October 17, 2013

Snarky Mourning Necklace

That's the mourning necklace I made when my grandmother died. The gold ring in the lower right of the centerpiece was her wedding ring, which she gave me for utterly unknowable reasons. It's too small to fit even my pinky. It also looks incredibly uncomfortable to wear, the band being deeper than it is wide, with actually kind of sharp inside edges.

Detail of the centerpiece

I'm not truly all that good at this style of wandering wire work. I just don't do it all that often. But I took a one-on-one class from the wonderful Elise Matthesen, whose every piece is a story. I'm rather proud of this piece, really, even though it's not as wonderful as her work. To me, it communicates some part of the complexity, ambivalence, and unbalance of my relationship with my grandmother. Distorted curves, beads that move, but only so far, an imperfect and off-kilter shape. It is not a mourning for her death, but a mourning for the grandmother she never was.

The bead peeking out from her ring is a skull, a death's head. It's a common motif in the Victorian mourning jewelry this piece was inspired by -- and I do wish my photography could capture the glitter of the jet crystal, but I'm just not that good -- and represented not just the death of the person being mourned, but a memento mori, a reminder that the wearer, too, will die.

My grandmother would have hated the whole thing. She would have found it incredibly morbid, would have made one of her awful faces, and then would have told my parents it was one more sign that I was antisocial. That was the term she always used when I lived with my parents and she came to visit and wanted them to drag me out of my room so she could berate me. Antisocial. Like I was going to take a rifle up to a clocktower (this was before Columbine), because I wanted to avoid her abuse.

So it's . . . snarky. It's a bit of a dig at her. I put her ring into something she would have hated, and used it to say something about how I was not sorry she was dead, but sorry for the way she had lived and the person she was when she was alive.

Liz suggested that I repurpose the necklace, and keep the parts I'm proud of, but make it so that it's no longer referencing my grandmother. It turns out that I did make it so that I could take the centerpiece out without restringing the necklace, but really, the centerpiece is what I'm proudest of. That's where the meaning and the skill are.

I wore it only once, to scatter her ashes in the Saint Sebastian River in Florida. I will never wear it again, in all probability. I have no reason to.

I could take the centerpiece out without having to restring the beads, but I can't remove it without destroying the necklace I'm proud of. So no, I don't think I'll repurpose it. But I don't think I'll put it in the ancestor shrine, either. I suppose it will just go back into the box of memories, with the love letters and lock of hair from my first love, and the rather thicker lock of my wife's hair, the postcard of the Kitt Peak Observatory with all the lightning strikes, and all the other little reminders of parts of my past.

Someone else over on Tumblr brought up ancient hospitality laws. They were talking about Irish traditions, but Greek and Roman ones were not that different. And one of the key points there is that the host-guest relationship has obligations on both parts. The host is generally required to provide the guest with water to wash, a fire to warm, food and drink, and generally some form of entertainment, if only genial conversation. The guest, in turn, is obligated not to cause disruption, disharmony or dishonor in the host's house, and not to bother any other guests. Paris was excoriated by the ancients not just for abducting Helen, but for doing so while he was a guest in Agamemnon's house. He broke guest laws. The abduction would have started the war anyway, because of the Suitors' Oath, but breaking hospitality and dishonoring his host turned the rest of Hellas against him.

And my grandmother was always a very poor guest. She insulted her hosts, the food set before her, the drink she was given, the household animals, the house itself, anyone else who was thereā€¦ She found fault in anything and everything. And as a shade, a keres, she would be a no better guest, and would undoubtedly disturb some of my other guests. (Including, probably, her husband and mother.)

She is not a traveler, not a wanderer, who must be given hearth right as a matter of piety. She's been properly laid to rest, by her own standards as well as mine. She would come only if invited specifically. And I do not have to invite her. I have no more obligation to her. I said goodbye to her while she was dying, I held my own funerary rites and burned a poppet with offerings, I helped to scatter her ashes as she wished. She and I are quits. I have no more obligation to her.

What a concept.

And so I will refuse her. I will not invite her into my own, not this Samhain nor in the future, and not at Anthesteria, which I'm considering adding to my observances. (It's part of the Dionysia, the great festivals of Dionysos, a celebration of opening the new wine, and of the dead. Because the dead were buried in pots not unlike the ones wine was stored in, possibly. Or possibly not. Dionysos is a chthonic god, too.) Possibly I will also disown her, excise her from my family. Possibly not. We'll see. But she does not get to be a guest in this house, because she breaks the guest laws.

I think I can be at peace with that.