A Thing About Death From October

My dear blog, how I’ve missed you. A few things took over my life, including my first feature film, and Coldplay. More on that soon.

This blog has always been the place for me to pour my mind onto the (digital) page, and for those of you who’ve been reading and following since the beginning – I sincerely thank you. I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet. I’m not trying to break up, I swear.

If you’re new, check out my interview with myself.

Here’s something I wrote last autumn I think bears repeating. What do you think about death? Is it something you fear, or embrace?


Machete and I had the extraordinary honor last week to present at the Reimagine End of Life festival on behalf of our film Moon Manor – A Comedy About Death (Based On A True-ish Story). Our presentation was called Death Scenes: How Movies Reflect Our Final Act.

For many of us, our first experience of death is by way of film. We’ll have seen all kinds of death before seeing it in real life (if we ever do). How does this shape our expectations when the real thing happens, sans dramatic lighting, orchestral music and actors speaking lines?

We’ve felt the weight of this responsibility as we’ve shaped Moon Manor, as we’ve told the story of a life by telling the story of a death. To share space with the organizers and attendees of Reimagine was … I don’t even know the word … affirming? humbling? To be a grief walker is to shine a light into the well of our deepest fear. This current Halloween time of year is funny. The thing we least want to face is the very thing we shove into view. Skeletons and coffins decorate the grocery store, the dentist, the elementary school. Birth and death unite every human being, yet we spend our lives celebrating one end of the spectrum and mourning the other.

Not saying death doesn’t suck, I’ve witnessed it snatch away those I love so quickly I was left with nothing but whiplash and tears. But I do know the more I try to meditate on it, the more I memento mori, the more I accept my death, the more I appreciate my life.

My Dad, Pitbull and Alexa

Last week my dad and I celebrated his birthday by sitting on his couch and shouting at his Alexa. I’ve never played with an Alexa, I found it (her?) to be unnerving, and cool.

I wanted my dad to hear my new music obsession Tyler Childers. He thought he was okay, but nothing compared to what he’s been listening to – this album where Santana covers basically every epic rock song ever. My dad and I have always bonded over music. It’s like a language of subtext for all the things we can’t say.

I teased him that at least he’s out of his Pitbull phase, which is all he wanted to listen to after getting home from the hospital from his liver transplant. I’d wondered if the human the liver inhabited before my dad had been a Pitbull fanatic, like the man I met in Denver on a cannabis dispensary tour bus a few years before who was following Pitbull around the country with his wife. It had surprised me to learn there are Pitbull super fans, but not as much as I was surprised to have my rock-n-rolling, blues guitar playing father come back from the edge of liver failure death insisting that “Fireball” is one of the best songs ever made. 

Dad, on the couch: “Are you kidding? Alexa, play Pitbull!” Within seconds, the rap / sing / shout of the little bald man with the fiery hips reverberates throughout the apartment. “I love Pitbull! I’ve got all his records! He’s Mr. Worldwide!” I groan and tell Alexa to play Santana again. But the truth is I don’t mind Pitbull. I just wanted to shout at the slave inside the tiny boom box with the sorta sexy name of Alexa. On comes Santana, shredding his guitar as Rob Thomas sings.

I remind my dad of the time he took me and Machete (when we were 15 and it was the night before our PSATs) to see Matchbox 20 in Reno, and he made us leave before their big hit (the one that goes “want to push you around / well I will / well I will”).

“I made us leave?!” He asks, aghast. “Yeah, to beat traffic.” And to be honest we’re kinda stoned because it’s his birthday and his doctors have cleared him to do things like smoke a little weed and he’s no longer sick and we’re together and so we laugh and laugh and laugh, and Alexa doesn’t say a word.



Two Deaths, A Sheriff, And A River 

Notes From Nevada

SUNDAY // The first death

I was listening to bluegrass when the first death happened. I was at Sorensens, the inn owned by the family of my best friend Machete near our hometown of Lake Tahoe, and we had crossed the river to the inns cafe for lunch. Wed been staying there for a week, and today the café was hosting a bluegrass and BBQ fundraiser for a local nature conservancy.

String instruments. Coleslaw. The thin, fresh air of the High Sierras. I was biting into baby back ribs when a waitress stopped by the table and asked if anyone had medical experience, because a man was having a heart attack in the parking lot.

The man and his wife were actually early investors in Sorensens. Machete had met them briefly over the years, and this thread of connection led to us staying with the wife throughout the process of her husband saying goodbye to life. On the asphalt. In front of their rental car. Hundreds of miles from anyone she knew.

