“Alexa, I need you to ask me five or six questions for a Q&A,” I tell my younger sister over the phone.
“Why would I do that? I know you enough. I don’t need to know anymore,” she said in a huffy tone.
“Come on, you’re super judgmental sometimes–all the time–just think of a few good ones. They can be snarky,” I answered.
“Judgmental? Like how you’re an a****** sometimes–all the time–who always needs to get the last word in?” she snapped back.
“Yes exactly, that’s it. Use that energy to fuel your question asking,” I said.
“Fine,” she said.
“Fine,” I said quieter, to get the last word in.
Q&A #3: Answering Snarky Questions My Sister Asked Me
1. What do you want your tombstone to say?
“Still dead, thanks for checking.”
Seriously though, I don’t want a tombstone at all. I think traditional American burial methods are a waste of space and resources. You get a metal casket, embalming, concrete lined grave, and tombstone. Can we talk about embalming for a second? Because besides all that environmentally hazardous shit they pump in you going straight down the drain with the dishwater, it’s a really unnecessary process.
Embalming gained popularity during the American civil war when we were faced with a overwhelming supply of corpses and long, hot, stinky train rides back home for burial. A fallen soldier was in for a long wait between death and burial. Flesh gets bloated, insides get gloopy and fluids… leak out of storage vessels. A newly competitive field of embalmers took out ads in newspapers boasting their corpse preservation skills and literally raced around battlefields embalming the dead where they lay. It solved a problem at the time, but what I hate now is the funeral industry suggesting that this process is necessary (it isn’t, you don’t change a whole lot in the few days between death and viewing) or that its mandatory. (It’s not! We have choices!)
What the industry really wants is grieving families to take funeral expenses at face value and pay for procedures they don’t need. That’s how an industry makes a profit. But insidiously, this is also how we reinforce a societal terror of aging, of illness and of death. We have a multi-billion dollar makeup industry marketing eye creams to teenagers. We value youth above all else, but even then only is the very specific white, slim and “has no gross bodily functions” beauty of any worth.
Besides, have you ever been to a funeral with an embalmed corpse and thought, “Oh yes, he looks very natural. Just the right shade of pink lipstick for 90-year-old Mr. Albert’s oddly waxy skin, like the county fair’s finest rutabaga.”
Maybe its Maybelline, or maybe its a cultural rejection of death that serves only to instill more fear.
When people don’t think about and engage with death, it’s hard to accept. It’s all around us. Coffins hitch rides in airplane baggage carry while people ride above them. If you’re in the UK, it’s likely that underneath your public park is a mass grave of black plague victims.
Thousands upon thousands of people die every day seemingly unnoticed (6,316 each hour). As a society we don’t like to talk about it. But how many of us grew up with a crippling fear of death and dying? I know I sure did. Educating yourself about what scares you is the only way to understand it… and to ensure that you or your family won’t be taken advantage of by industries that profit off of fear.
In lieu of a tombstone, donate my organs for transplant and donate my body to research. Otherwise, choose the cheapest option which (if you’re in the market) is direct cremation, sans embalming.
2. What are you interested in that most people aren’t?
Death practices and rituals. I’ve written three separate 20 page papers in college about death practices across different cultures and the very real problem about what to do with all these dead bodies. Think about it. 107 billion is the estimated number of all the people (human people–not including snakes and rabbits and armadillos and bluebirds) that have ever lived. About 7 billion are alive right now. Where do the corpses… go?
Honestly, I could talk about this for hours.
3. What weird food combination do you really enjoy?
I love sliced dill pickles and strawberries mixed together in the same bowl until the strawberries absorb all the pickle juice. On paper I understand that sounds absolutely revolting. But I like the combination of salty and sweet and tangy.
4. Most painful place to be pierced?
Everyone experiences pain differently. My most painful piercing (as an overall experience) was my navel the first time I had it done. I think it hurt so badly because I was new to body modification and hadn’t had anything wilder than an earlobe pierced before. Any thick pieces of skin, especially nipples are pretty universally a painful experience. However, when you’re getting a piercing you shouldn’t let pain be the thing that deters you. Ultimately it only hurts for a second.
5. What word do you always misspell?
Garentee. Guarente. Gaurente. Guarentee. See, I know “guarantee” is right but it still looks wrong.
6. What’s the best thing?
The color indigo.
7. Besides bees, what’s okay in small numbers but terrifying in large numbers?
Small children, aggressive cars in traffic, unexpected expenses, calories and obligatory holiday parties.