Matthew Simmons lives in Seattle.
Matthew Simmons lives in Seattle.
I wonder sometimes about what to do with myself after I die.
Or maybe not myself. I think I mean what to do with body after I die, because maybe myself will be off somewhere else at that point. (Fingers crossed.) But there will still be this BODY just hanging out there, in the place where I was when I died. Someone will stumble upon it, or someone will already be sitting there next to it watching me leave? There will be a body. For a while, too—the body takes a while to go away. So you have to do something with it.
And you get to decide! You get to tell the people around you what to do with your body after you are gone. And they, mostly, do what you ask, I guess. You can even go to a lawyer and get a piece of paper that tells people what to do with your body, and if they don’t do it, they get in trouble. Like, legal trouble. With more lawyers. Lawyers get involved.
It sounds awesome.
There are all sorts of options! I can get put into a box and then that box gets buried under the dirt. And the box just hangs out under there, surrounded by dirt. Seems dull. Seems like a waste of dirt—dirt with which you could do other things. Why waste dirt? Why get buried and surrounded by dirt? In a box that will way too slowly fall apart, while your body way too slowly falls apart, too.
I should mention that in that case, they drain your body of all its liquids and pump a bunch of other liquids into you. Which, why? That seems like a waste of two kinds of liquids: Your liquids, which you used all through your life, and their liquids, which only get a little time to act as your liquids before they throw you into the dirt and they just settle into the bottom of your body until you fall apart and they leak out into the wasted dirt.
My dad died. (I’m sorry if I mention that a lot.) We burned his body. (Well, not “we” as in us, his family. We asked someone else to do it.) His ashes will go in a wall at a church. That’s a way you can deal with a body after the person in the body has left it. You can set it on fire and let it turn to a little, more manageable pile of ashes. It takes up less space, and if you know it’s the body of someone you loved, then it will always feel like the body to you, even if it doesn’t look like the body.
Maybe that’s what I’ll have done to me after I die, but maybe I’ll ask that my family—my wife and my son—NOT just put it in a wall. They could scatter the ashes somewhere nice. It might feel like, in my final moments knowing that my family is going to scatter me around somewhere then maybe I might be able to move around. Travel. See some places. That seems better than being stuck in a wall.
When you are stuck in a wall, other people can visit you, I suppose. My wife and my son. But I’ve read that on average, a grave is only visited twice after it is filled with a body. Give a body a resting place, stop by once, stop by a second time, and let it sit lonely for the rest of forever.
Scatter me in the air, and this is a possibility: my wife and my son can pretend that wherever they are, there I am. I mean, why not? A clump of ash is tossed up into the wind. It breaks apart and follows the eddies of air, maybe up and out and around the whole wide world on jet streams, and there I am, a little pinch of ash anywhere and everywhere you are. You can visit me always wherever. You’ll breathe me in and won’t even know it. We’ll be traveling companions. We’ll never be apart. Maybe I’ll be in all of you. And you’ll never get rid of me.
That seems like a nice fiction. One I can work with, anyway.
You could be dumped in the sea. You can get a permit. I spent some time considering this as an option after I learned about whale fall. “Whale fall” is a beautiful phrase, and often naming something in a beautiful way can convince me to connect myself to a thing. I would also like to fall!
Whales are resource rich, though, and I am not. As I get older, I become more resource rich, but no amount of age-related weight gain will make me truly valuable to the sea. I will never be abundant enough. Not abundant like a whale. I’d be a meager meal to crabs and fish. Hardly worth the gas it takes to sail out to a nice place to dump me.
Also, when I really start to think about being buried at sea, I become nervous about how cold it would be. This is, I am aware, totally irrational. This is an irrational argument against burying myself at sea—this idea that I might be too cold. That down deep in the water, it gets colder and colder and my body will get colder and colder. Blue and chilled from skin to marrow. But I will be dead. I will not feel the cold.
