My friend Rachael Hanel wants to start a green cemetery but she’s not sure how. Here she is in a regular one.
“Green cemetery” meaning ”…as natural as possible in all respects. Interment of the bodies is done in a bio-degradable casket, shroud, or a favorite blanket. No embalming fluid, no concrete vaults.” (Courtesy of greenburials.org, a good starting point for the biodegradable-curious.)
Rachael gets the mechanics of it, but she’s like, what about the politics? How do you convince a community to zone for this and fund it when most believe embalming is more respectful, more beautiful?
My answer to that is a) sex and b) my hair. Politics follow pleasure and vanity, so the key to making natural burial politically and socially desirable is sexing up the notion of decay. Los Angeles mortician Caitlin Doughty gets at this in her essay on natural burial. In it, she says:
If we work towards accepting, not denying, our decomposition, we can begin to see it as something beautiful. More than beautiful— ecstatic. The ecstasy of decay begins as disgust and revulsion, the way we feel when we imagine ourself as a corpse. But disgust and revulsion turn to pleasure as we use that feeling to realize we are alive now. We will someday be dead, but today blood pumps through our veins and breath fills our lungs and we walk the earth.
I’ll do us the favor of translating that into women’s magazine language and say that hey, ladies, if we all anticipated decay the way we once longed for hips and first periods, we would feel really good about grays. We would feel excited and great. We’d be, like, did you get yours? I got mine. My mom said to hide it but I’m not.
Because gray hair and all the other stuff happening right now, to me and my friends, means things are unfolding as they should, that we’ve made it this far, we’re about to get the rights and privileges entitled to a woman of this age and stature. I’m not sure what those are but I also wasn’t sure at thirteen at some hotel pool in Wisconsin, when I was leaving the pool area in a green one-piece that had a single shoulder strap, just one, I don’t know why my mom let me buy it but thank you, and I turned around and this one kid and his friend were still looking. And I was like, ok, I don’t know what this is but it’s something.
I would very much like to do my part to elevate decay to that same place. My friend Claudia Danielson has been onto this for a while. Here’s a shot from her series titled “botanical benediction.”
This is a hotly inevitable flower. Delicate and yet far more sure than you are, right now, of anything. Does not care what you think. Does not care if you’re looking. Pink whether it’s the pink you expected, or not.
And here’s me on a day I showed up at Claudia’s studio in a sad state, really distraught, about what I don’t remember but it was bad. The kind of ache that makes decay sound a little like a vacation. I went on and on about it, and Claudia was like, hey, before you start feeling better, can we shoot this?
I like how the eyeliner is really pretty worthless up against the pores and split ends. I think my chicken pox scar has never looked better. And I like to think that by growing out my gray and making some art with it, I’m advancing Claudia’s work and Caitlin’s mission and Rachael’s vision, and possibly saving the world from so much matchy-matchy casket + collagen + embalming fluid + L’Oreal box color. You guys. Stray gray hairs are the new green strappy one-piece. I’ll be over at the naturally decomposing hotel pool. Feel very free to join me.