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FLATLINE Memento mori

Spring 2011


Letter from the editor

Table of Contents Features 15  Morticians misunderstood

Two mortuary science students lay undertaker stereotypes to rest.

21  (giving) Life After Death

Organ and tissue donation provide life for some and meaning for others.

24  In the ruins

Urban Explorers find beauty in decaying landmarks.

28  Tears and ink

After losing her mother, one woman decorates her body to celebrate and grieve.

Alive 2  Killing Misconceptions

From eggs to bras, find out which unexpected dangers lurk in everyday life.

3  No strangers to danger

Whether at high speeds or high altitudes, some people prefer to live in death’s neighborhood.

4  Making Amends

Why patching relationshipscan improve your life and death.

Innovations 5  Logging out

What happens to our digital lives after we pass away?

6  Mourning by the megabyte Taking to the Internet to pay your respects.

7  Supersize It

The funeral industry adjusts to a growing population.

Good Riddance

Culture

Voices

8  Internet killed the video store

11  The brains behind the braindead

33  Hmong among Americans

Looking at pop culture’s zombie infection under the microscope.

The difficulty of preserving one’s culture while living in another.

12  From grave to gallery

34  Just a game

Two Minnesota artists use supplies you won’t find in any art store.

Pwning is hard. Differentiating violent videogames from reality is easy.

13  A different death in the family

35  Second thoughts

While online videos buffer, movie rentals suffer.

9  Viva la vinyl

Cassettes are dead and CDs are on life support, but records still stand strong.

Losing a family member is hard. Losing an unconditional best friend can be harder.

14  Founders and Fighters A look at the oldest cemetery in Minneapolis.

From a sympathetic individual, suicide is not the answer.

36  Goodbye unsaid

With a father’s passing comes a life lesson in forgiveness.

37  Beyond beliefs

Examining the differences between Christianity and Islam in death.

38  The Bulletin Board

Some thoughts about trends and people coming and going.

40  Review: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup 41  5 most expensive funerals ever

Photography by Stephanie Rosengren

Thinking about dying could change how you’re living.

Clockwise from bottom left: Courtesy of Courtney Celley; Stephanie Rosengren; Courtesy of Allen Brewer; Stephanie Rosengren

19  Who were you?

This magazine is entirely about death. Take a breath… we at Flatline magazine are not here to scare you or send your life as you know it spiraling down into an abysmal state of depression; that would completely undermine what we set out to accomplish. On the contrary, we wish to lift you up, to clarify what death means, to share with you our collective experiences with death, to lend advice for coping, and to tone down the drab word. I asked my colleagues a while back, “Do people commonly take photos at funerals?” It dawned on me that I never gave it a thought. I felt dumb when I received an instantaneous response from everyone informing me that modern society, indeed, typically refrains from photographing funerals. Apparently, some find it disrespectful. But then why is it that we applaud the photographer who captures the distressed family choking in a cloud of smoke, the mother holding her child in her arms, tears streaking down her sooty cheeks, firefighters hopelessly trying to extinguish the flames that consume the family’s home in the background? In that photo, the house died. The family within that house may very well consider that house a part of their family. In that sense, there was a death in the family. And the photos turned out great. Death is an elastic word. The social boundaries that go with it are equally pliable. From all corners of the world, cultures and religions generate diverse views on the specific, albeit inevitable, topic. We couldn’t help ourselves. Flatline just had to take up the challenge of tapping into a bank of stories that have otherwise been locked up by our social code; this code insists that death is nothing to talk about. We wanted to break that code. Thanks to an incredibly talented team, I think we pulled it off. And hopefully that bank of stories the world has to offer will continue to spread. Should you find yourself pondering or discussing any of the content in Flatline—perhaps when plans for the weekend or a good movie are on your mind—then I consider this project a success for our team and my work here done.

-Patrick Berner Editor-in-Chief welcome.to/flatline

FLATLINE Editor-in-Chief

Patrick Berner

Managing Editors

Austin Wiebe Hebba Aburia

FEATURES Senior Editors Matthew Deery Mercy Lo Andrew Penkalski Brent Renneke Associate Editors Muna Hassan Mukhtar Ibrahim Priscilla Lundquist Staff Writer Carly Schramm ART Art Director Blake Dahmen Assistant Art Directors Lauren Huff Chelsey Knutson Liz Maher Yiqiao Wang Staff Photographers Bre McGee Stephanie Rosengren ONLINE Web Director Mandy Majorowicz Web Associate Editor Iman Mohamed Web Writers Eric Dolski Reece Lamppa Alec Schimke Web Art Director Sarah Song Vang Web Programmer Abhi Kumar Circulation Director

Muna Hassan

We would like to thank the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, Elizabeth Larsen, Jeanne Schacht, Scott Dierks, Wally Swanson, and Al Tims. This publication is made possible by the Milton L. Kaplan Memorial Fund.

The cover University of Minnesota student Morgan Hunter wears the required attire for working in the mortuary science embalming lab in Jackson Hall. The Flatline staff took an inside look at the misconceptions facing the program and its students and faculty. Photography by Bre McGee

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ALIVE

ALIVE

Killing Misconceptions

No strangers to danger

Whether at high speeds or high altitudes, some people prefer to live life in death’s neighborhood.

From eggs to bras, find out what unexpected dangers lurk in everyday life.

REALITY

Using your cell phone while pumping gas is dangerous. Although there are numerous warnings circulating on the Internet and in the media—and even posted at some gas stations—there has never been a recognized fire or explosion caused by cell phone use at the gas pump. Furthermore, no one has scientifically proven that it is even possible. According to the Federal Communications Commission, many convenient store fires were attributed to cell phone use early on, but after further investigation, other causes were found for the fires.

MYTH

Inactivity can lead to death. Inactivity can lead to obesity, one of America’s biggest problems (pun intended) with over one-third of the American adult population suffering from the disease. Consuming more calories than you burn will make you gain weight, and according to WebMD, it can lead to numerous health problems including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, back problems, and high blood pressure, just to name a few. So stop stuffing your face with cheese puffs, get your butt off the couch, and take your health seriously. Otherwise, health issues related to obesity will end your life.

REALITY

Urban Bikers

Eating too many eggs leads to unhealthy levels of cholesterol. In 2009, Bruce Griffin, Ph.D., of England’s University of Surrey and other researchers found that eating eggs does not significantly raise your body’s cholesterol levels. “The amount of saturated fat in our diet exerts an effect on blood cholesterol that is several times greater than the relatively small amounts of dietary cholesterol,” Dr. Griffin says. So feel free to eat all you want of one of the most complete protein sources available—next to maybe … cannabalism.

MYTH Women who wear bras regularly are more at risk to get breast cancer. There is no scientifically credible evidence that women who wear bras are more at risk for cancer, according to Dr. Ted Gansler, the director of medical content for the American Cancer Society. The rumor that bras prevent the removal of toxins by blocking lymph flow is not within the realm of science on how cancer starts. So to all of you ladies out there, don’t feel pressured to drop your support system quite yet.

—Reece Lamppa If you want to read more, follow the blog Things That Can Kill You at welcome.to/flatline.com, which goes into the many things that can pose a threat on your well being. From everyday household products, killer pets, the Australian wilderness, and drinking too much water, I dive into the topics you want to read about to give you vital information on the world around you. So pull up a chair, snuggle by the fire, or maybe even make it a family night (friends and neighbors are allowed too) as you read about the many things that can end you. —Reece Lamppa

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Photography by Bre McGee

MYTH

Photography by Stephanie Rosengren

Drinking too much water can kill you. For years, coaches, trainers, and numerous self-proclaimed “fitness experts” have preached the importance of drinking more and more water to stay hydrated and to maintain a healthy body temperature but we are now finding it is possible to drink too much. Sodium helps to regulate the fluid in and around your cells. Hyponatremia—as it’s officially called—happens when sodium levels become dangerously low due to excessive water intake. When this happens, your body’s water levels start to rise uncontrollably, causing your cells to swell up like balloons and pop.

Biking up 15th Street in Dinkytown at dusk, Mitch Mills saw the stoplight ahead turn yellow. He tried to make it through, but the car on his left made a quick right turn, cutting him off. Mills’ bike slammed into the car, launching him over the hood, and he skidded to a halt on the pavement. Surprisingly, he walked away with only scrapes. His bike, however, was not so fortunate. Fixed-gear urban bikers don’t stop. Weaving in and out of traffic at speeds of 35 mph, they have to be aware of everything and everyone around them as they fearlessly compete for their spot on the road knowing full-well that one wrong move could end in disaster. For 29-year-old Matt Manger-Lynch, disaster hit hard as he collided with a car after running a red light during the Tour da Chicago, an “alleycat” urban bike race, on February 24, 2008. He died on the scene. “I follow traffic laws,” says Mills, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota junior. “But if it’s going to be a detriment to me staying with traffic, then I cut or go through stop signs, mostly just to get in front of cars that would be a danger to me.” Disaster can strike a biker at anytime. Unaware cars, the whoosh of a passing semi, violent wind, chain jams, or other inexperienced bikers on the road, all pose a threat. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 630 bicyclists died on U.S. roads in 2009, and 51,000 were injured in traffic. Even though bike laws are in the biker’s favor, drivers sometimes neglect these laws, whether accidentally or intentionally. Should danger sneak up, a biker is unable to do anything except pedal faster and scan for a way out. Riding along on his black Miyata 310 frame without any hand brakes, Mills finds comfort in the simplicity of fixedgear biking, and enjoys the adrenaline rush of weaving through traffic. “I can beat any bus, any car, on my way to class, anytime,” he says. “Despite everything that’s happened to me, [biking] is always the perfect way to get around.”

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Mitch Mills, University of Minnesota student and avid fixed-gear urban biker, fearlessly rides no matter how cold or snowy it is outside. Cal Sprain flies through the air and is caught by Ralph Weich Selbaum.

Trapeze Artists

Susan Lund, a 60-year-old Embrace Adrenaline Flying Trapeze Club member, climbed up the ladder and positioned herself atop the high ledge. The catcher, out on a separate swing bar, swung higher and got into position, upside down with outstretched arms. Lund heard her cue and swung out. She gracefully landed her move and grabbed hold of the catcher but was flung too forcefully back to the return bar. Before she realized it, she collided with the return bar and instantly shattered her elbow. Although she was out for six months to recover, she longed to get back on the bar. Even with a three-inch metal plate in her elbow, Lund won’t stop flying. Long have trapeze artists amazed crowds with their dangerous acrobatics from hundreds of feet in the air without safety lines or a net to break their fall. Modern day trapeze acrobatics are safer because the tricks are practiced “in lines” until

the flier is experienced enough to fly out of the harness. However, even with these safety measures, injuries can happen. The catchers, who are always “out of lines,” are often in a more risky position because they will end up paying for a flyer’s mistake. If the flyer leaves the bar too soon or doesn’t come across clean, the catcher could get knocked out, says Shane Foss, an Embrace Adrenaline member. As a seasoned flyer, 36-year-old Foss has been flying on the trapeze for seven years and will continue to soar through the air for many years to come simply because he enjoys the intense mental and physical workout. Flying through the air on a trapeze just happens to be the way he “feeds that addiction.” —Carly Schramm

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SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  3


ALIVE

INNOVATION

Making amends Why patching relationships can improve your life and death.

