Unexpected Influences: Loren Rhoads talks about her new memoir, This Morbid Life.
I want to thank my friend Loren Rhoads for stopping by today to tell us about some of the things that went into her new release, available on August 22.
Loren is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. Her 15th book is This Morbid Life, a memoir comprised of 45 death-positive essays.
by Loren Rhoads
One of the influences that kept coming up in my new memoir, This Morbid Life, is a strange one. You'd probably never guess it.
When I was a kid, long before movies on demand, my family had a ritual to watch The Wizard of Oz each year when it was broadcast on TV. Between Miss Gulch on her bicycle and the Flying Monkeys kidnapping Dorothy and the pyrotechnics of the Wizard of Oz, it was the scariest movie my parents allowed me to watch.
It didn't help that we lived in tornado country. In those days before active shooter drills, my elementary school used to hold tornado drills. Everyone, teachers and students, would hustle into the tiled hallways to sit cross-legged on the cold floor, heads bent to touch their knees and hands covering their necks to protect from flying glass. While we never had a tornado strike the town I lived in, several of the surrounding farming villages were leveled over the years. (The most recent time, as I write this, was two weeks ago.)
For years after I left the Midwest, I continued to dream about tornados. That sense of helplessly waiting for the disaster to strike was a whole lot more terrifying than the actual 6.9 earthquake I lived through. The weirdest thing about those dreams was that they took place in black-and-white. It took me years to connect the strange coloring to The Wizard of Oz.
After my husband and I bought our house, all kinds of weird things happened here. Doors opened on their own. Books cascaded off the bookshelves all by themselves. There were electrical problems, disembodied footsteps, all kinds of scary things. One night when I was home alone, I couldn't take it any longer. I couldn't pretend nothing was happening. Instead, I spoke to the ghost haunting our house. I told her that she was welcome to stay, but only if she settled down. Otherwise, I would ask a friend to exorcise her. Then I invited the ghost to sit down with me and enjoy watching The Wizard of Oz.
Like all the other essays in This Morbid Life, that is a true story.
When my brother died suddenly, my parents' regular pastor was out of town. The backup minister hadn't known my brother, so he interviewed us about him. When he gave the eulogy, the metaphor he chose was the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, whose worth is measured by how much he loved and was loved in return by others.
The weird thing about that was that when my dad had his catastrophic heart attack years before my brother's death, the men at the church welcomed him into the Zipper Heart Club. All its members were heart surgery survivors who had a zipper-like scar across their breastbones. In the movie, the Tin Man says he would lock his heart with a zipper "if he only had a heart."
I'm not sure The Wizard of Oz is the allegory I would've chosen for This Morbid Life, but I can't deny that it's a motif that keeps popping up.
The Blurb and links