Plus a new feature for supporters!
Too many people are dying in the desert. Too many people are remembering their dead. Some combination of the two, perhaps other factors, recently led to complaints in The Loop, a newspaper serving the desert communities around Mojave, California, for publishing too many obituaries.
Mojave is a train town turned space town. It looks like a meth town. I was there for a story this week and read the newspaper over breakfast outside a diner. The editors reported the complaints and responded in an unsigned editorial titled, somewhat defensively, “We Celebrate Because We Care.” The paper’s obituary section is called “Celebrations of Life.” Maybe it had celebrated too much to some people’s liking?
In recent months, we’ve heard from a few readers that there have been too many Celebration of Life articles in the paper lately. As the owner of The Loop newspaper Claudia Baker recently said, ‘Every life is unique and special. Each story deserves to be told.’
Why readers complained was left open to speculation. Perhaps the number published during a global pandemic had gotten depressing. Maybe readers simply didn’t like obituaries, or how these ones were done. They might have made some people envious, not for the deaths but the lists of accolades, ranks accomplished, countries visited, so many loved ones left behind when perhaps the reader wasn’t loved by many people, or even one.
I love obituaries. Sometimes, reading a newspaper, they’re the first thing I want to read, partly to see if they’re done well or not. Every life is interesting, every obit should be interesting, but most aren’t, mainly for reading like résumés, a roll call of platitudes. A friend of mine is an obituary reporter at The New York Times. He told me they keep deep files of obits on-hand for famous people to be updated at the last minute; they don’t want to be late to press if a major death occurs. But it’s the lesser-known profiles he prefers to write, he said. He’s been with the Times over many years, through many departments, the obituaries of strangers are the best, perhaps most challenging assignment he’s ever had: to write a compelling biography in 1,500 words.
Deserts, I think, are associated with death to a point of cliché. Barren, godforsaken, even evil. A place where every story doesn’t deserve to be told. In the same edition of the paper, there was only one obituary, a young Army veteran named Michael, dead at twenty-four. “Michael started working in the wind industry in 2017 and was erecting windmills in Texas in 2021.” But the obituary was mostly about the family’s belief in God, their faith they’d be reunited with Michael in heaven, and how to contribute to a GoFundMe account to help pay for the funeral. About Michael, we learned basically nothing at all.
It was sad to read. And it made me think that perhaps the readers, the ones who complained, were asking their local paper to do better. Treat the place they lived as something else, if only through its remembrances, its shared memories. As a place filled with diverse, strange expressions of life, unique to the desert and far from godless, in fact maybe godlike in all their mystery. The same way people are. The way obituaries can be when done right.
Something new for supporters
Come February, I’m launching a new feature for paying subscribers called “Field Reports,” and there’s a special offer below if you haven’t signed up yet.
Here’s the deal. I want the Saturday mini-essays to be free for everybody. And I really like doing the “Sunday Supplements,” and the feedback’s been great. But I also want to write something more substantial for paying supporters.
Then, around the same time last week, a couple people told me how much they enjoyed the wilderness-related material, along the lines of that solo trip report back in November.
So, starting February 16, 2022, paying subscribers will receive a longer essay once a month dispatched from a wilderness trip. Lions, tigers, bears, me and my one-person tent in a new location, thinking things over – a little wanderlust for your inbox, probably with too many musings about cowboy coffee? We’ll see.
If you’re already a paying supporter, you don’t have to do anything – it’ll just show up in your inbox. If you’re not, I’m running a 20% discount until Feb. 16 to get this thing off the ground.
Dig it via the button below! For either monthly or annual support. And, as ever, thanks so much.
That mending life
From tomorrow’s “Sunday Supplement” – my Sunday bulletin with three-plus ideas of things to love – some recommendations for experiencing nature in unexpected ways.
After 15 years, these (formerly dark gray) shorts were becoming pornographic. Thankfully, preservation was possible.
Once again, all the thanks to all the supporters who’ve ponied up. You’re supporting the extra dispatch (and now the monthly Field Reports), but you’re also bolstering these essays and much more.
If you’re not on the Sunday train, hit the blue button above.
What the what
“Meditations in an Emergency” is a micro-essay published Saturdays by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin about things he finds beautiful. The Sunday Supplement is a weekly round-up of three-plus ideas for things to love, no paid placements lol 💸
Rosecrans is the bestselling author of Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles, available from Bookshop, Amazon, or your local store. (If you’d like a signed copy for yourself or somebody else, reply to this newsletter or send a note.) Other books include The Last Kid Left and Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down. Rosecrans’s debut novel, You Lost Me There, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.
Any other books mentioned in this newsletter are featured on a Bookshop list.