How Google Maps Street View Resurrects The Dead

I didn't have a computer growing up. My family was poor and we couldn't afford one. I didn't have internet access at my house either. It wasn't until after my father's death that I discovered the massive, strange, and wondrous place that is the world wide web. He died in 2006 and I didn't have my first laptop until 2010, that's around the year I created an email account and also joined Facebook, tumblr, and all the other social networking sites.

I'll never forget the first time I used Google Maps Street View. I had no idea such a thing existed.  I typed in my address and, to my amazement, a photo of not only my house but my entire neighborhood appeared. You could virtually navigate where I had lived my entire life. What stunned me even more was the time stamp on the photo. It was taken in November 2007. I found myself wishing that the street view photo had been captured just a year earlier. I wondered if maybe it would have frozen my father in time. I desperately longed for this--to see him in the yard, to have an image of him like that. I can't explain it. I have many photographs of my father but to see a picture of him in which he was unaware of the camera, just going about his day, would have meant something to me. Instead, I see a home of grief. I see the bare trees of winter and I know that, inside the house, is a mother and daughter in mourning.

A few months ago, I checked Google Maps Street View again and discovered that another image of my home had been taken in May 2013. To my delight, it shows my mother sitting on the porch as our dog uses the bathroom in the yard. The picture captures the dog precisely at the moment when he is defecating. It's hilarious and it also makes me cry. My mom is still alive, but here is this photo that captures her at a random moment in life. It moves me in a way that, once again, I cannot explain. Even though street view also has a photo of my home from 2015, if I click on certain parts of the screen, I can bring up the 2013 photo and also the one from 2007.

I mention all of this because of an essay I read at The New Yorker. Matthew J.X. Malady talks about discovering an image of his late mother on Google Maps Street View and how it affected him. He also discusses the new role of technology and social media in modern mourning. Because we didn't have internet or computers when my dad was alive, I have no technological trace of him. I'm ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I would love to know what he'd post on Facebook, the kinds of things he'd share and write. On the other hand, I imagine this would be a painful reminder of his absence.

Whether we like it or not, social media is changing how we grieve and mourn. Modern forms of surveillance, like Google Maps Street View, are also affecting our relationship to the dead. In a way, the dead are never completely gone because their digital presence persists.

First, I noticed that a gigantic American flag had been affixed to the mailbox post at the corner of the driveway. That was new. Then I spotted the fire pit in the front yard that my mom and her husband, my stepfather, used for block parties, and the grill on the patio, and my mom’s car. And then there she was, out front, walking on the path that leads from the driveway to the home’s front door. My mom.
At first I was convinced that it couldn’t be her, that I was just seeing things. When’s the last time you’ve spotted someone you know on Google Maps? I never had. And my mother, besides, is no longer alive. It couldn’t be her.
That feeling passed quickly. Because it was her. In the photo, my mom is wearing a pair of black slacks and a floral-print blouse. Her hair is exactly as I always remember it. She’s carrying what appears to be a small grocery bag.
The confluence of emotions, when I registered what I was looking at, was unlike anything I had ever experienced—something akin to the simultaneous rush of a million overlapping feelings. There was joy, certainly—“Mom! I found you! Can you believe it?”—but also deep, deep sadness. There was heartbreak and hurt, curiosity and wonder, and everything, seemingly, in between.
 I cried for a minute. Then I chuckled. I shook my head. It was as though my mind and body had no clue how to appropriately respond, so I was made to do a little bit of everything all at once. But almost immediately I realized how fortunate I was to have made the discovery: at some point in the future, and probably quite soon, Google will update the pictures of my mom’s old street, and those images of her will disappear from the Internet.
 It is now a few weeks later, and that late-night discovery still occupies my mind for long stretches of each day. It has also prompted me to pay more attention to the expanding, multifaceted role technology plays in the experience of grief. Facebook is awash in memorials and posts paying tribute to deceased loved ones, of course, and scores of Web sites are in the online obituary business. But in most instances, people have to seek out that content in one way or another. It doesn’t sneak up on you. Not so for the ambush-style online reminders that began arriving shortly after my mom’s death and still throw me for a loop every single time.
Each year, I receive automated Facebook reminders urging me not to forget to wish my mom a happy birthday. During the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, the flower company FTD, without fail, sends between five and ten e-mails to my old Yahoo account telling me that I should not wait any longer before ordering flowers for mom. I didn’t even realize that my mother had joined LinkedIn until January 2nd of this year, when I received one of those maddening, computer-generated e-mails informing me that her job anniversary was coming up.
These fleeting online occurrences can make an already difficult grieving process even more complicated and bizarre—mainly because it’s more difficult than you might expect to decide, finally, what to make of these things, or what to do about them. My Street View discovery was the best, but it was also the worst. Those Facebook pings about my deceased mom’s birthday bother me, but I don’t think I’d want them to go away forever.
Read the full essay at The New Yorker

