More than ever, writing is a means of salvaging the past. If I write about the weeping willow on the roadside that no longer exists, then it isn't dead. If I write about a day, a room, an encounter, a feeling, then it isn't lost. I've saved it from the void.

Tennessee Williams had a sister named Rose. She had delusions. Their mother allowed a lobotomy to be performed on her. Williams's tortured relationship with Rose (he felt guilty for not protecting her) surfaces in many of his plays.

In bed, reading as the rain falls.

But does an obsession make you a writer? Does grief make you a writer?

Something will come--it always comes--to devastate me.

I was almost mute as a child. People asked me if I could speak.

My relationship to time. My fear of it. The sense that it is drowning me, that I'm caught in a wave, being pulled away from what I love.

Grief sewn into me.

I forget in great swathes and remember in fragments.

Beautiful words: opaline, opalescent.

The unspoken, the unwritten, can kill you.

That moment when the full force of everything you've survived hits you and you feel like you're going to collapse.

Obsession is good. Obsession keeps me alive.

Grief is my obsession.

It's like grief gave birth to me. It's the defining experience of my life, all I know. Grief will also be the death of me.

Bear witness to your life. Bear your life.

I always feel like I'm writing what cannot be written but I must find the words and even if they're not enough they are all I have.

I fight to the death with language.

It still kills me that my father is dead. Writing the words "my father is dead" is unbearable.

You will write the grief one day. No, you're already writing it, in scraps and pieces that can be sewn together somehow.

I used to look at the trees and cry.

Don't let go--let in. Let in love, light, grief. Let in death.

When I'm alone, I read poetry aloud. I like hearing my voice fill a room.

I have an ache in my chest that I call father.

Writing as a way to remember the dead, speak to them.

Dreams take me to you

Grief is air, it's all around.

I can't do metaphor. I don't want to compare the feeling or experience to another thing. I want to write the feeling itself, the thing outside language, the thing that makes language impossible.

What is life? An accumulation of loss.

Must write these thoughts so they live outside me.

The unsaid always remains the unsaid

What do words make me feel? Alive, solid, substantial.

Talking to the dead before they're dead.

I write more about the dead than the living

Writing that resurrects

I made this of you. I made this for you.

Andrea Gibson - Piano

“The casket is a ladder,” says the preacher.
I remember the ring you gave me,
how I smashed it into pieces trying to decide
if it was real.

What note could you have left
for your mother’s favorite black dress
worn here?

For your brother outside the window
in the suit he wore to prom
smoking his heart into hatchet?

For your father refusing to take a tissue,
embarrassing the men with the nervous coughs?

For the car your cousin keeps calling a limo?
For your baby sister asking
why they are calling it a wake?

Last night I tore the feathers from my pillow
searching for the songs of the birds.

Morning came silent
as your bones,
and now your face, here
in this empty box,
resting like a piano on fire.

Is this the place
you wanted to go
the night I swallowed your cock like an opera
and your makeup melted from your cheekbones
onto the whiskey spilled dirt?

When you walked me home
the earth was still
between my teeth.
My lungs were an attic full of dust.

You kept flipping through
the photographs on my breath.
Everything inside me
was overexposed,
the glitter in my tough,
the slur in my family tree.

When I asked you to stay
my jaw was not a hinge.
There was nothing open in the question.

We all have bullets beneath our skin
we pray our lovers won’t flinch at when they find.
We all have sirens in our light.

But if you think this is a eulogy
you haven’t seen my nail beds.

I’ve already built too many wind chimes
from covered tailpipes
to lay anyone down that clean,

to write your release
with a pretty pen
to the pitch of your mother’s scream.

The only word
I have to give you
is good-bye.

If the casket is a ladder,


Naomi Shihab Nye - The Grieving Ring

When word of his death arrived
we sat in a circle for days
crying or not crying

long ago in the other country
girls balanced buckets
on their heads

now the old sweet water
rose from the spring
to swallow us

brothers shrank
children grew old
it felt fine to say nothing
about him
or something small

the way he carried
oranges and falafel
in his pockets

the way he was always
slightly mad

what he said to each
the last time
we saw him
hurt the worst

those unwritten letters
banging each head
till it felt bruised

now he would stand at the mirror
knotting his tie
for the rest of so many lives

Naomi Shihab Nye - My Grandmother in the Stars

It is possible we will not meet again
on earth. To think this fills my throat
with dust. Then there is only the sky
tying the universe together.