We talked to her for a long time as the medics did CPR and then the AED machine on her husband there in the parking lot, as the bluegrass band kept playing and the songs synced eerily to the circumstance, like when they played “Soul Meets Body” by Death Cab for Cutie. She said more than once that she felt bad for ruining everyones lunch.

When blood started pouring from her husbands mouth from the vigorous CPR, we distracted her by asking about their kids. Their daughter lived in Africa, running a hot air balloon company with her boyfriend. I think their son was a college professor, but I dont remember. Machete drove her car when they took him down the mountain to the nearest hospital. I followed in my car.

He was pronounced dead on arrival, and we sat with his wife as she made the necessary calls to her kids. It was hard to watch. There was an infomercial playing loudly in the ER waiting room. I found the remote and put it on mute. She told us how relieved she was theyd recently finalized their affairs. Hed had a lot of medical problems so they were prepared for the worst.

It made me think about how important is to organize what you want to happen after you die while youre still living, how much easier it is on your loved ones to not have to figure it all out for you while theyre in the midst of grieving. This is responsible dying. This is letting your death inspire your life, rather than living in denial that we all meet the same fate.

That night we made sure she had dinner, hugged her, and left her to rest in her cabin at Sorensens. She departed the next day, leaving us a nice note at the front desk. The whole scenario felt very similar to how my grandfather passed away when I was 21, from a heart attack in a parking lot when we were at the automobile museum in Reno. I was holding him in my arms on the ground as it happened, which was both traumatic and an honor. Ive never stopped missing him.

But I did try to forget about him, because thinking about him meant thinking about his death, how his body shuddered, the neon lights of the casino next door blinking in his glasses, his eyes staring at nothing, unlike the medicseyes – that certain look when they know its too late but they try anyway, so later the doctor can begin The Speech with We did everything we could…” All I could think was not again, please not again, because just a year before my mom had died and Id only recently been able to get through the day without crying. No, I definitely didnt want to think about death.

But some people want to think about death. They think about it all the time, on purpose. Memento mori is the ancient practice of reflecting on mortality, of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods. It translates to Remember you must die.” In early Buddhist texts, a prominent term is maraṇasati, which translates to Remember death.” Some Sufis have been called the people of the graves,” because of their practice of frequenting graveyards to ponder on death and ones mortality. A lot of press came out recently about a memento mori app that sends you five daily reminders that someday you will die. A friend of mine has this app. He says it helps him stay present.

I know about this app because Machete and I are in the process of making our first feature film, called Moon Manor, and its a comedy about death. Our lead character has decided to die like he has lived – with intention, humor and zest – and the film follows his last day alive as he throws a fabulous FUNeral before taking his own life. Think Harold and Maude” for a new generation. This is a quote we use from The Psychedelic Guide to The Tibetan Book of the Dead to explain why we wanted to make this movie: What if the art of living is actually the art of dying?”

Because of Moon Manor, Ive spent the last few years getting to know the #deathpositive movement, and I can tell you – death is trending.  Ask a Mortician” is a popular YouTube show, and Death Cafes are popping up all over, a place where you can discuss your mortal fate over tea and cookies. I follow several death doulas on Instagram, and there are more alternatives than ever to the traditional coffin. Theres the mushroom death suit, the biodegradable seagrass coffin, The Living Urn that turns your ashes into a young tree.

In a 2018 New York Times article titled The Positive Death Movement Comes to Life,” the connection is drawn between the womens movement and the death positive movement, in a quote from Ellen Goodman, who started the Conversation Project, a guide to discussing end of life thats been downloaded over a million times. It wasnt doctors who changed the way we give birth in America. It was women who said that giving birth was a human event. I think were trying to do that now. Dying is a human experience. Were trying to put the person back into the center of the experience.”

MONDAY // The second death

We wake to the news that our childhood friend Stella has passed away in the night. Wed been planning to go see her in the hospital that day. She was only 35. Breast cancer. The same way my mom died. My mom was first diagnosed when she was 37. Before I came on this trip home, Id taken the test to find out if I carry the breast cancer gene, something Id procrastinated doing for 15 years.

A few weeks earlier, Machete had gone to visit Stella and theyd given me a call. Im so sorry I never called when your mom passed, was the first thing Stella said to me. She was on a lot medication, loopy, but cognizant. I wanted to be there for you but I didnt know how. Now I know what you were going through. She sobbed as she said this, not holding back, not holding it together.”