O

n September 26, 1981, John Rosengren was arrested at a party for underage drinking. His father, Bill, after being notified, decided to punish John by letting him sit in jail for four days before finally posting his bail. In 2006, Bill was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He asked to speak with each of his children individually. One Sunday, John went to visit his father only to be greeted with an apology for not bailing him out immediately that night years ago. “It was the best thing he did for me,” says John. “I wanted to thank him and express my gratitude and tell him he was a big part in my becoming sober.” Not only did that talk relieve the tension between Bill and John, it also strengthened the bond between father and son. Bill died four days later. Making up is not easy. Sometimes we know full-well that we need to ask for forgiveness, but we just cannot shed that pride. It is painful, but necessary. It is powerful, but to what extent? Why is making amends so important that Bill made it his first priority once he found out his end was near? What are the benefits that making amends brings? Reconciliation lessens the regret of what could have been. “Ambiguity is very hard for human beings to deal with because there is that unknown element of if you had been able to make amends with that person,” says Dr. Sharon M. Danes, family economist and family and social science professor at the University of Minnesota. When people don’t resolve conflicts it “haunts them for the rest of their life because they are never able to make those changes once the death occurs,” says Danes. Making amends pushes the stop button so you don’t have to “continue to play the tapes of what happened over and over again,” says Dr. Judith Garrard, senior associate dean for research

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and academic affairs at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. After untying that knot in your heart, you can release your burden and move forward. Another benefit to working through rifts is how it can transform the hard grieving process into a more bearable situation. “The anger you may have had with them in life becomes out of proportion, making that stage of grief a very difficult one to get through,” says Danes. Without making peace beforehand, the grieving process lengthens and intensifies because some people never truly get over the conflict. “You’re not only grieving that person, you’re grieving the dream of what you could have had, and you don’t know if that dream could have ever happened because you have not made amends,” says Danes. By settling past problems, Danes explained that death becomes “so much easier to let go and so much more peaceful.” Relationships are inherently complex. Without resolving past conflicts, people tend to become more guarded in future relationships that resemble the ones they had with a deceased individual. Danes gave an example of a conflict between a father and daughter. When the father dies, the daughter might tend to be more sheltered with males in her life, as they might “remind her of her father’s behavior and what caused the rift.” If past matters are worked out between the father and the daughter, “the effects on future relationships will not be as intense.” Whether it was a simple disagreement left to fester or an argument blown out of proportion, making amends can be unexpectedly beneficial in the long run. It opens the door to communication and restoration. Before it is too late, grab the needle of communication and the thread of understanding and mend your broken relationships. —Hebba Aburia

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SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  5


INNOVATION

INNOVATION

Supersize It The funeral industry adjusts to a growing population.

Mourning by the megabyte Taking to the Internet to pay your respects.

Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese.

“People are getting wider and they’re getting thicker,” says Julane Davis, one of the owners of big and tall casket maker Goliath Casket. According to the CDC, more than 1.8 million caskets were purchased for loved ones throughout the United States in 2007. Most caskets are built to house a few hundred pounds. But the number of Americans who are overweight or obese today has more than doubled since 1980, and with the average American’s weight increasing each year, the weight limitations for caskets won’t hold up. That’s where Davis offers her service. While most large-scale casket manufacturers now produce oversized caskets, Goliath Casket, Inc. in Lynn, Ind., was the first company to focus its skills solely on

Fact: More than 112,000 deaths are associated with obesity each year in the United States.

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share how she had influenced their lives and to discuss the service. “People were saying where they were from. It was Minneapolis, New York, California, San Francisco, Oakland, then it would be Bulgaria, or Spain, or Israel,” Saltzman says. “It was incredible that this was happening in California, and yet from across the world, literally, people were coming together and were able to see the impact that Debbie had on all of our lives.” The technology may be seen by some as irreverent or disrespectful to the dead, but our generation’s increasing openness toward personal disclosure will likely overrule these reservations. Though Saltzman is not sure if her family would be open to the idea of a Web casted funeral, she hopes the technology will continue to catch on. “A funeral is not for the person who died, it’s for the community and the people that they affected in their lives,” Saltzman says. “To be able to have anybody whose life was affected by that person be able to … be part of the mourning community is a really powerful thing, and I think a really great use of technology.” —Austin Wiebe

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Fiction: All caskets are created equal.

Oversized

8’

Regular

52”

7’

Illustration by Blake Dahmen

for physical, economical, or any variety of reasons. Most funeral homes contract Web broadcasting services from an increasing number of online providers. Sites like Event by Wire, Sympathynet.com, and funeralOne offer software and hosting services developed specifically for the funeral industry. Each provides Web space and a secure link where loved ones of the deceased can log on and participate in the funeral. For Saltzman, the experience was moving and helped her gain closure after losing Friedman. “There were celebrations everywhere [commemorating] her life,” Saltzman says. “But to have [the online broadcast] and actually see the casket with her guitar on top of it was so much more powerful—just to be there.” As the trend continues to grow, additional options and features have also developed. Families can decide whether their loved one’s funeral will be public or private, password protected, or invitationonly. Some sites even offer live chat or comment features. During Friedman’s funeral, people from around the globe used a chat function to

Photography by Lauren Huff

W

hen Jewish liturgist Debbie Friedman died in January, Becky Saltzman knew there was no way she could attend the funeral. To begin, Saltzman, a 28-year-old Wisconsin native, only met Friedman a handful of times throughout her life. And though the iconic singer/songwriter had a huge impact on Saltzman, the funeral would be taking place in Orange County, Calif., far from her Minneapolis home. Fortunately for Saltzman, the vast breadth of the Internet has now reached even the most sacred and hallowed of social events: the funeral. Soon after she learned of Friedman’s death, Saltzman also learned the funeral service would be broadcast online so mourners around the world could virtually attend. Though broadcasted funerals are nothing new—millions of people tuned in to watch John F. Kennedy’s televised funeral in 1963—the Internet has made the option available for more than just presidents and celebrities. Many death care facilities are beginning to offer Web broadcasting for mourners who cannot attend services

Fact: The average weight of an adult in the United States has increased 25 pounds since 1960.

28”

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big and tall caskets. The business began in the late 1980s. Back then, the company did not sell many oversized caskets. But as Americans become larger, so do the coffins. A standard-sized coffin is 28 inches wide. Goliath Casket produces caskets that are almost more than double that width at 52 inches. That’s the same width as a full-size mattress and almost the same height as a Smart Car. The coffins also come in lengths up to 8 feet, as opposed to standard models that are generally made up to 7 feet long. These caskets can hold more than 1,100 pounds. “That is huge,” Keith Davis, another owner of Goliath Casket, says. “You’re talking about something that’s going to have to be moved with some kind of machinery.” Each year, Goliath Casket sells between six and twelve caskets that are 52 inches wide. On top of that, the company sells about four caskets each week that are between 29 and 48 inches wide. That adds up to more than 200 oversized caskets per year, with sales going up about 20 percent each year, according to Davis. While the size of coffins are increasing, other ramifications are beginning to reveal themselves. The biggest problem is that grave plots are measured and meant for caskets that are standard size. Because of this, families are left with the difficult decision to buy two grave plots for one person. With this in mind, some would think cremation would be the best option. However, according to the Cremation Association of North America, most crematoria can’t hold more than 500 pounds. Funeral directors agree that the industry is changing as people are growing, and companies like Goliath Casket are trying to stay one step ahead of the everenlarging population.­­—Muna Hassan

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GOOD RIDDANCE

GOOD RIDDANCE

Internet killed the video store

Viva la vinyl

While online videos buffer, traditional rentals suffer.

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tem works very well. Blockbuster’s never did. They never got that technology.” Across college campuses, students are also making the switch to digital rentals. Molly Dhir, a senior at the University of Minnesota, stopped visiting Blockbuster two years ago after discovering Netflix. When asked if stores like Blockbuster will survive in the future, Dhir responds, “Not a chance.” “No one is going to go out and rent a movie when you have to bring it back within five days,” Dhir says. “Why do that when you can do everything on your computer and not have to move?” Dhir mentions that the ability to keep movies for as long as you want without getting charged is a clear advantage to renting online. “The time and convenience factor is the best thing,” she says. To help save costs and make renting easier for its consumers, Netflix has already signaled that it will eventually switch to providing just streaming content and will no longer provide DVD rentals. And it won’t be long before DVDs are a thing of the past and everything is streamed online. Ten years ago, the big question was if the DVD would get smaller. Now, everyone is wondering how to get rid of it. In an age where technology is rapidly improving, Blockbuster is a perfect example of a company that failed to keep up with current trends. Blockbuster has liquidated hundreds of its stores and most recently was auctioned off to Dish Network for $320 million this April. Sullivan says Dish Network still envisions Blockbuster as a DVD rental store, but expects the store to be used more as a marketing tool in the future. “Not only will they be renting DVD’s, but they will use it to market their online streaming rentals, and satellite TV,” he says. “It could be that the big payoff from these stores is growing satellite subscriptions and movie packages.” While its business model worked for over 25 years, its inability to keep up with technology serves as a good lesson for businesses today. —Alec Schimke

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Y

Photography by Bre McGee

in 2000. Netflix is now valued at over $2 billion with 20 million subscribers. The task only got more difficult this past fall after the once-popular video rental chain declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy while facing revenue losses of $1.1 billion. Professor Dan Sullivan, who specializes in media economics at the University of Minnesota, says Blockbuster’s biggest downfall was its slow entrance into the online rental business. “Blockbuster had so much invested in the other technology,” Sullivan says. “The way Blockbuster was structured as a company, along with its culture and its pure psychology of management made it really difficult to respond as quickly. New competitors had a huge advantage.” Netflix, in the meantime, was able to gain a competitive advantage in the industry, Sullivan says. “Netflix had built the brand, and the infrastructure,” Sullivan says. “Netflix did an extremely good job of making that work. Their problem rate of DVDs getting lost was incredibly small.” Even with the introduction of improved technology such as the Blu-ray disc and 3-D television, tangible media usage is on the decline; annual DVD sales dropped by a margin of roughly $10 million between 2008 and 2010. In the past, what separated Blockbuster from its competition was a release advantage. Blockbuster was able to negotiate contracts with film companies that allowed them to receive movies a week or even a day ahead of other chains. But then the online video came along, and all of a sudden, the movie that took 15 minutes to search for in the stores was available right in your living room. Not to mention return dates and late fees became a thing of the past. Although Blockbuster features an online rental service, its presence in the digital world is nowhere close to Netflix. “The real strength of Netflix has been their ability to adapt essentially Amazon’s technology,” Sullivan says. “If you rented movie A, Netflix will tell you that you would like movie B. Their recommendation sys-

Photography by Bre McGee

I

t wasn’t long ago that most Americans owned a membership card at Blockbuster. Today, however, the days of needing a cheaply laminated card to access Hollywood have passed. Once a gatekeeper in the movie industry, Blockbuster now struggles to compete with emerging online video streaming companies like Netflix—a stinging twist of fate since Blockbuster turned down a chance to purchase Netflix for $50 million

