the dead

Random quote of the day:

“In the archives the prewritten obituaries wait, round with life and almost ready, like eggs in an incubator.”

—Teju Cole, Twitterfeed, 5/15/12


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.


Random quote of the day:

“Only the dead are safe; only the dead have seen the end of war.”

—George Santayana, “Tipperary,” Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Dear X:

My mother says I have to write this sympathy card to you on her behalf because “I’m so much better at that sort of thing.” It’s difficult enough to express my own complicated feelings regarding the death of F., let alone trying to channel what I think my mother wants to say. F. deserves more than platitudes, but that’s all that seems to come out of my head. The enormity of her death, the way she chose to leave this world, the guilt at thinking I should have known, I should have been able to sense things, or help her somehow, some way even from 1000 miles away. Our complicated history. Our complicated, complicated non-communicative history. It all clutters up the stream of thought, the flow of writing.

But my mother has assigned me this task. Because I am so much better at these things.

Another opportunity to feel as if I have failed.

But it really isn’t about me. I must remember that, at the very least. It’s about this sorrow, and the inexpressible nature of such sorrows. It’s about words being hollow in the face of such circumstances, about them dropping like pebbles in a metal bucket because there is no richness, no roundness of sound when it comes to trying to express the anger and the heartbreak and the gut-wrenchingness of a decision to leave this world, a world gone irrevocably valueless.

There are no words.

Dear X:

There are no words to express my sadness at F.’s passing. I have struggled to come up with something to say to tell you how much I will miss her, and how much I wish I could comfort you, even though I know I can’t comfort you. I wish I could hug you and tell you it will be all right. It will be better, eventually, but never all right again. There will always be a patch of shadow over the brightest day, but as time passes

Dear X:

I’ve been thinking about you and your family so much. I miss F. and wish I could talk to her again and tell her how much I love her, but I believe that somewhere, somehow she knows that. If you need anything from us, don’t hesitate to ask.

All my love.

Random quote of the day:


“When people die they leave behind tiny deposits, like dust or ash, littering the lives of those who have to carry on. Impossible to wipe a house clean. Memories dwelled in cobweb places behind wardrobes and between cupboards; they hid behind radiators; they lurked on shelves; like slivers of shattered glass, they waited for their moment to lodge deep in any vulnerable expanse of passing skin.”

—Graham Joyce, Requiem



Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:


“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”

—Voltaire, “Première Lettre sur Oedipe”



Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

This one is a bit of a cheat. Yes, I will be presenting you with a mystery here, but I will also be reviewing the documentary film Resurrect Dead, which sums up and explores the mystery of the Toynbee tiles far better than I ever could. The film is available on Video On Demand (at least until the end of November on my cable carrier) and iTunes. I highly recommend it.

But what are the Toynbee tiles? you ask.


Sometime in the early to mid-1980s handcrafted linoleum tiles began appearing in the streets of major American cities. Mostly Philadelphia at first, the tiles have in subsequent years appeared in two dozen American cities as well as four in South America. The tile pictured above was found in downtown Washington, D.C. They mostly bear some variation on the same message:

IN Kubrick’s 2001

Toynbee is thought to refer to the historian, Arnold J. Toynbee, whom Stanley Kubrick consulted with when preparing for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Toynbee once wrote in his book Experiences:

Human nature presents human minds with a puzzle which they have not yet solved and may never succeed in solving, for all that we can tell. The dichotomy of a human being into ‘soul’ and ‘body’ is not a datum of experience. No one has ever been, or ever met, a living human soul without a body… Someone who accepts—as I myself do, taking it on trust—the present-day scientific account of the Universe may find it impossible to believe that a living creature, once dead, can come to life again; but, if he did entertain this belief, he would be thinking more ‘scientifically’ if he thought in the Christian terms of a psychosomatic resurrection than if he thought in the shamanistic terms of a disembodied spirit.

And if you’ve ever seen the film 2001, you know there’s some weird mamajama stuff going on at the end of it, once the surviving astronaut reaches Jupiter. The tilemaker seems to have combined these ideas—and probably some others—into a belief system which includes some kind of resurrection of the dead. This resurrection seems to depend on human beings believing it’s possible for their spirits to live on, so it’s vital to the tilemaker to get the word out: As you believe, so shall it be. His (for lack of a confirmed gender) belief is so ardent that he’s trying to spread the word through this remarkable means, mostly because he doesn’t believe he can get the message out any other way. Often his messages contain elements of conspiracy theory with a profound distrust of mainstream media, especially John Knight Ridder of Knight-Ridder. There’s also a strong element of anti-Semitism in the tilemaker’s beliefs/tiles.

