In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s memoir about the death of her husband and her daughter’s sudden sickness, Didion describes being paralyzed by memories of her family triggered during mundane circumstances. She calls this experience “the vortex effect.”

Matt Zoller Seitz’s Salon essay, “All The Things That Remind Me Of Her,” shows the vortex experience in full effect. Seitz describes losing his wife to a heart attack, and then later, the seemingly benign things that would trigger memories of her:

A song, a poem, a scene from a film triggers memories. You’re startled, moved, shaken. And you’re faced with two options: 1) engage with the work and the memories it calls up, or 2) retreat, postpone, avoid.

Option 2 is very attractive. You’re buying Tums and hand soap at the drugstore and a song comes on, a song you associate with somebody you loved — a shared reference point, an in-joke, an anthem, a confession — and suddenly you’re a mess, a wreck, useless, so you leave the store without buying anything. You’re watching a movie in a multiplex or in somebody’s living room and here comes a character that reminds you of somebody you miss — a parent, a sibling, a lover, a friend — and you excuse yourself for a while and go into another room or take a walk around the block, and when you’ve regained control, you go back. (“Hey, where were you?” “Nowhere. Just taking a break.”)

Retreat, postpone, avoid.

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Photo: Paul Cross