Similar to my recurring ‘Death in the Movies’ feature, I feel it only appropriate to come up with a snappy title for a recurring feature on themes of death and dying in the written word!
A few weeks ago, I was approached by a reader of this blog to contribute a piece to a grassroots magazine devoted to the local art scene. This was a fantasy scenario come to life. In all of my idyllic moments in studying the past masters and beacons of culture, I’ve daydreamed of being the very same sort of Romantic iconoclast. It was actually the hinging principle of why I took two gap years from being a student to go into teaching. Really.
I sat down with my tutor, who was also the director of my programme at the time, in the pop-up summer office in one of the historic dorms at Lincoln College, Oxford. (We didn’t meet in her Hertford College office because it was up stairs, and there are very few lifts that can actually support humans in these historic buildings.) I was spread thin between my graduating thesis, the volunteer committee for the conference, my papers for her course as well as my ongoing mental health crisis, gender crisis and onsetting physical health crisis. In three years of MA study in English, I went from being a bright-eyed, spry and eager person to a disheveled Sisyphus. I did it all, but I wanted to do more.
I had been tracked for my doctorate, and for the longest time that seemed like the correct path to pursue. But when my tutor/director asked me what I hoped to accomplish in my doctorate, she gently advised that it might not be the environment that would foster the kind of creative, philosophical growth I hoped to share with my colleagues. I confessed that my ideal scenario would be to have a patron, or several patrons, who would lavishly reward my independence and occasionally solicit specific research: a relationship that very much is unique to the ages of the old masters.
But when the Artborne editor approached me via email (hello, faithful reader), I felt transported back to that room in Oxford.
My vision is still very similar to what it was then, but my purpose has changed: for the better. My focus on death and dying is less academically regulated, more humanly and humanely oriented. Although I am back in school, and although I am pushing myself for an even more intensive and hands-on academic experience, I feel more connected to what I’m doing and where I am than ever before. And I feel, for the first time, like that I’m being seen in my surroundings as though I belong where I am.
That’s why I’m so happy to report that my first piece (and not my last) for Artborne is the grounding and humbling “For Locals Only: Snapshot of Central Florida Gothic“.
Sarah of Unquiet Things flattered me the most when she said “You’ve captured so well the strange allure of this ridiculous state that we live in,” but another acquaintance was more coarse, stating, “You basically hit the nail on the head in terms of describing how grim the rest of this cesspool is. Bravo.” Both are correct. Central Florida is as grim as it is alluring, and it is so alluring because it is so grim, and it is so grim because of why people are so drawn here.
To be able to write about the place where I’ve spent the majority of the past 10 years of my life (and certainly the most formative years of my adult life) in this manner was tricky. How can I be frank about what the very things that motivate me and inspire me about Central Florida without also being bitter and resentful? How can I balance being candid with being composed? How to I maintain a stiff upper lip without losing my humanity? These were my biggest challenges as an academic, but these balances mean so much more when real, current lives are at stake, not just lives bygone past.
My editor friend was keen to urge that this treatment of the macabre was a necessity for the magazine’s overall personality. I’m inclined to agree, not only for my own sense of self-congratulatory fulfillment, but for the fact that it is entirely in-line with my entire philosophy behind my life’s strange path.
I look forward to writing more for Artborne, so do keep an eye out for more from me, and do consider picking up a paper copy if you are local!