Cassettes are dead and CDs are on life support, but records still stand strong. ou can gauge a lot about someone’s reverence toward music in the way they treat their collection. Some prefer to toss their jewel-cased CDs carelessly around the back seat of their car, while others may meticulously deconstruct and reorganize their lifetime well of albums to the point of obsession. Just like some Ferrari owners prefer to ogle their treasured toy more than drive it, there are tiers of reverence and attachment that one has to the tangible artifacts within one’s life. It is also the reason that vinyl records have made a stable resurgence in an industry now defined by digital retailers and waning CD sales. It initially seems like an illogical shift in a changing market. According to a March study by research firm Strategy Analytics, digital music sales are expected to exceed CD recordings in 2012. Tangible music sales also plummeted 7 percent in 2010 alone while online outlets such as iTunes have posted double-digit growth during the past several years. However, walk through the vinyl record aisles of Minneapolis’ mainstay music shop, the Electric Fetus, or Uptown’s go-to secondhand outlet, Cheapo, and these contrasts in adoration are readily apparent. The used vinyl recordings, many decades old, usually still hold their original liner notes and paper slipping. Meanwhile, the used CDs, many years old, are visibly scratched, cracked and water-damaged. It is a visible indication of why this community of collectors has revitalized the market for a medium that predates its current competitor by over a century. Amid the oft-discussed shift to digital outlets, 2010 witnessed a 14 percent rise in vinyl sales while the overarching album figures were down by 13 percent, according to a Nielsen SoundScan report from earlier this year. It is also a trend that local artists and entrepreneurs have excitedly embraced—none more than Minneapolis’

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SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  9


CULTURE

GOOD RIDDANCE

The brains behind the braindead Looking at pop culture’s zombie infection under the microscope.

W

Photography by Bre McGee

strings of music geeks, some local bands utilize the beloved music form to attract new ears. Minneapolis’ whiskeytinged stomp rockers, The 4onthefloor, spent March raising funds to afford the pressings for their 2011 debut LP, “4x4.” “The artwork was designed for a full LP gatefold,” The 4onthefloor frontman Gabe Douglas says, “So it’s going to look really, really cool. We’re really excited about it.” The interest in a closer listen is likely not limited to Douglas’ opinion, and the purgatorial transition of music’s format has tended to fight against this. The vinyl gave way to the smaller eight-track recordings, which could be more easily listened to in an automobile or a smaller unit. Before CDs allowed track skipping, cassettes introduced the fast-forward ability. Now, the single-song business model of digital retailers puts a greater schism between the holistic artistry of the full-length record. Considering such changes, vinyl’s rigid listening experience makes it a sensible competitor in an industry dominated by three-minute attention spans. For every laissez-faire listener jumping from track to track on their weekend party mix there is a vinyl nerd caressing the 12-inch gatefold of some hard-to-find 60s cut while they are gleefully forced to listen to every last song. —Andrew Penkalski

Photography by Bre McGee

Secret Stash Records. Based out of a rinky-dink office space on Lake Street, Secret Stash co-owners Eric Foss and Cory Wong package and distribute a unique catalog of hard-to-find global music. Anyone in need of Afro-Peruvian guitar sessions or old Soviet punk pressings should look no further. They oversee a vinyl pressing for each of their CD and mp3 releases. It is a thread of the music market that is largely interested in a polished and detailed product. “It’s not going to sound as romanticized as one would like to think,” Foss says, “but part of it really is smart business.” Foss and Wong’s efforts are carried by much greater intentions than capital interests. Much like the sentiment shared by avid collectors, their work is of a curatorial or educational nature. Their products, with colorful discs and thorough written supplements, are not just records; they are pieces of a greater musical history. It is a level of tender love and care that is hard to provide with a compressed mp3 or five-by-four inch CD case. “We like having that connection with people,” Foss says. “It is partially that personal satisfaction that we get out of doing it, but it is also great for our business.” While Secret Stash’s financial model involves tugging at the nostalgic heart-

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hen Andrew Graham first started the Minnesota Association of Zombie Enthusiasts (MAZE), he was inspired by the idea of surviving the zombie apocalypse—an army of flesh-eating corpses reanimated to suck the living hell out of humans. “Of course I don’t think that there will be living dead people running around,” says Graham, the president of MAZE. He is more interested in the survival aspect of the apocalypse, anyway. Graham satisfies his zombie infatuation with games like “Humans vs. Zombies Tag,” a college-based competition where the goal is for either all “Humans” to be turned into “Zombies,” or vice versa. “It is a real power struggle, being real strong to not become one [of the zombies],” he says. “It is like making light of a terrible situation.” Besides Graham’s imagination, zombies have also been invading our pop culture. Their proliferation stretches from books to movies to video games, taking over almost every possible genre that they can get their rotten hands on. You can find zombie-inspired events all over the country (we have our annual Zombie Pub Crawl in Min-

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neapolis). Entrepreneurs find this widespread fascination with zombies so profitable that they even open zombie-themed bars (Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den, anyone?). Having walked the earth for over two centuries, our undead, decomposing friends have certainly come a long way. Zombies started off as a part of African mythology, later symbolizing Haitian slaves who were risen from the dead by sorcerers as laborers, according to Sarah Juliet Lauro, coauthor of “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism.” By the 1920s, zombies started to appear in pop culture. No longer symbolizing the African slaves working fields of sugarcane, zombies now represent the factory workers of the present time. Set in 1966, “The Plague of the Zombies” depicts zombies working in mines, which represented the powerless working class in the emerging British factories. Lauro says the present form of zombies depict the present day struggles of the lower social class. “Today, zombies may be symbolic of capitalism, which causes great dismay among the proletariat as workers are often left alienated and unsatisfied, especially during an

economic crisis,” says Lauro. Peter Y. Paik, Associate Professor of French, Italian and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, explains that zombies today crystallize our fears of social and economic collapse. “Zombies are in a state of perpetual decay—they are not productive, nor do they make anything, but they merely live off the flesh of the living,” says Paik. “They thus can be identified with the fear of being left behind in a hyper-competitive economy, where high-paying jobs are difficult to obtain and much of the middle class is threatened with sinking into poverty.” He further elaborates that presently in our society there is a widespread sense that the future will not be better than today and that younger generations will not be able to achieve the same standard of living attained by their parents. One of the core beliefs of the U.S. is that we are progressing toward a better future. According to Paik, “It is the loss of this idea, the widespread doubt that this belief can be made true, that has made zombies so popular in TV, comics, movies, video games, and other media.” —Mercy Lo

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CULTURE

CULTURE

From Grave to Gallery

A Different Death in the Family

Two Minnesota artists use supplies you won’t find in any art store.

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What are the challenges of working with these materials? K.U. Recontextualizing them is a tough challenge. Dead fauna are “pre-charged” with intense subjective connotation. Folks are scared of death and dead things, and there are plenty of negative reactions. The trick is to create something interesting and beautiful with such material. A.B. Some challenges with working with older papers are mainly archival. 40-yearold paper is brittle, and carbon paper, when transcribed, is incredibly light sensitive. All in all, the main challenge and goal is respecting the found materials. There is a reverence whenever I enter an estate sale in strangers’ homes, just as there is when I find refuse or discarded photographs. Without getting too witchy, I tend to gravitate and want to work with things that have been inhabited by others’ thoughts and hands.

Brewer uses neglected items like book pages and maps as the foundation for his art. From top left: “THE END” and “d.v. dyke world.”

What draws you to the use of these materials? K.U. They represent some of the least attractive aspects of our lives: rot, death, disuse, disappearance, loss, forgetting, fear, and pain. They are “ripe” material for recontextualization and referential iconography. A.B. I enjoy the challenge of responding to a piece of paper or image that may be 50 to 100 years old. I find a personal connection with the materials and let the age and inconsistencies influence and conjure my own memories and responses. The used object, trash, [and] found things to me represent life cycles and death. My goal is to stop time momentarily with the artwork.

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W

alk through the little Roseville cemetery at 694 Cope Ave., and you’re sure to notice a few peculiarities. Not only are there no massive monuments, but most of the epitaphs only show a first name and a lifespan of eight to fifteen years. While the browned, wet ground still hasn’t seen the full spring thaw, there is a sense that this is a less-frequented hallowed ground regardless of the season. That is, if you don’t count the middleaged woman speaking to a site near the back of the acreage. She’s standing over the buried remains of a lost loved one, whose name was Coco. This burial site just north of Minneapolis is the Memorial Pet Cemetery, and it has been a resting place for departed Buddys and Luckys since 1920. The site, which works in coordination with the Twin Cities chapter of the Animal Humane Society (AHS), is the home of a collection of varied departed species; many of the

Photography by Bre McGee

How do you rebirth these objects? K.U. I often see them as potential landscapes, worlds, and places. They become the basis for potential narratives, stories and open discussions about our place in the world — a world where death is inevitable and assured. How do we interpret (or ignore) our mortality? A.B. The rebirth of the objects takes as much time mentally as it does physically. Since each item I use to create is one-of-a-kind, my decisions for markmaking have to be well thought out and appropriate to the materials. I intend on responding to the “thingness” of materials, letting stains and text influence my steps and purpose for the response. If there happens to be a bit of text on the found paper, I will try to invent a personal context, usually drawing from my own experiences and memories.

ed as trash than artistic media. Some minds see these things as opportunities for reinterpretation — like Chatfield artist Karl Unnasch and St. Paul-based painter and illustrator Allen Brewer. The two talked to Chelsey Knutson about their interest in dead objects and the methods of bringing them back to life.

Photography courtesy of Allen Brewer

Can you to tell me specifically about your background with ephemeral media? Karl Unnasch: I grew up and maintained a rural lifestyle. My history has been rife in dealing with death and life cycles. Hunting, fishing, planting, harvesting, nature, livestock, the challenges and potential hazards of rural life, the extra work involved with succeeding. Allen Brewer: I started collecting carbon paper, and have just come to terms with it as a medium within the last year. Magazines from the ’70s (my childhood years) constantly inspire my color choices and ideas of language and text. As a kid, this meant hoarding trash and animal remnants that held special meaning for me. As an adult, I am finally learning how to contextualize these experiences, with the help of years and decades of materials and words.