On Leaving My Home

I'm not ready to write about this, but the longer I wait the harder it's becoming and I fear that, if I wait too long, I'll never write it at all.

For most of 2015, my family and I have struggled because I lost my job in March and then my stepdad lost his job a few months later. It's been months of food stamps and the stress of never having enough food, falling behind on bills, worrying that we would lose everything. We almost lost our home until a kind friend helped us. So when my stepdad was offered a job two weeks ago we had no choice but to take it even though the job was located in another state. We were one week away from losing our car and having our lights and water shut off, that's how desperate our situation was.

It was a swift move. So quick, I'm still reeling. We had two days to pack and not much room in our car. I focused mainly on clothes and had to leave behind almost all of my beloved books except for six. We loaded our car with suitcases and our two pets and set out on our road-trip from North Carolina to Rhode Island. Over the course of two days, we traveled 700 miles and drove through six states.

It's important to convey how extraordinary this move is. For my entire life--26 years--I have lived in a small town in North Carolina that I have never left except to attend college at a nearby university. My life has been sheltered. I have been someone deeply rooted to my birthplace and the physical home where I grew up. It's the home where I lived with my late father. So it's more than just a house, it's a repository for all my memories. When I entered the rooms, I could imagine him in them. The yard I stood on was the same one he mowed in the summers. To leave this place was unimaginable for me but, after his death, I know that the unimaginable is possible and we have no choice but to endure it.

What is home now? I've written that my father was my home and that I've felt displaced since his death. I've written that my mother is my home and that as long as I am with her then I'm safe. But home is a material place. It's a culture and a landscape where you are created, for better or worse. People leave their homes all the time. It's a rite of passage for the young as they set off for college and begin their lives as adults. It's what migrants and refugees do across the globe. They leave one place for another, in search of opportunity, safety, and a fresh start. I would never compare my experience to theirs. I'm trying to make the point that, for many, home is fluid, it's something they are forced to (or choose to) leave behind and they cope with it while also mourning the place they have lost and I think maybe mourning and grief are integral parts of leaving home and I think they are what I'm feeling right now.

I didn't just leave a house or a town, I left the state where my father is buried. When will I see his grave again? I feel I am losing him all over again. His body is so far away. Yes, the memories live inside of me, but I can't take flowers to his gravestone. I don't know how to handle this loss. I had to leave many of his possessions behind because I could not fit them in the car. What I did bring: his wallet of soft brown leather, a bottle of his cologne, a photo album filled with pictures of him. This is what I have left of my father and I'm haunted by everything I left behind but I know I must forgive myself for the selection I made.

I had to leave behind dozens of journals written over a decade, journals that hold memories and thoughts and lists of favorite words. I had to leave behind a lifetime of collected books that were found in thrift shops and bargain bins, hundreds of books that will remain unread, at least for now. I mourn them, too. I mourn the girl I would have been if I could have read them. I'm luckier than most in that I still have my house but the chances of us returning to it anytime soon are small because the journey is so long, though I know it could be worse. All of this could be worse but it is it's own kind of hell.

