With a perfect balance of darkness, silliness and threat, we have Elisabeth Ingram Wallace’s Our Black Comedy.
The piece has a kind of roving-eye view of a long relationship, dipping in and out of small, tender moments of memory to build into a larger image and a shared framework of understanding.
You can read all of it over on SmokeLong.
There’s a fight to domesticate darkness:
“I hold your hand under the high crime lights. The CCTV cameras are all smashed and we decide to buy an ugly dog.”
Here of the way that the undercutting comic language brings a safety to dark thoughts, ideas, moods. Or here, the safety in possessing:
“Rupert is your ghost. The ghost of a boy murdered by Catholic school priests.”
It’s your ghost (but naturally, not the one you’ll leave behind). Another pet, like the ugly dog. Something to care for, even if he slithers through the walls to play a game referred to as “stab-stab”.
That domestication through possession extends to the speaker too however — entangling with the concept of female power being monstrous. The caterpillars fall from trees at the sight of a woman menstruating, he falls into depression/mania when she directly approaches his mental health issues. Perseus was a slayer of monsters, she is meant to slay his monsters usefully, not draw them out.
Her answer is to do what she does to the dark things in the house. She domesticates herself by becoming an object, animal, other — a monstrous elephant foot and a soft-bellied shell-fish. To provide a kind of distancing through the darkness of comedy, the green-screen horror in making the darkness of a place easier to contend with by making it fun, a play.
There is an idea somewhere in this that the mutable aspects of the speaker is what makes them more mentally healthy, more resilient. The fact they can make fiction of the darkness around them, make comedy from it, is what allow them to exist fully — whereas the speaker’s counterpart is only able to be haunted externally.
You can find more of Elisabeth on her website.
(I reached out to Elisabeth to find out what kind of dog it was. I imagined a kind of lop-sided pug, or French bulldog. Apparently it’s quite possibly a Staffie, but she would prefer you to insert a dog of your own choice. Answers by reply to this email please.)
This week I have also had the pleasure of reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. This is a book by the second best thing on Youtube — Ask A Mortician.
(NOTE: number one is videos of impossibly skilled people making sushi and sashimi)
While the videos are delivered in a bouncy sort of way that allows an open and honest interrogation of death, the book gives us deeper dives into the day-to-day of the death business. It’s got a similar speed that skims across ideas, occasionally diving down into individual concepts (cannibalism, embalming, witchcraft) and Caitlin’s experience — including the fear of death that was triggered from watching a child fall from the second story balcony in a mall.
I would like to show you a snippet of it, but because the whole thing relies on her style of long-punting the point of a story (starting a chapter with how to create your porn start name to then simply use it as a device to talk about her first experience of death in childhood, talking about ritual in witchcraft involving babies to then talk about that aspect for a crematorium worker’s job) would be showing you something shocking and upsetting. It is in this wonderful weaving on context that you manage to pull the life out of a book about death.
I have always thought that I was very open about death, but the book provides even further opportunity to interrogate your own feelings about the dead, death and dying. One side effect is the sudden realisation that it might be quite fun to plan your own funeral.
You can pick up the book here.
To continue the theme a little further, I would like to recommend everyone check out the Caring Into The Void podcast.
Each week they pick a story of strangeness and then find some way to provide a self-care message from it. It’s a self-care podcast, but metal. This week for example, in relation to a project where one twin was sent into space for a long time and began firing “space genes” because of the extra stresses his body was put under — the message is to embrace adventure if it is likely to change you, especially if you’re likely to grow wings.
Additionally, their sign off is something like:
“keep your hearts pure and dark, and your teeth innumerable and sharp”
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own which has been ritually dumped onto the crematorium conveyor belt by @CJEggett, and proofread by no one. Please send flowers. We obviously need a millionaire matchmaker for this sort of thing. Hannah is in a book, I might have sent you here before, but if you didn’t buy it then I suppose you need to go again? It’s likely that I will have worked through all the philosophy and ethics I was supplied by my brother next week, so expect a subject line like “the only way is ethics”. Sorry. More burial ideas. The most embarrassing thing you did for love? Satre said “there is no love apart from the deeds of love” and I am going to start saying it too.