Most people consider art to be something entirely original. Paintings and sculptures are mostly associated with an artist’s manual brushstrokes or molding. But what about the wealth of existing materials cast aside for years? Animal carcasses, old cast iron and deteriorating prints are more likely to be interpret-

Losing a family member is hard. Losing an unconditional best friend can be harder. owners are likely gone as well. There are hints of earnestness everywhere, from the handful of mourners to the speckles of fresh flowers near many graves. The loss of a pet is an odd middle ground. There is that oft-mentioned “member of the family” attitude towards the four-legged or winged creatures in 62 percent of American homes. They are less than humans but more than objects. It is also why the AHS offers a surprisingly robust collection of services to those who are in the midst of grieving, from crematory options to support groups. Kenn Carlson is one of the society’s volunteer grief counselors, and it is an admitted passion of his. “I’ve always dealt with emotional facets of human behavior,” says Carlson, who works as a psychiatric nurse. “I’ve also lost several pets in my own past. A couple of them I really bonded with, and I noticed that when I was grieving, it was the same

as the loss of my pet or the loss of my dad.” Many visitors associate guilt with their grief, according to Carlson. “They feel guilty that they feel worse about the loss of their pet than their mother,” he says, “but they’re not grieving more. They’re grieving differently.” It is a reality that a deceased pet’s void can be more easily filled than a lost loved one. It is also a reality that Carlson sees as one of the greater struggles in mourners. “Many times people hear from their friends and family, ‘you can always get another dog,’ ” he says, “which makes sense. They aren’t suggesting a blatant replacement but wishing to see their loved ones with the thing that made them so happy before.” Fourth-year University of Minnesota communications major Max Easterday was never able to play that last game of fetch with his 14-year-old beagle, Bruce, who died late January. “Like any loss, it’s great to be able to say goodbye,” says Easterday, who is originally from Milwaukee. “I think the ‘not being there’ aspect made it harder, so I tried not to think about it too much after it happened.” As is the case with human losses, people mourn their pets in different ways. It is at least very comforting to know that organizations like the Animal Humane Society has a sanctuary for anyone mourning the loss of a canine or feline. They also will likely have a new best friend waiting for anyone who is finally ready to move forward, which is something Easterday says will happen on his own terms. “My parents got a cocker spaniel [in March],” he says. “I don’t really see it as my dog. I’m waiting until I can get one that is mine.” It is that kind of attitude that speaks to Carlson’s work. A pet is more than a novel addition to a household. It’s a relationship. —Andrew Penkalski A variety of animals have been laid to rest at the Memorial Pet Cemetery, some much older than others.

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SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  13


CULTURE

Founders and Fighters A look at the oldest cemetery in Minneapolis.

Grave markers at the Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery peek out of the snow in mid-February. Some have worn faces dating back to 1903. The cemetery is open to the public from April 15 to Oct. 15.

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Europe, founders and first residents of the state of Minnesota. “The burials reflect the migration and immigration patterns of 19th century America, a time when Minnesota was considered the northwest frontier,” says Hunter-Weir. About 150 years later, a bustling working-class community of immigrants from Mexico and Eastern Africa surrounds this 27-acre plot of land. The billboards surrounding the cemetery are in both English and Spanish, sometimes just Spanish. “Part of the attraction of cemeteries is that they really are about all of us—how we got to where we are. Many of the people who are buried in this cemetery quite literally built the city of Minneapolis. They were the railroad and mill-workers, carpenters, cops, and firefighters—the people who make it work,” says Hunter-Weir. Like our ancestors, these people worked to build a better future for their children. It is important to remember where we came from, how our home became what it is today, and recognize the people who worked so hard to make the future better for their children. —Mandy Majorowicz

Do you like history, culture and dead things? Check out my blog Per Contra! at welcome.to/flatline.com. Pyramids, bog bodies, Aztec sacrificial rituals, mummification, skull goblets, bone churches, cremation, above-ground cemeteries, and the Day of the Dead are a few things to look forward to. You and I will explore the differences, oddities, rituals, and ideologies of different cultures across the world and throughout history. It’s more fun than school. Also, more awesome. —Mandy Majorowicz

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Two mortuary science students lay undertaker stereotypes to rest.

Photography by Bre McGee

Culture + History + Death = Per Contra

Morticians misunderstood Photography by Mandy Majorowicz

I

spent a chilly Friday afternoon in February hanging around the oldest cemetery in Minneapolis. With some of the city’s earliest colonists as residents, the cemetery represents the roots of our city and the building blocks of our culture. Initially, it looks like any other cemetery—maybe a little more rough around the edges with rusting fences and a bit of graffiti—but it has a stillness within that holds so much history. Right outside the fences, buses and cars were roaring past; people were walking to work, neither paying much attention to its presence. Although seemingly unknown to everyday traffic, the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery is far from forgotten. The cemetery is one of few in the National Register of Historic Sites, and the only historic site in Minnesota—a pretty impressive feat for a graveyard. It was inducted to the Register for the architecture of the cemetery’s Cedar Avenue gates and caretaker’s cottage, the monuments dedicated to territorial women and military veterans, and the historical significance of the people buried there. “The cemetery is unique and like many historic properties, it is irreplaceable. A single act of vandalism could destroy markers, some of which date back to the 1850s and 1860s,” says Friends of the Cemetery volunteer Susan Hunter-Weir.

The Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery, as the name says, is the resting place for many of Minneapolis’ ancestors and founders; among them was the first surveyor of Hennepin County Charles W. Christmas, pioneer Edwin Hedderly, and frontiersman Philander Prescott. There are about 200 military veterans whose services range from the War of 1812 to World War I, including members of the U.S. Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War. William Goodridge, an African-American who ran the Underground Railroad, is there buried next to his grandson, Toussaint L’Ouverture Grey, the first AfricanAmerican child born in St. Anthony. Also, more than half of the cemetery’s 20,000 residents are children, which is due to the limited medical knowledge of 150 years ago. The first burial at the cemetery was 10-month-old Carlton Keith Cressey in 1853. Most of the graves do not have any kind of marker; there are only 1,820 headstones in the cemetery, which represent less than 10 percent of the deceased. Many of the cemetery’s residents were immigrants from Scandinavia and Eastern

By Lauren Huff and Yiqiao Wang

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SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  15


Misconception 1: Funeral directors inherit their jobs from their parents.

Bergeron had never considered becoming a funeral director until she worked as a telephone operator at an answering service in Mankato, Minn., three years ago. Part of her job was to receive phone calls made by families of the recently deceased for transport requests and funeral services. She recorded the information for local funeral homes. “It was tough at first,” Bergeron says. “I can still tell you the first death call I ever took. It was called from a hospice nurse saying that a girl just died at the age of 22.” The calls got easier as time went by. In fact, Bergeron fell in love with the process of working with the funeral directors, fami-

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MaryKay Bergeron and Morgan Hunter, two University of Minnesota Mortuary Science Students, will join this workforce in the upcoming years. Both women are outgoing and affable — characteristics not often associated with funeral directors. And they are no exception. Our culture’s misconceptions have blurred the reality of what the funeral industry actually is. Usually it’s because we’re too afraid to ask what they really do. As prospective funeral directors, Bergeron and Hunter give a fresh understanding on working in the funeral industry.

lies, and health care personnel involved in taking care of the deceased. With her newfound interest, Bergeron decided to pursue a career in the funeral service industry. She enrolled in the University’s Mortuary Science program and started her new journey in life. Hunter’s passion for mortuary science also began while she was working in an area indirectly related to the funeral industry. As a third-year pre-pharmacy student, Hunter applied to work in the Anatomy Bequest Program, a whole body donation program for the purpose of medical and research training. Although she was not originally accepted into the program, she felt she would enjoy working with the deceased and their families. Her growing interest

in the work encouraged her to transfer to the mortuary science program last year. She also got the job in the Anatomy Bequest Program in the same year. Neither Bergeron nor Hunter have any relatives working in the funeral industry. In fact, only 10 to 15 percent of the students that come into the program are related to funeral home directors, says Michael LuBrant, program director for the University’s Mortuary Science program. Although the funeral industry was dominated by family businesses in past decades, things have changed as people become more exposed to the industry, explains Tom Ellis, a professor in the mortuary science program. “Many students get into the field because they have had really good experiences going through death and dying in

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Clockwise from left: Hunter and Bergeron use embaling fluids to preserve bodies. Embalming labs even require the students’ shoes to be covered. Hunter protects her face with the splash shield in the embalming lab. Bergeron laughs while explaining people’s reactions to learning she is studying mortuary science.

a funeral process,” he says. “They saw the value in being helpful to families.”

Misconception 2: Funeral directors are morbid.

Photography by Bre McGee

e makes his way down the stairs into the musty basement of his family’s funeral home. His grandfather, father, and four brothers were all funeral directors. It is 9 a.m., and he will spend his day working with bodies. “I hope her family bought the expensive casket instead of that ridiculous cremation idea,” he thinks. This, or some version of it, is a common portrayal of morticians. Whether rooted in pop culture or a bad past encounter, this depiction does not come close to describing the more than 30,000 funeral directors nationwide.

Photography by Bre McGee

H

“A lot of people think that we don’t come out during the day. It’s like they think we hide out in dark corners.”

Who would want to work with cadavers all the time? In American culture, death is taboo, and so is working in the funeral industry as the logic goes. “A lot of people think that we don’t come out during the day,” says Bergeron. “It’s like they think we hide out in dark corners.” Dealing with the deceased day in and day out can be overwhelming. You have to separate your personal life from your work life, according to Bergeron. For both Bergeron and Hunter, this separation means doing what many other college students do for fun: read, watch movies, hang out with friends, swing dance, crochet, attend Star Trek Conven-

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tions. Ok, so maybe not every college student crochets like Bergeron or attends Star Trek Conventions like Hunter, but the point is that their thoughts do not revolve around their practice. In fact, they and many funeral directors try to focus on life by helping the deceased’s families heal.

Misconception 3: Funeral directors work on dead bodies all day long.

Sure, funeral directors work on dead bodies. But they also wear other hats that come with different responsibilities. Funeral directors are counselors. They’re legal advisors. They’re mediators. They are embalmers. And as in any profession, certain funeral directors prefer certain hats to others. “I like when people open up to me,” says Bergeron. During her first body removal, a process in which the recently deceased is removed from its original place of death, she was overcome with nerves. She found herself alone with the deceased woman’s granddaughter, a woman of about forty years of age. In an

attempt to make the whole situation as comfortable as possible, she kept talking. “It’s cold outside,” Bergeron said. Small talk for her is a nervous habit. “Yeah, it’s like 5 degrees out,” replied the woman. Her grandmother just died and we’re talking about the weather, thought Bergeron. Bergeron proceeded to assist the funeral director in bringing the deceased to the black van. Home removals are extremely difficult, says Hunter. Her first body removal differed from Bergeron’s in that it was not a home removal, but rather, it occurred in a nursing home. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. It’s going to happen to everybody some day, thought Hunter as she watched his wife say her final goodbyes. She wasn’t an emotional person, but at this moment she was doing all she could to keep it together. As they transported the deceased outside, Hunter’s thoughts remained inside, with his widow. She stayed by his side for three hours. “I’ll probably be making a lot of referrals

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Misconception 4: The funeral industry is dominated by guys.

Dating back to images of the undertaker, the idea that funeral service is a maledominated industry still exists today. However, that’s changing rapidly. According to LuBrant, there have been more women than men in the mortuary science program since 2000, and the percentage of female students continues to grow. Bergeron agrees, citing many of her classes only having a couple male students. Richard Hunt, funeral director at Billman-Hunt Funeral Chapel in Minneapolis, has been in the industry for over 50 years. He explains that funeral service used to be a male-dominated industry mainly because men have more natural strength. In the early years, funeral directors were required to be able to lift and carry bodies, which restrained the number of females from entering the profession. Today, equipment such as body lifts have largely reduced physical strain of transferring bodies, which also eliminated gender barriers in the profession. Hunter says funeral directors today are putting more focus on the emotional aspects of their work, minimizing the physical aspects of the job. “I think people will start to see [funeral directors] a little bit more as compassionate people than anything else, just because suddenly there’s all these women who want to be funeral directors,” Hunter says.