Just now the neighbor’s horse must be standing
patiently, hoof on stone, waiting for his day
to open. What you think of him,
and the village’s one heroic cow,
is the knowledge I wish to gather.
I bow to your rugged feet,
the moth-eaten scarves that knot your hair.

Where we live in the world
is never one place. Our hearts,
those dogged mirrors, keep flashing us
moons before we are ready for them.
You and I on a roof at sunset,
our two languages adrift,
heart saying, Take this home with you,
never again,
and only memory making us rich.

Vanessa Redgrave Reads Joan Didion

The Guardian describes the evening Vanessa Redgrave read excerpts from Joan Didion's memoir Blue Nights, which is about the death of Didion's daughter, Quintana Roo. Redgrave also lost a daughter, actress Natasha Richardson.  
Redgrave read selections of Blue Nights, starting with Didion remembering Quintana’s wedding day, which took place in St John the Divine. The recounting of Quintana’s “sentimental choices” and the happiness of that day did not soften the impact of what was to come. Through Redgrave, Didion reminds us why we are here: “When we talk about mortality, we are talking about our children.”  
While she read as a stand-in for Didion, Redgrave was reading for herself as well:her own daughter, actor Natasha Richardson, died in 2009. To hear Didion’s losses recounted by another was difficult; hearing Redgrave read of her own loss, in Didion’s words, was harder. 
She sat as she read of Tasha, as Didion affectionately calls her, acting as an older friend to Quintana when they were adolescents; of her first wedding in Didion’s home; of her second wedding to actor Liam Neeson; of the accident on the ski slope, and of visiting her in the hospital. 
“This was not supposed to happen to her,” Vanessa Redgrave looked up as she read this line, the second time, this time in reference to Natasha. Her words hung in the air as Owens’s interlude began again. His music acted as not only a pause in the narrative, but as a chance for the audience to breathe, to collect ourselves.
Read the full article 

Lydia Goldblatt - Still Here

Lydia Goldblatt's "Still Here," is a quiet but powerful meditation on old age and what it does to the people we love. Goldblatt photographed her father in the last years of his life and also took pictures of her mother, capturing heartbreaking moments that reveal the vulnerability and loss of ageing. I'm reminded of Agn├Ęs Varda who filmed her late husband Jacques Demy before he died because she needed to preserve him in some way. Similarly, Goldblatt seems to use her camera to save what she can of her parents before they are gone.
All images are from The New Yorker and Rick Wester Fine Art

Making a Life

This weekend, while rummaging through a closet for Christmas decorations (we start early at my house), my mother found a picture of my father. Years ago, I'd lost the photo and feared it was gone forever. I'd thought about this particular photo many times, wondering where it was, if it'd ever come to light again.

At first, she didn't want to show me the picture, fearing it would upset me. When she handed it to me, I smiled and, for a moment, my eyes filled with tears. I felt both joy and grief; joy at having the lost photo again and seeing his face, grief at knowing the father I lost is gone forever, that all I have left of his life are a few trinkets and photographs.


Tomorrow, I start a job. I've been searching for one for months now, putting in nearly one hundred applications and feeling like the rejection would never end. I still can't believe it's real.

I'm thinking about how far my life has come. In the years after my father's death in 2006, I was a girl in her late teens who could barely leave the house. Every moment was filled with fear and anxiety. Somehow, I went to college, graduated in May, and now I finally have a job that pays a decent wage. I don't think I've really felt like an adult until this moment. In fact, at one time, this moment itself was inconceivable.

Those days when I couldn't leave the house, when I had panic attacks and deep depressive episodes, made me believe that my life would only ever be an endless black hole. Some days it still is. Just a week ago, I shared my struggle with depression and the difficult time I've been having. And yet finding this job has given me a little bit of hope that maybe the near-decade of poverty and struggle is coming to an end, or at least I'll get a lull, a few months of stability.


Christmas is coming. It's my favorite holiday. A local radio station is already playing classic Christmas music. In the car,  my mother and I gleefully sing along to the songs. She's decorated the bathroom already and has a little pink tree in her bedroom. After Thanksgiving, people in my small town will start covering their homes in lights and my mother and I will drive around, gazing at them. We'll drink hot chocolate and watch made-for-tv Christmas movies. We'll do what we've always done: survive, make a life out of the broken pieces, cobble together what happiness we can find. It will be enough. It will be more than enough.

A Liberating Rupture

I don't think my writing goes deep enough. I'm not penetrating the core of what I feel. I have yet to open the valve completely and release all the fury and grief and heartache. But I want to and I'll keep writing until I touch the unspeakable and the unnameable. I think it's the purpose of my life, why I'm alive at all.

