Miss Pelican's Perch

Looking at my World from a Different Place


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A Halloween Post

For the last few years, I have tried to do something interesting in line with the Halloween season. I have gone to local Halloween costume parties and street fairs and to Day of the Dead celebrations.  This year I went to a lecture on Victorian mourning practices at the Banning House.    I thought I might be a little weird to spend a morning listening to something so morbid.   If  I’m weird, then so were about 65 other people.    I won’t go into everything presented.  There is plenty enough on this topic if you want to Google it.   But I thought I would share a few things that stood out.

First, I learned that the strict mourning practices had more to do with conforming to the expectations of society than it did to caring for one’s personal emotional state after a loved one’s death.   If one did not precisely follow the mourning practices, one could be completely ostracized by the community for not showing proper respect to the deceased.  This was serious stuff back then.  Do you remember the scene in the film Gone with the Wind when Scarlett goes to a ball while in the deep mourning?  That would not have happened in real life.

Another thing I learned is that women bore the brunt of the mourning practices.  Widows had to mourn their husbands for two and a half years consisting of three stages:  deep mourning where she was clothed and veiled in total black and confined to home for a year and a day,  then full mourning for another year where she still wore black but did not have to be veiled, and finally a six month half-mourning period where she could wear gray, lavender or mauve.    Men, on the other hand only had to mourn their dead wives for three months.   They just had to wear a black arm or hat band.   They were encouraged to go back to work and marry again as soon as possible.   And they were not to publicly show any emotions over the death of their spouses.

I learned that the “smell of death” didn’t mean the smell of decay, but rather the smell of the boiling dye pots where mourners with less means could dye their clothing black.

I learned all about the various types of materials out of which black mourning jewelry was made.  Do you know what bog oak is?  I didn’t.

I learned that jet is fossilized wood and not stone and that English jet is the real deal while French jet was just black glass.

I had thought plastic was first invented in the Twentieth Century.  Not so.  Mourning jewelry and black picture frames were often made of Vulcanite, an early form of plastic made from India Rubber and sulphur in the Nineteenth Century.

I had never heard of lachrymatory  bottles (click HERE to see pictures of lachrymatories).  These were small bottles used to catch the tears of a mourner.  One way to get around the long mourning period was for the mourner to fill the bottle with her tears and when the liquid evaporated, she could stop mourning.  I wonder how many impatient widows dumped the contents out as a way to help the process along.

I already knew about postmortem photography, but it is still shocking to me to see these images.  This is just plain morbid.

The Victorians were a superstitious lot.  A woman’s mourning veil was not simply to hide her grief but it was believed that the veil kept the spirit of the deceased connected to her and unable latch on to another person.   Mirrors were covered with black crepe and pictures of the deceased were turned around because there was a fear that the deceased spirit would get caught in those items.  And let me tell you when you take a Victorian house which is pretty dark and heavy to begin with and cover every mirror with black crepe and draw all the curtains, it is absolutely oppressive.  Sorry, no photos were allowed in the house so you will have to take my word on that.

Finally, the thing that stood out the most to me — and I should not be surprised about this — is that the practices of mourning were also big business.   For example, if you bought a set of mourning clothes, it was “bad luck” to wear them for mourning another person.  If another close person died, you had to go out and buy another set of black clothes for yourself, your immediate family, and your servants.   Dress-makers were making money hand-over-fist, not to mention jewellers, printers, photographers and all others with mourning-related products and services to sell.

Spirit photographers were very in vogue.   In the days before Photoshop, some very talented photographers were able to flim-flam a lot of dough out of grieving people.  Here is the famous one of Mary Todd Lincoln being “visited” by her husband.

Psychic mediums were so much in demand by mourners to reach out to their loved ones that these mediums became well respected and legitimate professionals in the community.

These mourning practices started coming to an end after the death of Queen Victoria and were fairly gone by the end of the First World War.  Critics blasted this obsession with death and the resulting crass commercialization of the practices.   It was a morbid and unhealthy preoccupation.  I can’t say that I disagree.

What I found most interesting is the total reversal of our attitudes toward death.  In the Victorian era, society was obsessed with death and afraid of sex.  Today, our society obsessed with sex and afraid of death.

Go figure.

Happy Halloween, folks.

ljgloyd (c) 2012

I took the image of the house.  The other photos were from  Wikipedia.  I couldn’t find any free use images of lachrymatories; hence, the link.

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A Conversation: A Writing Exercise

A friend sent me a book a few years ago which I put on my shelf and promptly forgot about.    The book is called Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett.    I rediscovered it this week and started flipping through it.  I came upon a writing exercise that intrigued me.    Briefly, it is to pretend you are giving advice to an imaginary writer-friend who is feeling bad about her writing and herself and to write about this for 15 minutes.    I chose to put this in dialogue form.  Here is what came from my 15 minutes:

My imaginary friend Beatrice has stopped by my table at the local coffee house.  She is downcast.

Me:  Hey!  What’s up with you?

Bea:  Nothing.

Yeah right.

(Bea sighs)  Well, I haven’t done any writing today.

So?  Write something tomorrow.

That’s just it.  I know I won’t tomorrow either.

You don’t want to be a writer anymore?

Well…..

Well?

Maybe writing’s not for me.  I can’t see myself going anywhere with it.  I start out with some kind of “program” to break through the blocks, I get all excited, then I go along for a week or so and then drop it all again.

Have you ever tried to figure out why?

I’m afraid to.  I’m afraid I’ll find out the reason.

Like what?

Like my writing sucks.

Oh c’mon!  Your writing does not suck. 

Thanks.  But you’ve just seen a few short stories.

Yeah and they are excellent.

But I can’t sustain any movement in longer pieces, and I keep writing my plots into corners I can’t get out of.

Then don’t.  Just sit down and start writing… anything.  Just keep writing and see where it goes.  If short stories are all that come, then that’s fantastic.  You’ll be a master short story writer. 

But then there are the characters and situations.

What about them?

Every character and every situation I write is really, well, about me.

Great!  You’re an interesting person.

No, I’m not really.  I’m afraid my readers — that is if I ever had any — and stop rolling your eyes — I’m afraid any readers I have will see too much into me, and that scares the crap out of me.

You are working on the assumption that you cannot step outside of yourself and into another world.  That’s what imagination is all about.  Imagining people who are not you.     Don’t just reach in and down.  Reach out and up.  You have an infinite imagination and an unlimited realm of possibilities to resource.  Not to be mean, but, sweetie, it’s really NOT all about you.

Gee, thanks.  Now I’m a narcissist on top of everything else. 

No, you are not a narcissist.  But you do care way too much about what others think.  Stop it!

You’re right, you’re right.

Don’t just say it.  Do it.  Sit down tomorrow and write about something alien to your world and your life. 

I guess I could do that.

Atta girl!  Now, let me buy you a cup. 

ljgloyd (c) 2012


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Being Wildly Succulent

I haven’t been writing much these days for a whole lot of reasons.  However, earlier this week I was compelled to pull off my shelf Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper by SARK.   (My colleagues from the Soul Food Cafe and Hestia’s Hearth may recall that this book has several pages highlighting the work of Heather Blakey. )  Thumbing through the book led me to SARK’s website, which led me to YouTube where I found a Tedx Talk by SARK.   How fun!

She tells some wonderful stories in this brief talk as well as provides some sound advice on self-care, especially for we Creatives.    I have been inspired to be wildly succulent this weekend: