Why I Stopped Writing This Newsletter
And why I'm ready to start again
I stopped writing this newsletter for a lot of reasons. Before my dad died I envisioned it as a space where I would investigate what it means to love your friends, not just in the easy breezy way that is fun to contend with but in the Let’s Build A Life Together kind of way, the way that forces the word love to the very edge of where it can live. I thought I’d write essays, interview some of my best friends, maybe interview strangers about their best friends, do some book reviews… I had big plans for this newsletter about friendship. Then my dad died on January 1 and every single thing in my life changed.
The bizarre energy I experienced the first month after my dad’s death is what I miss most when I reflect on almost a year of grieving. It evaporated quickly, but for that first surreal 31 days I had a well of emotion propelling me from one task to the next, and I was able to use some of it to reinvent the concept of this project and then publish the first few installments of it. Instead of writing about friendship I would write about the intersection of friendship and grief, because I no longer had anything to say about anything that didn’t center my dad. Within the first two weeks of his death I wrote an essay explaining that I would keep writing, because I am a writer, and I knew my dad would want me to write. I did other wild tasks during that terrible January, in between crying on the couch and not sleeping and poring over old photos and sitting in my dad’s office chair wishing I could have just one more conversation, just one more hug. I organized a 300 person Zoom memorial service. I coordinated with the friends who wanted to support our meal train, and then coordinated with another friend to donate all the extra food we couldn’t possibly eat to shelters around the city. I cleaned out my childhood bedroom. I helped my mom navigate meetings, paperwork, phone calls, all the logistics that come with death. I barely slept and I barely stopped crying but I felt wildly alive.
That feeling went away after the first month and I have spent the year missing it. Not as much as I miss my dad, obviously, but it’s much easier to navigate the world as a highly functioning insomniac than as a deeply depressed ghost. Anyway, it’s been a slow decline in productivity since February 1. Or maybe that’s not fair to say about myself. Here are some things I did this year: wrote my novel, secured an agent, taught 11 creative writing classes over Zoom, published a series on grief for Autostraddle, published two erotica stories for Autostraddle, planted a garden I then became incapable of maintaining, made strawberry jam and blackberry jam and raspberry jam, attended therapy every week, moved into a new bedroom and painted the walls and ceiling all by myself, helped raise a puppy, successfully made chicken soup for the first time… I tried my best. So okay, I remained productive, through a pandemic, through a breakup, through my dad’s death, through the worst year of my fucking life. But I did it slowly, reluctantly, sadly, impossibly. I did it in spite of. I don’t know how to explain the way that feels compared to the frenetic urgent energy of that first month. It’s like back then my body didn’t know the information yet so I was acting on instinct and it kept me sharp, or it kept me high, or it kept me numb, or it kept me awake. I slipped away from that at the one month mark and have been falling further and further away from it all year. I noticed it for real for the first time on Father’s Day, then again a week later on the six month anniversary of my dad’s death. I wasn’t sure if it would plateau or get worse. I’m still not sure.
What I’m trying to write about is the extremely depressing monotony of grief. A friend asked how I was doing today and I replied, “Well the bad news is, my dad is still dead.” I’ve written about this before but it really is the most fucked up thing: my dad will be dead for as long as I live.
So anyway, that’s why I stopped writing this newsletter. I just didn’t have anything to say, or I didn’t know how to say it, or I was too tired, or I was depressed, or I just stopped. A close friend and mentor who lost her dad a few years ago warned me that the first year would be a mind fuck: write down anything you want to remember, she texted in January, I don’t remember anything from the first 8 months after my dad died. I don’t know if I remember anything from this hell year. My dad died. My dad died. My dad died. My dad died. That is what I remember.
But here’s the twist: I’m back in Massachusetts for two weeks and I want to start writing here again. Something about being in this house as we edge toward winter again is reigniting a small piece of how I felt this past January. Maybe it’s because we are coming up on the actual one year anniversary, an occasion I am dreading with every particle of my body. Maybe it’s because I am done with the first draft of my novel and I have space to think about other words and ideas for the first time in a long time. Maybe it’s because whenever I leave Portland I have enough distance to look at my friendships there and really reflect on what it means to build a life with my friends. How I felt so isolated and alone and let down for so much of this year but in retrospect that was about me and about grief, not about my friends.
I will always be trying to unearth what it means to love and rely on your friends and what it means that at the end of our days we are all ultimately alone. I need to know how to be alone and Alex woke up at 4am to drive me to the airport yesterday in the midst of the busiest time for her business. I cannot rely on my friends for everything and Megan has now taken my car to two separate mechanics to get it repaired for me while I am out of town so when I return home it will be ready to drive and not still out of commission. I spent so much of this year feeling lonely and my friends couldn’t magically solve that for me and they tried and I needed to figure out some of it on my own and I couldn’t have done it without their steadfast love.
I guess that’s the deal with being a person, with writing, with thinking, with existing on this planet. Sometimes I’m able to be vulnerable for an audience about whatever is on my brain and sometimes I’m not. Sometimes friendship can save your life and sometimes you have to save yourself. I have no idea what happened this year except my dad died. I’m not sure what I’ll remember in the future, or if anything I didn’t write down is gone forever. I don’t exactly know why I feel called to come back to this newsletter right now. But for whatever reason I am ready to write about friendship and grief again, and this container is where I want to do it, so I will. Thanks for still being here.
If you’d like to take a creative writing class with me this spring, I am teaching two courses with the Sarah Lawrence College Writing Institute: a 10-week creative nonfiction workshop and a 5-week generative craft class focusing on memoir. Each class offers 2 tuition-free spots to BIPOC writers on a first come, first serve basis. For more information and to register click through the links, or feel free to email me with questions.