Read Obituaries

When I was young and living at home with my parents, we had the local newspaper delivered every day. I was once a “Paper Boy” myself to earn some extra pocket money – it was also a rite of passage in my school days.

The daily ritual of reading the paper would invariably end up with either my mum or dad declaring that someone famous was now dead. I would often complain, stating that is was very morbid to be poring over the obituaries every day. I just thought it was very dark and a bit weird at the time – hardly entertainment!

Like many things when we grow older, we begin to appreciate behaviours in our parents we once thought odd or unfathomable. Reading obituaries, as it turns out, is a very powerful and inspirational tool – who’d have guessed? As well as the focus on death as a reminder of our own mortality, it’s also a reminder of a life lived, often to the full.

I was re-reading one of my favourite books on creativity recently, Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work” (sequel to “Steal Like an Artist”) and he has a chapter dedicated to this topic. He writes:

One day you’ll be dead. Most of us prefer to ignore this most basic fact of life, but thinking about our inevitable end has a way of putting everything into perspective. – Austin Kleon, “Show Your Work” p25

That sounds uncannily like a Zoomologist – almost verbatim how I have written before. Austin goes on to write – and I love this – about near-death experiences and not being so brave:

Obituaries are like near-death experiences for cowards. Reading them is a way for me to think about death while keeping it at arms length. – Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work”  p27

As I write I just remembered my time working at the BBC on a new version of the BBC homepage. This had an “obituary module” which could be activated by editorial to link to the obituary of a famous person when they died. These obituaries were pre-written and ready to go at a moments notice. I used to wonder how famous you had to be to have an obituary written about you while you were still alive!

I think this is a great Zoom-Out tool – even better and more accessible than “Cemetary Walking”. In Austin’s own words:

Try it: Start reading the obituaries every morning. Take inspiration from the people who muddled through life before you – they all started out as amateurs, and they got where they were going by making do with what they were given, and having the guts to put themselves out there. Follow their example. – Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work”  p29

Why not bookmark one of the obituary newspaper columns now – for example:

And how about this for starters:

If your life’s journey is a creative one, I can highly recommend these two books. They are simply inspirational and bursting with life and practical advice.