I'm being too demure. I'm holding back. I'm being polite and giving in to my insecurities. I'm silencing myself. I'm surrendering to fear. I'm scared of what I contain. I'm scared that it's too much--to messy, too out of control, too ordinary.

I woke up today, wondering what's the point? What is life? What is the meaning? What am I doing here? I can't see the purpose of anything. Why wake up, why keep going through the motions? Why why why?

I reach my breaking point sometimes. I get worn down. Often, I feel worthless and mediocre. As soon as I wake up I want to go back to sleep. I don't shower for days. I don't leave the house. The sunlight burns my eyes. This is the truth of my life right now.

So, yes, I wake up and don't know why I'm here and think it might be better if I wasn't here but I am here. I am surviving. I don't always know how and I feel the thin thread that keeps me connected to life and that could, at any moment, snap, but I hold on.

Why do I get up? Why do I keep going? Something inside me won't let me stop, it whispers that I'm a writer and I have things to create and my words might matter to others and I might have the privilege of making another human being feel a little less alone in this world. So I hold on to that and my mother and the few friends I've been so fortunate to find in the darkness.

I'm crying as I write this because writing and crying are almost the same thing for me. If I don't cry while I'm writing then why am I doing it?

I want writing to be a release, a gush, an overflow. That's what it's always been for me and what it must always be. I can't tame it. It's the one part of me that is wild and not composed.

Every other aspect of my life is defined by control but writing is a glorious free-for-all, a liberating rupture. The words come and come and I never want them to stop. The words save me. The words are me. I am not separate from them. We are one.  

"The Wall Grew Around Me": Love and Loss in Ingmar Bergman's Summer Interlude

Ingmar Bergman's Summer Interlude captures the beauty of first love and the grief of its demise. Ballet dancer, Marie, spends the summer with Henrik. During months of swimming, kissing, and reveling in the freedom of youth, they fall in love but their relationship is cut short by Henrik's death. Marie is devastated, forced to confront death at an early age and mourn not just the loss of Henrik but the end of her youth. In the most powerful scene of the film, Marie speaks about the incomprehensibility of death.

Uncle Erland stands behind her, in the shadows. He is much older, more accustomed to the tragedy of life, and answers with the laconic "That's Life."

But Marie is still young. For the first time, she is experiencing the pain of losing someone she loves. She is also overwhelmed by the meaninglessness of it all.  

Uncle Erland believes there is no meaning,

Uncle Erland emerges from the shadows, stands by her side, and advises Marie to protect herself from pain by building up walls.

Marie takes his advice but acknowledges that it comes with a cost. Years after Henrik's death, she is alone and emotionally isolated from the world around her.

Perhaps it is comforting to think that we can keep the world and other people from hurting us. I know that, for much of my life, I have kept everything at a distance but death still found me, death still destroyed my life.

My father's death brought my mother and I closer together. I don't think I'll ever love another person as much as I love her. As beautiful as our closeness is, it is also terrifying because I could lose her. At times, I push her away. I even tell myself that I must put distance between us, but I can't do it. I love her deeply. I think what would hurt as much, if not more, than losing her is the thought that I didn't give all the love I had when she was with me.

I choose to keep loving, not in spite of death but because of it. Time will take away everyone, but I must love.

In the end, I think Marie realizes that there is no protection from loss. As bleak as Summer Interlude is, it leaves us with a sense that Marie will love again, that she is finally ready to reach out and connect with another human being.

Uncle Erland was wrong. The walls did not protect Marie from misery; it was always there. It will always be there for every single one of us. What the walls do keep out is any possibility of surviving the misery, of making contact with another person who understands, who lessens the pain, who loves us as deeply as we love them. 

Nicole Kidman on Losing Her Father

While promoting her latest film, Before I Go to Sleep, Nicole Kidman appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and spoke about the recent death of her father. She credited her husband, Keith Urban, with helping her to survive the ordeal. She also spoke about the reality that, in our society, we shy away from talking about death but connecting with other people can actually be very beneficial and make us feel less alone.

Nicole Kidman is an actress I admire. Several of her films--primarily The Hours and Birth--have profoundly affected my life. When I heard that her father died, I was saddened. The truth is, any time I hear that a woman has lost her father, a pain goes through my body because I know that she will never be the same and will have to find her own way of grieving and living with the loss.

