Welcome to another in our series of interviews with the organizers behind Death Salon. Each subject was interviewed by a fellow organizer or event coordinator. Here you will learn more about each participant’s contributions to the Salon, their own fascinating body of work and more about Death Salon itself.
It seems there has been somewhat of a “Death Acceptance” movement developing and gaining momentum this past year. Is this something you have observed and how have things changed since you founded The Order of the Good Death in 2011?
There is absolutely a Death Acceptance movement a’foot. When the Order of the Good Death started three years ago I was far more hesitant to use words like “movement” because it sounded kind of silly insisting “it’s a movement! trust me! c’mon guys! movement!” Like, really, you and what army, Caitlin? But as I’ve connected with other people across the world who want to be involved, and have seen an explosion of groups and projects related to death acceptance and engagement, I feel more comfortable saying that it is, in fact, a cultural movement. A cultural movement that hasn’t even begun to show its true potential, I might add.
Along these lines, you seem to be popping up everywhere lately! Gracing everything from morning talk shows to Penthouse to Jezebel. Does this surprise you? What has it been like for you, being in such high demand to discuss a topic many find uncomfortable and to such varied audiences?
When I started the Order, I never intended to put myself forward as a public figure. The internet/media world seemed like too scary a place for that. But I realized pretty quickly that people like other people. They like someone to deliver the message. It’s obviously been surprising how well people have responded to talk about death, but at the same time, our culture is so ready for it. People do find it uncomfortable, but hopefully they can tell that I am sincere, and really do believe that we are better humans when we’re engaged with a sense of our impending mortality.
You have been busy curating a day of talks and presentations for Death Salon. First, for The Order of the Good Death Day, which will in part, focus on the theme of Death and the Feminine, as well as the Death Salon Cabaret, examining The Uncommon Corpse. Could you talk a bit about your experience creating these events and your choice of themes?
The best part about curating part of an academic death conference is that I was able to ask experts in their field to speak about things I’m fascinated by. It’s such a selfish thing, really! It’s like getting all your best dolls together for a tea party. There is everyone from professors, to academics outside the establishment, to funeral professionals, to dominatrixes speaking. In my opinion the inter-disciplinary approach to these conversations ends up being the most interesting. Death & the Feminine was selected as a panel because of the disproportionate amount of women who work in the death academic field. What better time to explore it then when many of us are in the same room? My personal research tends towards the place of the corpse in societies throughout history, so the Uncommon Corpse was curated to reflect the corpses that were not the norm, but the exception that proved the rule in a particular society.
Recently, you mentioned an upcoming project you are creating in collaboration with Jeff Jorgenson, creator of Elemental Cremation & Burial and Death Salon Cabaret presenter. Could you give us a sneak preview here of what you two deathxperts have in store for us?
Yes! I just returned from Seattle where Jeff & I were filming a webseries called “Is It Legal?” which addresses the questions we’re asked as alternative death practitioners. For example: “Why can’t I just bury dad in the backyard?” We drove all over Washington meeting people doing great work around burial, cremation, and memorialization. Washington, and Seattle specifically, is such a hotbed for people working in new ways of death practice.
Which aspect of Death Salon are you most looking forward to?
What am I NOT looking forward to? Definitely seeing so many old friends and finally meeting people I’ve known only through the interweb tubes. All of whom are people who’s work inspires me in the work I’m doing. I think there is going to be quite a bit learned through the talks and panels, but I think there will be even more learned through the conversations we have during our three days together. In that sense it will be a traditional salon- an exchange of ideas.
For those Death Salon attendees who are not able to attend all the events and want to explore Los Angeles, could you suggest some deathstinations that might be of interest?
As far as museums, The Museum of Jurassic Technology and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles are my favorite. There is also the Museum of Death in Hollywood (which seems like the natural choice). I do warn people though, it’s a bit more on the serial killer and cult murder side, a little less on the death history and culture side. Hollywood Forever Cemetery is the best cemetery visit in LA proper. Celebrity graves, Hollywood history, architecture, and excellent burritos just down the road.
With body photo by Darren Blackburn
Sarah Elizabeth Troop has a degree in physics and has studied at The Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center (CSI). She serves as the historian for Linda Vista Hospital and is host of the Cabinet of Curiosities Podcast. Sarah is currently a parapsychology researcher, specializing in survival consciousness and experiences where psi and death are linked and is blogger for Nourishing Death.