Thursday, April 29, 2010

Parsis Lose Their Vultures.

Friend and senior editor of The Revealer's sister site, Killing the Buddha, Meera Subramanian, has an article in the Wall Street Journal on the crisis faced by Parsis who once relied on vultures to eat their dead. The vultures are becoming extinct.

I enjoy Meera's writing in a way that isn't simply caused by friendship. You can read her article here:

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Call for Entries, Remember That You Will Die!

My friends at Killing the Buddha have teamed up with the Ruben Museum (gotta see the "Remember That You Will Die" show!) and Obit Magazine (must read for death nerds like me) for an essay contest that examines our favorite subject.

Remember That You Will Die

Yes, you will die. But at least you can write about it.

In collaboration with New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art, home to a new exhibition entitledRemember That You Will Die: Death Across Cultures, Killing the Buddha (KtB) and call on writers to stare down death in his gleaming eye, take his skeletal hand, and invite him to dance. Six of the best selections will win their authors a year’s membership to the Rubin, publication in either KtB or, and the chance to read at a special event at the Rubin Museum on Friday, July 30, 2010.

Curated by Karl Debreczeny, Bonnie B. Lee, and Martin Brauen, the exhibition examines popular views of death and the afterlife in both the European Christian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Objects include paintings, sculptures, quotidian objects, and ritual items made from human remains. These provocative works of art are meant to startle viewers out of apathy, urge them to contemplate their mortality, and inspire them to use their short time on earth to secure a desirable place in the afterlife. It also includes a new work by the American artist Bill Viola.

If there is any way in this earthly realm for you to visit the exhibit in New York City, we encourage you to go in the flesh. Lean in close to examine the exquisite detail of the Hell Realms, and take a full five steps—left to right—to absorb the scroll of the Eight Great Charnel Grounds, and scrutinize the curve of a human skull, a flayed skin, the memento mori East and West. From 7 to 10 on Friday evenings, the galleries are free, and the downstairs café is lit up with candles so you can sip wine as you mull the finitude of existence. But let not physical distance prevent you from participating. Death can inspire all. Visit the Rubin online and browsethe exhibition brochure, where you can see images of and read about some of the art on display.

Next, respond in words. Be oblique; we’re not asking for a report or a review. No need to even mention the show or anything in it. Use it as a starting point for an essay on the remembrance of death, whether in the form of memoir, rant, reflection, obituary, profile, political commentary, or even an annotated recipe. Be sure to explore and Killing the Buddha first to get a sense for the kinds of writing the two magazines tend to publish.

Respond to the Rubin show, Remember That You Will Die. Your submission should be:

  • Non-fiction. We want the truth. We can handle it.
  • Between 800 and 2,000 words in length.
  • Sent to in a common text document format with “Rubin Museum Contest” in the subject line.
  • All entries must be received in our inbox by July 1 to be eligible for consideration.

What stories do you have to tell? What narratives do these images inspire? Do tell. Death waits for no one.

Killing the Buddha is a literary magazine about religion for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the “spirituality” section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God. provides comprehensive coverage on how the loss of a person, a place, an object or an idea presents an opportunity for examination and discussion. Obit asks the question, "What defines an important life?". It is a forum for ideas and opinions about life, death, and transition written by some of the most respected journalists in the American media.

The Rubin Museum of Art is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution dedicated to the art of the Himalayas. Its mission is to establish, present, preserve, and document a permanent collection that reflects the vitality, complexity, and historical significance of Himalayan art and to create exhibitions and programs designed to explore connections with other world cultures. RMA is committed to addressing a diverse audience—from connoisseurs and scholars to the general public and young children. Through its collection, exhibitions, and educational programs, RMA will become an international center for the preservation, study, and enjoyment of Himalayan art.

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Sponsor This Cremation Urn.

And from Gawker, one of the stranger news stories. A guy raises money to pay for his cremation so his wife won't go into debt. Really.

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Blogging Your Death.

A post from Jezebel:

Live-Blogging Your DeathIt sounds morbid. But for a lot of people, it makes all kinds of sense.

