Decorating the Abscence

Hi Darling Ones,

Last week while my infection was wreaking havoc on my life I managed to attend a virtual reading by Hanif Abdurraqib.

I’m having a moment with Abdurraqib’s work. His book, A Little Devil in America was the best thing I read in 2021. That’s saying a lot because 2021 was a good reading year for me. I love ALDIA so much that it’s one of my comfort books. I just finished reading it for the third (or fourth?) time a few weeks ago.

Over the weekend I read They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, and I enjoyed it, but due to aformentioned havoc-wreaking infection I didn’t give it the attention it deserved. I’ll definitely have another go at it soon.

Tonight I’m gonna watch a celebration of Toni Morrison with Hanif Abdurraqib and Dionne Custer Edwards. I do feel a teeny bit stalkery. Like I said, I’m having a moment. Though, to be fair, it’s really no different than traveling to various states to see your favorite performer on consecutive nights. Right? RIGHT?

Another reason I’m attending: I have read The Bluest Eye more than any other novel. I’ve read it about every other year since it was assigned in my Women’s Lit course in the summer of 1992.

At the reading last week, Abdurraqib talked about why his mother, who died when he was 12, continually shows up in his writing.

I wanted to share this with you because parents and beloved aunts and uncles are dropping like flies in my age cohort. I know seven people who have lost parents in the last eight/nine months. I see so many struggling with their grief and the guilt for still grieving.

What Abdurraqib said about grief, grieving, and his writing has found a home deep in my heart, and it’s been rattling around my brain for a week looking for an escape.

Here’s what he said: “Grief [is] not something you get to be done with, which for a long time I thought that was the case. I thought grief is something you get to move past or you get to kind of extract and leave behind. But thankfully, I think, I’ve come to realize that grief is something that makes a permanent home inside of you and then you have to be a good steward to it, and if you are a good steward to it, then it in turn can be a good steward to you and the absence is not only accompanied by ache.

I think my mother arrives so much in my work because I think about that kind of process as tending to my grief. I’m tending to my memories, tending to decorating the absence with memories so it isn’t just wind blowing through it, so to speak.”

(all grammatical errors and typos are mine. I’m not good at transcription.)

It’s the idea of decorating the absence with memories that kicks me in the gut. Tears come when I think about the idea. It’s lovely and painful at the same time.

I have not been a good steward to my grief. I’m not entirely sure what that would mean, considering the complicated relationship with my dad. I for sure have not been a good steward to my grief regarding the estrangement of The Tibbles. I do not decorate their absence with memories. I just shove all the memories away and try to not think about them lest my heart shatter.

So, that’s what been on my mind this week.


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