Who were you?

Misconception 5: Funeral directors are just out to make money.

Headlines such as: “Everything a funeral director won’t tell you,” “Funeral homes have been ripping people off for ages,” and “R.I.P. Off” are plastered all over the Internet in the forms of personal blogs, websites and even professional news sites. “Some funeral directors are in the business just to make money,” says Bergeron. “But you can’t last long in this industry by being emotionally detached.” For Bergeron, the best form of payment is the knowledge that she’s helped a family honor their loved one. For many funeral directors, helping people through the hardest time in their lives is more important than money. Every Mortuary Science Department in the nation is required to have an embalming room, according to Program Director Michael LuBrant. While students are required to learn embalming, a technical aspect of the job, they’re not required to learn how to communicate with families; another vital part of the job. The University of Minnesota recognizes the importance of communication for funeral directors and, as a result, built a “funeral arrangement room” where students simulate the interaction with families who have recently lost a loved one. Angela Woosley, a former funeral director, teaches the class. The simulations in Woosley’s class are where students learn both the business side of the job as well as how to communicate with families. Woosley’s class teaches students how to be a better business person and a more empathetic communicator. Bergeron and Hunter want to be seen as the caring and compassionate people they are rather than to be lumped into the stereotype society has made about funeral directors. “I don’t want to be seen as the bad guy,” says Bergeron. “I want families to say she listened, she took the time, and she cared.”

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Thinking about dying could change how you’re living. By Priscilla Lundquist

S

erenity Ward, an energetic, easygoing 18-year-old, has written her own eulogy. Wanting to come face-toface with her own death, the second-year University of Minnesota student wrote the eulogy as if a close friend of hers were delivering it. Her love for Jesus, friends, and family make up most of her personal narrative. It was not easy for Ward to picture herself dead, and contemplating what friends and family would want to remember about her was painful. But Ward also discovered that facing her death helped her realize what she wants to accomplish before she dies. “It made me think about how I wanted to be more intentional in my actions,” says Ward. Thinking about death made dying less scary and not as “terrible.” Ward says the exercise changed how she

Photography by Bre McGee

“I don’t want to be seen as the bad guy. I want families to say she listened, she took the time and she cared.”

to Bergeron,” Hunter says, laughing. “The counseling part makes me nervous. I don’t want to make them feel that what they’re feeling isn’t correct.” In dealing with the deceased, funeral directors work hardest with the living. For some, like Bergeron, counseling families helps make dealing with the deceased more comfortable. For others, like Hunter, helping families means doing the more technical sides of the job, such as embalming, to the best of their ability.

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viewed life and death. “It was something very intimidating for me,” Ward says. Writing your own eulogy might sound depressing and morbid. Americans, after all, tend to avoid subjects that remind us of our own mortality. “We’re sort of hard-wired to avoid negative things, painful things,” says Shmuel Lissek, Ph.D., psychology professor at the University of Minnesota. So why would thinking about death be a good thing? Does avoiding the topic of death damage you? How does facing our mortality benefit us as individuals and as members of a community? Part of our widespread fear of death is that no one knows exactly what happens when you close your eyes for the last time. “We all know [we are] going to die,” says Chad Marsolek, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University

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“The expectation is that death [is not] around the corner–[it is] over the horizon.” 20  FLATLINE SPRING 2011

death, “normalizing” the thought of passing away, weakens the negative feelings associated with dying. That’s why writing her own eulogy made death less frightening for Ward. If we talk and think about death, we lessen our death anxiety. “We’ve been able to bracket [death] off, put it in box, close it up in a room somewhere,” says Philip Sellew, Ph.D., professor in the Near East and Classical Studies department and of the “Death and the Afterlife” class at the University. In our urbanized society, the sick and dying are sent to hospitals and nursing homes to receive care, Sellew continues. Even the death of the animals we eat is removed from us. Death becomes unreal, something that will happen, but not for a while. “The expectation is that death [is not] around the corner– [it is] over the horizon,” says Sellew. Pushing death back keeps us from having to face that reality. But when we realize that life has an end, experts say, we appreciate the time we do have here on earth. “The law of supply and demand makes us value the things in limited supply,” says Lissek. If we know we have a limited supply of days, we will value them more, he goes on to say. “Life is precious and important precisely because it is finite, fragile, and fleeting,” writes Vincent Barry, Ph.D., in “Philosophical Thinking about Death and Dying.” Accepting your death can also help you focus on what is most important to you and help you prioritize what you want to get done before you go, according to Barry. When Ward wrote her own eulogy, she barely mentioned her dream job of becoming a teacher. Instead, she focused on relationships. “The most important relationship of all is my relationship with Jesus Christ, and that’s what I base all my relationships on,” Ward says. Ward’s realization that the nonmaterial parts of life matter most to her is common. Death brings us all to the same level, according to Lissek. The balance in your checking account, the number of friends you have on Facebook, your SAT scores—none of them matter on your deathbed. Some people may have a more expensive coffin or more friends at the funeral, but everyone dies. “[We are] all in this boat together,” says Lissek. This leveling factor can be used to bring us together. Death makes us realize we are

“Life is precious and important precisely because it is finite, fragile, and fleeting.”

not that different; coming to terms with this truth early in life can make us bond and connect with people different from ourselves. Whether you decide to write your eulogy or simply recognize that life is short, facing the inevitable guides you to what is truly important in life and paradoxically reduces your anxiety about dying. Mortality is something that all humans have in common. When we realize that we all will die, it can bring us together, help us overcome our differences, and realize that we are all human. Economic status, race, religion, culture will not matter once we are dead.

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(giving) Life after death By Liz Maher

E Organ and tissue donation provide life for some and meaning for others.

Photography by Blake Dahmen

of Minnesota. “[But, there is] no absolute understanding about what it entails.” Physically our bodies decompose, but the unknown about the afterlife can be scary. No one can tell us what it is like to die. We fear the unknown, and death is a big unknown. Experts agree that talking about death and normalizing the thought of death waters down the anxiety, fear, and pain. “If death is always linked to anxiety, and that is the only context that I experience death in, that connection is going to be very strong,” says Lissek. Talking and thinking about death creates links to other emotions, besides anxiety, weakening that link. Talk therapy has been around since Freud, Lissek goes on to say. It is based on the idea that talking through and processing our emotions helps us overcome our fears and prepares us to face them. “If you have a thought or a memory [that is] uncomfortable, and you always avoid it, [it is] going to remain very emotionally charged,” says Lissek. Thinking about

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ven now, 21 years later, Jill Halimi tears up when she remembers Jeff Kleven. “He was really great,” she says, smiling even though she’s crying. Halimi remembers Kleven as charismatic, social and outgoing. But in the middle of describing her long-dead boyfriend, Halimi’s words become choppy and she turns quiet. “He was really great,” she whispers. Kleven was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1990 when he was 25 years old. Halimi, who had been dating Kleven for six months at the time, was at the hospital with his family when they were unexpectedly confronted with the decision about whether or not to donate Kleven’s organs. “There was no hesitation. We all knew it was what he would have wanted,” she says. As a result, Kleven’s kidneys and heart valves got second lives. Many people don’t think about organ and tissue donation until they are confronted with a tragedy. That’s mostly due to a lack of awareness surrounding the issue, according to Becky Ousley, SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  21


Jim Wendt knows first-hand the value of tissue donation. A healthy, active real estate broker and appraiser in Milwaukee, Wis., Wendt was walking down a flight of stairs in 1995 when his femur broke. X-rays revealed the break was caused by a benign bone tumor that was extremely

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Organs and Tissues That Can Be Donated

Corneas

Heart valves Lungs

Heart

Connective tissue Kidneys

Liver

Pancreas

Veins

Intestines

Bones

These two donor family quilts are displayed in LifeSource’s lobby. Each square has been created by loved ones to commorate the lives of donors. LifeSource currently has more than 200 memory patches spread across several quilts.

Skin

Tendons

The process of becoming eligible for organ donation can be complicated. “The person has to be sick enough to need the organ,” says Taler. “But not so sick that they are not likely to survive very long or make it through the first year after transplant surgery.” This is often the most

destructive to his femur and hip. “It was questionable whether my leg could be saved,” he says. “There was a possibility that it would have to be amputated.” Luckily, Wendt’s doctor was a specialist in allografting—bone transplantation— and decided Wendt was a candidate for this type of surgery. He just needed a new femur bone. Donor bones are available freezedried or frozen from a variety of donor banks across the U.S., so Wendt was able to receive a bone that was similar in size to his own without being on a waiting list. He was on the road to recovery soon after the 12-hour surgery that joined the femur with the donor bone and stabilized the graft and joints with a rod and bands. “After surgery, I was on crutches for

several months, progressed to a cane, and finally to walking on my own,” Wendt says. “Rehabilitation was intense.”

Waiting

Receiving organs or tissues for transplant isn’t always as simple as it was for Wendt. In fact, the national waiting list for organs currently exceeds 110,000 people, according to LifeSource. Almost 88,000 are waiting for kidneys alone. According to Dr. Sandra Taler M.D., a nephrologist on the Kidney Transplant Selection Committee at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., 75 percent of kidney transplants at Mayo come from living donors, while 25 percent are from cadaver donations. About 200 people receive kidney transplants at Mayo each year.

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ance companies will not cover transplant procedures performed at a center without federal approval status. “If that happens, we can’t help anyone,” Taler says. In addition, organ transplantation logistics are crucial. In order for organs to be viable, the donor must have died in

“There is no better way to help people than to truly help save lives.”

Photography by Stephanie Rosengren

Tissue donation

Usable Organs and tissues

Illustration by Liz Maher

the senior public relations coordinator at LifeSource. LifeSource is a non-profit organization that arranges organ donations and transplants from its office in Minneapolis. According to LifeSource’s mission statement, the organization is working to save lives and offer hope and healing through excellence in organ and tissue donation. LifeSource has been federally designated to manage all organ donation and much of the tissue donation in the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and western Wisconsin. The non-profit approaches the issue of organ donation from three angles: clinical challenges, hospital services, and public affairs responsibilities. Clinical challenges involve managing the technicalities of donations. Hospital services include educating health professionals in administration, intensive care units, and emergency rooms. Public affairs responsibilities consist of informing the public about donation and providing an aftercare program for donor families. Becoming an organ and tissue donor is actually very easy, according to Ousley. Driver’s license and state ID card applications have an organ and tissue donation option. Donor registration is also available online at www.DonateLifeMN.org. While Kleven’s family knew he would have wanted to donate his organs, it’s not always that easy. If family members are unaware of an individual’s desire to donate, viable, life-saving organs and tissues can be wasted. That’s why Ousley says she cannot stress enough the importance of individually sharing one’s donor preference with family members. Ousley explains that each donor has the potential to save and improve the lives of as many as 60 people by organ and tissue donation. Organ donations can include the heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, liver, and intestines. Tissue donations, including corneas, skin, veins, tendons, bone, and connective tissue can all be utilized to save lives.

emotionally challenging issue for transplant selection committees. Taler says that sometimes a very ill patient cannot receive a transplant because of his or her prognosis. “We know that when we turn someone down they will very likely die within several years if not sooner.” Although Taler wishes the transplant team could help all patients who need kidneys, transplant centers like Mayo face rigorous federal performance standards. These standards require extremely high success rates, with less than 2 to 5 percent of patients experiencing kidney failure after transplantation. If a transplant center does not meet these standards, it will lose approval status, and insur-

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a hospital setting, suffered a non-recoverable brain injury, and been placed on a ventilator. Ousley says that about only 5 percent of the population dies under these conditions. Even if these criteria are met, a strict timeframe still exists to keep organs healthy for transplant. Some organs, like the heart and lungs, must be transplanted within six hours, while the pancreas, kidneys, and intestines can be preserved for between 12 and 24 hours.

