The above image is a fairly nondescript detail of a mortician-inspired/influenced coat I'm working on. Ultimately, it is a self-portrait, and a self-exploration. I'm at this point in my life where I'm almost done one part, and ready to move onto the next. This next while of art school is probably going to be entirely about that, especially since I'm mentally and emotionally preparing myself for attempting to go into embalming. That is what this coat is about. It's a combination of stereotypical doctor's lab coats, with a heavy 19th century influence. It's also structured like a comfortable, loose-fitting cardigan. Believe it or not, there is a reason for that. That's just what happens when you feel most calm and most at home around the deceased.
At the moment, I'm embroidering all these different things into the wool cloth (before I make the lining and sew it all together. I really need to jump into gear). Down the spine and the front (the centre, I guess, in a way), will be all of these different experiences, cultures, ideas, and so on, that have shaped my mind to believe that it is important, and that embalming is something I want to do. I won't thoroughly explain everything, but so far (it is a work in progress- I'm taking a break from stitching black-on-black), there are the words and names:
Mildred + Jacob, Chinchorro, Egyptian.
There is a lot more to be added. I never realized it until embroidering it, just how many things truly have moulded and shaped me to be this person. It's bizarre. Books I've read, being taken on a tour of a funeral home when I was 11 or 12, cemeteries I've visited, cultures I've studied.
I don't know what it says about me that it puts me into my element. It's not a morbid fascination or an obsession with death, but rather a frame of mind that puts everything into absolute clarity. Every day that I am on my usual bus, the route goes back a funeral home. That momentary stop allows me to think. On days when there is a family dressed in black, walking solemnly towards the doors, I mourn for them, but I feel blessed to be alive, and know that everyone I love is alive. Above all, I hope that the dead are in a better place, or at least a place where they are happy. Regardless, the body returns to the earth, and it continues yet another cycle of life that will eventually affect another person.
I'm kind of rambling, and I'm not even sure what I'm really talking about. At this moment, I feel both shaken and at ease. I mostly feel shaken because I'm still coming to terms with how people react when the subject comes up that I want to be an embalmer. I don't want to remind people of their own mortality or have sad memories be drudged up... but it is important to me. Death happens... but at least we can pay respect and give proper dignity to those who have passed on. It's like a parting gift to that person who is no longer there. It is a true sign of humanity. My thoughts, at least...
I feel at ease because I realized a few things. I was listening to Corb Lund (Alberta country singer-songwriter who is one of my musical heroes. I was pushed to listen to him today when I learned that he curated an exhibit for the Glenbow Museum... I'll be going to that on Saturday. I can't wait! ...I digress.), and suddenly I was in my element. I was thinking about the Old West, and how every time I am reminded of it, I feel like my soul is where it should be. I think when I went to Bannack in the summer, my heart stayed there, wandering the empty rooms. Maybe in a past life I was in the Old West, and that's where I still am. Maybe in that past life, I was a mortician and embalmer, out in the wilds of the West. I don't know whether or not I believe in past lives, but there must be a reason why listening to truly Western music about cavalries and horse soldiers while thinking about a life as an embalmer makes me feel so at home.