I Want To Remember

I never want to forget my mother and I on the porch at night, laughing and talking, the scent of her cigarette on the wind, the lights of the stars trembling in blackness. The feeling of a full, warm, solid life. Our laughter cuts the silence apart, our voices spread into the night, the concrete porch is cool under my bare feet. I want all that my skin can hold, all that a life can be. I want to know that I touched love. I want to remember it. Only the memories are left. Memories on top of one another, strata of time and beauty. Maybe I'm always digging back. Maybe life is archaeology in the end and we keep excavating our pasts for the bright, glittering shards, the ruins that mark our place. This is what I had, I'll say to myself after it is gone.


Jean Valentine - Friend

You came in a dream, yesterday
--The first day we met
you showed me your dark workroom
off the kitchen, your books, your notebooks.

Reading our last, knowing-last letters
--the years of our friendship
reading our poems to each other,
I would start breathing again.

Yesterday, in the afternoon,
more than a year since you died,
some words came into the air.
I looked away a second,
and they were gone,
six lines, just passing through.

for Adrienne Rich

with thanks to Except in Dreams

Kevin Young - Wintering

I am no longer ashamed
how for weeks, after, I wanted
to be dead - not to die,

mind you, or do
myself in - but to be there
already, walking amongst

all those I'd lost, to join
the throng singing,
if that's what there is -

or the nothing, the gnawing -
So be it. I wished
to be warm - & worn -

like the quilt my grandmother
must have made, one side
a patchwork of color -

blues, green like the underside
of a leaf - the other
an old pattern of the dolls

of the world, never cut out
but sewn whole - if the world
were Scotsmen & sailors

in traditional uniforms.
Mourning, I've learned, is just
a moment, many,

grief the long betrothal
beyond. Grief what
we wed, ringing us -

heirloom brought
from my father's hot house -
the quilt heavy tonight

at the foot of my marriage bed,
its weight months of needling
& thread. Each straightish,

pale, uneven stitch
like the white hairs I earned
all that hollowed year - pull one

& ten more will come,
wearing white, to its funeral -
each a mourner, a winter,

gathering ash at my temple.

with thanks to Except In Dreams

Michel Faber Eulogizes Wife in Final Novel

The New York Times writes about Michel Faber's decision to give up writing novels. Faber wrote his latest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, while his wife was dying, and the author says that it will be his final book. Many believe his decision is the result of profound grief over his wife's death.
Those who work closely with Mr. Faber say that his decision to stop writing novels may be a manifestation of grief for Eva Youren, his companion of 26 years and his wife since 2004. 
“Eva was the one he wrote for, and he was blessed in having someone of her intelligence and judgment be his constant sounding board,” said Jamie Byng, the publisher of Canongate, which has published Mr. Faber’s books in Britain for 16 years. “In terms of his creative process, she was the absolute center of it.” 
Mr. Byng said that Mr. Faber’s decision to end with a novel that eulogizes his wife was fitting. 
“It’s such an extraordinary novel about grief and loss and people being forced apart, and the emotional integrity and power comes from the very heartbreaking things that he was going through when he was writing it,” he said. “If it’s the last novel that he ever writes, so be it.” 
Mr. Faber, who lives in the highlands of Scotland, said that lately he’s been writing poetry about Eva and may eventually seek to publish some of it. He also hopes to find an outlet for the creative work that she left behind, he added, which included writing and photography.
Read the full article 

Mourning Attire in the 19th and 20th Centuries

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently showing the exhibition Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire. According to The Guardian, it traces "the evolution of mourning garments through the 19th and 20th centuries." I've mentioned the exhibition on this blog before, but now I can post more photos from the retrospective.

All images are courtesy of The Guardian, Newsweek, The New Republic, Time, The Daily Beast, and New York Magazine

Detail of a Victorian mourning dress
A black straw and silk mouring hat from around 1915.

Mourning dresses

Mourning dresses

Mourning dresses

Mourning dresses

Evening dress, ca. 1861

Mourning Dress, 1902-1904

Mourning dresses

Mourning dress

Evening Dress, 1902

Evening dresses

Brooches from the 1850s and 1860s, filled with human hair

A mourning parasol made of silk, wood and tortoiseshell.
Actor Pola Negri (centre) is supported by friends at Rudolph Valentino’s funeral.

Marlene Dietrich at Edith Piaf’s funeral.

Racegoers at Royal Ascot in 1910, after the death of Edward VII. It became known as ‘Black Ascot’.
Jacqueline Kennedy in the funeral procession for her husband, JFK.

Crown Princess Michiko wearing mourning clothing after meditating before Emperor Hirohito’s coffin.

Queen Victoria after the death of her daughter,Princess Alice, with Alice’s husband and children.