An incredible irony

The organ and tissue donation process can have powerful emotional impacts on the lives of those involved. Wendt’s bone

transplant and Halimi’s experience with Kleven’s donation changed them forever. Both now find themselves passionate proponents of organ and tissue donation—Halimi in a career at LifeSource and Wendt as a volunteer spokesman in Wisconsin. “It’s one way that I can attempt to give back for the donor gift that I received,” Wendt says. Although donated organs and tissues have the power to save lives, they are available only because someone else has died. Grief counseling, experts agree, is important for donor families. Halimi facilitates LifeSource’s aftercare program for donor families, which gives grieving loved ones a chance to mourn together and share stories. She also offers bereavement resources and provides an opportunity for donor and recipient families to connect—an option that Halimi says less than 10 percent of donor families choose. The resulting relationships from such contact can last for years. “Donation is the one positive that can come from their tragedy,” Ousley says. “There is no better way to help people than to truly help save lives.”

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“Take Nothing but Photos. Leave Nothing but Footprints” —Sierra Club

T

Urban Explorers find beauty in decaying landmarks. By Carly Schramm

he ominous beige towers loom ahead in the night as a thick fog envelops the prominent black letters atop the 200-foot grain elevator. Rusty pipes trail down the length of the tower while patches of splashed whitewash fail to completely erase the graffiti tags that dominate the exterior. The Bunge Tower, while an iconic landmark in the Van Cleve Park neighborhood, is only another defunct building left for decay. The elevator, speckled with jagged shards of glass jutting out from

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the windowless panes, seems to go unnoticed by most who pass by its skeleton. Yet, some feel drawn to it. Some call this run-down place home, some only want to find an inch of space on the graffiti laden interior to leave behind a tag, and some come ready to infiltrate, not to mark or destroy the property, but to see the world from a perspective that few have ever seen. They call themselves urban adventurers. Seeking out abandoned buildings, steam tunnels, or firedestroyed towers at their own risk, these explorers simply need to feed an addiction. They find beauty in unsound

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Photography courtesy of Courtney Celley

In the ruins

structures otherwise an eyesore to the rest of society. Informal groups of adventurers and even lone enthusiasts are scattered around the globe, but a strong local force resides in the Twin Cities. The men and women who make up this daring sub-culture know of the considerable dangers and the harsh legalities that surround the hobby of exploring urban sites, yet continue to seek out new areas with a strict code of ethics that make them an “organized recreational trespassing and exploration” culture. Max Action, now a 33 year-old Uni-

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versity of Minnesota alum under alias, founded what he thought was the first of its kind, an “Adventure Squad” of like-minded students on the University of Minnesota campus during the spring semester of his freshmen year. The squad formed in 1996 and offered more than the typical college social scene ever could. Although there was never a formal membership, the seven explorers who made up the core group turned the popular children’s pastime into an organized adult hobby. For Action the curiosity bug bit early. He had a knack for exploring the old bomb shelter and “secret passages”

coiled around his grandmother’s house and itched to get inside an old cave, dilapidated mill, and tunnel system that always caught his eye on the drive to her house. However, this interest didn’t fade with maturity; it intensified. As a college freshmen Action was bored with the social scene on campus and set out to find a more exciting and rewarding venture. “I found myself living unsupervised in the midst of an urban playground just waiting to be explored,” he says. The East Bank Tailrace Tunnels, otherwise known as the NSP power plant SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  25


“Afterward you can tend to feel pretty damn cool, walking around with surface dwellers who have no idea that you were just crawling around beneath them —in spaces they aren’t even aware of—having a blast doing stuff that doesn’t cross most people’s minds.” death at every step, and even when the last train pulled away from the grain elevator in 2003, disaster was still at play behind the thick, cold walls of the abandoned framework. Today, only a funhouse death trap remains. For 21-year-old University of Minnesota junior Germain Vigeant, Bunge Tower claimed her life on a moonless night in January 2006. She was exploring the tower with Damon Vaughan on what would be their first and final date. Even after Vigeant suddenly fell to her death from an unforeseen hole in the floor more than 100 feet up in one of the grain silos, explorers were determined to not let fences, “No Trespassing” signs, or even a tragic death stop them from making an ascent to the top of the tower. After 24 scouting missions, Celley’s opportunity to see what many others have enjoyed finally came in July 2010. After noticing that every possible entrance was welded shut on her first time out, she had no choice but to check back day after day, determined to find an opening. “I’m pretty cautious about which locations I choose to enter,” she says. “I’ll never break into a building. If there is an open entrance, I’ll find it. If not, I stay out.” With luck, Celley found an opening between two metal wall panels at the tower’s base and decided to return the

Counter clockwise from left: A bird that flew through the windowless panes and never found a way out lies decaying on the cement floor. Staring up from the base of the 200foot tower. The light shines in through the shattered windows. Rusty pipes inside the grain elevator are covered in graffiti tags. The shaky, grated staircase coils up 200 feet. Graffiti plasters the interior of the Bunge Tower.

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Most urban explorers are charged with trespassing, unless they have committed another crime such as theft, says University Chief of Police Greg Hestness. Generally, these explorers are “not committing acts of terror, they’re just looking for a sense of adventure.” While many urban adventurers may not be doing anything that would pose a threat to others, that excuse doesn’t fly when it comes to the law. “I’ve been caught five times, charged twice, questioned multiple times, convicted once, and have played hide and seek in probably more than 10 encounters,” says ToXic, a 23-year-old Twin Cities Urban Recon explorer under alias. “If you’re caught you can’t do much—you just end up in the back of a squad car.” Although the chances of getting caught can be high, explorers are always thinking one-step ahead. Playing spy or secret agent man with the latest gadgets and elaborate attire is not only excessive, but also cumbersome and noticeable. Someone tiptoeing around in Army camouflage and trying to blend in with a backpack chock-full of spy gadgetry, lock picks, and tools will only draw in more unwanted attention. Plus, an explorer could be slapped with a possession of burglar’s tools charge if caught by a police officer. Sometimes nice Sunday clothes will do the trick if the plan is to sneak into an active church bell tower, and sometimes chest-high rubber waders are a necessity in an active sewer, says Action. However, even if an exploration is successful many dangers go unnoticed. Years spent venturing through crumbling infrastructures and slinking through asbestos filled tunnels can have a significant impact on an explorer’s short and long-term health and wellbeing. “I can’t even imagine all the toxic crap I’ve absorbed over the years,” says Action. Knowing the risks and dangers he subjects himself to, Action makes it a priority to minimize harm by exploring alert. Avoiding rotting floors, live wires, and rabid wildlife are just as important as watching out for protruding rusty nails and irritated homeless people. There is no doubt that urban exploration is a dangerous hobby, but oftentimes

the danger lies in the unexpected. Most adventurers do not seek out danger, they carefully maneuver through it to get to the real gems: downtown skylines from an angle few will ever see, the natural beauty of urban decay, and the thrill of discovering the “unknown,” says Action. “If danger was my priority, I could just go play in traffic on the highway.”

“You look at beauty differently than you did before, and you see decay in a new light. Decay can be a terribly sad thing, but it can also be beautiful and unique.”

Photography courtesy of Courtney Celley

damn cool, walking around with surface dwellers who have no idea that you were just crawling around beneath them— in spaces they aren’t even aware of—having a blast doing stuff that doesn’t cross most people’s minds,” says Action. Courtney Celley, a 22-year-old MCAD graduate student and urban adventurer, began exploring and photographing these danger-filled locations in the fall of 2009. Celley, aware of the dangers she puts herself in, makes a point to be as cautious and prepared for an exploration as possible; scouting the area and bringing proper gear are crucial. “A lot of times I’ve found myself thinking after the fact about how dangerous a building could have been, but I think when I’m inside, I’m mostly focused on taking in the experience,” says Celley. After seeing photos of the vivid graffiti from others who have made the risky climb, Celley’s eye was on the Bunge Tower. However, getting in would be the challenge. Bunge has been a source of tragedy over the years in more ways than one. During the heyday of the grain production, workers were at risk of injury and

next morning to explore with a friend and a camera in tow. With the sun peeking out over downtown Minneapolis, seeping its light through the windowless panes of the lifeless tower, the pair entered through the metal planks and dipped into the shadows of the boarded-up base. Celley and her friend made their ascent up the grated, rusty metal staircase; one swift glance down revealed exactly how far they would fall. The never-ending seethrough staircase was the most frightening part of the whole venture, says Celley. “There were a few spots where the stair was slightly bent, and every time my foot hit that uneven spot, I cringed.” After exploring the tower floor by floor, the pair climbed to the top and took photos of the downtown Minneapolis skyline from a rare vantage point. For Celley, the craving to explore abandoned buildings is not because she wants to seek out danger, or because she likes to rebel, but because “there is a hidden beauty in these buildings that many people will never see or experience,” she says. “You look at beauty differently than you did before, and you see decay in a new light.

Photography courtesy of Courtney Celley

tunnels, snake underneath the abandoned Pillsbury A Mill of St. Anthony Falls. They mark Action’s first major exploration, one that ignited a spark to investigate further. After poking around the St. Anthony tailraces, Action dove into researching the Minneapolis tunnel system and found miles of systems that ran underneath the University campus, some with entrance points near his residence hall. Grabbing his then-girlfriend in one hand and a flashlight in the other, Action ventured out to scout the area. The tunnel access point was in full-visibility, increasing the likelihood that they could be caught. Making careful note of security cameras and motion sensors, Action and his girlfriend tested to see if they worked. When they saw that the alarms were either long-since disabled or merely put in place to bluff trespassers, they jumped at the opportunity and slipped inside. The cramped tunnels hissing forebodingly as clangs echoed in the distance and an aroma of hot brick and sandstone in the narrow passageway was all it took to hook Action. The pair returned “night after night.” “Afterward you can tend to feel pretty

Decay can be a terribly sad thing, but it can also be beautiful and unique.” A common misconception about people who break into abandoned buildings, climb up active bell towers, and infiltrate steam tunnels is that they are simply vandals and taggers out to deface property. However, urban adventurers explore with ethics and observe with integrity. In the long run, stealing only creates more legal problems, vandalism ruins the experience for other adventurers, and exploring under the influence of alcohol and drugs jeopardizes safety. However, there are consequences. Acting lost and playing the “clueless photographer” can only be taken so far. A group of six men, including some former Action Squad members, were caught exploring outside the Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul in December 2003, arrested, and accused of alleged terroristic activity. However, all six men were released without charge.

