Sepulchritude A History and A Mythology



Bat, like many other susceptible personages, read too much in her youth and was, for better or worse, irrevocably taken with writer mythologies. Although she pretty much was taken by any sort of writer mythology, she held a special suspicious yearning for those History painted in the most saturated of colors -- the society, the salon. Tables. Round, café [Kallisti: Wait, wait, I'm liking this Table theme -- we can use your Caligari-esque table pic here. Let me come back to this later. I can't do it justice now] You know: the mythos of the literary salon and similar gatherings -- the Algonquin Round Table, the ex-patriates ex-patriating all over café table tops of Europe, the Bloomsbury Group, the Pre-Raphaelites, and all and sundry -- all those swirling, bohemian, well-told tales of such meldings.

Ya know. To imitate the Marquis imitating "Ab Fab":
"Art, sweetie, art."

Okay, second paragraph. Have we managed, with those deliberately chosen words, to chase off the weak-stomached? Those who fled at once, seething, "Oh, god, how pretentious!" Flee now whilst you have the chance. It's just gonna get worse. We warned you of this in Fire Signs of the Vanities.

Well. It's impossible to talk about art and not sounds pretentious in present-day America. Only the French seem to be able to get away with it regularly. They have nice tables.

[picture of a guillotine/severed head here]

Still, those myths have seduced many -- round tables, salons, groups and societies, of wit and wine, and all that piffle can really kinda get to you, can't it? Sounds delicious and improbable to find today.

But back to the narrative: Bat was silly enough and idealistic enough once to yearn for such things, questing for their equivalent in the modern day.

She spent a good portion of my youth looking around for that kind of writer "thang," hoping to find that connection. But whether she was looking in the wrong corners or was not ready for such connection yet, she found little to appease her foolish desires. Oh, she did manage to find occasional "aspiring" writer-types, but soon observed that a certain percentage of the ones she encountered favored a desperate competitiveness over any appreciation for either the craft or joy of the art. This was neither fun nor supportive nor productive -- and she did not succeed in connecting properly with the ones she found who might have been so.

So, shrinking away from pursuing that scene, she instead drank herself silly in the 80s and hung out in nightclubs and worked alone on her writing. The friends whose society she eventually fell in with were not writers, per se, (at least in the beginning), but they were not adverse to creative projects nor jokingly creating their own mythologies. One of the first mythologies created was when a few friends began in the mid-80s referring to themselves, facetiously, as the New Noire Stars of the 90s. Out of this, one of the things birthed was the printed version of Sins of Coffee in 1987 (since archived online here). {Kallisti: this sentence imploded on me when I tried to fix it -- wanna try this part? I've left it in shambles}......... people (as they are wont to do) moved and got mad at each other, divorced, and whatnot, and the New Noire Stars dwindled down to just Norman Sanders Hearthrob (whose cartoons can be found on the online version of SOC) and Bat.

By this time, Bat had met Melusine, who was not thinking of herself as a writer (then). Melusine was, nonetheless, a great wit and a damnably fine drinking buddy. But soon, she started writing, too, and took to it with a wicked vengeance. Norman and Bat encouraged this vice in her to the best of their abilities.

Then Bat met Kallisti, who was such a boffo artist and a highly creative soul. Bat made her give her art for Sins of Coffee, and shortly thereafter, Kallisti slipped effortlessly into the role of the main artist for the 'zine. [link to SOC art] Norman, Melusine, Kallisti, and Bat spent a lot of time drinking and in each other's company. They began to bemoan the fact that they wished salons existed. And then decided to make their own. They began to meet weekly -- to be creative. Share whatever. Further "Sins of Coffee," which was their main vehicle for expressing this creativity at the time. They found a nightclub called Cafe du Nord [link to du Nord's site?] and found themselves a table! They took over a table in the dark back every Friday night and became themselves. Others came to the Friday gatherings, but the creative core was, at that time, Bat, Norman, Kallisti, and Melusine. They did things. Wrote things. Wrote some more things. Laughed at things.

"May I speak horticulturally for a moment?"

Then came the season where they were enthralled by both the movie and the book "Dangerous Liaisons." They bemoaned the fact that no one writes letters like those anymore. Beware their bemoaning -- it's a call to action. They took on hyperbolic names [such as Marquise de Merlot (Bat), Comtesse de Nuit (Melusine), and the Dauphine D'Isles des Femmes (Kallisti)] and began writing letters to each other in this archaic French style, gossiping about their lives, and creating some loftily absurd letters given the paradox of describing modern urban life in an 18th century style. You can see some of the outtakes of some of these letters in "Suffering Is Hip" in the column "Drinking With Thine Enemies" [link] where Melusine (la Comtesse de Nuit) extracts and edits some of the more intense, bathetic,and humorous of them. The writing of these letters for a few years -- literally, hundreds and hundreds of pages of them accumulated. They assigned titles to just about everyone they knew and gossiped wildly.

"All literature is gossip” — Truman Capote

Mirth, after flirting with them for a decent while, took a hike. In 1993, shortly after embarking on these epic letters, Norman died. Although he, thusly, departed the table, the others still felt his presence strongly and would miss him at stray moments. By the time of his death, Norman had become quite a prolific and interesting writer, having written by then two novels and a plethora of shorter things (in addition to his infamous "Antagonistic Pedestrian" [link] online "Sins of Coffee.")

After Norman's death, Melusine, Kallisti, and Bat carried on ..... and in retrospect, a few months after Norman's death became one of those Golden Ages necessary to any reporting of a particular history. (And they, being they, assumed Norman was gallavanting along with them in spirit and causing synchronicity to bend to their advantage.) The Friday night Cafe du Nord meetings were well-attended (which was both a blessing and a curse -- as the larger they grew, the more they became a social function rather than a creative meeting). The Dangerous Liaisons letters flourished with others joining in this correspondence with us from time to time.

Around this time, Bat met the Marquis Déjà Dû. One of the first things that intrigued him about his acquaintance with M. Bat were these very Dangerous Liaisons letters, as he himself was a big fan of the movie/book, as well. So, naturally, Bat encouraged him to join the letter-writing fray. He threw himself into it with zeal, wit, and much talent.

So, inevitably, the Marquis became a fixture at the Cafe du Nord table as well, and his temperament complemented their temperaments very well, and they were, for a good while, all dizzingly DAMN creative. The Marquis soon created a game called Brainchild [link], which led to the writing, as they naturally had to dub them, of the Brainchild stories. [link] The Brainchild stories were an exercise in writing which is explained in depth on the Marquis's site. Their muses were enflamed. The Golden Age unfurled. The Marquis, Kallisti, Elizabeth, and Bat -- as the core writers of the Dangerous Liaisons letters and the forces behind their staked-out almost "Algonquinesque" table at the Friday night gatherings -- began to recognize each other as good creative cohorts, and around this time portmanteau* word "Sepulchritude" was coined. They decided we had to use it. They toyed with it. The word just hung around. It was wholly them. So, they named ourselves with it.

*A portmanteau word is a squeezing together of two words to form a new word in which the new word is enhanced by both meanings. Humpty Dumpty, in Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass (1871) offers this term to explain that "slithy" means both "lithe and slimy." "You see it's like a portmanteau -- there are two meanings packed up into one word." (A portmanteau is a hinged traveling case with two hinged compartments.)

Just in case you've been puzzling over how to deconstruct "sepulchritude," it is, of course, a portmanteau of "sepulchre" and "pulchritude.


Of course, Golden Ages are meant to wane at times, and, after a while, this one took its own little plunge into inertia. Mundane life intruded and pestered them. Bat decided to heed the winds of change and ceased publishing "Sins of Coffee," ending it with the issue of number 13, figuring the number portentous. The Web was just beginning to burst into the limelight then, and the four of them began slowly playing with that and seeing possibilities in it for their pursuits.

"Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." - A.J. Liebling

The malaise which had settled upon this sepulchritudinous society held forth for some months. Miserably. Their muses spit back. Restlessness infected them all in different ways. Kallisti and the Marquis decided to up and move to New Orleans for a change of scenery. . So, they (and another friend) packed the cats into a truck and drove down to New Orleans.

Once they had moved, endeavors progressed slowly, eeked out and traded through email and the like. A new venture was needed to break the malaise. And so it came: "Suffering is Hip." Kallisti pixelized her inimitable (inimiTABLE -- told ya, they're signicant) artistries, parlaying them into various notorious and eclectic sections of the site -- in addition to giving their frenzies a receptacle in "Suffering is Hip," Kallisti also busied herself creating venues for severed heads, historic smut, and green fairies of Absinthe lore. Things began again. Despite geographic divides (Kallisti and the Marquis in New Orleans; Melusine and Bat in San Francisco), dormancies and hermitages (Bat's forté), and the ever-pesky travails of the mundanities of life (having to toil to pay one's rent and whatnot) -- the four had unwittingly solidified themselves somewhere along the way as a creative group -- as this Sepulchritude thing. Even in malaise, one or more of them would have a flash of motivation and would just keep the thing moving along while being both protective and forgiving of the others who periodically succumb to ... those ... tendencies. Those tendencies that afflict each of us in turn, visiting and releasing, making us insist at times: "I hate art." [Kallisti] "I hate writing." [le Marquis] "I hate breathing." [Bat]. "I hate pastels." [Melusine]. Each of us shines and implodes regularly as individuals -- but somehow together, someone is always there at this phantom Table* when another finally crawls up from the abyss for a snack and some farce.

"Farce without end? My innocence would make me weep. Life is the farce we all have to lead." -- Rimbaud

More recently, the Marquis and Kallisti, after spending more than a year in New Orleans, had still not found decent jobs there. The Marquis opted to move to Philadelphia with some other friends of his, and Kallisti came back to San Francisco. Whether it's the strange weather of the last year or something in the water, we seem ready to take our chairs again..

* The real table from those days at Du Nord was a big old tattered naughahyde [sp? and was it naugahyde? If not what was it?" corner booth with a round table. When Du Nord switched furniture schemes, they gave us the booth and table. The Marquis has been carting the table around the country with him and currently uses it as his computer table. The booth, however, ended up on someone's lawn in the 'burbs. Don't ask. It's a convoluted story.

Incidentally, those Friday meetings no longer exist, having been a casualty of the West Coast malaise and, possibly, the dispatch of the table. But Melusine is the co-____ [what is she? must have a froofy word here] of Dark Sparkle, a dance thang every other Wednesday at the same Cafe du Nord. See what happens when they take away your table? They make you dance.


"Hunger, thirst, shouts, dance, dance, dance, dance!" -- Rimbaud [again] [always]