And yet rationality is rarely a part of my calculation when it comes to the way I contend with my own mortality. My death scares me, so I allow myself some irrationality. I allow myself, in this case, to veto a burial option for an irrational reason, and not for the sake of the corpse that I will be, but for the sake of the person contemplating the corpse that I am now. It’s self care.
My friends Stesha says she wants to be a tree. That seems nice. Not for me, I don’t think—I think I would like the option to move. Again, irrational. But again, I allow myself the opportunity to let the living me make decisions the dead me won’t ever care about as I tell myself that the dead me would appreciate the decision the living me has made. This is what we talk about when we talk about our corpses.
Andrew wrote to say that I could feed mushrooms after I die. This seems like a nice idea. The site says that it would clean out all the “toxins” from my body. I’m not sure what that means. I probably have toxins, I guess. I hear a lot of people talk about all the toxins in my body. In their bodies. In all bodies. The modern world fills us with toxins, they say.
I’m betting if there are toxins, my body has its share. I’m pretty sure whatever toxins are, I enjoy having them in my coffee in the morning, or on my pancakes. I likely enjoy dipping my french fries in toxins. I bet toxins make all of those things delicious. Every food company in the world is right now running a lab that makes toxins that hit our tongues and light up all kinds of pleasure receptors in our brains.
Doing something that gets rid of the toxins sounds nice, but also sounds so vague as to mean nothing.
But being a mushroom feels like it would be remarkable. I imagine that a nice benefit to dying and becoming a mushroom is that there are all sorts of people who really enjoy going out and searching for mushrooms, finding mushrooms, identifying mushrooms, picking mushrooms—so all kinds of people would be out searching for me, finding me, identifying me, picking me. Who doesn’t want to be picked? Who among us is not, at our basest, at our more fundamentally psychological level, not just wanting to be picked?
My family could come and visit my body, but also strangers would come and find the mushrooms fed by my body. My resting place could be a place of sadness for the people closest to me, but a place of discovery and joy for the people with whom I have no relationship. I once wrote a whole story about becoming a mushroom. Sounds great. I’d like to be a mushroom.
I received a postcard in the mail last week. I think my wife recycled it, otherwise I could take a picture of it for you.
It said that if I wanted, I could be mellified. It was from a company that offered that service. They have a hospice you can check into. They have a bed for you when you are close to death. A few weeks from the end, you can check in, get a room all to yourself, and wait there to die.
And they will feed you nothing but honey. Your body will expel all the other things you have eaten within 72 hours, and then nothing in the belly, nothing in the intestines, nothing enters or exits except honey.
And then when you die, they seal you in a honey-filled bag. They have a storage space reserved for all their clients. They will note the year and day of your death. In 100 years, they will pull you from storage, cut you to pieces, and then?
You can, and I would, opt to have your remains given to your family. Whoever is left gets a box of you, mellified, turned to candy, edible.
My son’s son’s son? My son’s son’s daughter? Someone?
I might go nicely with a soft cheese. They can enjoy me on a cracker.
People can get together and all consume me at a party. I’ll be a party guest, one last time.
That’s what I want.
We’re on the right side of things, or perhaps the wrong.
We’ve got a lot of great ways in which to be right or wrong, and we’re often able to go ahead and make those ways public to you and then also to yours.
How are yours, by the way? We feel pretty clear about you, but yours remain a mystery to us. We should maybe connect with them a little more.
Maybe a call? Maybe an email? Maybe we could go over to their houses.
Probably not that last one. Probably we shouldn’t go out to the houses of yours because we aren’t really sure if yours have been staying home and staying safe and staying away from all the places that one should stay away from at a time like this.
Hey, it’s a time like this! Have you ever felt like you were in a time like this? Feels to us like the first time there every was a time like this.
Such a time.
Such a time.
Maybe it’s not possible to be on the right side of things in times like this, though? Have you thought about that? Because we very much have not.