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SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  27


Jill felt that in order to grieve such a loss, doing something to show her extraordinary love for her mother was in order. She found that using her body as a canvas for commemorating her mother helped.

Cindy and her husband Mike met for happy hour at 5:00 at the same place every Thursday. Ironically, Cindy took her last breath on Thursday, July 20 at 5:00pm.

July 16, 2006: A day that changed Jill Hafner’s (center) life forever. Jill’s mother, Cindy (left), died after suffering a stroke as the result of a brain tumor. She was survived by her husband, three children, and many friends and family.

Tears and Ink By Bre McGee

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After losing her mother, one woman decorates her body to celebrate and grieve. welcome.to/flatline

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Jill chose to have lyrics from Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates” tattooed on her side, typically one of the most painful places to get tattooed. “I figured ribcage was perfect because I probably wasn’t going to feel it and it wasn’t going to amount to the pain that I was going through.”

Soon after her mother’s passing, Jill got the lifelong nickname Cindy gave her, Peaches, on the back of her neck.

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SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  31


VOICES For her eighteenth birthday, Jill got a portrait of her mother on her wedding day tattooed over her right shoulder blade. “It’s a picture of her on her wedding day and on my wedding day, she’s not going to be there. But in the same sense, I’ll be walking down that aisle and people are going to be seeing me and my mom.”

Hmong among Americans The difficulty of preserving one’s culture while living in another. By Sarah Song Vang

I

have a terminal illness. It isn’t a disease of the body, nor completely of the mind. Overall, my health is as normal as anyone else’s, but my soul feels weak. I’ve contracted Americanization. The definition of Americanization changes depending on whom you talk to. A Korean-Canadian friend of mine going to school in New York attaches Americanization to globalization and politics. A Hmong-American friend equates it to a stench that you spend so much time with in close quarters you can no longer get rid of it. My other Hmong-American friends agree that Americanization is when American culture diffuses into native culture until American culture becomes dominant. I was in middle school when I first experienced what Americanization was doing to me. I had treated everything about Hmong people like it was the plague for as long as I could remember. Being Hmong just wasn’t cool. I felt like an American, but I also felt and was treated like I was Hmong. The dual identity tormented me. I was unsure of where to find even footing in the gray area between the two different worlds, and my confidence was slipping. In high school, I began to regret my naïve childhood. I couldn’t help but compare my limited cultural Hmong experiences with those of my Hmong peers. It was then that I realized I had fully knocked over the scale and was becoming more and more—cue dramatic pause—Americanized. In choosing to stray from the Hmong culture and the traditions of my family, had I helped murder my own heritage? As the child of a 1.5-generation parent, my process of Americanization began long before I

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was born. I grew up attending church and never followed traditional Hmong religion. Unlike patriarchal Hmong society, my family has never emphasized the importance of men over women. This is yet another aspect of Americanization: the ability to retain what traditions we want and rid those we do not. With today’s technology allowing us to preserve almost anything, there has been a surge in the community to remedy Americanization. Community members have created charter schools and other Hmong language and culture programs to appeal to disinterested children. The focus on teaching the Hmong language seems to be most successful in the effort to reclaim Hmong culture. In the Twin Cities, 2011 marks the Fourth Annual Hmong Spelling Bee Competition, hosted by the Southeast Asian Teacher Program and the Hmong Culture and Language Program. Sometimes I wonder if these programs would have helped me through my childhood struggle as someone on the border of both worlds. They definitely would have reminded me of the single most powerful weapon I own and abuse often: choice. In middle school, I chose to deny my heritage. In high school, I chose to mourn it. Now, I choose to revive it in myself. Time and resources have always been on my side and will be there to alleviate some of the pain and confusion a life of conflict brings. As generations come and go, it seems inevitable that the Hmong, as well as other ethnic minorities in the United States, will assimilate into American society. But we all have a choice to keep what we hold dear to us and pass it on to offspring like a reusable vaccine. SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  33


VOICES

VOICES

Just a game

Second thoughts

Pwning is hard. Differentiating violent videogames from reality is easy.

From a sympathetic individual, suicide is not the answer. By Abhi Kumar

By Matthew Deery

I

shoot to kill. The scope on my gun aims for the heads and torsos of my opponents. That’s the best way to get kills in “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” and I’m good at it. At least that’s what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. That’s what my 2.23 kill to death ratio suggests. I laugh and smile when I’m killing those less skilled than me. Killing in this game is easy for me. My skills in this digital environment are prestigious, but they honestly translate to nothing in the real world. Does this really mean I will kill someone in real life in the same manner? Never, in the many hours I have spent playing violent first-person shooting games like “Black Ops,” have I felt aggressive, cruel, savage, or vicious. Never once have I felt that the violence in the game truly resembles reality. I understand this violence and cruelty in games does not translate to the real world. Yet proponents for regulation against violent games, like Hilary Clinton say, “Violent video games cause increases in aggressive thoughts and behaviors.” While she is a respected politician, this statement has no concrete evidence to back it up. Simulated violence does not translate to real violence in our real world. Experts at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Harvard Professors have devoted studies and analyzed the controversial subject. No correlation has been found to connect gamers who play violent video games and violent behavior or an obsession with death. Many of the objections against death and violence in video games have to do with recent school shootings. The United States Secret Service and the FBI created a profile for school shooters and found the only thing they had in common was 34  FLATLINE SPRING 2011

I

that they were males and generally were depressed. They found no evidence that violent video games contributed to school shootings. The experts who have actually devoted time to studying violence and death in video games have found the opposite of what people like Clinton have said to be true. The studies attempting to prove the correlation between violence in video games and aggressive behavior have been found inconclusive. Lawrence Kutner and Dr. Cheryl Olson specialize in child psychology and are the founders of the Center for Mental Health and Media. They have found that violent video games have become a social norm in our society used by many to create a sense of community. “There are some people who are so sure that violent video games are bad for kids that they’re willing to pick up evidence, not look at it too closely, and say ‘Here, this proves it,’” Olson says in an episode of Penn and Teller’s show “Bullshit.” When I read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” I didn’t sit at home waiting for my letter to Hogwarts so I could begin my magical education. I understand there is a difference between reality and fantasy, and I believe most gamers in our society also understand this distinction. Violent video games sell because that is what people want to play. Crime dramas and cop shows are prevalent because the thrill ride surrounding death and violence is what makes for the most interesting television. Killing in a video game doesn’t translate to violent behavior for gamers. It translates to entertainment. It translates to fun. I know the consequences of my actions, and I know there will be no respawn or second chance in real life.

vividly remember the day I lost my grandfather. I was 11 at the time. It was an accident, albeit one that I could have prevented. His death changed me. How, I’m not sure, but I no longer felt good about life. I had suicidal tendencies. For years I blamed myself. Over the years, I’ve lost my grandparents, cousins, and a number of good friends. My mom, my anchor, attempted suicide twice. And recently, a friend I grew up with died. She committed suicide. Most people who commit suicide suffer from some forms of mental illness. That they suffer from one, of course, does not make them any less deserving of affection, but society’s stigma with suicide can sometimes feel impossible to overcome. Many people think of it as a sign of weakness; this includes the sufferers. Unfortunately, those who suffer often suffer quietly. They don’t talk about it because they fear people would shun them. Sadly, this is not an irrational fear. I know what it’s like to feel ashamed of your condition and to not talk about it. I know because I have suffered from depression for more than 15 years, and I still don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Julie Schumacher, the former director of creative writing at the University of Minnesota, says it best in her author’s note addendum to her latest book, “Black Box”—that this feeling “is akin to standing at the edge of a cliff in the dark and being too ashamed to call out for light.” This may feel brave in the interim, but take it from someone

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who’s lived with it for most of his life: sooner or later, it blows up in your face. And when it does, there are very real consequences, for you and those around you. Talk about your feelings. Most people who talk about it don’t want to kill themselves; they just need someone to tell them that their lives are worth living. I often think about why I didn’t commit suicide when, in fact, I gave up on life a long time ago. But as I write this, the reasons are all too clear. No matter how much I may have wanted to, I couldn’t condemn the people I love and who care about me to a life sentence of pain, suffering, and self-loathing. Parents should never have to bury their children. Families can eventually come to terms with losing their loved ones to natural death, an accident, or even murder. They may or may not have someone to blame. But with suicide they have enduring questions that are left unanswered. They don’t understand why their loved one took his or her own life. They try to rationalize that they couldn’t help because they didn’t know, but there is always that glaring question: why? Every passing day they die a thousand ways. Just imagine what it is like to have the police interrogate your parents to try to determine whether or not their actions forced you to commit suicide. In the end, I can’t tell you what to do. All I can say is life is what you make of it. If you’re in pain, you can end the pain without ending yourself.

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VOICES

VOICES

Goodbye Unsaid

Beyond Beliefs

With a father’s passing comes a life lesson in forgiveness.

Examining the differences between Christianity and Islam in death.

By Iman Mohamed

O

ne year. That’s how long it’s been since my father passed away from brain cancer. It isn’t something that’s easy for me to talk– or write–about, but I know that it is a big part of the healing process. Part of what I feel right now is guilt…guilt that I didn’t get to say all the things that needed to be and should have been said before his passing. My parents divorced when I was very young, so I learned early on that my mom was filling the shoes of both parents in the raising of my younger sister and me. The three of us moved to the United States from Nairobi, Kenya in 1999, and settled down in Bloomington, Minnesota while my father stayed behind. Since my father wasn’t really in the picture, I naturally grew to despise him. It might have been that I sensed his responsibility in the divorce. About four years ago, my mother suggested my sister and I try to reconnect with our father because he was sick with an illness that later turned out to be cancer. At the time I really didn’t feel the need to have a relationship with my father. I felt like he had lost his chance to be a part of my life a long time ago. It had been 10 years since we last saw him, and he was a stranger to me. What would we even talk about? My younger sister, Khadija, has always been known to be the “shy” child, and since she wasn’t even born when the divorce happened, she didn’t have all the bottled up animosity towards our father that I did. I dreaded these phone calls every weekend, mostly because the conversation on my part felt so forced, so artificial, in order to prevent any room for those awkward moments of silence. After about three months of talking to each other back and forth, the phone calls became less

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By Mukhtar Ibrahim

D

eath is an inescapable certainty that is awaiting us all. It strikes young and old, male and female, rich and poor. It does not discriminate, and sadly we witness it everyday. Death is interpreted differently across various religions. In Christianity, death comes as a result of sin entering the world. “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned,” the Bible says in Romans 5:12. Christians believe Jesus Christ died for their sins in order to save them. “Because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” so long as they believe in the resurrection of Christ [Romans 6:7]. Death is a fundamental part of Islamic religion as well, though the two religions differ in how they view death. Muslims believe only God has the full authority over all that happens, and all people are responsible for what they do, bad or good. “And it is not [possible] for one to die except by permission of Allah at a decree determined,” the Quran says in chapter 3:145. Christians believe Christ died for their sins and whoever believes in him—believes that Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected as a gift from God for the redemption of the world’s sins—will be saved and thus go to heaven. The Bible says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” [John 3:16-17]. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that in order to gain righteousness and proceed to go to heaven following death, a Muslim must have done

and less frequent. I was regrettably okay with that. I felt like I was back to my old routine of things and could focus on school and the other, more “important” things. Sometime after, we then learned that my father’s illness was a lot more serious than we had thought. We learned that he was traveling to India to get about 95 percent of the tumor in his brain removed. Without hesitation, my sister and I made an effort to contact him and our relatives back home in Kenya, so we could be updated on his condition. A couple weeks after the surgery, he was slowly improving and placed back on dozens of prescription medications. But because of the time difference between Minnesota and Kenya, any update we got wasn’t necessarily an “update.” With the cancer being so sporadic, we never had a moment’s rest. In January 2010, we spoke to our father for the last time. He had lost his ability to talk and was no longer able to perform the basic daily tasks we take for granted. It was only through our aunts and uncles that we knew of his daily condition. My father passed away four days after my 21st birthday. I didn’t know what to think. It felt surreal, mostly because we were so far apart. Not only did I not get to say goodbye, but I also wasn’t able to attend his funeral due to the Islamic practice of burying the deceased soon after death. I don’t think I will ever fully get over the passing of my father, but in order to move on without regrets, I have forgiven him. You learn that in life, people make mistakes, and they can either choose correctly and learn from those mistakes or continue to live in denial. And I believe my father made the right choice.