Where do I belong? In North Carolina, I felt out of place because of my atheism and liberal politics. I hated the confederate flags on some homes, the conservatism, the close-mindedness. Of course, those things are not unique to any particular geographical area but they were smothering me. Now that I'm in Rhode Island I still feel out of place. I'm not Northern. I stand out with my accent. I feel disconnected to this place and have no familial ties here. There's also more obvious class divisions, more conspicuous consumption, a greater contrast between the haves and the have-nots, at least that is my own observation. The food, the culture, the people are different but it's only been two weeks. Maybe as time passes, I'll feel more rooted, though I doubt it. The truth is, I belong nowhere except in books and words. Maybe literature is my only real home.

My family and I are trying to make a new start, to create a better life here. We've left so much behind and we'll never stop thinking about what we've lost but I wonder if maybe we can also, for the first time in a long time, look forward to what might come. I don't know. I don't know.

Patti Smith on the Death of Her Husband

Patti Smith with her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, 1990

She ‘walked away from public life’ when she married Fred Smith, the influential guitarist of the countercultural band MC5, in 1980. She was at the height of her fame, having released her bestselling album Easter, but moved to be with him in Detroit and started a family. Passport photos from those days reveal the pair to be both strangely suburban and strangely like runaways, and I suppose that sums up the way of life Smith says they shared: domestic, ingenious, full of curious shared passions. ‘I was so happy,’ she says. ‘Time seemed like it would go on for ever. I didn’t have the concept that all this would be gone. Just like with Robert,’ she adds, thinking of Mapplethorpe. ‘I lived with Robert all those years and used to take pictures of his hands, and never took a picture of his face.’
Fred Smith died of heart failure in 1994, at the age of 45. A thunderstorm was brewing, and his wife, who has always been sensitive to meteorological shifts, felt it keenly. ‘Fred, fighting for his life, could be felt in the howling wind,’ she writes in M Train. She rushed him to hospital on Hallowe’en, and their daughter went to bed in her costume, expecting her father to see it when he came home. He never did. ‘The world,’ Smith writes, ‘seemed drained of wonder.’
In the book, Fred Smith comes across as having an almost mystical appeal. Was there something in particular that drew people to him? His widow nods, then struggles to define it. ‘He had some kind of quiet, special power, but not something I could easily describe,’ she replies. ‘I would see how men – my own brother, my father – how much they admired him, and my father wasn’t easily beguiled. He would have been a great king. I mean, in the best of ways – a benevolent king. He was just that kind of guy.’
Smith and Jesse, and her son Jackson (now 33), speak to each other about him every day. ‘And also my son and daughter are both musicians,’ she says, ‘so they magnify him. My son is really a virtuoso guitar player.’ (Jackson was married to Meg White, of the White Stripes.) ‘Sometimes he’ll be improvising a solo, and his tone… My husband had beautiful guitar tones – he wasn’t called Fred “Sonic” Smith for nothing. And Jackson, without knowing it, resonates that. My daughter, she plays piano, and she has his composing sense. Sometimes the three of us play together, and it’s beautiful. So we have various ways to keep him as part of our conversation.’
— The Telegraph - Patti Smith: 'I'm not a musician, people's concept of me is so off the mark'

Patti Smith - Birdland


His father died and left him a little farm in New England
All the long black funeral cars left the scene
And the boy was just standin' there alone
Lookin' at the shiny red tractor
Him and his daddy used to sit inside
And circle the blue fields and grease the night

It was as if someone had spread butter
On all the fine points of the stars
'Cause when he looked up, they started to slip
Then he put his head in the crux of his arms

And he started to drift, drift to the belly of a ship
Let the ship slide open and he went inside of it
And saw his daddy 'hind the control boards
Streamin' beads of light
He saw his daddy 'hind the control board
And he was very different tonight
'Cause he was not human, he was not human

The little boy's face lit up with such a naked joy
That the sun burned around his lids
And his eyes were like two suns
White lids, white opals, seein' everything
Just a little bit too clearly

And he looked around and
There was no black ship in sight
No black funeral cars, nothin'
Except for him, the raven
And fell on his knees and
Looked up and cried out

"No, Daddy, don't leave me here alone
Take me up, Daddy, to the belly of your ship
Let the ship slide open and I'll go inside of it
Where you are not human, you are not human"

