Grief is More Than Sadness

The world has changed dramatically, since I last dared put down words in this journal. It takes courage, this committment to stringing together coherent words in an unstable world. When I last wrote, the novel coronavirus or, COVID-19, had already made its jump to our species; most of us, however, remained blissfully ignorant of what was coming.

Change comes, individually and collectively. change Can ripple Gently across the surface of a life in progress. It can also come with tsunami-level force, rearranging everything.

Since I last wrote, my individual life has undergone adjustment. On December 27, 2019, my ex-husband and his wife were sitting at my dining room table, eating the meal my 27-year old daughter (home for the holidays) helped me prepare, because my right hand was still in a splint from a fall on the ice. My older son (who lives locally) and his girlfriend joined us for dinner. My husband camped out with our younger son in the basement because second son (half sibling of my older two kids) had a nasty cough.

I hadn’t yet chosen my 2020 word, heal. But, already, the kind of healing I didn’t know I needed was in motion.

The day before our scheduled dinner, I’d debated canceling the invite, because of my injury or because of my younger son’s contagion. But the same nudging that prompted the invitation back in mid-December wouldn’t let me cancel. This meal, I thought, would be the first of many; this meal, I hoped, would serve as the beginning of a broader reconciliation. Instead, the meal would be the last time I’d see my ex-husband.

The father of my older two children died unexpectedly on January 7, 2020.

In January, I held my older two children as they grieved their father; I extended my hand toward their stepmother as she mourned. Late at night, deep inside, I grieved too. I wasn’t grieving my first marriage, long since spent. I wasn’t grieving the man I’d rarely spoken to in recent years, our days of active co-parenting having gradually faded as our children grew into capable adults. Although I was tremendously pained that my children had lost their father so young, I wasn’t sad, per se.

But, I am learning, grief is so much more than sadness.

Grief is raw, unbridled anger. Grief is claustrophobic fear. Grief is waking up at two in the morning with your heart on fire. Grief is feeling like someone shredded your epidermal layer with a cheese grater. Grief is losing your voice and not knowing if it will ever return. Grief is confronting, head on, one’s powerlessness over the uncontrollable. Grief is hammering against the well-meaning people trying to cheer you up or talk you out of your emotions. Grief is carrying a bucket of ice in your gut that can extinguish moments of hope. Grief is the mandatory path one must walk to reach the new version of your life, the one so different than the one you wanted. But grief is also your connection to the life you’ve lost.

Grief belongs to you; it is your right.

More change and grief work came for me in February, after my father was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive prostate cancer. I was still reeling from the news when I began obsessively reading reports of COVID-19, the virus making it unlikely I’ll be seeing my immune-compromised father anytime soon, the same virus now changing your world and mine.

As our shared losses mount daily, know that Our collective grief is real. I claim my word of the year for you, for me, for the world: Heal.

The Fall and the Rise of the Indie Bookstore

I live in the Twin Cities area (what we natives call the Minneapolis/St. Paul corridor, built up along the Mississippi River). We are said to have more food co-ops per capita than any other place in the country. One can hardly walk, bike, or drive a mile (a few blocks in dense urban areas) without coming across a food co-op. I’m not sure, but it seems the same could be said for locally owned, independent bookstores. While the Twin Cities wouldn’t win a “per capita” contest with respect to indie bookstores, it would likely be in or near the top ten. There is no dearth of independent bookstores here. But it has also lost some important ones. I still miss my favorite indie bookstore of all time: Hungry Mind.

Dave Unowsky opened Hungry Mind bookstore in 1970, the year I was born. Hungry Mind was located on St. Paul’s historic Grand Avenue on the Macalester campus. Hungry Mind initially serviced the needs of Macalester but, with its well-stocked selection of local and national literary titles, it soon played host to a wide range of Minnesota readers and writers.

When I moved to the Twin Cities in 1998, Hungry Mind became a second home to me. My older two kids were small at the time and, although I hadn’t admitted it yet, my marriage was crumbling. My then husband and I (rather unconsciously—I think) began trading shifts out of the house during our nonworking hours. My “out” shifts were spent sitting on the wood-planked floor at Hungry Minds, in the middle of its vast poetry selection. Hungry Mind, in fact, figures prominently into my memoir-in-progress about my divorce.

During those years spent at Hungry Mind, I was only four-years out from law school, seven years from my undergraduate work. I remember enjoying the feeling of blending in with the students utilizing the bookstore. Perhaps I liked imagining I was still a student—that my life was yet one with limitless options.

Hungry Mind began to experience financial trouble at the same time many indie bookstores were going under due to pressure from “big box” booksellers. I hate to admit it, but a shiny new Barnes and Noble became another place of escape for me. I liked to read (without purchasing) its vast and varied inventory of periodicals in its big, comfy chairs.

Maybe it was the beginning of the end when, to help pay the bills, Hungry Mind sold its name to an online university in 2000, changing its name to Ruminator Books. Ruminator then tried expanding, opening a satellite store at Open Book in Minneapolis, a location that houses The Loft Literary Center, Milkweed Press, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Unfortunately, Unowsky’s decision to expand only increased Ruminator’s financial woes. Unable to make rent, Ruminator Books closed its doors in 2004.

Twelve years later, I still miss Hungry Minds/Ruminator Books. I jealously covet the free paper bookmarks I’ve held onto from both Hungry Minds and Ruminator. After Ruminator closed, the outdoor clothing manufacture, Patagonia, opened in Ruminator’s Grand Avenue location. Last time I checked, it had the same worn wooden floors, but sitting on the floor in the women’s jacket section isn’t the same as sitting in the poetry section at Hungry Mind. In one, I’d look like a crazy lady, in the other; I was just one of many in a community of writers and readers.

I don’t know if Unowsky is still around, but Indie bookstores are back on the rise. In fact, the small publishing house, Milkweed Editions, just opened its own bookstore last month in the same space in Open Book that once housed Ruminator. I visited Milkweed’s bookstore last week and all I can say (for now) is that one never knows who she’ll run into in an indie bookstore. Stay tuned for Part Two of this post.

img_0250
One of the collage board of images I put together while working on the first draft of my memoir; Can you spot the Ruminator bookmark (cow image) in the upper right hand corner?