance project comprised of explorations of death rituals including the writing of (living) eulogies and hosting of (living) wakes. The mission of the project is to encourage participants to (but not limited to) review life through the contemplation of death and to connect to the present.

Texas Prison Museum

A recent visit to the Texas Prison Museum connected with me on this project. I suppose it was seeing "Old Sparky", the retired death penalty electric chair, reading about prisoners, wardens, and guards of the past and their demise, and even reading lists of last meals and last words.

Old Sparky...a visit to the chair was referred to as "Riding the Electric Thunderbolt."

Some prison art...soap carvings, matchstick sculptures, etc.

A homemade blender!...and other inventions...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Living Eulogy/Wake Workshop with School of Latitudes

Hair that won’t rot even when I’m gone…objects that I can’t take with me yet I mourn when they are lost…comfort in funeral food…the writing of living eulogies to explore being alive…and planning living wakes of ritual, honor, celebration and wonder.

Wake is an interactive performance project comprised of explorations of death rituals including the writing of (living) eulogies and hosting of (living) wakes. The mission of the project is to encourage participants to (but not limited to) review life through the contemplation of death and to connect to the present.

On Thursday, September 16, eleven members of labotanica’s School of Latitudes participated in a private living eulogy workshop at the home of one of the latituders. Presented are images from that event…

For more information, or to participate in a Wake-related event, please contact Emily at

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

grief, ritual, hair---The Way We Grieve Now by Piper Weiss

I just read on yahoo news this article about ritual and grief...Hair in regards to being a keepsake and in regards to cutting it in mourning are mentioned.

"The Way We Grieve Now" by Piper Weiss

Boarding a flight, Lisa Niemi pulled out her phone and texted "I love you” to her husband. It was a sentiment she'd often shared with her partner of 34 years, actor Patrick Swayze. And even though he'd lost his battle to pancreatic cancer a year ago this week, she wasn't ready to give it up. “Either somewhere out there he received [the message], or someone's going, 'Somebody loves me!' And you know what? I figured it was a win-win situation,” revealed Niemi in an interview with People Magazine.

While sending text messages to a deceased loved one may not seem like a standard part of the mourning process, there’s no guidebook for grief.

“I have a client who never turned off her husband’s cell phone after he died. She takes comfort in calling his voice mail to hear him speak,” says Claire Bidwell Smith, M.A., L.P.C., a hospice and bereavement specialist. “Rituals and routines like that are actually healthy in confronting your emotions and can hold a person in a secure place for longer.”
[Related: 'Dirty Dancing' co-star takes inspiration from Swayze]

Actress Michelle Williams echoed the sentiment in the months after Heath Ledger’s death. "I wish we had rituals about grief," she said in an interview with Vogue. "I wish it were still the Victorian times, and we could go from black to gray to mauve to pink, and have rings with hair in them.”

Instead, Williams found some solace in her upstate New York garden. "[A friend] got me gardening in the spring, and that's when it started to turn around...I remember being on my hands and knees. The ground was cold and muddy. I pushed back the dead leaves and saw the bright green shoots of spring. Under all this decay something was growing,” she said. “Caring for the garden reminded me to care for myself."

That was something Williams had neglected to do in the weeks after Ledger's fatal overdose, "I was severely accident-prone...I fell downstairs, broke a toe, put my fingers in a blender," she confided. "I was holding it together by a string and a paper clip...I didn't know if I could keep it all together."

Jennifer Hudson described a similar fugue state after the grave murder of her mother, brother and nephew in 2008. “It’s all a blur, it was surreal,” Hudson explained in a VH1 interview. “It was like I was outside of myself.” To cope, she took to routine prayers. ”I prayed when I’d get up in the morning and prayed before I laid down at night."

For Gwyneth Paltrow her own hair became a way of coping with the loss of her father in 2002.

"When my dad died I didn't want to cut it off. I think it was because it was the hair he knew,” she divulged in a 2008 press interview. "One day I was on a shoot and I just suddenly said, 'I need to cut it now.' It was almost as if it was part of the grieving process. I just had to let something go." Her impulse decision took six years to make.

