Sunday, April 28, 2024

Web Log for 4.26-27.24

One rant (yes, it contains a link) and lots of links:


Several clear photos of herons, egrets, and geese:

Celebrity Gossip

How accurate is this and how long will it last? I hope it's true for a good long time. It reminds me of a story my brother wrote at age twelve...there were G-men, and there were B-men (he was identifying with his older friend who became the neighborhood beekeeper). The difference is that the world needs more B-men. Anyway, political pronouncements apart, I've liked Morgan Freeman since "The Electric Company."

Etiquette, Differences in

Of late the Kingsport Times-News has been indulging people in long personal essays in the places where obituaries are supposed to be.

I don't think that's the right place. For one thing the memoirs that really do justice to our memories of those who have gone before us take longer to write than an obituary notice demands. For another thing obituaries are official historical documents, not opportunities for various relatives to chip in THEIR bids to publish THEIR memories THEIR way, etc. etc. The personal stories, I think, belong in family scrapbooks, blogs, personal journals. Some of them fit into newspapers or magazines. Perhaps some day they can be collected into books. But an obituary notice, as a legal document, should state when and where someone was born, when and where the person died, the names of the person's immediate family, and maybe some reference to a public career as also being a matter of public record--whether the deceased John Doe was the same John Doe who used to edit the newspaper, say. 

So, a few years back, a relative of mine did what people in their nineties so often do, and some person, probably a great-grandchild, wrote one of those long personal essays that seem so likely to embarrass the other people named. Well, the man had had a long and interesting life, but telling the story in the obituary seems, I don't know, like calling attention to how much less of a life most people have had. 

I think that's the crux of the matter. Everyone dies. People who've had long adventurous lives or short miserable ones all fit into the same coffins. The obituary page in a newspaper is the last place where we need to see boasts, "My grandfather was rich and famous," "My grandfather was neither rich nor famous but he knew how to live well, for a good long time," and miserable confessions, "My grandfather was a shabby excuse for a man who had no friends, whom my grandmother left after three weeks of marriage, who died "old" at an early age." Now that they're gone, it seems enough for the world to know at what age they died and whether they were closely related to any acquaintances of ours. 

When the deceased is somebody like the non-contributing members this web site has lost, everyone wants to share their recollections. This is normally done in conversations with one another. No personal essay can tell the story that comes out off all the conversations all the mourners are going to have for the next year or two. "This is the way I remember Grandma Bonnie Peters best..." She made the effort to learn a new language at age sixty. She supplied stores with frozen foods and restaurants with fresh-cooked soup. She was the pioneer of school choice in Virginia. She was a La Leche Leader. The only time she adopted a dog, she deliberately chose one that had been badly injured, and kept it alive for a year, trying to help it get well. (She once adopted some kittens from me, in order to demonstrate the benefits of adding pumpkinseed meal to their tinned Friskies treats. She didn't keep them long.) She had a screen name--how many people born in the 1930s had screen names? She led the soprano sections in two church choirs. If she was the sort of person who says "Let's have a blog!" and never sits down and finishes a single blog post on her shiny new computer, she had better excuses than most of that sort of people have. There may literally be no end to the stories people who loved her can tell about GBP, and it's proper that those people share their stories with one another, while all the newspapers had to report were the dates and the names. Why make other grandmothers look inadequate?

I had a grandmother who was inadequate, in every way, if you set down the story of her life next to the story of Grandma Bonnie's life, or of my other grandmother's for that matter. There was Texas Ruby, and then there was Dad's mother, who didn't live as long or do anything particularly interesting while living. She was not a good cook, but Mother was the one who tried to use the rancid nutritional yeast and concocted a dish so awful the chickens rejected it. She was not a favorite with her in-laws, but someone else was the in-law after whom someone named an animal with the intention of killing it. Visits to her house were not the highlights of a day in town for my brother and me, but they were preferable to school. She developed a boring sort of disease in her last years, atherosclerosis; it made her conversation boring, full of complaints, unrelieved even by comments on the news (reading made her head ache). She meant well. She was just another old woman whose only way to stand out in a crowd was to wear then-fashionable polyester pantsuits in colors that made other people's heads ache. Funnily enough, because she was the youngest grandparent I had and survived several years after the others were gone, she was the grandparent I knew best. I loved her. I felt loyal and protective about her--enough that, to this day, I still feel that the newspapers did not need to report how much "less than" she and her life had been. She was my Grandma, anyway. We are not all meant to be legends in our own time. 

So this cousin, not one of the achievers in the family, neither rich nor famous, was just...memorable, to a lot of people, in a lot of ways. An interesting person to know. A mind awake. Reading a story full of tidbits about his interestingness relieved the newspaper editor's feeling that the obituary page was depressing. (And stories like that one are good to include in souvenir books, biographies, histories...where the focus is not on the common end of all life, but on the contribution one person made to the family's or neighborhood's history...they belonged in Vince Staten's Times-News column, and we still link to them on his web site; they're just a different thing from newspaper obituaries.)

Pull yourselves together, editors. Obituaries are sad. Obituaries need an editor who is not prone to depression, who can check the facts of ten or twenty deaths and move on to think about the lives of the living...

But the editor has spoken, and who sets the rules of etiquette for a newspaper? The editor does. If the editor is prone to emotional reactions to the obituary page, and wants obituaries to be "enlivened," then it becomes proper that...

Well not mine. If I die, you Nephews may add to the dates, places, and names the obituary requires that I was the writer known as Priscilla King. That should be quite enough. The only fodder a newspaper obituary should offer for competitiveness is the lengths of the different lives that ended that week.

But you may write any other obituaries that duty may require you to write, as you choose. It is officially acceptable to put personal memories into obituaries in the Kingsport Times-News, if not in other newspapers where tradition may prevail. It is officially acceptable to attempt to make an obituary "go viral," as taught at 

The Times-News likes obituaries written this way. I will try, henceforward, to suppress the words "mawkish," "vulgar," and "tacky."


It's the news from Iceland (by way of Britain): A woman claiming an English family name, a Siberian personal origin story, and Icelandic citizenship, is running for office as a proxy for a glacier. She says that in Siberian tradition natural objects are thought of as persons, and she hopes that the opportunity to elect a glacier represented by her will draw attention to climate change. But is she talking about the facts of local warming, which can be changed, or the crazy fantasy that global socialism could possibly have a good effect on climate change or on anything else?


Beautiful yellow things:

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