Somebody emailed me the other day to say that it was a ‘crazy, brave idea’ to have a Six Feet Under convention.
Last week I was at a big meeting where I explained that I was organising a weekend to educate people about the business of death and dying, and a councillor said, “Well, nobody’s going to come to that.”
I can’t say there’s much in the way of competition for weekend breaks which have as their chief selling point that they will draw attention to your mortality, but I think he’s mistaken. I’m a fan of one of the Chief Rabbi’s witticisms, when he says, the thing about the Almighty is, he never let’s you know what you’re letting yourself in for.
And that’s very true. When I set out to organise a convention about a popular American drama that finished five years ago, I had a sense it could lead to mockery and derision and the loss of a considerable investment in a website. I also had a deeper sense that it would motivate a small, but utterly devoted group of people, who could imagine no greater pleasure than to indulge their morbid imagination with dozens of likeminded people at the height of summer on the South Coast for a whole weekend.
I first dared to articulate my plan on my blog. When I finished writing it, I felt queasy. Nobody’s going to sign up for this. I put it on Twitter and it got retweeted, and within 24 hours I had someone post a reply saying, ‘put me down for two tickets’.
When I wrote to Alan Ball asking him to come and speak, I wasn’t sure what response I’d get. It was, however, a terrific thrill to get an email from his office to say he’s busy with True Blood in August, but ‘good luck’.
After Christmas, I Twittered it again and the local paper picked up on it and gave it a page 3 spread. I didn’t even need to send them a press release.
Ever since then I’ve been initiated into a new world – the people who do death for a living – who all seem to be expressing huge enthusiasm for the idea of coming to Bournemouth to hear talks from an embalmer, a natural death advocate, a funeral director, an obituary editor and mixing that up with a viewing of Harold & Maude or Departures.
I’ve written to Nate (Peter Krause), Ruth (Frances Conroy), Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) and Bettina (Kathy Bates) inviting them over, but it might be a little ambitious for the first year.
I’ve made contact with Dr Christina Welch, who runs Death Day in Winchester. I’ve discovered Death Reference Desk. And I’ve been commissioned to write a piece for the Good Funeral Guide blog run by Charles Cowling. It’s also helpful that they’re repeating the series from the beginning on Sky Atlantic.
I’ve noticed people in the death industry seem to have a spring in their step and an excellent sense of humour. It bodes well.
When you have set yourself the task of organising a weekend around life and death as featured in Six Feet Under, it’s amazing how creative you can be.
The first thing I’ve done is follow up on the literary references that are linked to the series.
For instance, when Claire is experimenting with sex, drugs and art, she reads The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Castaneda is one of the gurus behind the hippy era.
Nate, when dealing with a bereaved family, quotes from A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis: ‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.’
David is given a copy of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach by a teenager who loves it.
Mary Roach is a very stylish humorist: ‘being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.’ I fired off an invitation to the convention to her. Unfortunately she’s on an American book tour during that period.
Gail Sheehy’s Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life is mentioned in one episode, and a well-thumbed copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
appears in one shot after the death of a very elderly woman.
I’m reading The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford for background, as did Alan Ball, and I’m preparing to get in contact with undertaker/poet Thomas Lynch who Ball also mentioned as an influence.
Some people will remember Maggie Sibley’s line: ‘Well, I know that if you think life is a vending machine, where you put in virtue and you get out happiness, then you’ll probably gonna be disappointed.’
I found a very similar line in Rabbi Harold S Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Rabbi Kushner would be a great speaker to have, as he’s a superb storyteller.
Any suggestions for speakers who have had their work featured in Six Feet Under would be much appreciated.