Part of the struggle comes from the fact that there's no time-line for the pain. Secret habits and rituals born out of loss can carry over for decades, even to the point where it becomes second nature.

"After a while you worry that the pain will pass and you'll stop missing them, so you keep these connections," says hospice and bereavement specialist Smith.

Smith’s familiarity with the process is more than clinical. When her mother, a talented chef, passed away, the Chicago native taught herself to tackle her mother's recipes.

“Cooking was a big part of her physical presence so when she was gone, so were the wonderful smells that reminded me of her. It was like losing one of my senses,” says Smith who now features her mother's dishes on her blog.

Brooke Berman, author of the new memoir “No Place Like Home,” found similar solace through her mother’s passion for clothes. "She kept everything in remarkable condition -- sweaters in sweater bags, shoes in boxes, jewelry tucked away in Tiffany's boxes.” After her death, Berman spent a year dressed in her mother's belongings. “I had a pair of her sunglasses adapted with my prescription lenses. I wore her socks every day. I wore scarves and gloves, to keep warm that winter. I'd tell myself it was my mom keeping me warm. It completed my relationship with her, or possibly continued it."

In the wake of Brittany Murphy's death, her grieving mother, Sharon, admitted to sleeping in her daughter's marital bed every night, beside Murphy's widower, Simon Monjack. The unconventional arrangement may have seemed bizarre, but it wasn't all that different from Berman inhabiting her mother's wardrobe.
[Related: Husband sacrifices life for his pregnant wife]

Unfortunately, these cathartic gestures are often partnered with shame. On one online grief forum, members anonymously share their unusual habits: buying annual Christmas presents for a deceased father, doing word puzzles once relished by a mother, calling non-working numbers just to go through the motions of contacting a lost friend. All members then pose the same question: “Is this normal?”

But nothing is normal in grief and no two mourners are the same. Some people find it helpful to broadcast their memories to a wide audience. YouTube is flooded with memorial montages. Even Angelina Jolie and her brother, James Haven, created a web video tribute of their mother three years after her death. Others would rather pay tribute in private. Kelly Preston, who planned to participate in a recent panel discussion on grief, canceled at the last minute, releasing the statement: "I am still deeply in the process of healing, and it's just too soon."

There is no uniform approach to loss. “The only thing that's common is the feeling you're losing your mind," says Smith. "But once you share your coping rituals, however odd they may feel, you'll find you're not alone and not crazy at all. Then, you can start moving forward."

Living Eulogy Workshop

A private Living Eulogy/Spilling the Dirt/The Story So Far/Last Bio You’ll Ever Have to Write! Workshop will be held at latituder Carrie’s home on Thursday, September 16 starting at 6pm. The workshop will be conducted by Emily Sloan for the latituders of the School of Latitudes. Afterwards, we will have a pot luck dinner (of course!). If you are unable to bring food, don’t worry, its not a Judgement Day party (we won’t hold it against you).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wash Day

Wash is a performance about cleansing, ritual and intimacy. A full day at Gallery 1724 in Houston, Texas was devoted to the washing of hair including anointing with oils. There were twenty participants and numerous observers. It was a nicely paced day of washing and talking. During Wash, conversations included memories of September 11, 2001, memories of having their hair washed by their mothers, and the love and pampering of having their hair washed by someone else. We also discussed comparisons to foot washing and baptism, vulnerability, and the intimacy of touch, particularly to the head.

The performance was documented through photographs and sound.

Above photo courtesy of Dean Liscum and Sophie Simons.

Photos courtesy of: Heather Korb, Dean Liscum, Merilee Minshew, Sophie Simons, and Emily Sloan.

Floor before, with foils...
Floor after, foils with imprint from traffic...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wash, September 11, 2010, 9am to 5pm

Wash is a one day performance of the washing of hair to take place on Saturday, September 11, 2010 from 9am to 5pm at Gallery 1724, 1724 Bissonnet St. (between Dunlay and Woodhead), Houston, Texas, 77005.

Wash will be performed by Emily Sloan and the participating audience.

“It is the ritual situation which makes the hair “powerful”, not the hair which makes the ritual powerful.” --E. R. Leach

This event is free and open to the public.