Id imagined the call would be me offering her platitudes, that wed avoid the inevitable reason for the call — essentially, to say goodbye. Her complete vulnerability broke me. When someone is dying we commend them for things like bravery” and fortitude.” What were really saying is make this easier on me, because I dont know how to deal with that fact that youre dying. 

We spent an hour on the phone, the three of us reminiscing about being in high school theater together, about how Stella was a legendary Marilyn Monroe impersonator around town, a woman when the rest of us were just girls. We told her shed always been ahead of her time, and her being the first to transcend was just another example.

I have to get off the phone because Im catching a late flight to Hawaii. I never made it to Hawaii, always wanted to go, she says. I feel like a colossal jerk, even though Im going for work — to write a story about the Honolulu Biennial — and even though its taken me a long time to get to the point in my career I get to travel to write, I feel bad for feeling bad, because its another level of making it about me. Throughout the trip I think of Stella constantly. Try to somehow pass her the special quality of the air in Hawaii, the plumeria flowers, to transmute moments of impatience or anxiety (i.e. being a human), into gratitude and appreciation for my life, my breath. Memento mori.

And now its a Monday in this cabin and the only think I can think after this second death is that I need to be in Nature. I go to one of my favorite spots, Hope Valley. Good memories. Good name. I used to come here with my grandfather. I drive up to two old guys in front of their RVs and say hello and ask if there are any new trails. Just walk into the meadow and youll see, one of them tells me. He has a beard like Santa Claus. The other wears red suspenders.

The valley. Bees and crickets and the sun like melted butter. I listen to music, dance and skip around. Even though my heart is heavy with thoughts of Stella, I also feel grateful to be alive. Memento mori. A river cuts through the valley and theres a little beach, so even though the water is absolutely freezing I strip naked and swim. Memento mori. I smoke a joint, dance some more. I put my clothes back on and do a workout, then bask on some river rocks to write. Then I hear a voice, a voice filled with authority.

Excuse me, mam. The gentleman in the parking lot made a report that youre acting erratically. Are you on some kind of drug?

Its the sheriff. Hes been called all the way out to remote Hope Valley because Im acting like a pagan witch weirdo (at least on the spectrum of normal” the old timers in the parking lot are used to). He approaches me cautiously, like I could be dangerous. Im just enjoying a quiet moment in Nature. Im trying not to laugh.

He says he has to ask me some questions, starting with whats todays date. The 10th? June 10th? He looks at me hard. Thats incorrect, mam. I explain Ive been staying in a cabin without WiFi, purposefully trying to lose track of time, could he ask me an easier question? This is not going well. He asks me what year it is, my name, who the president is (ugh), my address. I answer as soberly as I can and he starts to ease up. He speaks into the radio strapped at his shoulder.

Suspect is just enjoying the river, not dangerous, not armed. Repeat, suspect is just enjoying the river. 

To change the subject, I ask if he heard about the heart attack at Sorensens the other day. He answers that he was the first responder. I tell him I was there too, thats where Im staying, my best friends family owns the place and we were the ones who took his wife to the ER. I thought you looked familiar, he says. Something flashes in his eyes, a look like sadness. I ask him what its like for him, as a sheriff, to deal so closely with death as part of his daily work. The way he looks at me indicates no one had asked him that in a long time, maybe ever.

What proceeded was twenty minutes straight of the sheriff talking about what its like to be law enforcement in a rural area. How a lot of the deaths he sees are suicide, people who come to a beautiful place to end it all. He said he didnt blame me for wanting some alone time by the river, he wished he got more time alone to reflect. He talked and I listened as the sun moved behind the clouds and the temperature dropped and the frogs started warming up their sunset chorus.

When finally I spoke, it was to ask if he wanted to stay at the river and take a moment, and Id walk back? He kinda pulled himself together and said no, he needed to go tell the old guys in the parking lot I was okay. They were just making sure you werent hurt, they werent spying on you, just so you know. I nodded, knowing full well theyd have to be watching me with binoculars to have seen me from so far away.

The sheriff looks around, at the mountains with snow still on the peaks, at the river forever flowing through the valley called Hope. He starts walking away, my solo healing now his, my processing of the heart attack I witnessed and the stoic grace of the wife, the loss of my grandfather, of dear Stella, of my mom, always of my mom, now transmuted into the healing the sheriff needed, for all the death hes absorbed over the years. He paused and looked back at me. I smiled, said nothing. I took a photo of the river rocks Id been laying on, packed up my things and left.