But nobody heard the boy's cry of alarm
Nobody there 'cept for the birds
Around the New England farm
And they gathered in all directions
Like roses they scattered

And they were like compass grass
Coming together into the head of a shaman bouquet
Slit in his nose and all the others went shootin'
And he saw the lights of traffic beckonin' him
Like the hands of Blake
Grabbin' at his cheeks, takin' out his neck
All his limbs, everything was twisted and he said

"I won't give up, won't give up, don't let me give up
I won't give up, come here, let me go up fast
Take me up quick, take me up, up to the belly of a ship
And the ship slides open and I go inside of it
Where I am not human

I am helium raven and this movie is mine
So he cried out as he stretched the sky
Pushin' it all out like latex cartoon
Am I all alone in this generation?
We'll just be dreamin' of animation night and day
And won't let up, won't let up and I see them comin' in
Oh, I couldn't hear them before, but I hear 'em now

It's a radar scope in all silver and all platinum lights
Movin' in like black ships, they were movin' in, streams of them
And he put up his hands and he said, It's me, it's me
I'll give you my eyes, take me up, oh Lord, please take me up
I'm helium, raven waitin' for you, please take me up
Don't leave me here"

The son, the sign, the cross
Like the shape of a tortured woman
The true shape of a tortured woman
The mother standing in the doorway, lettin' her sons
No longer presidents but prophets
They're all dreamin', they're gonna bear the prophet

He's gonna run through the fields dreamin' in animation
It's all gonna split his skull
It's gonna come out like a black bouquet shinin'
Like a fist that's gonna shoot them up
Like light, like Mohammed boxer

Take them up up up up up up
Oh, let's go up, up, don't hold me back
Take me up, I'll go up, I'm goin' up, I'm goin' up
Take me up, I'm goin' up, I'll go up, tell
Go up go up go up go up up up up up up up
Up, up, to the belly of a ship
Let the ship slide open and we'll go inside of it
Well, we are not human, we're not human

Well, there was sand, there were tiles
The sun had melted the sand
And it coagulated like a river of glass
When it hardened, he looked at the surface
He saw his face and where there were eyes
Were just two white opals, two white opals

Where there were eyes, there were just two white opals
He looked up and the rays shot
And he saw raven comin' in
And he crawled on his back and he went up
Up up up up up up

Sha da do wop, da sha da do way
Sha da do wop, da sha da do way
Sha da do wop, da sha da do way
Sha da do wop, da sha da do way
Shaman do wop, da shaman do way
We like birdland 

Lyrics via MetroLyrics

Mourning Victims of Israeli Extremists

Earlier this month, artist Romy Achituv and writer Ilana Sichel responded to the recent bouts of violence against Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians with a poster project that uses a stark Israeli graphic language of mourning. The duo posted two sets of black-and-white posters — one set in Hebrew, another in English — in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere around Israel in an effort to commemorate two young people whose lives were tragically cut short.
What is unusual about the posters is that they remember a Jewish Israeli teen stabbed to death at the Jerusalem Pride Parade on July 30 and an 18-month-old Palestinian child who was killed in the West Bank — both by right-wing Jewish Israelis. In a land where Jewish and Palestinian communities are legally and politically separated, sometimes by force, the gesture was a poignant action that pointed to the layers of symbolic mourning on the streets of Israel and provoked the question: who is allowed to be remembered?
 While most of the posters for Shira Banki, the victim of the Pride stabbing, remained on the walls, the posters for Ali Saad Dawabshe, the toddler who was burned alive, were more frequently torn down.

Further Reading:
Jewish Telegraph Agency - Mourning notices for stabbing and arson victims stir ‘politics of grief’ in Israel

 Forward - Subversive Death Notices Mourn Israeli and Palestinian Alike


I keep seeing his dead body. I don't know how to reconcile the vision of his death with the memories of his life.

He seems so far away. Our life together is lost.

