Loss and Living Onward. . .To Press

I agree. The cover is elegant. Thank you, designer David Miles.

I agree. The cover is elegant. Thank you, designer David Miles.

In one month my second book, On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices, will be in your hands. As I write these words, talented lay-out and cover designers David and Maggie are making last-second tweaks, and sending the manuscript off to press.

Let me admit something: This book has been pushing itself up and out of my very pores for nearly five years.  It’s been close to publication with two other publishing houses. And I’ve been teetering on that slick ledge of giving up on it, oh, 174 times. But I have a persistent (bossy and endearing) cheering committee, and they wouldn’t let me hunker down in the safe retreat of silence.  Finally, this book has found its rightful channel to reach the public.

I am grateful. I am joyful. I am tired.  I am anxious.

Anxious and slightly exhausted smile. . .

Anxious and exhausted smile. . .

When cataclysm erupted in our family’s life, I turned to literature for a community, common experience and spiritual knowledge.  People who know me well know that, with the exception of math, marbled meats and sometimes sleep, I don’t do much half-heartedly. So that same intensity translated into gathering hundreds upon hundreds of statements on loss and grief. Not with a mind to ever publish an anthology, mind you, but with a heart that was stunned to a sputtering speechlessness and needed understanding. I scraped and spelunked through other’s words to speak for and to me. In time, and without having had a plan on the outset to do so, I had the makings of a major tome on grief. Those quotes–at least those for which my publisher could acquire legal permissions– together with 17 of my best personal essays, have evolved into this substantial book. I can hardly wait to get it out there.

I sent a friend and fellow bereaved mother a galley (pre-published) PDF copy. Here’s what she wrote to me just this week:

Dear Melissa,
I’ve had the immense pleasure of spending much of this past weekend with your wonderful book…My husband was not feeling well, so we were both at home, and I read and read.  I can’t tell you how often I picked up my computer and said to my husband, “Read this,”  because you were able to articulate just how I was feeling so much of the time. And you did it so eloquently and beautifully.  You were able to put into words what I felt but could not express and you did this so much better than any other author I have read.
I loved the quotes at the beginning of each section.  I must admit though that I hurried through them so that I could get to your writing.  I do plan to go back and highlight as soon as I get my hard copy.  There were so many wonderful nuggets where I paused and smiled because they nailed feelings I had experienced and interpreted what I was still trying to identify.
One of my favorites was the grief beast section.  My grief beast looks a lot like yours, and now I can put a name and description to it. It’s still lumbering around but it doesn’t come as often as it did before and it doesn’t stay as long.  But I think that now I will talk about that beast to others so they can have a better idea about how awful grief can be.
I can’t imagine how heart wrenching it must have been for you to move to an entirely new country and new community right after Parker’s death.  How did you survive?  I’m so glad that you wrote.  It must have been healing for you, but now it is healing for so many others. Even though you were so alone, you have been able through your writings to reach out to so many.
I’m so grateful that you have such a gift for writing.  All of us who have experienced the loss of a child feel like your book is balm for our grief.  I shed a ton of tears as I read, but I felt so understood and valued. I will read it again and again. Thank you.  Thank you.

You know those emails that make your throat sting and nose prickle like you’d just breathed in a whole room full of dry ice fumes? This one.  If she says it works, I’m convinced. I need that kind of reassurance.  Similar to my fears of publishing Global Mom, I have had some nagging fears for this book, too. What if I turn my son into an artifact? Will I be misunderstood as bitter, gloomy, morbid, or strangely proud of or elitist about our family’s loss? Will my family’s story not be fairly represented? Will I make grief look too easy? Too hard? Too dreamy? Too predictable? Too comprehensible? Too tidy?  Will its most helpful pages not be the ones that were the hardest to write, which were the descriptive ones (my essays), but the most helpful will be the prescriptive ones, which took just a day to whip together (the two appendices with What To Do/ What Not To Do and a suggested readings list)? Will my deep faith and profound, repeated experiences with the spiritual alienate readers who do not, perhaps, consider themselves people of faith, or “spiritual” types? WiIl this book speak with humility the truth I’ve known?

Thank you for visiting the Bradfords. Here, and wherever we are in the world.

 

I’ve run down this list of questions plus a longer one, be assured. But I’ll let you read my writings, and you can decide.

Visit my Loss and Living Onward Facebook Page to find daily updates as well as quotes I could not include in the hard copy itself.

You can preorder now on Amazon, or wait until May 6th to order and receive your stack for yourself and for

US Mother’s Day, May 11th,

and

US Memorial Day May 26th.

