Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Feel Bad about Nora Ephron

Last night, I cried when I heard that Nora Ephron died. I love her books. I love her movies. I feel more inclined to wear a bikini since having read, “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don't take it off until you're thirty-four.” Let's all wear bikinis for Nora.

Last week, I went to the third funeral for someone my age this year. It was a Catholic service, which meant a lot of stand up and sit down, stand up and sit down, wave the incense 'round the coffin, put your hope in the lap of Jesus. The priest said a young death like this one raises a lot of questions, but all we had to do was choose: either we could live in unhappiness, or we could live in joy and peace.

I find it hard to believe that's the choice.

If you think about death a lot, the way I have been doing for the past eleven months, a lot of things can seem irrelevant. People invite you to parties, and you think, Don't they know I'm grieving? But they don't know. Because you know how to perform your life as a normal person. 

Meat has become irrelevant. I stopped eating it in March, after I drove past the meatpacking plant in Dodge City, Kansas, the city where my cousin had a diabetic seizure and died in a basement. It's a cliché, but like all clichés, it's true: the air smelled like fear.

I have abandoned the novel I started. I have lost my passion for it. At first, I thought I was just having some kind of writer's block, but I don't really believe in writer's block. Either I'm driven to write something or I'm not. 

Instead of a novel, I am at work on a memoir, about death, and how we use social media to grieve. That's the start anyway. I have doubts about writing a memoir, especially at my age, in part because it's not something I ever thought I would do. 

But this is the book that wakes me in the night. I feel possessed. I don't know how else to describe it. 

I put a call out on Facebook, for recommendations of books about death & grief. I got over thirty suggestions, but most memoirs are about the loss of a husband, a wife, or a parent. One of my anxieties about writing this book (my age) is also one of my motivations: I am young, I have lost someone who was both instrumental and detrimental to my life, and there must be other people like me, who want to know they're not alone in the ambivalence of their grief. 


carrie murphy said...

i've written about grief a dad died five years ago, very unexpectedly and suddenly, and i wrote lots of bad poems about it within the first year and one essay that i actually think is decent, much later. it's hard to write about and it's hard to talk about writing about it because this hush falls over people, like there's a reverence for grief, which there both should and should not be, i think. i really think grief (and death) should be more normalized in our culture; there's always that shudder of awkwardness where i have to tell someone my father is dead. i don't mind telling them, or talking about it, but i can see the uncertainty, sympathy, and weirdness pass across their faces. and it's a complicated feeling...when my father died i felt mad and sad and devastated and empty and confused like they say you should feel, but i also kind of felt like OMG i can be a stripper now if i feel like it, i can have a baby outside of wedlock, or some other weird things i knew my father would have disapproved it. i feel like there's not a space in our culture for grief that's not scented and flowery or screaming and tearing.

you should write this grief memoir, leigh. we could use it, i think.

Leigh Stein said...

I'm so glad you wrote this, and your encouragement means a lot to me. Part of it feels self-indulgent, to want to write A WHOLE BOOK about grief...but part of it comes from the paradox of grief: it feels so singular, and like no one "gets" what it's like to be you, while at the same time, at some point, EVERYONE ON EARTH WILL FEEL IT.

My experience of young grief so far has been something Meghan O'Rourke describes in The Long Goodbye: a division of friendships. There's those who are in the grief club (who I can talk to openly, and cry, and cancel plans, and do whatever) and those who aren't in it yet, who I have a hard time having meaningful conversations with.

carrie murphy said...

yeah, i haven't read the meghan o'rourke book, but i did read her slate (or was it salon?) series on grief. i think that observation about the division of friendships is pretty right-on, though. i have a few close friends who have also lost parents and they just....get it. others are nice and try and want to get it, but they can't, truly not until they know.

Anonymous said...

Leigh, this is so touching. I totally agree with what you said (about what Nora Ephron said) about a bikini. I felt that same sentiment earlier this year. If I don't do certain things now, when will i? I also hear what you're saying about the memoir and your age. I've felt that way, too. I think that's why I'm more drawn to poetry. poems can be memoir-esque, too. See you soon

Leigh Stein said...

Thanks for writing, Leah. I totally agree with you on the poetry. For some mysterious reason, I haven't written a new poem in about two years...they're missing from my life, but I feel drawn to non-fiction now, and it feels like the same instinct, just a different vessel.

Jack Foley said...

from a poem I wrote:

It's not a dream
We lose those we love
but we love

I was sent a review copy of "Dispatch from the Future"

Jack Foley (born 1940)

Leigh Stein said...

Thanks, Jack, I hope you enjoy the book!

Deanna said...

Hey Leigh--found your blog via PW's best summer reads list. I can't wait to read more of your poetry! Re: grief: nowadays I'm always surprised that people only think "book" when I think "multimedia extravaganza that involves voices and visuals." So I'm planning a series of non-fiction ebook chapbooks that involve audio and video. I wish someone could talk me through the grief of losing a pet, for instance; sometimes words formally arranged on the page aren't enough to connect or comfort. And books are like the smart, compassionate wise friends that are hard to find, so I depend on them even more.