The film, Resurrect Dead, is a great whodunit. It follows Justin Duerr, artist and man obsessed with the identity of the tilemaker, as he and his fellow investigators painstaking seek out clues. The director, Jon Foy, paces the film impeccably, keeping the excitement of the hunt at a steady drumbeat, even though it takes years of poking, prodding, and searching to yield answers. This is a fascinating exploration of obsession—of the filmmakers as well as the Toynbee tilemaker. There is a kind of redemption at the end, though I’m not sure I quite buy the final “confrontation.” It’s difficult sometimes to know what is fact and what is merely the will to believe. But then, that’s what the Toynbee tiles are all about, isn’t it? And Resurrect Dead is also about the longing after mysteries, about that special electric intensity they cause in human minds, and how sometimes the very best mysteries are the ones that are never completely solved.

Resurrect Dead Trailer from Resurrect Dead on Vimeo.

Websites you may wish to peruse:

I’ve been thinking about blogging this for weeks, but I’ve been so busy at both work and home that many things fall through the cracks. Then yesterday, lizziebelle posted an eery story that prompted me to get on with it.

This all started months ago. I was driving home from work southbound on Pacific Avenue in Venice. It’s the last major north-south street before the beach. Past Venice Blvd. there’s a long stretch with no cross streets, just alley entrances on the western (beach) side, all bearing names like “28th Place.” Pedestrians on this western side have to walk on the actual street because the houses and apartments crowd right up to the street edge, and parking is tight. Usually the traffic moves swiftly, people rushing to the Marina Peninsula or Washington Blvd. Sometimes when there’s good beach weather, the traffic slows to a crawl, but even then it usually keeps moving. However, one night some months back it got seriously backed up, so much so that I actually had to come to a stop and sat there for several minutes.

Now, there is one piece of property along the western side which doesn’t have structures at street’s edge. One place, a series of ancient, dark-colored joined cottages, is recessed back from the street with a dirt lot for parking cars along Pacific. The lot is also crowded on the southern side by old trees. As it happens, this odd-man-out piece of property is the one I stopped beside. I did what one does when sitting in traffic, looked around and registered things I usually speed by, and as I turned my head west I saw that I was aligned with a walkway running behind those cottages. It’s was as clear as day back there, though it was evening. A woman sat on the small stoop behind the first cottage, her legs stretched in front of her, elbows resting on knees, head down and staring at the ground between her feet. Such an aura of despondency hovered about her that I kept looking, fascinated. She had dark, wavy hair worn down past her shoulders and a dark, rather shapeless dress. It hit her mid-calf and I saw that her feet and legs were bare. The dress could have belonged to any era from 1920 onward, even further back in time if it actually went to the ground and she’d hitched it up to air our her calves.

As I stared and wondered why she was so sad, I guess she sensed me looking. Her head came up suddenly. Our eyes met. I was embarrassed to be caught, but such a look came over her face… The sorrow remained, but a spark had been added of something like defiance or anger or… I don’t know. Something old and negative and about me…but I thought not strictly about me, either. I just happened to be there to receive it.

Well, then I was really embarrassed. She had every right to be angry with me for staring and intruding upon her despondency, so I hunkered my head between my shoulder blades and quickly shifted my eyes back to the road. Thankfully, the traffic moved not long after. I stole another look before passing the property. She still stared my way with…whatever that negative surge was. I thought about her for the rest of the drive home, but—as these things go—promptly forgot about it when I got home and had chores and what all to do. Occasionally as I whizzed by that property each night, I’d think about her fleetingly, getting embarrassed all over again, or puzzled and wondering what had been up with her. I might even have stolen a glance that way, but usually couldn’t make anything out. It was quick, you know? I usually passed that place in seconds, in a hurry to get home.

Then one night several weeks back, I was maybe not driving as fast, or the traffic slowed (but didn’t stop), or—I’m not sure. This time as I drove by I took a good look towards that walkway. And I realized I couldn’t see it. Not just that it was too dark or that a car stood in the way (there were no cars in the dirt lot), I mean I couldn’t see it. Something blocked it. I was past by the time that registered, and that part of Pacific isn’t friendly to people stopping and backing up. Too much traffic, not enough parking to pull over, and besides, I wanted to get home. I decided that I’d try to remember to give it a better look the next night.

I’m easily distracted these days and it was actually several days before I looked again. There was definitely a gate blocking the view of the walkway, but it didn’t look like a new gate. I thought, “Well, it must have been open when I stopped here that time.” I hadn’t remembered seeing a gate, but you know, it had to have been there. So the next time I remembered, I slowed down, risking irate honks from the cars behind me, when I got to the place where I’d been stopped before in direct alignment with the walkway. I recognized quite well the angle I’d been looking from.

Remember those trees on the south side of the dirt lot I mentioned? That night I realized that I not only could not have seen a walkway from that position, I couldn’t even see the gate. To see the gate I had to be ten, fifteen, twenty feet north of there and looking at an angle. There was no visibility of the gate or walkway dead on.

Dead on. Dead on. I looked dead on that night, but I still have no idea how I saw. Or who. Or what.