"Blogs" have been synonymous with "narcissism" for much of their short life. Even given the wide range of informative and well-written and genuinely important weblogs out there, that's still what most people of a certain generation or sensibility think when they hear that word. To them, it's a glorified public diary. But the very things that give blogging a bad rap — that anyone semi-literate can spill his (or, more usually, her) guts and that there's no quality control — is exactly the medium's strength.

Eva Markvoort chronicled her death on a blog, 65 Red Roses. Says CNN,

Markvoort had cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease that causes mucus to accumulate in the lungs. For nearly four years, she narrated an unvarnished blog about life with a terminal disease. Even when it appeared unlikely that she would receive a second double lung transplant, the 25-year-old continued to chronicle life on her blog. The public sharing of one's last thoughts is a way to acknowledge that the end is near, but it also destigmatizes death for others, said medical experts who work with terminally ill patients.

Markvoort wasn't alone in any sense. The blog brought her into contact with a wide group of those suffering from cystic fibrosis and a larger community of supporters, fans and well-wishers. But she's also part of a small genre of people chronicling their illnesses and coming to terms with death, often via websites like Carepages

Markvoort's mother says in the article that she was initially uncomfortable with the idea of making her daughter's suffering so public. And, while it makes sense that someone of the digital generation would feel more comfortable making her life available to strangers, in many ways blogs like Markvoort's are in stark contrast to her own generation's approach to death. For many of us, death has been sanitized and made distant — it remains a far-away drama, a tragedy, but not a part of life. We hear and talk a lot about "making connections," friends and kindred spirits and romantic partners, all over the world. We rarely talk about the fact that to gain people means ultimately to lose them, too (and maybe this tunnel vision is a byproduct of youth). While the internet was quickly recognized as a means of expressing lost — consider the social-networking outpouring after the Virginia Tech shootings, or Neda's death — the web has been part of our coping mechanism, rather than a platform, or a means of sharing the process of death in real time.

That the internet should help create a new comfort with death is both an irony and, ultimately, could be a very good thing for everyone involved. As one writer, quoted in the CNN article, puts it, "They're not just about hope but also about despair. That is, they're telling us not just what we want to hear but also what we need to hear." And consider this: when Markvoort started her blog, she was in medical isolation. Now, thousands of people are tuning in to a live webcast of her memorial. It may seem too easy — and nothing will ever change the fact that this same level of connection has resulted in unprecedented cruelty, crudeness and, yes, narcissism as well — but I've yet to find a better argument for connectivity.

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Ashes and Compassion.

Dignitas, the Swiss assisted suicide organization, should be penalized according to the law if they wrongfully disposed of cremation ashes. If they promised the dying and their loved ones that their ashes would be scattered in the lake, Dignitas should have had the proper permission and methods down.

But a couple of notes: how we treat the dead should be according to how they wish to be treated (and within legal parameters). Not all cultures and people see value in ashes, ashes are not unhealthy or polluting (urns are another issue), and I don't see scattering ashes into the lake to necessarily be disrespectful, as many are claiming as a sign that Dignitas is really just a killing machine without compassion.

Here's Wesley J. Smith's take on the incident, however, posted at The Human Future, the personal site of Jennifer Lahl, national director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (a Medical Right organization) where Smith is a special consultant:

Ah, those compassionate people atDignitas, the Swiss assisted suicide clinic that will make you dead for about $10,000. Allegedly, they dumped the ashes of former “clients” in a lake. From the story:

BOSSES of Swiss suicide firm Dignitas were facing jail today after the discovery of up to 300 urns containing human remains in a lake. British “suicide tourist” ashes are believed to be in some of the caskets found at the bottom of Lake Zurich by police divers. Authorities were first alerted in 2008 when Dignitas staff were caught pouring the ashes of 20 clients into the water.

But “piles” of urns bearing the logo of the company’s cremation service have now been found by chance on the lake bed. Dignitas boss Ludwig Minelli now faces up to three years jail and a £3,000 fine for carrying out unauthorised burials.

So, facilitating the suicides of these people is perfectly fine, but burying them wrongly–that gets Minelli in trouble! The word irony fails to adequately characterize the situation–particularly as the country’sSupreme Court created a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill.

Assisted suicide advocates often claim the mantle of compassion–as Minelli often has. But as with Kevorkian, that is often a mask for indifference and abandonment.

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