In collaboration with the Grimsby and St. Catharines Libraries (Niagara Region), I gave my first ever Zoom talk. I have to admit, it was strange not seeing faces in the audience, and being able to gauge reactions to particular stories or stones, but I enjoyed it and am happy that libraries and museums have taken to online methods of keeping art/culture/history talks going during COVID-19. Since this might be the way things are done for the foreseeable future or beyond, I'm looking forward to doing more and figuring out how to maximize audience enjoyment.
Regarding COVID-19, the elephant in every room right now: Throughout this period, when many places have instituted isolation and social distancing rules, there has been no better time to visit old cemeteries. I'm lucky in that living in the Niagara Region gives me the option of visiting dozens of old cemeteries without running into anyone - except the dead of course.
There have been many newspaper articles about people in cities flocking to cemeteries when the parks were shut down, and I have to say, this trend made me sad, not necessarily because having *too* many people in cemeteries brings disrespectful behaviour (similar to how large crowds behave in parks or at concerts - garbage strewn everywhere, people leaning on things, etc.), but because people see cemeteries as their "last resort" for green space. In every city, town, and village, there are those who walk their dogs or jog in cemeteries, but most people still see cemeteries as "depressing" or "morbid" places to avoid. I chalk a lot of this up to our twenty-first century culture, in which we imagine somehow that thinking about death is bad luck, and avoiding it will mean immortality. COVID-19 has been a tragic reminder, if nothing else, that we are fragile creatures floating on a rock in the middle of a large universe that gave us to itself and will take us away at some point too.
Lest this end up turning into a rant, my point, which I hope you saw me getting at, is that cemeteries should be seen as places to visit anytime our fancy strikes us, not just when there is no place left to go. As I've gone on about numerous times on Twitter and in my public talks, old cemeteries are places of art, history, beliefs, and beauty, and should be valued as necessary places, but also places that can provide us with a therapeutic escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. When you say to someone that cemeteries are like free outdoor museums (a point that's been made many times by many people across time), it's as if a light bulb goes off, and most people react with something like, "Yeah, I guess you're right, they are." Suddenly their mind is tuned to a whole different way of thinking, and the door is open to learning and exploration. We need more of that.
Mainstream culture (however you want to define it) seems so set in its ways of maximizing consumption, leisure, and pleasure. Cemeteries just don't seem to fit into most people's idea of something that could give them leisure or pleasure, but I hope with the rise in the number of people talking about death, cemeteries, and history/heritage, that this will slowly change before it's too late for many of our suffering burial grounds, full of stones in need of repair and stories wanting to be read by the curious visitor.
On the positive side, I'm finally writing a book about cemeteries. I'm keeping details vague for now as it's going to change as I brainstorm and being writing, but I'll certainly keep you posted! :)