This piece was inspired by “In Graves with My Student Elizabeth” by Heather Sellers, originally seen in Brevity. This essay caught my eye after reading through Michelle’s journal packet. While Sellers takes a more creative approach to this topic of grief, I thought I would consider it at a bit of a distance. This is what I came up with.
How to Mourn like a Real Writer
1. Rough Draft
You sit down to write and the first word you write is grief.
It’s no good. You start again, try to say something more relevant. You sit down to write and the first thing you say is how hostile a house guest it is. Leaving its dishes all over your dining room table. Interrupting the grading you need to do, the revisions yet to be done. You come home and grief has torn out the seams in your sheets, drawn on the walls. Sullen teenager. It’s rolling its eyes at you, asks, Sure you don’t want a drink, after all?
2. Working Draft
There are certain things that are more appropriate for young women to write about. Sex, for example. Nature, maybe, but not Thoreau’s nature, city as a jungle nature. The loss of innocence, preferably yours. The human tragedy of the grocery store, the way that poverty bites at your heels, reminds you you’re one paycheck away from being with everyone else.
Are you in your early twenties? Try to stick with observations about your presumably small town. Rounding the corner towards thirty? Consider the inherent guilt of your failed romantic expectations. There’s probably a nice gentrification metaphor in there, if you look for it. Better yet, talk about your trauma. They’d like to keep you in one of two camps, sullied or not. What do you know about death?
3. In Workshop
It wouldn’t hurt to buy some more work clothes. You’re always showing up in the same black dress, and your students are beginning to notice. They’re keeping a tally of the days you choose these sensible work boots, shake their heads at the dry erase pen and chipped nail polish on your hands. Between conferences, you lie down in the nursing room in the third floor women’s bathroom, and think about sleep. Get up to wash your face and read the next essay.
In class, your student Sophie, looking at your skirt and blazer, asks if you are mourning. You say no.
* * *
This essay is clearly not quite done yet. I’m not sure where to take it. Feedback, as always, is much appreciated. I don’t want it to end up where these sorts of things can end up, I want to avoid all easy sentiment.