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Things I Have Learned

Zac Pennington Of The Parenthetical Girls On Being Buried Alive
The Quietus , February 23rd, 2010 08:16

Written by Zac Pennington

Photos by Uncleboatshoes

Vanity and morbid fascination are attributes cut from the same gaudy cloth… but sometimes vanity is as good a reason as any.  

I’ve never quite learned to make an entrance, but I do have something of a knack for departures. Over the course of my generally stagnant early twenties, I somehow found enough cause and fortitude (read: self-importance) to prematurely plan and stage my own eternal committal on not one, but two separate occasions. The first of my funerals was a modest, open casket affair that was occasioned by an otherwise unceremonious exit from my former adopted city of Seattle, Washington. Phil Elverum was kind enough to provide the burial hymn. The second took place on the occasion of my twenty-fifth birthday, and actually involved being properly lain to ground—motivated firstly by the symbolic death of my youth, and secondly by the modest paycheck I received from a local Portland newspaper to write a story about it.  

Which for most people begs the question: what sort of rational or moral insufficiency could possibly compel the necessity to, on more than one occasion, publicly eulogize oneself whilst still living? And could it possibly be the same catalyst that inspires a person to commission lavish album cover portraits of themselves in a post-coital embrace with their own mirror image?  

For the living human body, stillness is a most excruciating exercise.  

Outside of rationalizing and self-deprecation, there are some practical considerations to attend to regarding the living funeral—most of which one stumbles upon by way of experience alone. Firstly: muscle relaxants. This is especially pertinent for those interested in open casket services. I fancy myself a fairly sedentary person, and as such didn’t anticipate much trouble with the task of maintaining corpse pose for the better part of four hours. This perhaps speaks to a rather ill-advised relationship with the mind-body dichotomy. At any rate, it took roughly 30 solid minutes of affected, waking immobility for my body to completely go to shit. Muscles tighten and seize, moaning to be allowed those functions that they’re furnished with. After four and a half hours, I was convinced I was experiencing genuine atrophy. Three days passed before my body eventually began to forgive me.  

In spite of what you’ve come to understand about its struggle for self-preservation, your own body will try to kill you.  

My second funeral—the one in which I was actually committed to the ground—was as much about physical challenge as it was narcissism. I worked at the time for a local entertainment newspaper, who at my casual suggestion had quickly lined the whole thing up: a backhoe in a stranger’s backyard, a plywood coffin with crucifix-shaped breathing tube, a pseudo-priest, the whole nine. Though the logical safety preparations had all but neutered any genuine fear I may have felt before entering my modest crypt, there was still one thrill to come that I had foolishly not anticipated: that my own body would once again turn against me. By the third hour underground, the air in my coffin had grown palpably thin, and I could no longer seem to draw significant oxygen from the PVC pipe that was my only clear connection to the world of the living. I was getting nauseous, my lungs required shallower, more rapid breaths to stay satisfied, and I had begun to develop a migraine—each symptoms of my encroaching carbon-monoxide poisoning. Through an ingeniously sinister process of simple respiration, my body had filled the enclosure with my own toxic exhalation. They dug me out in ample time, but I’ve never looked at my corporeal self the same way since.  

Mortality is no longer a laughing matter when your mom finds out.  

It’s best to just leave your mother out of all of this.  

There is no lavatory in purgatory.  

I am still of two minds about this particular subject, and perhaps that’s because there really is no good way around it: the dead simply do not use the facilities. For my first run at last rites I chose the road of abstention—having not consumed fluid or solid for a 24-hour period in preparation for the proceedings. This is not advisable for the moderately hypoglycemic, among whom I casually count myself.  

For my second attempt, I brought with me an assortment of electrolyte-rich replenishing fluids, which, though helpful in certain respects, unsurprisingly posed their own set of logistical problems. I spent most of my time underground in obscenely modified yoga poses (Half crow? Outward dog? Sexy child’s pose?) trying to gingerly refill my newly emptied sports drink bottles. Being exhumed from the tomb surrounded by plastic bottles filled with your own urine somehow diminishes the romantic implications of laughing in the face of death.  

]They probably won’t miss you when you’re gone.  

A good friend might see all of this as a cry for help. Your friends will see this as a plea for ridicule. In the days leading up to both of my memorials, I was a little dismayed to find that nary a single voice amongst my so-called friends spoke up to express any concern over the mental state of a traditionally depressive loved one’s sudden morbid obsession with the celebration of his own demise. That’s vanity for you. There was, however, no shortage of humiliation—a regular Greek chorus of open degradation and embarrassment spewed forth from all corners of acquaintanceship.  

The events themselves were no more reverent, really. Laying in the faux-wood open coffin, body in crippling repose, I was in my silence subjected to verbal and physical mistreatment the likes of which I had scarcely observed in the natural world. It may be true that this boy had cried wolf one too many times, but such deeds lead a person to wonder: can you imagine these monsters acting any differently if I had died? I was never particularly comforted by my conclusions.

Also: in the event that you have any allusions about this enterprise garnering you any sort of respect from peers less intimately acquainted—Don’t. If they thought you might be an asshole before they heard about this, you’ve more or less just made up their minds for them. 

To preorder the their new EP go to the Parenthetical Girls website now.

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