The opening scene of Hiroshima Mon Amour: two bodies entwined, covered in gold dust. Later, the museum where we see displays of twisted metal, shattered stones, patches of hair, a mass of melted bottle caps, like a kind of geode. And the pictures of burnt flesh, scarred bodies. The wound of history.

I think grief needs to be rooted in the body. I don't think we talk enough about the toll that grief takes on the body.

I want you to come back, but you can't come to me and I can't go to you. There is no longer an "us." I am alone. I am barred from you.

In the water is where I am alive and free. Maybe that's why Woolf went into the river.

I had a dream about my father. I said "It's been a while since I've seen you." We embraced.

Our lives are temporary but our tragedies are permanent. Death is forever, it's the forever that lasts our lifetimes. Forever ends when we die. Then, the grief ends.

I give myself to art.

I fear the underside of life, what is beneath the beauty, what brings death.

In an interview about her California films, Agn├Ęs Varda says she wants to "erase borders" between artistic mediums. This is why she is a filmmaker, a photographer, and a visual artist. "In the cinema, I try to erase borders."

Everything begins with the death of my father. I thought it would kill me. Why didn't I die? Maybe that's what I am eternally asking myself: How did I survive?

How to put the beloved back together

The viscera of the past

The dead body of the father

Why do I endure?

What do you do when you are so fundamentally different from the world around you?

Sensitivity might help you as an artist but it hurts you as a person. I'm not thin-skinned. I am skinless. I have no protection. I am a wound.

He is gone and I am left to fend for myself. No one truly feels that but me. No one understands.

Certain hurts diminish, some flash over and burn for a lifetime.

Shame destroys me

This godawful grief

I can't live with the past, and I can't live without it.

I was born from the trauma of his death.

I will always yearn for him

I hold my grief. My grief holds me.

I don't write about certain things because I don't want to remember them. Forgetting allows me to survive.

This house keeps him. But I am also a house, holding his life, his memory, his name.

Loss is not a gift or a blessing or a lesson. By loss I mean the death of the beloved. That loss is and can only ever be atrocity.

I don't search for meaning. I survive in meaning's absence. I survive with the truth that this is life, and death will come and it will all be over.

There are many forms of death. Other ways of dying while one is alive.

When presence is a reminder of absence

We are an accumulation of so many thoughts, memories, and experiences. How can we ever be known?

Maybe the things that make it so hard for me to be in the world--my sensitivity, my deep feelings--are what make me a writer, allowing me to see in a particular way. Or am I trying to feel special? Maybe telling myself that what debilitates me and estranges me from the world allows me to be an artist is the only way I can survive and give my life meaning.

At random moments, I remember he isn't here, that he'll never be here again.

His death has forced me to live deeper

Writing about him helps me to keep living

I've led a tragic life and I don't know what to do with it.

What is there beyond the point of his death? Really, what matters now that he is gone? When a life ends, we die with it.

You contain the silence of your death.

What I've learned since his death: You are on your own in this world.

Home is him, it's a hymn of his voice, his now-silenced breath

I write warm blood

I am tired of bearing this pain and burying my dead

I say your name but it doesn't bring you back

So tired of this cultural obsession with cheerfulness and optimism. Not only must I suffer tragedy, now I'm expected to smile through it.

This world is trying to kill me and it's succeeding.

I keep thinking of a line from The Motorcycle Diaries: "Life is pain."

If I ever write a grief memoir, it will be so sad. It will be an unbearable book.

I write because I have no connection to this world. I write myself--my exiled, marginalized, forgotten, broken self. I do not want to reflect the world. I want to resist it with my words, my mind.

I know why Ophelia sank to the depths: To escape a world that damaged and ruined her. To escape her grief.

I think you truly have to write for yourself. There is no other way to write.

I keep waiting for something good to happen, for the pieces to fall into place, for some kind of peace, but it never comes. Perhaps I have foolishly believed in impossible miracles.

Ten years of struggle. Ten years of losing people I love, living in poverty, sinking into a hole that I can't escape because it deepens under me and pulls me in.

Emptiness underneath emptiness

It's like my life has stopped and I sit here watching everyone move around my stillness.

keep writing keep writing keep writing