Buy a pre-sale copy of The Authenticity Experiment: Lessons From the Best & Worst Year of My Life and send me a copy of the receipt to kate at katecarrolldegutes dot com and I’ll send you one of the new chapters as a thank you gift.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
The Authenticity Experiment, the dead people’s mail edition. The thing about dead people is that they still receive mail—lots and lots of mail. Not simply catalogs and magazines, although Stef and my mother both still get a catalog called, “Modern Woman” which sells polyester pants and camp shirts, striped nylon blouses and house dresses, and those flat, black ballet shoes that large ladies always seem to put on their plump feet.
But there are repeated requests from AARP that both my mom and Stef receive now that their memberships have lapsed. You’d think that AARP—one of the most powerful lobbying groups in DC, one of the largest providers of supplemental Medicare insurance—would know that my mother and my friend are dead. But they seemed not to have noticed yet. Or, to be entirely correct, the marketing department has not been informed of the demise of Mary Carroll DeGutes and Stefanie Messenger Rhodes.
Nor, should I point out, was Publisher’s Clearing House, a scam of a lottery that Stef entered monthly, if not weekly, for the last eight years of her life. In fact, her filing cabinet held three metal hooked olive green file folders stuffed with proof of entry—in chronological order. Stef was nothing if not fastidious with her filing, a skill learned early in her work life at the Dubuque College of Osteopathy.
On the other hand, my mother’s subscriptions to Better Homes & Gardens, Readers Digest, and The Mayo Clinic Health Letter continue to show up in my mailbox each month. Sometimes in the evening, when I feel the ennui of these past ten years wash over me, I’ll flip aimlessly through the pages of Better Homes & Gardens, looking, I suppose, for a design idea or a recipe. But the heteronormative, cluttered cottages (costing upwards of $750K) bear no resemblance to my life and the recipes seem to always call for something out of a can or have too many net carbs.
Without fail, though, I always turn to the Reader’s Digest Section “It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power,” mostly to give myself an ego boost—although sometimes, if I’m truly honest, also to feel slightly superior. Panoply, anachronism, vestigial? Please, I learned those words in during 5th Grade vocabulary studies at a public school in California. I keep hoping I’ll find words like perspicacious or inchoate or verisimilitude—you know, one of those words I seem to always forget, must always look up in the dictionary, but that Rebecca Solnit throws around with ease. But no, Reader’s Digest, by its very nature, must aim for the middle and so here are imminent and eminent, fractal and fracture.
Ironically, Reader’s Digest instilled my love of all things nonfiction with their series “Drama In Real Life.” As a kid, every month I devoured the stories, and then moved on to paperbacks such as Survive the Savage Sea and Alive: The Stories of the Andes Survivors. I swear it’s why I can’t write fiction—because come on, real life is so much more. Full stop. So much more.
When my mother re-upped her subscriptions to Better Homes & Gardens and Reader’s Digest she said to me, “I have the feeling you’re going to be getting these long after I’m dead.”
Right she was, but I can’t seem to bring myself to cancel them. I like the monthly reminder of my mother, am unsurprised that she knew she’d outlive the subscriptions, but also feel a pang of—what?—my own mortality, I suppose. Am aware of the idea that I could outlive my own subscriptions to Bicycling Magazine and Bike and The Week and The New Yorker, Georgia Review, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction Magazine and The Writer’s Chronicle. That someday someone is going to get all my subscriptions as well as the Athleta, REI, and Patagonia catalogs.
Will the PO forward the mail to my sister, Sue, or to my as yet unfound new partner, or to a friend? These are ideas we all must contemplate, but rarely like to consider. How then shall we live knowing that “everything dies at last and too soon?” What will we do with our “one wonderful and precious life?”
It’s ironic—or perhaps, actually not—that dead people’s mail makes me ask these questions that poets and psychologists and priests have been asking for eons. But, that is what the mail does for me. And I’ve started getting it earlier in the day so that I am reminded and have time to do the one thing I know I must do in order to live knowing that I will die—ride my bike or lift weights. Because by healing the body, I heal my heart and mind, and that’s better than any home or garden.