A.N. Devers | Longreads | May 2017| 9 minutes (2,206words)
When the first episode of Twin Peaks aired, I didn’t see it. It was the spring of 1990 and I was in shock. My grandfather and grandmother had just died unexpectedly of different causes less than twenty-four hours apart, on April 1st and 2nd, respectively. I was 12 years old and felt as if I was in a fever dream. Their deaths were ghastly and remarkable and strange and heart wrenching and I felt like for two weeks my body had left the earth, a pre-teen balloon, floating above their home of Ft. Worth, Texas watching streams of mourners as they arrived with potato salad and Ricky’s BBQ and chocolate cake. Read more…
My parents had said it aloud many times, and I had shushed them.
I was guilty of sometimes thinking it.
“Just kill yourself, or get killed quickly, and end all the mayhem.”
My older brother had been barely surviving on a destructive path for so long that sometimes I wished he would just finish it off already.
Really. It just sometimes seemed the easier way for him, and for all of us.
I had no idea how much worse his death would actually make things—how alone his death would leave me, as it hastened the additional deaths that would leave me the only remaining member of my family. Read more…
When she was 22 and an assistant at New York Magazine, Ariel Levy, hungry for success and action, went to a nightclub for obese women and reported her first story. New York published the resulting piece with what Levy, two decades later, claims is still the best headline she’s had: “WOMEN’S LB.” Levy worked for New York until 2008, when she was hired as a staff writer at The New Yorker. There, she has focused largely on gender and sexuality: she’s profiled comedian Ali Wong, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, boxer Claressa Shields, and Nora Ephron. She has traveled to Jerusalem with Mike Huckabee, to Italy to report on Silvio Berlusconi, to South Africa to report on runner Caster Semenya.
And she has traveled to Mongolia. In 2012—38 years old, married and in love, and five months pregnant—Levy got on a plane for what she felt would be her last big trip for a long time. But, while there, a pain in her abdomen grew and grew until, in the middle of dinner at a Japanese restaurant, she had to rush back to her hotel room before the food came. On the floor of her hotel bathroom, an “unholy storm” moved through her body, and she gave birth to her son. Less than twenty minutes later, he died.
Levy recounted this experience in her first piece of personal writing, the essay “Thanksgiving in Mongolia.” Her new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, tells the broader story of her gradual realization, through trauma and loss—including divorce from her wife, who struggled with alcoholism—that our options are limited by nature.
Having read your work and knowing how adventurous you are, I was surprised to read about how fearful you become before you travel. I’m the type of person who, when I feel very fearful, often heeds that and runs away. You seem to do the opposite—diving headfirst into fear. What’s that about?
That’s just how I’ve always done it. I mean, you’re absolutely right.
If you’re an only child, you only ever talk to grown-ups; it makes you a very weird kid. So when I was a kid learning how to talk to other people my own age, I do think my initial problem was that I’d be really scared, and I’d come on so strong. People were like, “Who is that aggressive, terrifying child?” I was just overcompensating for fear.
That’s definitely how I deal. I hope I’ve gotten less weird socially, but if a story scares me, if a job scares me, I’m definitely going to dive in. I just didn’t like the idea of living a terrified life, you know? I didn’t want to go down that way. Read more…
What they don’t tell you about death—or what you don’t really understand until it happens close to you—is how permanent it is. In the months afterward I kept thinking to myself, all right, I get it. This is too painful. Let’s just take a little break from the loss. Let’s have a weekend off. A day. Or an hour. Just one hour when it’s not true, when she is allowed to speak to me, or to rub an absent-minded hand through my hair. But the wall is high and fissureless. There are no breaks, no time-outs. The loss is final, and the you that you were with her is nowhere, gone.
– Blair Hurley, writing in LitHub, reflects on the loss of her mother, and how she found a path through grief by revisiting the opinions and notes scrawled in the margins of her mother’s books.
At The Walrus, Nancy Westaway finds comfort in the digital footprints left behind by her husband Jonathan, who died of esophageal cancer at the age of 50.
But I know I am trying to do the impossible: to reanimate the love of my life word-by-word, tweet-by-tweet, text-by-text.
At first I was uncomfortable with the online grieving. When people clicked “like” on Jon’s obit after it was posted to Facebook, it felt remote and impersonal as if someone was taking something that belonged to the kids and me. But digital death notices and online goodbyes are part of modern love. When I saw the names of people I had never met posting their condolences on a friend’s page, I understood it. When I die, I want my friends to be comforted too.
After he died, Jon’s online presence grew and then faded into the ether. Now, when I Google his name late at night, I see he has slipped further and further down in the search results.
Sometimes I forward emails from Jon’s account to mine to keep track of something important. And even though I know I’ve just sent myself an email from his account, my heart still leaps when I see his name appear in my inbox.