 

The Dangers of Water Skiing, Or, What Social Media is Doing to Our Reading, Writing, Thinking

Years ago, a girlfriend, nearly breathless with zeal, sent me a copy of what she said was the “hottest new publication,” a magazine called “Fast Company.” One of the article titles on the cover was something like, “Power Lunch, Elevator Style.” I thanked my friend for thinking of me, but disliked and discarded the copy before  ever opening it.

The concept of “fast” – fast company, quick lunch, slick and obsequious elevator rides, speed reading – touched a nerve in me. Why? Because unless it has to do with saving someone’s life or making dinner in less than 20 minutes, I dislike “fast.”  Or at least I’m sharply suspicious of it.

waterskiing

This wariness, I think, was heightened because when I got that copy of “Fast Company,” I was living in Paris, a place where lunches (and their conversations) last at least a full hour, and where dinners (and their conversations) last sometimes three. Where no respectable anyone eats while riding from floor three to fourteen, and where, in a way I can hardly describe without growing drooly, the slow lane overtakes the fast one.

It’s where taxi drivers have chunky, worn volumes of Hugo, Proust and French Symbolist poetry on their dashboards. And they read them.  (Going from the airport to downtown? Be ready for The Conversation.)

I believe in slow.  I trust gradual. I’m wired for plumbing downward or probing upward, not for skimming horizontally.  When it comes to reading, writing, and the way I keep my company, I’m a scuba diver.

scuba

Years since Paris, since my days of vetoing “Fast,” since that time when I disciplined myself to check email only once a week, (Wednesday afternoons for two hours – I know, I can hardly believe it, either), and rarely texted except to keep track of my teenagers out in a big city, I never would have dreamed of doing much of what I do today: writing this public blog, having not only a private but a professional Facebook page, T-t-t-t-weeting. Somewhere along the way, I began mastering the lite-write.

This world, in case you hadn’t noticed, is all new. It’s one made by and for water skiers! It might even breed them. In any case, I’m convinced it’s breeding water skier brains.

(This is another tangent , but don’t you wonder if this hyper-connected world also breeds extroverts? If you do, and this concerns you, read Susan Cain’s Quiet.)

The vast waters of connectivity call out for us to grab a rope, slap on some skis, and knot a cable around our waists.  This boat’s taking off like a bullet, folks, and because it’s moving at Mach speed, it demands that you skim, scroll, and ski across a spray of surfacey sound bytes.  And they have to be no more than sound bytes, of course, because we’re passing them like billboards lining the Indy 500.

E-mail is too wordy, time consuming.  So we shave it down to a phrase or two on Facebook.

FB takes too long. So we distill it to Twitter’s 140 characters.

Yet with all the social platforms we’re managing, who has time for 140 anything?

So we Instagram. Because who needs words when a snap shot paints a thousand of them?

(Or so we think.)

Others are concerned as I am.  In his utterly fascinating, The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing To Our Brains, Nicholas Carr argues that our brains are devolving to adapt to being dragged across the thin surface of visual image, bullet points, and maybe the occasionally well-wrought jingle.  Jaron Lanier, in You Are Not A Gadget, considers what this high pitch surface velocity does to our sense of self, our place in humanity. And here, Edan Lepucki shares the experience of disconnecting (for a spell) from social media altogether.

What can we conclude? What can I learn from the personal proof that my own brain is jumpier, more staccato, and that my spirit is more jittery, more pinball-ish since “connecting” in several directions? What’s happening if I haven’t sunk into a dense work of true literary value in months? That, over the same time, I haven’t been able to conjure a single line of poetry?

skiing water

For people who dive, water skiing can be frightening, alienating, not to mention exhausting. What if you’re the type that shrinks from gum-flapping velocity, hang-on-for-dear-life tautness, from hopping wakes at break neck speed, or zhwooping from point A to point Z?  What if you want to write a poem about – and not just whizz past – the blurred landscape?

What if you feel most alive hunkering over the majesty and potency of words, tonguing them during long stretches of stone-like silence? What if you aren’t interested only in linear efficiency (getting from point A to Z), but are more invested in making (and expanding and elaborating on) a point? What if you long to dive into the deep end and discover the magic of those compressed realms?

If we are, as some argue, evolving into beings that write and think in txt msg abbrvs, will we lose our ability to read and write and live in ever-descending spirals, probing and penetrating the Otherworld? Will we in turn lose dimensions of our humanness? If the brusque slash-and-pin-prick of an exclamation point – the punctuation mark du jour – overrules the curved concentration of a question mark, what are we heading for?

What, in your opinion, are our options, besides letting go of the social media rope altogether? But wait! What would happen if we did? Would we sink, helpless and limpid, into the water?  Into irrelevancy? Into oblivion?

scuba diving