#88: Mortician Caitlin Doughty

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

Generally speaking, our culture is not one that deals well with death. Caitlin Doughty, an LA-based mortician and best-selling author, is on a life-long quest to change this.

When we spoke, we discussed:

—how she became a “death professional” 

—the biggest misunderstanding that most people have about the work she does

—and how, with her new venture Undertaking L.A.she aims to help people help themselves…to take care of dead bodies.

About Caitlin Doughty: Caitlin Doughty is an LA-based mortician and writer who founded The Order of the Good Death, a movement focused  on preparing “a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” Doughty hosts a regular video series called Ask a Mortician and is also the author of The New York Times bestseller Smoke Gets In Your Eyes…and Other Lessons from the Crematory.

Photos: Used with permission from Caitlin Doughty.

Production notes: This episode was edited by Chris Walton of Visual Story Productions. The interview was conducted via Skype, and unfortunately we didn’t have a good connection. I’m grateful to Chris for cleaning up the sound as much as possible, and I would ask that you consider the remaining effects “atmospheric.” Thanks also to forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek for suggesting Caitlin Doughty as an interview subject.


Programming Note: Podcast Hiatus

I need to take a break for a few weeks; I just have too many balls in the air. So, the Work Stew podcast will resume on November 1, 2014.

Until then, dip into the podcast archives or browse through the essays. Better yetuse the radio silence to write an essay of your own. I’m always looking for new voices to add to the mix.

#87: Joe Loya, Former Bank Robber

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

I wanted to speak with Joe Loya not because I see criminality as a career path, but because it is a life path for many:  it’s hard to find good information on the number of Americans who have been convicted of a felony, but one estimate from the Bureau of Justice Statistics holds that 1 in 37 U.S. adults has served time in a  state or federal prison. I wanted to hear Joe’s story: how he came to rob his first bank, what it was like to live a life on the run, and what has changed—and not changed—since then.

About Joe Loya: Joe Loya is an essayist, playwright, actor/director, and author of the critically-acclaimed memoir, “The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber.” His essays have appeared in The LA Times, The UTNE Reader, McSweeney’s, and many anthologies. He is currently writing a book about being an ex-con dad trying to raise a good daughter. It’s titled, “Dada, Tell Me A Zombie Story.” (Like him, she loves all manner of resurrection narratives.)

Photo credits: ‘Before’ and ‘After’ provided by Joe Loya. Before (right): FBI surveillance photo from 1988. After: author photo taken by Reid Yalom, 2004. 

#86: Karen Lynch, Retired Homicide Detective

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

In this interview, I spoke with Karen Lynch, a 29-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department. We discussed what it was that drew her to a life in law enforcement, why the role of homicide detective was her “dream job,” and—very briefly—her perspective on the events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri.

About Karen Lynch: Karen Lynch is a native San Franciscan. After graduating from UC Berekley, she joined the San Francisco Police Department in 1981. She lives in Novato with her husband and their three children, including Kyra, who was the subject of an essay that won the 2012 Notes & Words national essay contest.

Her memoir, Good Cop Bad Daughter, is the story of how growing up with a bi-polar mother trained Karen to be a cop.


#85: Writer Leah Lax

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

Another writer interview??? I know—I’ve done a string of them recently. For what it’s worth, I do have other sorts of people lined up. Coming soon on the podcast: a South African mediator, a retired homicide detective, and that elusive chimney sweep.

But first, yes, another writer, simply because I received an email from Leah Lax that went like this: ”I spent thirty years as a covered woman among the Hassidim—Jewish ultra-orthodox. Birth control was forbidden, so I had seven kids in ten years. Oh, and I’m a lesbian—my secret all those years.”

Needless to say, I had to learn more.

About Leah Lax: Leah Lax has published award-winning short fiction, prose poetry, essays, stage productions, a major opera (with an NPR broadcast), and soon, in 2015, a memoir–Uncovered. To learn more about her life and work, visit her website.

#84: Beatrice Hogg on Being Over 50 and Long-Term Unemployed

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

When I first connected with Beatrice Hogg, she said she wanted to share her story to show people that “being over fifty and long-term unemployed isn’t the end of the world.” In this interview, she shares the events that derailed her original career, and she discusses her next steps.