Hey, great, though! Great to see you! Let’s get in touch.
Hi. It’s okay. It’s just me.
Matthew. I used to write for this site.
Hey, I’ve given up on writing books in order to spend my free time focusing on table top role-playing games!
(Maybe actually I’ve given up on writing books in order to be a dad, but anyway whatever.)
So, yeah. I have the dice and everything. I have two shelves full of TTRPG books now. It’s a pretty nice-looking couple of shelves. I read interesting indie modules in my spare time and try to think about what makes them work and what makes them not work, sort of like I used to do for short stories and novels. I get together with friends online one night every week and play games with them, now that we are all stuck at home almost all of the time. And sometimes I run games, too.
Like: In February, when people could still gather together in groups, I ran a game of Tales from the Loop for my group.
Tales from the Loop is an RPG inspired by those consciously retro sci-fi paintings by Simon Stålenhag that became popular five or six years ago, which depict an alternate 1980s. In the game, the players are young adults living in those paintings—a world of dimensional rifts, AIs, big cell phones, Huffy bicycles, robots, boom boxes, Trapper Keepers, vehicles that float on massive magnetic drives, and adults who don’t listen to them.
My first roleplaying game was, like most people, Dungeons & Dragons. My parents bought me the Basic and Expert boxed sets when we first moved to Upper Michigan in the mid-’80s. For a while, I didn’t have anyone else to play with—my brother was older than me and not interested, and I didn’t have a lot of friends yet—so the only person who would play with me was my dad. We played once. He was pretty nice about it, but I could tell he wasn’t interested. When we had had family game nights before then, he never participated.
It wasn’t really his thing. But he tried once, anyway, with me, because he knew I was upset that I didn’t have anyone else to play with.
Eventually I found a group of others to play with in high school. And then a couple of folks to play with in college.
And then I stopped for many years, until I was given the opportunity to write a novel for the RPG company Wizards of the Coast.
That got me playing again. And I have been pretty regularly ever since.
In contrast to a lot of the better known tabletop roleplaying games, Tales is very simple, mechanically, involving only a few numbers and pools of six-sided dice thrown to succeed at overcoming obstacles. Like this: A character must convince someone to not beat them up, hop a fence, hack a computer, or escape an inter-dimensional monster. The player grabs a couple of six-sided dice—the number of which is determined by their natural abilities (represented by ability scores), skills (which they can spend points on during character creation), and circumstances. They role, try to get at least one six, and succeed if they do. If they fail, the story gets complicated. The game is less focused on charts and numbers and bonuses and balanced mechanics than the roleplaying games one might already be familiar with. It’s in the family of roleplaying story games, heavier on scene building and collaboration than on crunch and tactics.
None of the kids die in Tales from the Loop. The characters are the protagonists in a story that is told in scenes, everyone at the table collaborating to make a story reminiscent of a movie, so like an ’80s kid sci-fi movie, there is peril and pathos, and kids can be broken, but they don’t get killed. The rulebook is more focused on storycraft than rules, and in places reads more like a book on screenplay writing than on wargaming. Some roleplaying games drill down on rules, looking to end arguments at the table over rules by codifying everything. Tales minimizes rules to minimize disagreements.
In our group, I run Tales from the Loop. I’m the Gamemaster. Instead of playing one of the kids, I write the skeleton of a scenario, create the setting, populate it with characters for the players to interact with, and then set up the win condition. Like: Here’s the place where you live, here’s the problem, here are some people who can maybe either help or hinder you as you try to solve the problem, here’s the countdown clock and the pace at which you should go, and here’s what happens if you do or don’t solve it. And then I walk everyone through the game, play the characters that the players interact with, improvise when they go in an unexpected direction.
It’s nice, during a time when I don’t write much on my own anymore, to have a place to collaborate with others to tell stories.
