I love that "furious and gorgeous barrage." That helps me see the relation between the introduction and the book's final section, where writing about a fire (and about the attempt to understand the event), also becomes an attempt to understand how writing might get closer to the fire, in so many ways.
I hope, by being honest about what happened to me, to help nourish a culture of honesty that might make something different - and better - possible. We really need to squarely face the issue of child abuse in America, and to look at our perversity, our illness.
I had Paterson, and The Art Lover, to guide me for The Tales of Horror (written from 1988-'97 and published in 1999), but I still was so lost, back then, as I tried to understand what I was writing and how it went together. There was a draft of that manuscript that had all these brightly colored paper clips on the pages so I could visualize what I saw as the book's themes and threads - that was a long time ago.
There's a case in Baton Rouge, haunting me, where a mother left her twelve-year-old daughter to be babysat (every day for months) by a known pedophile and his four perverse friends, and the news broke of the bodies of two children, dead after long-term physical abuse, found in a storage locker in California. What hardest for me is, I suppose, what's hardest for my country
The failure of protection, the importance of recognizing the ways in which we influence (and infect) each other - the fact that being an "individual" can't protect you - these are issues I've been thinking about for a while.
Maybe one way to think about it would be in the context of the historical development of germ theory. The problem of childbed fever was not significant until the development of a male-dominated medical establishment made possible the situation in which a professional might move from touching a corpse (for the purposes of study) to putting his unwashed hands up against, or into, a woman in labor.
There's a nice clear difference between real protection (wash your hands, or wear a condom) and the fake protection offered by institutions which often come, finally and sadly, to be much too interested first of all in protecting their own power.
What was toughest for me in writing "Trust," was reliving it, turning and facing this. We move on and we don't move on, you know? She's still there - and by "she" I mean me - caught in that windowless room, that bad bargain and that violation. No one can touch me, sexually, without activating that memory. But I had walled, I thought, that time off. I say that and then want to say "and I got off lightly"!
Is the professor who insists we read Ernest Hemingway again instead of Gertrude Stein "obsessing"? Because although I did a BA in English, an MFA in Poetry, and a year's worth of a PhD, Stein was an author I had to discover on my own. She wasn't on the syllabus anywhere in all that time.
It's painful, but it's part of the recognition that makes real healing possible, if healing is possible (the jury is out on that, that's the usual phrase - should I say the jury is deadlocked?). Staying with the pain, attending to it, being present to and with it - that's the task, because that's the only (as far as I can tell) hope of finding a way forward.
Is it possible that where the subject is socially approved (tah tah tah TAH tah, it's war) almost no one thinks we're "stuck," but when we think too much about what no one else wants to think about, as well as when we think without the thoughts evolving, then we're seen as trouble (and / or troubled)?
Miss Havisham is an important feminine literary figure in the tradition of Antigone (though it's significant that Antigone is fighting to bury something and Miss Havisham refuses, as it were, to bury the corpse). Like Hamlet, she's focused on what everyone would rather not know or would like to forget, and she seems crazy / stuck as well as bitter, but she's also a perfect prototype of a performance artist. She's intentionally hard to deal with inviting the audience to remain with the violated body, the evidence of violence.
Miss Havisham is a glitch in the smooth functioning of the Patriarchy, enforcing awareness of a moment of social disaster and personal shame, something it seems she would want us to forget (but no one would forget). (Maybe an interesting "discussion question" for readers of Complicated Grief might be, "What do Terry Barton and Miss Havisham have in common?"?)
In a museum in El Paso, Texas, there's a map that shows all the places the border between the U.S. and Mexico has been (because it shifted) - I find it very clarifying (not confusing) to be reminded that everything we feel like we've really pinned down is transient, arbitrary, and marks the site of a painful if not violent negotiation, one that may not have ended.
Oh my research. Well, I got an English Degree. And I got that degree in a certain time/at a certain place. If you add UC Berkeley + 1984 the other side of the = is "new historian" meaning that I studied with and was influenced by those who were interested in how the personal shaped the political (and literary), how science and literature might interact, and what the body got to do with it.
And Complicated Grief is a text that announces, from the start, in its citation of influence, dense intertextuality and hybridity, a failure of some apparent or usual protections, and a need to re-examine "identity" in the light of an acknowledgement of our entanglements and interdependence.
Though we don't have a cure for cancer we at least have stopped being too ashamed to even say the name of the disease - and the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic is edifying, isn't it? Shame shuts down productive thinking, and I'd like to open the doors. It's a first step.
In the "Intervention" section of the book we go into that looping from a battery of positions (where healer and sufferer are blurred). I'm very interested in "repetition and revision" (to use Suzan Lori-Parks's phrase) and in the culture's desire to loop or repeat.
We live in a culture that insists on "moving on" (even while our loyalty to and love of the franchise and the sequel give away a larger loopiness). But I tend to dwell or obsess or meditate, and I came back to, for instance, the figure of Dickens's "Miss Havisham" with some (self) recognition if not relief.
The boundary between expert and amateur was an imposed social-cultural "protection" which actually exposed a number of women to a fatal disease, because decaying matter, as the fireman said of fire (cited in the book's final piece, "Torch Song") "ain't got no rules on it."
When I encountered "The Lady of Shallot" (to take a "for instance" allusion from the many in the book, this one from the "Etiology" section) it was still considered a "great poem." What does that poem - or rather a particular presentation of that poem (hey, admire this!) - do to a young woman?
I can tell that I shaped the book very deliberately, after a great deal of thought, and that I insisted this piece function as a prologue, but I find the word "intention," confusing ("trust the art," as D.H. Lawrence said, "not the artist"). These speculations are perhaps better responded to by text and reader, rather than author.
Complicated Grief was written in larger and more coherent (if disparate) shapes. The question was how they fit together. The mind is coherent, trust that was the best writing advice I ever got (I got it from Carole Maso and I pass it on). It's true, and clearer and clearer as one grows and gains an improved sense of who one actually is (as versus who one was supposed to be).
Helen Vendler calls this kind of interrogation of a work "roads not taken," suggesting that it's useful, when writing critically, to consider what differences it makes to the work or the encounter with the work if changes are made. It's one way of better understanding your experience, comparing it to other possible experiences you can imagine having.