People are often surprised that I can cook. I never understood why. Can’t everyone? You just get a cookbook, get the ingredients and do what the recipe says.

Except it doesn’t always work that way. Ten people following the same recipe will produce a dish that slightly varies in ten different ways. I don’t know why.

I took my truck in for service today and the technician opened the hood and did his mechanic stuff. Looking at the engine, for me, must be what it’s like for any of you to look at a fully autopsied body and be expected to know what goes where and what to do with what. I mean, not that any of you (not in the business) will ever get that opportunity – I hope not – but you understand.

The mechanic is just following some instructions that were written somewhere and passed along. Logically, I should be able to read those same instructions and fix my own vehicle. Except I can’t, and I know better than to try.

It’s like cutting my own hair. I can’t do it. Not even bangs. There are a set of instructions to follow, yet anyone who works on my hair is going to produce a different result each time.

I can put a human body together in ways that other people cannot. Same education, same amount of time on the job, same tools, same chemicals, yet mine will always look better. I don’t know why. I guess it’s like cooking – either you can or you can’t.

In mortuary school we learn a lot about anatomy, medical terminology and chemistry. I barely pulled a C- in my anatomy class. We spent a lot of time learning about the brain. Know what I do with the brain at work? Stuff it wherever it will fit under the ribcage. We learned how to calculate the exact percentage of formaldehyde in the solutions we prepare, and the ingredients of different kinds of embalming fluid. I make use of that knowledge on the job by giving everyone a couple bottles of the red stuff and some of the purple stuff, and I might use half a bottle of the pink stuff on certain other people. We learn to prepare reports describing a hematoma on the anterior side of the brachalis, and the injection of the radial artery, yet I just write “bruised arm” and “had to cut the wrist.”

I sometimes write my reports in haiku form, except when I know someone is actually going to read them.

I’ve often joked that I can embalm a body with my eyes shut. And one day, I did. Either you can or you can’t.

What is it that a person can put into her work, whether it’s art or cooking or human remains, that is more important than education? Than detailed adherence to procedure? That other people just don’t have?

Whatever it is, I’m just glad I’ve got it.