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.