My dad was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer on December 5, 2018. He had been unwell even before then, with serious mobility issues, spinal stenosis, a tremor that we thought might have been Parkinson’s. He hated doctors and had to see them all them time over the years previous to the cancer diagnosis, and apparently had a worrying blood test in 2016—elevated Prostate-specific antigen levels—that he just didn’t follow up on. And then he slipped when my mother was trying to get him out of bed, and found that one of his legs had stopped working. My mom couldn’t lift him. An ambulance was called. He resisted a trip to the ER, but they took him anyway. They did some X-rays and some bloodwork.
A doctor talked to my mom that night and told her that my dad’s PSA levels were really high. She didn’t know what that meant and the doctor didn’t explain. The next day, a nurse mentioned my dad’s prostate cancer, and that’s when she found out what a PSA level was and why it was bad when it was elevated. Or at 4500, like my dad’s was.
*READ MORE >
A Beehive Is Not a Little City (Made Out of Honey)
Tremendous Ache in My Fingers
Are You Reasonable?
In Your Motor Car (Flash Your Lights at Satellites)
Klimt in the Country
Never Break, Day
Fellas Remind Yr Mothers
Cantankerous Oval Godhead
Euphoric and He Looks Like a Baby
Cheeseburgers in Paradise
At Loggerheads w/Reptilians
Murphy and the Solar Bowler Hat
Center of the Earth (Everybody Dances in the)
This Colossal Waste of Time
Preview of a Great Massacre
O Shit I Missed the Brexit Vote
Fan Theory about the Karma Police Video Involving Edward Snowden
Casual Friday (Hazmat Suit)
Something Something Hamilton I Guess
Fodor’s Guide to Antarctica
Anvil Meets Head
(Pictured is the author at the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa, back when he was younger and thinner.)
Like many of you, I still have friends in Iowa. And like many of you, I miss them very much. I’m only human. Like many of you.
My Iowa friend Eli likes to go to estate sales. He likes to buy old furniture. Most of all, he likes things that are old and made out of wood and have drawers. He often buys the things that are old and made out of wood and have drawers without first opening the drawers to see what is in them. He’s only human. Like many of you.
Recently he bought a bureau. In the bureau he found some notebooks. Eli doesn’t like notebooks.
Or, actually, Eli likes notebooks okay. But Eli likes things that are old and made out of wood and have drawers. And Eli knows that most of all, I like notebooks. And Eli likes me. So Eli sent me some notebooks.
This year, I went on a small, self-financed West Coast book tour. As a tool to market my book, it was not terribly successful. Ah, well.
As a vacation, though, it was wildly successful. There were some things on the West Coast that I had wanted to see, and I got to see them. I saw The Winchester Mystery House. I saw The Esalen Institute. I saw The Madonna Inn. I saw molting seals. I saw The Watts Towers. I saw The Museum of Jurassic Technology. And, best of all, I finally got a chance to see and use Deaver’s Great Chain of Being. READ MORE >
Here’s something to keep in mind if you happen to be in Michigan next February.
On February 17, 1974, at a VFW Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, The Nail Bombs played their only show. They played for 11 and one half minutes. They played three songs. There were 19 people in the audience. All 19 started their own bands within two weeks of seeing The Nail Bombs play. Shows played by the bands formed by the 19 people who saw The Nail Bombs play inspired more bands. Those bands inspired more bands. Those bands inspired more bands. Thus, The Nail Bombs are an index case of much of the Midwest’s punk rock scene. (Sure, The MC5. Sure, The Stooges. But remember: with music, multiple ears are available to be infected, and multiple strains infect. The Nail Bombs were a strain. An powerful strain.)
No one knows who The Nail Bombs were. No member of the band has ever stepped forward and said, “I was a Nail Bomb.” No one has even attempted to do so as a hoax. They never recorded a record, or even made a little demo. There was at one point a tape of the show—the only audio evidence of the existence of The Nail Bombs—but it has been lost, and now there remain only some fragments of a transcript. (Fragments will appear at the end of this post.) READ MORE >