The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.
These are hectic times, fast and frenzied and flying by in a whirl of work and writing and all the other busy stuff of life. As details of my September 2012 book release come to me through my agent and editor like little nuggets of dream-come-true gold/crack, my life seems to only get fuller and more eventful, in the best possible ways.
Marking one of the busiest times of the year for me, the annual AWP Conference (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is to be held inChicagonext week, and I’m quite looking forward to the totally overstimulating, exhausting, and wonderful experience I always have at the AWP Big Crazy. I benefit profoundly from the connection with my community; talking with other writers, seeing old friends, attending a few great panel discussions (in theory, a least), and soaking up all the literary goodness in the air lights a fire under my writerly ass without fail. Though I’ll surely return home next Sunday ragged and run-down it’ll all be worth it, because it always is.
A while back, I saw a movie with my dear friend, Cindy. One of the previews we watched while we waited for our movie to begin was for a film called “The Rabbit Hole.” Adapted from the play by David Lindsay-Abaire, the story invites you in to the crisis of Becca and Howie, who lost their four-year-old son when he chased a dog into the street and was hit by a car. Watching the previews, Cindy and I were both in tears, and wondered why anyone would want to put themselves through the terrible pain of watching the entire movie when just the previews alone were enough to reduce the two of us to tears. I joked that there’s no point to seeing emotionally intense movies about loss like that since they always share the same inevitable result: me in tears, effectively destroyed and useless for the remainder of the day. No thank you, right?
I avoided “The Rabbit Hole” all this time, knowing that its familiar themes of grief and lives interrupted by loss, would surely hit too close to home and leave me in the aforementioned state of sobbymess-ness. But then one day while cruising Netflix and finding nothing good to watch, I clicked on “The Rabbit Hole” and watched it, captivated and entranced and totally engrossed in the pain, so beautifully written and acted in the relatively short film.
At one point in the story, when one of the main characters, Becca, played by Nicole Kidman, stares at the packed-up and stored-away belongings of her dead son, as she and her mother, Nat, played by a never-better Dianne Wiest, tuck the small stack of boxes and plastic storage bins into a corner of the basement. They stand together, both staring, thinking of the little boy, and of the adult son Becca’s mother lost herself years earlier. I rewound and played again the conversation the two women share, (crying like a damn fool at my desk, obviously) held captive by the truth in what they said and how they said it, their almost dumbstruck emotional state even so well-seasoned in their mourning. Well-seasoned like I am. I keep coming back to it, the camaraderie and understanding between them, the resignation to the hold grief has over all who come to know it. I come back to it now, again:
Does it ever go away?
No. I don’t think it does. Not for me, it hasn’t—it’s gone on 11 years. (Pause) It changes, though.
I don’t know, uh…the weight of it, I guess. At some point it becomes bearable. It turns into something that you can crawl out from under, and carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and there it is. Oh, right—that. Which can be awful, but not all the time. It’s kinda…not that you like it, exactly, but it’s what you’ve got instead of your son. So, you carry it around. And, it doesn’t go away. Which is—
Which is what?
It’s true—the grief is what you have leftover, and for merely occupying the space emptied by a lost loved one that grief becomes, well, sort of comforting in a strange way.
I have kept my wound of grief open all this time so that I could access that raw, real pain anytime I needed to write about it. But I wonder now if I haven’t been keeping that wound so open, occasionally poking at it, for other reasons as well. Sure, writing and talking about my book makes it necessary for me to keep the emotions and realities of my grief at the ready, fresh and unceasing. But what if, all this time, it’s just been another way to keep the connection to my father, with my grief for him as his proxy, nearer to me whenever I need it?
I’ll be attending the conference this year as both an author and an editor, proudly representing the Los Angeles Review and Red Hen Press, and that role is closer to my heart than I could ever explain. But my thoughts drift to next year’s conference, when I’ll be adding to my AWP experience the duties of being the proud parent of *hopefully flourishing* literary memoir. I’ll pay closer attention this year to things that may have escaped my notice in the past, when I wandered the crowded hotel corridors like the thousands of other aspiring writers. Because the difference is that now, I’m not an aspiring author—I’m an author. Full stop.
If keeping myself attuned to my emotions, my instincts, my creative inclinations, and keeping those wounds a little raw is what it takes to help my career take shape, then that’s exactly what I’ll do. Whatever I find at the other end of the Rabbit Hole, I’m gonna do my best to just hang on tight, and try to enjoy the ride.