Grief, Resilience, Nick Cave, Hibernation, and Link Love
A smattering of links FREE for everyone
I didn’t set out to write a book about rootedness and resilience. I was writing a book about grief and the ways my own grief was churning me around, like a heaping hot pile of compost, trying to make sense of the ways life was suddenly not making very much sense at all. The institutions I counted on, the people I’d trusted in, the systems I supposed would go on going on—they all fell apart, sometimes catastrophically. There were moments writing The Understory where I thought to myself: how dare I write a book about grief when I’m still so much in the thick of it?
But the writer in me knows the only way through the grief is right through it. And as I went, I discovered rootedness and a sense of resilience that didn’t find itself in unchanging institutions or eternal securities, but in the cycle of life, the predictability of change, the absolute necessity of it. Nothing lasts forever and all we can do is simply root ourselves down and hold on for dear life.
As I wrote the final words of The Understory, I realized it felt very unsatisfying to me, not quite unfinished, though perhaps a bit of that, but with a sense of movement forward instead of resolution.
A few weeks later, our giant willow fell in the middle of the night, a crashing, piercing, house-shaking fall that woke up us at 1am. We looked out the window into the pitch black and couldn’t see anything, and it would have been easy to go back to bed and think it was just some dream we’d shared. But instead we shined a flashlight and there, in two pieces, one along our shoreline and the other straight across the river, lay the old willow, finally having given up for good.
The lumbermen who came to remove her did it piecemeal, saying it was one of the most challenging jobs they’d ever done. But the day the giant stump was ground into chips and leveled upon the shore, I felt a sense of finality and loss and also hope because I know what happens to wood chips over time. They decompose and then become soil and then become a haven for new growth where the roots of a new tree will cling to and dig in. We saw the last of the willow standing a hundred feet tall, but we will never see the last of the willow’s life as long as we live.
This is how grief works, I think. It crushes us and then it gets crushed and then becomes a part of us and then becomes a part of others and eventually we don’t know its absence so much anymore but we reap the fruit of its presence for eternity, a cycle of life, strangely, made up entirely of death.
Nick Cave and Krista Tippett had a conversation about grief on OnBeing recently. You may find it as beautiful as I did.
Since I seem to be beginning this Link Love with Listens or Watch, instead of Read as normal, let’s continue on, shall we?
So, speaking of Nick Cave, the interview above opens with one of his more recognizable songs, which we’d just heard in a strange little 1990s film1 called Zero Effect. The movie didn’t have high ratings, which is probably why neither of us had ever heard of it. Maybe people didn’t like it, but I did.
Last night Nate and I watched this film on the Oslo Accord of 1993. We are both trying to learn as much as we can about the conflict between the states of Israel and Palestine, and neither of us knew much about these secret meetings. It is a movie that makes one think deeply about courage and peace.
A week ago, a friend recommended this conversation from The Trinity Forum with David Brooks on his new book, How to Know a Person. If you know me (no pun intended) you know I am deeply interested in how we come to know and be known by others. This conversation hit every high point for me and I know it’s one I’ll return to often.
Another conversation that was illuminating and inspiring, was this one between Ezra Klein and Rabbi Sharon Brous called The Sermons I Needed To Hear Right Now. I loved this conversation a lot.
Speaking of Ezra, here’s another conversation on a completely different topic that I found of value this week. If you’ve been floundering about how to use the Internet these days, feeling like you simultaneously have a giant brain fart and fat toddler fingers whenever you approach it, maybe you’d find some goodness in this convo withand Ezra.
Perhaps you’ve already read this piece from Anne Lamott on aging and learning, but perhaps not. Now would be a good time to read it, especially as we inch toward the New Year (Which somehow feels like more of an aging milestone for me than my birthday—though perhaps it’s because they’re so close to one another. I don’t know.). Speaking of which, “The great darkness says to me what I often say to heartbroken friends — ‘I don’t know.’”, author of Wintering, has a few things to say about the months ahead of us. I don’t know if you live in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, but as for me, living on the cusp of Quebec and Ontario, I need all the cozy, warm, comforting counsel possible to make it through these months. has a bit to say about suffering that made me stand up and pay attention. I read it through twice. I might read through it again.
A new Substack I’ve been reading these days is. If you like good writing and words about faith and life, maybe you’d enjoy Drew’s work there too. Here’s a recent piece of his.
The Internet’s Writing Teacher and Editor Extraordinaire, Stephanie Smith ofhas some words to share about taking risks as a writer with some thoughts from George Saunders as well.
Finally, some brief offerings for Advent/Christmas:
I don’t have a gift guide, but I do have this little page on my author website with a smattering of things I use every day in my actual life, maybe this will give you some ideas for gifts for you or someone you love.
Every year folks ask for an address to send Christmas cards to and I love that! More the merrier! My address is PO Box 5131, Potsdam, NY 13676.
We practice ye olde four gift rule (something to wear, something to read, something you want, something you need) in our house. Though one year we gave one gift for each of the twelve days of Christmas and that was a lot of fun too. We need to tighten our belt a bit this year for a few reasons, though, so back to the trusty-four it is. I want to point you to this post I shared a few years ago about being childless at Christmas in case you need or want some thoughts about that.
There will be no monthly Zoom in December. Also, by popular demand, I will be doing a Tuesday night Zoom in January, so keep your eyeballs peeled for that =)
Consider giving a gift subscription to someone for Christmas. The more gifts you give away, the more completely free months of Sayable you get!
Lastly, this is a lot, I know. Our Israel trip that was scheduled for this week obviously had to pivot and we’re headed to Greece! On April 18th, we’ll leave for ten days in Greece and its islands. And we opened back up the roster to anyone who is interested! We have plenty of space, and we’d love to have you. There are a lot of single women and married women, young women and older ones. It’s not a trip limited to women, but right now it seems to be mostly women, just so you have an idea of what you’d be getting into. I was really sad about this pivot for a few reasons, but the more I think about it, the more excited I am. Join us!
Have you preordered my latest book? The Understory: An Invitation to Rootedness and Resilience from the Forest Floor?
*Some links are affiliate links and may throw a few pennies my way if you purchase through them. Thanks!
The 1990s are the golden age of films. You can’t change my mind.