Monday, January 28, 2019

The solace and the grief

Not sure how I missed this one when it came out, but saw something about it in advance of the publication of Yiyun Li's new novel in coming weeks and thought I'd better read this small collection of essays to catch up. It is a haunting book, it resonates strongly with me: it has the amazing title Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life. Four bits I especially liked (it is a bleak book about a year of suicidal ideation and multiple hospitalizations):
To articulate it demands honesty that I am almost unwilling to offer. Though evasion rarely leads to joy; there is, one must admit, a sense of joy if one can dissect something, oneself included, with precision. (In college and as a young scientist the tasks I had most enjoyed were the peripheral activities: to peel everything away and leave only the neural system intact in an insect; to harvest the bone marrow from a mouse’s femur until the bone became nearly transparent; to carefully flush out a mouse’s lungs. Perhaps my deficiency as a scientist, a lack of ultimate purpose, is why I love writing. Precision gives me more pleasure than the end result.) (117)

In an ideal world I would prefer to have my mind reserved for thinking, and thinking alone. I dread the moment when a thought trails off and a feeling starts, when one faces the eternal challenge of eluding the void for which one does not have words. To speak when one cannot is to blunder. I have spoken by having written—this book or any book; for myself and against myself. The solace is with the language I chose. The grief, to have spoken at all. (152)

Only by fully preparing oneself for people’s absence can one be at ease with their presence. A recluse, I have begun to understand, is not a person for whom a connection with another person is unattainable or meaningless, but one who feels she must abstain from people because a connection is an affliction, or worse, an addiction. (183)

Many drafts were written when things began to feel unbearable. Composing a sentence is better than composing none; an hour taken away from treacherous rumination is an hour gained; following the thread of a thought to the end is better than having many thoughts entangled. In a sense, writing becomes the effort of detecting a warning sign before it appears. There are moments when it must sound as though I am arguing against hope and happiness, against others and myself, but any attachment, even to the most fallacious idea, is an anchor when solidness cannot be felt. (200)

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