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enough good deeds to outweigh the bad, thus attempting to gain salvation from hell. When a Muslim dies, that person’s deeds in this world will be taken into account on the day of judgement—a day that Christians believe they will face as well. Whoever does good deeds on earth will go to heaven; whoever has bad deeds that outweigh the good will go to hell. “And every soul will be fully compensated [for] what it did; and God is most knowing of what they do,” says the Quran in chapter 39:70. Christians and Muslims also differ on how they bury and conduct their funerals. In Christianity, “After a person dies, there is nothing necessarily sacred about the body,” according to Pastor Steve Treichler of Hope Community Church. Family and friends gather to mourn and decide when to bury their dead. They might decide to bury the deceased right away or wait a couple of days; it is customary that the deceased should be kept in the mortuary for several days so that family and friends will have more time to visit the dead. In Islam, family and friends gather around the dying person to recite prayers and verses from the Quran. Islam recommends that a person’s last words be what Muslims call the declaration of faith: “There is no God except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” Muslims bury their dead immediately after death. After a person dies, his eyes will be closed, his body will be washed with water, and then his body will be wrapped with a clean piece of shroud. The person will be transferred to a mosque so people can pray on him. The dead will then be taken to the cemetery for burial. Christianity and Islam view death differently, but none of their followers will escape it.

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The Bulletin Board

“I would love to see the long, s se nowy, c o ld Minn winters e sota go. An d the g news is o od that glo bal war already m ing is workin g on ta of them k in g care for me.”

Some thoughts about the trends and people coming and going.

—Prisc

I would love to bid good riddanc e to the playing of Green Day’s “Good Riddance” at graduations. I mean, it’d be something unpredictable … but in the end it’s right.”

illa Lun

“Two things need to die: political correctness and indifference. Sometimes situations need to get heated before we can get past them, and in order to do that we actually need to care.” —Sarah Vang “I don’t care how good you think they make your butt look, Sketchers Shape-Ups have got to go.” —Liz Maher

“Justin Bieber. Thankfully, past child stars like Haley Joel Osment and Lief Erickson have showed us how the cutest kids turn into the ugliest adults. I don’t think Mr. Bieber will be spreading that toxic fever of his around for much longer.” —Andrew Penkalski

dquist

—Austin Wiebe

“I don’t know about you, but I really want to know what happened to the Tamagotchi. I can’t help but recall the days of obsessively monitoring its

“I wan t txts 2 go bac gramr k 2 go now d od eng a t f ones g keybo . and ot QW ardz. L E o R l :).” TY ­

“A recent report by Citigroup shows that tobacco is going to die in the next 40 years. I would be more than happy to see it die even earlier.”

every move and hoping that nothing I did would result in its ‘untimely’ passing.” —Iman Mohamed

—Patr

ick Be

rner

—Yiqiao Wang

“Sandals with socks are not, and will never be, acceptable. I don’t care if you have the feet of an albino. I guarantee your socks draw much more of the negative attention that you’re trying to avoid.” —Chelsey Knutson

ly final s ’ e H ng vre. nd texti a F t t a “Bre playing ot the n e don maybe l l ...we d part.” n seco e himk c S ec —Al

“The Poke on Faceboo k is as poin less as Lind tsey Lohan in drug trea ment.” t—Matthew

38  FLATLINE SPRING 2011

—Brent Renneke

Photography by Bre McGree

I lls? e a c ct enc olle tellig brings c to h -in ned ult-my . Whic er e p tev ap r. T ins at h arre, ith M —wha h i “W t biz ials w oint lsk o n erc p a t D ” w m ric nex r. T? —E com to my to M me pened hap

“I am sad to see Nick Punto’s career with the Minnesota Twins die because he was my only hope that one day I too could trick a major-league baseball team into paying me millions of dollars.”

“Every older woman thinking they can land a younger man is going out of style. I’m sorry ladies, but you are going to have to revert back to men with mortgages and AARP discounts.” —Reece Lamppa

“I’m tired of the girls who rock the ‘made-up frump’ look. Why do they think sweatshirts, sweats tucked into Ugg boots, hair piled into a high messy bun, and a full face of makeup is a good everyday look?”

“3D needs to die! As of right now, it’s a pointless gimmick to get us to dish out extra money for an underwhelming technology. Not worth it.” —Mandy Majorowicz

—Carly Schramm

“Everything cargo. As Seth from Superbad said, ‘Nobody has gotten a hand job in cargo shorts since ‘Nam.’ ” —Blake Dahmen

Deery

welcome.to/flatline

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SPRING 2011 FLATLINE  39


51

Review: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

So what if his remains were put in a gold sarcophagus? So what if that coffin was put in a gold casket? So what if the casket was covered with a purple robe? So what if all that was transported in a gold carriage on a road from Babylon to Alexandria that was specifically built for his funeral? Plenty of funeral bills run $600 million in today’s money.

explain away death as being “unlucky.” This is what separates games like “Stone Soup” from mainstream videogames; there’s no reloading or respawning, there’s only pitiful, embarrassing failure and (hopefully) a lesson learned. One “Stone Soup” player who goes by Ashery on the “Stone Soup” forums highlights an idea of thematic interest. “Death is a necessary tension element,” he says. “Without which the game wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable.” Death in this game is the thrill of the chase with great failure grinning as it looms just over the horizon. “Stone Soup” gives no free lunches, and as a player you slowly realize that you never needed any lunch at all. Is it possible to retrieve the Orb of Zot and win the game? Absolutely. What does it feel like to people who have accomplished this task? “Massive relief that I didn’t screw it up, followed by a brief elation, then I immediately start thinking about the next combo to win with,” says tcjsavannah, another “Stone Soup” forum-goer. That’s the big draw to permanent death in a game — far from a feeling of accomplishment, the player can continue to tempt fate with character after character combination, from high elf hunter to ogre gladiator. A first taste of success leads to a fierce desire for more and greater, even as the uncounted failures are forgotten when juxtaposed against the shining successes. This game is, in short, human history condensed into five and a half megabytes. —Eric Dolski Here, Nam the hill orc is cornered and outnumbered.

40  FLATLINE SPRING 2011

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The funeral began with a four-mile procession from Westminster Abbey to Kensington Palace where Elton John sang “Candle in the Wind.” The production by itself may have only cost around $5 million. But add the lost worker productivity that comes with half the world’s population viewing the funeral and the amount increases exponentially.

Ronald Reagan Elvis Presley

The 40th President of the United States ran a funeral bill that cost the nation somewhere between $400 million to $1 billion. According to Marshall Brain, at the time of Reagan’s funeral, Air Force One cost $56,800-per-hour to operate, so the transportation expenses alone likely exceeded $1 million. Money was lost from Wall Street being closed for the national holiday. Add media, security and other expenses and the price increases to the billion-dollar range.

Elvis had an extravagant funeral that began with a long procession down the street named after him and ended at Forest Hill cemetery in Memphis. The procession included Elvis being carried in a white hearse that was followed by seventeen white limousines. His remains are sealed inside a 900-pound copper coffin. At the time of the funeral, President Jimmy Carter reportedly deployed 300 National Guard troops to maintain order.

Michael Jackson

The King of Pop had a funeral that, compared to his spending habits, only cost around $1 million. The expenses included $35,000 for final resting clothes and a $590,000 crypt in a marble structure. Add the amount of money lost from people watching his funeral rather than working and the price increases.

—Blake Dahmen

Cemetery legends

Photography by Blake Dahmen

W

straight from a 1980’s pulp fantasy paperback. Regardless of which you choose, you’re flung into a 27-level dungeon filled with enemies. In typical enemy fashion, they’ll kill you or you’ll kill them. Wager on the former. When you die, though, your character doesn’t spontaneously regenerate at a nearby location. You’ll never play that character again. Your character gets a short epitaph saying what race and class they were, along with how they were killed. Then they’re gone, and it’s all your fault. Why is it your fault? Because success in “Stone Soup” is based on risk management. You decide whether to attack a menacing ogre, ferocious kobold, or majestic golden dragon. Make the wrong decision and you’ll suffer the consequences. Rarely if ever can a player

The price for a typical funeral may be questionably high, but for these five people, typical was not good enough.

Alexander the Great Princess Diana of Wales

Dying was never so fun.

hether they’re decapitated, disintegrated, eviscerated, drowned, or have a levitation spell expire over molten lava, every character death in “Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup” is worth the time it takes to get there. “Stone Soup” is a computer game where the goal is to retrieve the fabled Orb of Zot, an artifact sought by intrepid adventurers since time immemorial. While this may sound like a “Lord of the Rings” derivative, let me remind you that neither Frodo nor Bilbo Baggins ever died while their plot was in progress. In Stone Soup, you’ll die. You’ll die hundreds, if not thousands of times. I promise. By you, I mean your character in the game. You can play as a human, an elf, a centaur, a sentient housecat, or numerous other races seemingly ripped

most expensive funerals ever

So your attempt at becoming a big-time celebrity didn’t work out as planned. And now to make matters worse, you’re dead. Don’t give up on your dream quite yet, though. Luckily, you have one last chance to leave a legacy behind on earth. Take the advice from these tombstone designs that became Internet sensations and captured the attention of millions of people across the web.

1. Parking meter tombstone - your time is up, right? 2. Cell phone tombstone - can you hear me now? Probably not because you’re dead. 3. Scrabble board tombstone - this one is sure to catch people’s attention. Tell your life story, or lack there of, with the help of this well-known board game. 4. Computer tombstone - make your tombstone the place to be with free Wi-Fi access. 5. Yoda tombstone - Star Wars fan? Not a Star Wars fan? Regardless, a portrait of Yoda next to your name is a great way to make you stand out in the graveyard. May the force be with your limestone tombstone! —Alec Schimke


Flatline  

At Flatline we don't handle death with the latex gloves of political correctness. Instead, we encourage the bold discourse of death while in...

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