BOOK REVIEW: Barbara Ehrenreich is old enough to die, but still has plenty to say

In Gulliver’s Travels, the titular character visits many strange, foreign lands in the service of satirist Jonathan Swift’s desire to poke fun at the flaws of the culture of his time and to talk regularly about human excretions.

Adaptations, especially those aimed at children, tend to only reproduce the book’s evocative imagery of being a giant among the tiny Lilliputians and being doll-sized among the towering Brobdingnagians. They leave out the scenes of defecating enough to fill a miniature church or being forced to watch colossal serving girls urinate. Laputa, the floating island of scientific wonder, sometimes appears in other contexts such as Japanese animated film, but without the associations of trying to turn digested food back into something edible. The humanoid primitives, Yahoos, survived into common parlance better than the rational, equine Houyhnhnms, but without the association of feces-flinging.

One brief, excreta-free section from Gulliver’s Travels is not among those often reproduced whatsoever: Gulliver meeting the immortal struldbrug. These are a special breed of human who are able to live essentially forever but without eternal youth. Their teeth fall out, their eyesight and hearing fail, their memories dull, they aren’t allowed autonomy or property ownership, and eventually can’t communicate even with each other because their dialects grow indistinguishable. The people of the land of Luggnagg are thankful for death because they’re constantly reminded of what the real alternative is.

I’m not the first to point out the similarity of modern medicine in creating cursed immortality as a reality for us, but our appreciation for the inevitability and even relief of death continues to lag behind for most.

Barbara Ehrenreich is definitely not counted among such people, and her latest book Natural Causes is a short, solid piece of prose about what it means to suffer from age, accepting the reality of death, and the sorts of things a person ought to consider when weighing both.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Barbara Ehrenreich is old enough to die, but still has plenty to say”

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My grandmother was much more ready for her funeral than the rest of us

In September 2016, my extended family got together to celebrate my grandfather’s and first-cousin-once-removed’s 90th and 80th birthdays respectively. We didn’t all get together again until June 2017 with my grandmother’s passing. 

As my father said after the gravesite ceremony, ‘You know, I think we had a lot more fun at the birthdays.’ But we had a lot of fun at the funeral, too, just with more crying and sobs mixed in. This was my euology at the service.


Thank you all for coming here today. It means a lot to see all of you here and know that Betty impacted your lives, as well.

I’m going to try to not go on and on or get choked up too much. My Mama had only so much patience for long-winded speakers, and she was about the least sentimental person when it came to the idea of her funeral.

Some of you probably remember her joke about going grocery shopping. ‘At my age, I don’t even buy green bananas anymore.’ And she thought it was very funny! But it was harder for me to find it funny.
Continue reading “My grandmother was much more ready for her funeral than the rest of us”

The corrective to hagiography is not reductionism

The other day, I convinced some of my friends to watch one of my favorite movies.

‘We’re going to watch The Prestige in honor of David Bowie. You want to join us?’

‘Did you know he was a racist and a pedophile?’ they replied.

That was an interaction that actually took place in real life, but an approximation of it has been filling my social media feed over the past few days.

Continue reading “The corrective to hagiography is not reductionism”

How often are prison guards killed transporting prisoners?

Eight prisoners and two correctional officers died in an accident near my hometown last week when their bus went off the side of an overpass, onto a moving train. It made national news, and my former coworkers did a great job all day letting people know what was going on as information came out, and putting it all into context by day’s end.

When hearing about a fatal train/prison bus collision, many people made the obvious connection, because that’s how we expect things to work, but the culprit seems to be icy conditions and very bad luck.

I can’t explain why the eight prisoner deaths seem so much more tragic than the two guards. Continue reading “How often are prison guards killed transporting prisoners?”