I said to a friend at a party recently, “I would never have chosen to write about this subject, you know. The subject chose me.” I’m grateful I’ve been able to do something productive with my compulsive literary musings on death, loss, and grief, hopefully turning them into something helpful or poignant. While it certainly never felt like party conversation, it has been a pleasant surprise to realize how much others are eager to broach this often untouched subject. Though in dark moments, my writing practice can at times remind me of Sylvia Plath’s line in her poem “Lady Lazarus” after multiple suicide attempts: I guess you could say I’ve a call…
Speaking of which, I really didn’t want to write about this. I really didn’t want to be feeling it either. I write about death all the time, but that doesn’t mean I go after these stories or that they don’t hurt me just the same. Suicide is its own messy and horrible kind of death: death inflicted on oneself being the extreme outcome of unrelenting pain and utter desperation. After hearing about Kate Spade last Tuesday and reading one quick article then having a quick chat with my officemate, I felt sorry (again, and deeply) for anyone who is in such an immutably awful place. And then, after a few brief ruminating moments, shrugged and shelved my feelings: “I didn’t really know much about her,” I said. “I never even wanted one of her bags,”I said. All true. I moved on. Sort of.
Then Friday morning, as if to slap me into feeling feelings I really didn’t want to be feeling, during my cozy routine of coffee and social media in bed before I start my day, I read the new headline. I threw my phone across the bed. No. Absolutely not. Unacceptable. Not happening. Then, Get out of bed and into the shower. As if preparing for work would distract me enough to forget that hideous news. It’s unfortunate that the shower doesn’t actually help realities not exist, but it does mask ugly things — like the long cry I had there. No one had to hear or see it, the water washed things away. Sort of.
Then I had to break the news about Anthony Bourdain to my husband. I read a couple of articles and saw many social media posts with photos, videos, remembrances, appreciations, quotes, analysis. Realized what behemoth community losses both Spade and Bourdain were; how many of us felt like, despite not knowing them personally, they were our friends. Realized (again, and deeply) the pain everyone is in, at least from time to time, and just how bad and impossible it can become even for the most “successful.” Then I stopped scrolling, shut the social media apps. Unlike me to divert my eyes; I am usually not just willing to look at the hard things, I often want to take that deep dive into the abyss. But I simply couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to be in that place. Besides, I thought, So many great things have already been said by so many people. I don’t have anything new to offer to this conversation. There is no need to write about it. Don’t just make more noise. I distracted myself by focusing on my great friends that were in town, on making them dinner, on staying up late listening to music with them and laughing. I put it all to bed. Sort of.
A wise author at a conference said something that has stayed with me: Write what haunts you. I am haunted by loss. But I don’t want to be musing over this right now. I want to put my hands over my ears like a little kid and close my eyes and loudly proclaim, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! I can’t hear you!” Turns out I have a threshold.
There’s a ten-car pile-up of losses in my head and heart. I figured if I took a break, by today, social media and the news would have moved on to the next thing, but there was the NYTimes obit in my email — later than usual because of the weekend in between — and MORE posts. Man, this guy was beloved. By me, too. And the way I tell people if they don’t deal with their feelings they won’t go away? Yep, feeling that. A lot.
So, I turned to my friend at that party recently and finished by saying, “If people would just stop dying, then I would stop writing about it.”
Photo: By WNYC New York Public Radio. Cropped and edited by Daniel Casederivative work: Adriankwok (Anthony_Bourdain_on_WNYC.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons