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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
JAN
01

For Joan

I'm of course still reeling from yesterday's news of Betty White--it's safe to say it put a damper on the entire country's NYE festivities--but while on my Christmas vacation, I was quite sad to learn about the passing of Joan Didion.

There's just something about her. A coolness, an authenticity. As far as writers go, she was one of the real ones. I don't even really know what I mean by that, except that she was able to make her living that way, and she was able to put so much of herself (and California) in her nonfiction. I heard her described recently as "California Gothic" and it made me smile.

When I moved to New York, I got rid of almost all of the books I owned...along with everything else, of course. New York opened up a new chapter for me, one where I not only had less space, but also less income to do things like buy books. Yet Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is one of the few books I kept during that time. It is such a unique and dare I say accurate portrayal of grief and how the mind processes it (or doesn't). But here's something else worth mentioning about me and books, because even those that I kept, even those relatively few that remain in my possession (I never really got back into the habit of buying books once my financial situation once again allowed it), I very rarely read a book I own more than once. Not sure why, I just don't find myself going back to books once I've read them. My exception, however, is The Year of Magical Thinking, which I have read many times, including in 2021. To me, that is significant. It makes not only this book significant to me, but Joan Didion as well.

It's hard to read The Year of Magical Thinking and not feel completely tragic about Joan's loss of her husband, though these kinds of losses befall certain of us every day. And that it all happened while their only daughter was in the hospital experiencing serious health complications. And that this daughter would go on to die herself not too long after, leading Joan to write the also-tragic Blue Nights. And so I'm sad for this world's loss, but can't help but feel a tinge of happiness for the reunion now happening in another.

In Joan's own words, goodbye to all that. And onto a new year for us. One that starts with nothing but blank pages for us to fill, should we be fortunate enough to get that chance.

NOV
18

Faulkner and Funerals

I was genuinely moved at a funeral this week when the deceased’s widow brought up William Faulkner. I would have been moved anyway, her husband having died much too young and in the sudden sort of way that left no time for goodbyes, but the literary reference caught me off guard.

This woman is strong and together and in many moments of her remarks seemed so composed and matter of fact that you’d have had no idea she’d just lost her husband. But when she, in the most raw sort of way that only the grieving can, finally broke down over how hard it is, how sad she was to put his body in the ground and never get to look at it or touch it again, I wept. I wept for her and her children, for all of us. I wept because even the promise of heaven does not soften the blow of being separated from a loved one for the next several decades. How do you learn to do life without the person you do life with? Where is the comfort in that if the comfort doesn’t come until you yourself have left the earth? It’s a question I’ve never been able to answer.

It’s like that story, the widow said. A Rose For Emily. She reminded us of the basic plot, which is that Emily keeps the deceased body of the man she loves, in her bed, and even gets in the bed with the body, a fact that’s discovered upon her death. It’s such a classic, frequently-read story. As early as high school I was scrunching my nose in disgust over the whole icky idea. It disturbed me, frankly. It had disturbed the widow, too, except here she was now admitting she finally understood why someone would do it. And the thought of closing the casket and leaving him in the earth was so much worse than taking him home with her, as she wished she could.

Honestly, it’s the first time I’ve felt any amount of affection for the story. The first time it struck me as something tragic and almost beautiful. It’s the first time I’ve left a funeral craving Faulkner.