When we get back to Los Angeles, Machete and I start working on our application for Reimagine End of Life, an annual weeklong celebration of death in San Francisco. Reimagine is also in NYC, and theyre expanding to more cities. Well show the trailer to Moon Manor, meet more of the community. Last year, events included Oscar winner Frances McDormand performing Sophocles and a conversation with the director of Pixars Coco. Death is trending, and Hollywood is on board.

A few weeks later, I get the results back from the genetic test. I dont have the breast cancer gene. Incidentally, the same day Machete gives me a joking-but-serious gift: a workbook called Im Dead. Now What?, in which you fill out all your pertinent information (insurance policies, passwords, burial wishes) so your loved ones are prepared to handle your affairs upon your death. If were going to make a movie about responsible dying, we need to walk the talk, she says to me.

The book is still sitting on my desk, unopened.

The True Story Of Travel Addiction

I used to feel happiest when traveling. Experiencing new places, new people, my only job to discover and explore. It was a hack to feel present, when in reality my inner life was fixated on the past or worrying about the future. My self-worth was based on what exciting new adventure I was cooking up. The truth is I was running – from responsibility, from commitment, from myself. My constant companions were anxiety, credit card debt, and a bunch of photos of the places I’d been that nothing to anyone but me.


Today, being at home is as fulfilling as being abroad. I especially love my office. It overlooks the yard with the pond and the majestic tree. The light is more buttery and brilliant than anywhere I’ve yet seen. This is where I’ve cooked up Forever Flowers, essays and blog posts. This is where @machetebangbang and I have written Moon Manor, with our dog / cat / chameleon colleagues nearby. My office is on the other side of the bathroom, a weird secret hovel high up with the squirrels and scarabs. My mind feels good here. Passport stamps are cool, but inner peace is the best high of all.


Goodbye, Ruby Love

On June 8th, 2018 my dear grandmother “Ruby Love” departed this world for the next. She was 102.

For years I took her dinner every Sunday and painted her nails. Being closer to her was one of the best things about moving to LA. We would discuss what she was reading on her Kindle (she thought 50 Shades of Grey was “mildly entertaining”). She wore shirts that said “Seen it all, done it all, just don’t remember it all.” She loved the Lakers and Johnny Depp. Most of these photos were taken when she was 98, 99, and 100. Dear lord – I hope I have her genes. She was born before women could even vote, and yet she was my biggest teacher of tolerance – people of all faiths, colors and orientations were welcome at her table. I’m trying to not focus on the last 2 years she spent in a home, Alzheimer’s obscuring her personality, although this was also part of her journey and doesn’t need to be banished from her story. Ruby Love was a grand dame, and a muse. Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Ricky wrote a song about her, the first screenplay I ever had optioned was about her. Muse-ship doesn’t end just because a body has finished hanging out on Earth. I’d like to think it’s just the beginning.


The essence of my grandmother is best told in the small details. For years, her exercise was walking inside the perimeter of her apartment, the route so well-worn it was a dark track in the carpet. She liked her nails painted beige or silver, never pink. She wore chic pantsuits and was a champion bowler. She loved Gatorade. My sister Jessica remembers how grandma raised a family and made her extended family important, each and every year, that she loved going to lunch, and shopping at the 99 cent Store.

My grandmother was unsentimental, blunt and sassy. She was not cookies and doilies, she was low-fat and LeSportSac bags. But in our every Sunday routine, the night would inevitably end with me putting my head in her lap so she could rake her long nails across my hair, not unlike how you’d pet a cat. Once we fell into the ritual we’d both go quiet, silently enjoying each other’s company.


I really only knew my grandmother as a single woman living on her own, since my grandfather passed when I was little. She was living proof that a woman cannot only be happy living on her own, she can thrive.

It was only in her late 90s that she started to slow down, and that was only after she fell off a treadmill at the gym. Being on the treadmill at that age is incredible in and of itself! Assistance came in the form of Uncle Jimmy, who heroically put up with her passenger-seat driving on their errands around town.

And I want you to know something about the documentary on grandma I’ve been low-key filming for years – she was directing the footage with me. She came alive when I got out the camera. We had an agreement that I would film everything, not just the happy funny moments, but her whole process into the end of her life. She was always ahead of her time.


