Content Tagged ‘Iowa’

On Location with Delaney Nolan

This installment of On Location comes from Ecotone contributor Delaney Nolan, whose story, “The Ugly,” appears in issue 17.

The Death Café

I go to the Death Café in April. It’s held in the Johnson County Senior Center, a brick building on Linn.


We go around the room and introduce ourselves. It’s a funny cross-section of Iowa’s death-intrigued: one sprightly lady in a headband who volunteers at the Iowa Parrot Rescue; next to her, a historian who specializes in “grave-related paraphernalia.” An Indian man explains that he’s a Jainist and wants to share some of Jainism’s views; he inadvertently quotes Plath: “Dying is an art,” he says, “and I would like to share that art.” A large bearded man holds a book on meditation and cheerfully cites an interest in Zen death poems.

The purpose of the Death Café, as the name may suggest, is to talk plainly about death.

That day, we begin with the death of pets.

“I found that when I had an animal die, I was more upset about that than the people that died,” says a woman named Carol. The grave historian nods enthusiastically.

The lady with the parrots advocates writing your own obituary, but says she procrastinates, so she hasn’t done it yet. People laugh—there’s a surprising amount of laughter in the Death Café, parallel, I imagine, to the way people make jokes on the set of a scary movie.

Rahul, the Jainist, explains that in his faith, “starving to death” is sometimes recommended. Letting yourself die when you can no longer follow Jainist rituals will keep your karmic load from increasing. “Gradually, you stop taking solids. Then you stop taking liquids. And when one week or two weeks arrive, [you] just pass away and die.”

Somebody adds, “That’s kind of the point of the advanced directives too, to write out that you don’t want somebody putting tubes in you,” and at this there are little noises of agreement all around the room. There’s scorn for meddling doctors, ambulance medics who automatically give CPR, families who cling.

The idea of having control of your own death is a subject we return to again and again, and in a sense that’s the end game of the Death Café. Discussing a problem, like writing about a problem, is a method of control, and as we all talk about death—our own death, others’ deaths, obituaries, breathing tubes—it’s clear that we’re trying to air out cobwebs, let some light into an attic where we’re usually too scared to tread.

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Making A List: Three Great Memoirs About Place

Three Great Memoirs about Place

With the March 12 release of Ben Miller’s River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll Amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa, the Lookout interns wanted to celebrate five strong memoirs about place.

Only three are listed here since River Bend Chronicle is a soon-to-be fourth. (Rounding out our list will be the forthcoming joint effort by Lookout Interns and PubLab TAs that will focus on lives subject to the cruel whim of the Adobe Creative Suite and there’s always a disturbing amount of doughnuts.)

But for now, books that have been released:


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Ben Miller Mail-Order Ice Rink Kits

At Lookout we’re anxiously awaiting the release of our first memoir, River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa by debut author Ben Miller.

In celebration we assembled gift boxes to bookstores, including a copy of River Bend Chronicle, a reading guide, a bow tie button, postcards, Ben’s personal map of Davenport attractions—and, perhaps most touching, a note straight from Ben’s Royal typewriter.

We drew on the wild, memorable, pop-culture saturated prose stylings of Ben Miller. The inside lid of the box features an excerpt from “The Reinvention of Ice,” a chapter in which Ben recalls a classmate’s father’s big American invention: a mail-order ice rink, complete with tarp and spikes. Just hook up the hose and wait for frigid conditions!

Best of all the boxes look like the mail-order ice rink as it’s described in “The Reinvention of Ice.” Check out a few photos of the process.

So get ready, bookstores—they’re coming your way this week! (And there’s a good chance you’ll see these items at AWP, where we’re debuting River Bend Chronicle!)

—Ana Alvarez, Lookout Intern