A more serious subject today than some of my posts.
Nick Cave is a writer I like to listen to when I’m writing. I think he’s one of the most talented writers around: not music, not fiction, not scripts specific; one of the best around regardless of genre or style.
Over the last weekend an open letter he wrote in response to a fan’s question about handling grief came to light and talked about the aftermath of the tragic death of his son. It’s not the first time he’s discussed this publicly – he did so previously in an interview with The Guardian back in May 2017 in a touching and honest piece.
I include the letter below because:
a) it’s an important issue that all of us have to experience to some degree in our lives – that death thing, whatever the circumstances, is going to come to those we love and, gulp, read it and weep, to us, some day.
b) I think it says a lot about Nick Cave, and indeed, the writing process in general: how difficult it can be to write about something truly personal. To write with honesty – sometimes an uncomfortably raw honesty – succinctly, and horribly beautiful. Using writing to, in some very small way, to deal in the aftermath of such horror. And, last but not least, to use writing to help others: if not to ‘solve’ their problems, then to at least help them understand that they are not alone, and they are not unique in going through such tragic circumstances.
The stuff I write is fluff. Sometimes it’s very dark, nasty fluff – but it’s fluff. It’s not real. I have, in a number of my stories used real-life incidents that have had a major effect on me. One of my stories – probably my favourite, was written during a particularly hard time which I used to turn into something that let me write some stuff that I could never have written outside of fiction. Surprise, surprise – that’s probably why it’s my favourite story. No-one reading it will know what I’m alluding to in it, I’m guessing – or maybe only those who know me VERY well, but for me – it was a release. But it was fiction. That’s not to underplay the value the process can have in helping us quote with difficulties, but it reduces the ‘rawness’. I don’t think I could write something as personal as Cave’s writing – I certainly couldn’t ever write anything as poignant, and I hope I never have cause to.
But I lay out Cave’s open letter below mostly because I think it says something about the man, and his willingness to take something so painful, and to create something so very darkly beautiful – something so personal that he is still prepared to share with others, in the hope that it might help.
This is a very beautiful question and I am grateful that you have asked it. It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.
I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.
With love, Nick.
And I leave this link here, just in case.