Margalit Fox Answers Your Questions | Conversations with Tyler

Margalit Fox Answers Your Questions | Conversations with Tyler


We’re all serious coffee drinkers, so the
reason our section comes out at all is because we collectively drink 24 cups of coffee everyday We have a lovely little makeshift, but a very
well equipped coffee bar that we lovingly call Cafe Thanatos. Well, certainly, the few dead linguists that come into our department a year come across
my desk, and I help rule on yay or nay. Whether they are newsworthy for a general
readership, and the ones that are, of course I write in. That’s one of the rare cases in which something
actually is in my wheel house, and they give me a little bit of leg up. Saves quite a bit of time because I don’t
have to the kind of cramming I do for most of my other stories. There’s a lot of good information on the net, there’s a lot of bad information. I use Wikipedia for one thing and one thing
only, and I use it with caution because we have no way of knowing particularly if it’s
a subject on which we’re agnostic going in. We have no way of knowing the level of accuracy
of the information in any Wikipedia article, or for that matter, any kind of non‑standard
article in one of these more populist websites. I use it only to get my bearings, to know
what I need to check, and either confirm, or disconfirm elsewhere through more conventional
sources. Happily, most of the people about whom we
write are very accomplished men and women who die in their beds in their 80s, 90s, sometimes
even over 100. The ones that tear your hearts out are suicides. Particularly young suicides. On average of the 120, or so obits I write
on death alone in a year, maybe one will be a suicide. About one percent, a little less. The photographer Fred McDarrah who had this wonderful outfit called Rent‑a‑Beatnik. For $200, you got three beatniks wearing bongos. We ran in his obit a copy of the advertisement
for his company that he placed in the “Village Voice” Add zest to your tuxedo park party. Rent‑a‑Beatnik completely equipped. Beard, eye shades, old army jacket, Levis,
frayed shirts, sneakers or sandals optional. Deductions allowed for no beard, baths, shoes,
or haircuts. Lady beatniks also available. Usual garb. All black.” Well, there are two premises there, and I’m not sure whether I agree with the initial
premise, for the first part, although it’s immensely flattering. Let’s go to the second premise which subscribes
to an old model that we hope has gone by the boards, but obviously hasn’t quite, that obits
are stigmatized, obits are Siberia, obits are where they put the worst writers out to
pasture. That historically was true for some of the
reasons we’ve discussed. That it’s very easy to weigh an obit down
with all this boiler plate, and not make it stylish. Writing a bad obit is the easiest thing in
the world. Happily in the last 20, 30 years, writing
a good obit has become the norm. I was not sent to obits under protest. I was not sent to obits to be punished. I was not sent to obits at all. I asked for this job, and there is no other
job that I want because it is truly the best job in American journalism. I’m paid to tell people stories.

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