Every day, terrible things happen in the world. Every damn day too many people die or suffer for reasons that defy comprehension.
All too often, suffering exists in a realm beyond vocabulary so we navigate that realm awkwardly, fumbling for the right words, hoping we can somehow approximate an understanding of matters that should never have to be understood by anyone in any place in the world.
This is the modern age. When tragedies occur, we take to Twitter and Facebook and blogs to share our thoughts and feelings. We do this maybe, just maybe, to know we are not alone in our confusion or grief or sorrow or to believe we have a voice in what happens in the world.
We are asked these questions as if we only have the capacity to mourn one tragedy at a time, as if we must measure the depth and reach of a tragedy before deciding how to respond, as if compassion and kindness are finite resources we must use sparingly. We cannot put these two tragedies on a chart and connect them with a straight line. We cannot understand these tragedies neatly. Life is a mess.
At The Rumpus, Roxane Gay guides us toward compassion as we navigate the anger, grief, sorrow, and frustration we feel in times of tragedy.
Hawks aren’t social animals like dogs or horses; they understand neither coercion nor punishment. The only way to tame them is through positive reinforcement with gifts of food. You want the hawk to eat the food you hold – it’s the first step in reclaiming her that will end with you being hunting partners. But the space between the fear and the food is a vast, vast gulf, and you have to cross it together. I thought, once, that you did it by being infinitely patient. But no: it is that you must become invisible. You’re trying to get her to look at the steak, not at you, because you know – though you haven’t looked – that her eyes are fixed in horror at your profile. All you can hear is the wet click, click, click of her blinking.
To cross this space between fear and food you need – very urgently – not to be there. You empty your mind and become very still. You think of exactly nothing at all. The hawk becomes a strange, hollow concept, as flat as a snapshot or a schematic drawing, but at the same time, as pertinent to your future as an angry high court judge. Your gloved fist squeezes the meat a fraction, and you feel the tiny imbalance of weight and you see out of the very corner of your vision that she’s looked down at it. And so, remaining invisible, you make the food the only thing in the room apart from the hawk; you’re not there at all. And what you hope is that she’ll start eating, and you can very, very slowly make yourself visible. Even if you don’t move a muscle, and just relax into a more normal frame of mind, the hawk knows. It’s extraordinary. It takes a long time to be yourself in the presence of a new hawk.”
–From a Telegraph excerpt of writer Helen Macdonald’s bestselling UK memoir, H is for Hawk, which was awarded the Costa Book Award last week, as well as the Samuel Johnson Prize. The memoir documents her attempt to train a goshawk, a notoriously difficult and deadly raptor, as a way to ameliorate the pain of unexpectedly losing her father.The book comes out next month in the U.S. through Grove Press.
The American poet Miller Williams — father of alt-country singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams — passed away on January 1. In this interview with Paste Magazine, Lucinda Williams reflects on her father’s influence in her life and on her work. Not only did he encourage her to pursue music, his words inspired many of her songs.
Lucinda Williams clutched the receiver and hung on her father’s every word. Three years ago, the Grammy-winning, critically acclaimed songstress had dialed Miller Williams—her mentor, toughest critic and dad—for a bit of consolation after attending an old friend’s funeral. Miller’s words weren’t so much a comfort as an inspiration.
“He told me ‘a precious thing’s temporary nature just makes it more precious,’ and ‘the saddest joys are the richest ones,’” Lucinda recalls of the genius in her father’s offhand remarks. “It was so profound that I jotted it down and eventually wrote a song about it.”
That tune—aptly titled “Temporary Nature (Of Any Precious Thing)”—is featured on the second disc of Williams’ new double album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. Over the song’s pensive guitar and church choir organ, Lucinda sings that impromptu mantra from her father, holding a quavering high note as she comes to the word “precious”—evoking the trembling grip of anyone who struggles to let go.
GROSS: What are some of the most painful things that have happened to you that you’ve ended up making jokes about on stage?
Ms. RIVERS: Oh, where do you start? My husband’s suicide.
Ms. RIVERS: Some man, 60 years old, that couldn’t take the business and went and killed himself. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with that when you’ve got a 16-year-old daughter who gets the call? Huh?
And I’ll tell you how you deal with that. You go through it, and you make jokes about it, and you continue with it, and you move forward. That’s how you do it, or that’s how I do it. Everyone handles things differently.
PLAYBOY: It’s been almost four decades since it happened. Does the grief dissipate?
COLBERT: No. It’s not as keen. Well, it’s not as present, how about that? It’s just as keen but not as present. But it will always accept the invitation. Grief will always accept the invitation to appear. It’s got plenty of time for you.
PLAYBOY: “I’ll be here.”
COLBERT: That’s right. “I’ll be here when you need me.” The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you. You know what I mean? I’ve always liked that phrase He was visited by grief, because that’s really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at your door.