Why I Removed “Comments” And “Likes” From This Blog

I removed the option to add “comments” or “likes” on this blog because www.eringranat.com is my digital heart. The forum for my self-expression. Free from the electric sting of a numerical scale that indicates relevance and worthiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE feedback on my blog. It makes me purr and want to hug you cat-on-cat like this photo. But if you feel called to leave me a comment or a like, I want to actually engage with you in a non-public facing way. An old-fashioned conversation, between two people (but via email (laughing emoji) which is why you’ll see my email is in the About section). This is the same reason why I’ve left up every embarrassing angsty post since I started this blog 8 years ago. And why I don’t have visible the number of followers this blog has (which is a respectable number I’m very proud of).

Really, this is about QUALITY not QUANTITY. And being vulnerable. Because vulnerability is the source of true strength. Note: I removed comments and likes for all posts moving forward, if someone knows how to mass remove on past posts hook it up!


An Ode To Hotel Rooms

Hotel rooms strike me as the loveliest and loneliest places on earth
Everything is fresh, the illusion of perfect
A temporary home in a tower of travelers
When you don’t have to worry about clean towels or making the bed 
The mind can dive into more existential pursuits
The square of toilet paper origami
The smart appeal of bleach
A room service pre-order form, so you can eat bacon and eggs two minutes upon waking
52 channels to flip through, the only place left to watch basic cable and 
feel like a kid again

But after a few days, your clean paradise becomes a prison
And it’s depressing to be in a room masquerading as your own but it belonged to the guy before you and the family after you and really it belongs to the maid
And the plastic key is so plastic
And they politely request in an aggressive way
That you check out by 11am
Where once the bland painting on the wall was blessedly free of personal attachment, it’s now offensive in its non offensive-ness,
And maybe you peek behind it and see a doodle left by a past resident
And you’re disgruntled you didn’t think to do something edgy like that
The bad coffee in its single serving pouch makes you mad because you’re a single serving person in a single serving room in this single serving life

And so you go home, where the to-do list lives, and boxes that need sorting left over from when you moved in, and the oven needs fixing
But it’s perfect in its imperfection because it sounds like ice cream trucks and lawn mowers outside because it’s a neighborhood
And it’s a home
And it’s yours


What you do/don’t want your Dad to read

It’s 2:21am on New Year’s Eve, and I’m starting 2018 how I intend to live it. Writing. Processing thoughts into words. Taking action to share those words.

This is something I wrote on Christmas Eve, but didn’t share on my blog because my dad subscribes and I was nervous for him to read it. It’s nothing I wouldn’t say to him in person, but I get shy being so vulnerable. Well, anyway. Here it is.

Dad, when you read this, thank you for the wild ride this year. We did it. I love you.


My dad’s doctors don’t want him traveling during the holidays, so we’re going to stay in our sweats this Christmas and watch movies and unpack his new apartment for his new life, for his new liver.

Tonight we revisited the photo book I made him several Christmases ago, the early 70s photos from when he was the guitar-sitar-dulcimer player in the band/collective called ONE. They were discovered by Jefferson Airplane, were a staple in the magnetic Bolinas, CA music scene, and even played John Lennon’s birthday party.

I’m over the moon my dad is talking about music again. I hold my breath for the day he picks up the guitar again. And I can’t believe how much we resemble each other in these photos. I’d really love to remake the photo book for him, as a coffee table book along with the story of his band. Anyone know anything about the world of publishing art books?

A lot of the photos from the time are double-exposed, creating these surreal images I’m obsessed with. These photographs only resurfaced recently, the photographer from the record label found them in his garage and somehow tracked down my dad.

ONE’s music was ethereal, folksy, experimental. The lead singer had his name legally changed to Reality D. Blipcrotch. The “D” stands for “Dopey.” This is mild compared to the other characters and stories my dad tells. When I look at the photos, I’m also struck how they feel like a generation finding itself. After the big shifts of the Summer of Love, where would the dust settle?

I made the photo book to cheer my dad up for the first Christmas after my mom passed away. We started talking about the project again when he had cancer. Now it comes back out post transplant. But with so many “career building” projects to work on, making this book with him feels like something “we’ll get to eventually.”

It’s funny how life and death situations spur you to action, you think you’ll always live thereafter with the beautiful perspective trauma can bring. But alas, you don’t. You seep back into the minutiae. You procrastinate. I try to remind myself it’s a gift to be caught up in the petty stuff. It means your life is calm. Free enough from major hurdles that you even have the emotional bandwidth to sweat the small stuff.

I hope everyone has a lovely holiday. May your worries in the new year be petty and small. May you have the gift of health, the only gift that really counts.