About Beatrice Hogg: Beatrice M. Hogg was born in Greensboro, North Carolina and raised in the coal-mining town of Lawrence, Pennsylvania. She has a B.A. in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. Since moving to California in 1988, her articles and essays have appeared in many publications and anthologies. She spent over twenty years working in the social services field, including work determining eligibility for public assistance programs, unemployment insurance benefits, Social Security benefits, and Supplemental Security Income. For five years, she facilitated a writing workshop for women at St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children in Sacramento, CA. Genesis Press published her novel “Three Chords One Song” as an e-Book in 2012. She is working on “WTF: Five Years of Bad Decisions,” a book about her experiences as a long-term unemployed woman over fifty. Her short essays on family, music, and more can be found on her blog, Marvellaland.

#83: Athena Lark, U.S. Navy Veteran, Writer, and Adjunct Professor

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

Athena Lark was a 17-year-old about to graduate from high school in Newark, New Jersey when her mother told her she had a choice: Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines.

In this interview, I spoke with her to learn how she reacted that day, how her career path has unfolded since then, what she thinks of her mother’s decision in retrospect.

About Athena Lark: After retiring from the U.S. Navy, Athena Lark graduated from the University of North Florida with a B.A. in Communications. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California in Riverside and has has been published in literary journals including Gently Read Literature, Hippo Reads, and Whistling Fire, as well as many newspapers (The Florida Times Union, Jacksonville Business Journal, Jacksonville Advocate, The Albany Herald, UNF Spinnaker, and UNF Alumni Magazine). She is an adjunct professor in Texas and is currently writing her memoir, Sailor Girl, about her life in the U. S. Navy. Her debut novel, Avenue of Palms, was published in 2013.

#82: Amy Hale Auker, Writer and Rider

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

When I ask people that pesky question, “What do you do?,” I often get more than one answer. When I spoke with author Amy Hale Auker, I learned that in addition to the writing life, she also lives the cowboy life,  camping out for days at a time in the mountains where she works. Notably, there seems to be very little tension between her riding and her writing; what I heard instead is that each feeds the other.

About Amy Hale Auker: Amy Hale Auker cowboys on a ranch in Arizona. She is the author of Rightful Place, 2012 WILLA winner for creative non-fiction, published by Texas Tech University Press. Her first novel, Winter of Beauty, was released by Pen-L Publishing in 2013. Her new novel is due out this fall. Find out more at www.amyhaleauker.com

#81: Game Designer Jobe Bittman

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

When I ask people what they do, I often get complicated answers: tales of time-consuming passions pursued in the wee hours of the night after long days spent earning a living doing something completely different.

In Jobe Bittman‘s case, he moonlights as a game designer, creating the storylines not for video games but for tabletop games. Think ‘Dungeons and Dragons’—but then stop thinking that because it’s trademarked, and Bittman actually writes for other games. He also contributes to Spellburn, a podcast about Dungeon Crawl Classics, one of the series for which he writes.

About Jobe Bittman: When asked for a bio, this arrived: “Jobe Bittman is a beaten and half-starved scribe-slave pressed into service by a sadistic demon prince. By day, he breaks all the internet. By night, he toils at freelance writing assignments and transcribes game designs at the behest of his dark master. His work has appeared in publications by Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, and Goodman Games. Please send meat.” So there you go.

#80: Jane Hodges, Leap Taker

Listen to the interview by clicking the arrow on the audio player below.

After the deaths of both her father and her uncle in a single year, writer Jane Hodges remembers being hit with “a pile of grief, followed by a pile of cash.” The money wasn’t enough to sustain her indefinitely, but it was enough to fund a radical change. In this interview, Hodges explains why the change she chose involved the purchase of a 12,000-square-foot elementary school near Mount Rainier.

About Jane Hodges: Jane Hodges is a longtime business/real estate journalist who has written for dozens of national and regional newspapers and magazines, a book author (Rent vs. Own, Chronicle Books 2012) and a creative writer transitioning into nonprofit work to marry those interests. A graduate of Dartmouth (BA) and Sarah Lawrence (MFA), she has since 2013 served on the board for Lit Crawl Seattle, is currently enrolled in the University of Washington nonprofit management certificate program, and has attended the Alliance of Artists Communities’ Emerging Program Institute.