woolf waves

I’ve been listening to Max Richter’s glorious new album. It’s inspired by the work of Virginia Woolf. Specifically, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, and The Waves. It’s tremendous, as are all things Richter does. The final movement–and perhaps his most emotional piece in years–is in the above video. It begins with the reading of Virginia Woolf’s suicide note, which I’ll copy in full here:


I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.

It’s always struck me as a profound and devastating statement of love and illness.

I don’t have a lot to say about it, really. Or, I do, but I’ve said it before in a dozen other blog posts over the seven years I’ve had this site.

I’ve been writing my novel to this album. It’s a completely normal thing for me to listen to a Richter album on repeat for days, and he’s been the soundtrack to more than a few of the novels I’ve written. I don’t know if my work is capturing anything as well or as beautifully as Woolf or Richter, but I’m very pleased with the words coming out of me lately.

I feel fortunate that I’ve managed to avoid any serious bouts with depression over the last years, and it’s certainly what’s allowed me to be so productive.

I’m nearly 40,000 words into the new novel. I’m hoping to have it finished before May, which seems doable, even though the novel may balloon up to about 200,000 words.

As is almost always the case, I sort of saw this as a short novel, but I quickly grow comfortable with the size of this novel. I said that I’d keep it underwraps this time, rather than share the process of writing this novel while I write it, and I think I’ll keep to that.

I will say, though, that every chapter presents a very difficult challenge. It’s the kind of writing I simply was not capable of writing even a year ago. It’s the kind of writing that is exhausting, but ultimately rewarding. Complex yet simple. Dangerous yet loving.

I want this novel to be a surprise, and I think it will be. I think I’m doing something that is rarely, if ever, done, and that pleases me. I’m also writing in a mode that I’ve never written in before. In many ways, I think it’s my most daring and most normal novel, and I like that juxtaposition quite a lot.


why we die is none of your business

I love Robin Williams. Along with many others, I’ll miss him. He was a big part of my childhood and I truly loved his movies, from the insanely silly, to the tragic. He was just great, especially at his most chaotic or reserved.

But this post is only a little bit about him. Probably this will read very oddly to a lot of people. But this post is about dying. Mostly, it’s about suicide, which is something it seems like I’m always writing about. Even Noir: A Love Story is about suicide. It’s probably the best statement I can make on the matter, though I’ve made many other ones.

When people commit suicide, everyone wants to know why. Everyone feels they have the right to know why. They demand it to the point of harassment and abuse. Even those who come out on Robin Williams’ side seem to believe they are owed an explanation.

But you’re not.

There is no privilege in the Death of another.

When someone dies, especially when they kill themselves, it has nothing to do with you, especially if you’re a stranger to the person. Even if you’re a dear friend or family member, the suicide of another is not about you.

A lot of people call suicide cowardly or selfish, but I think this is a pretty ridiculous position to take. If it’s selfish, it assumes that their life belongs to you. For them to end it before you were ready becomes tragic and almost like an existential attack.

It’s not.

While the Death of another and the suicide of a family member or close friend is impossibly sad, it doesn’t belong to you. You get your grief, and probably you’ll share that with dozens or hundreds or millions, in the case of the Williams family. For the grieving, this is a tragedy, but for the dead, it may be an end to the tragedy.

The tragedy of existence. Of living in this world that never feels right, that never feels a part of you, that not only rejects you, but the life and dignity of everyone you’ve ever known, of everyone you’ve ever heard of.

I’m a melancholic sort. I’ve dreamt of Death almost my whole life. I suffer from depression sometimes so severe I can barely stand up or breathe, but my depression doesn’t come from within me. It comes from the world around me. This incredible weight, this dangerous mountain looming over me, taunting me.

It’s life that defeats me, that infects me with its disease that withers my insides and turns everything to rot.

I think suicide is valid. I think we’re allowed to exit life when we choose. It’s criminal, to me, that it’s a crime to kill yourself or that institutions can force you to keep on living.

Before I go too far down that road, I will say this: there absolutely should be assistance for those who need and want it. We obviously need better mental health outreach and education and facilities. But if I tell a psychologist or psychiatrist that I intend to kill myself, it shouldn’t be legal for them to detain me.

And there’s a lot that goes into this. I thin about South Korea and how suicide is out of control there, or how austerity has essentially forced a generation of old men and women to commit suicide in places like Italy, because they must now choose between the streets and slow starvation or a quick way out.

An escape.

Have you ever noticed that there are only two times we refer to escape as a negative?

Genre fiction and suicide.

Every other use of this word has a positive connotation. And let’s say that we are escaping life.

Why is that your business? Why is it the business of anyone besides the person escaping?

Our life is not our own. I firmly believe that. We belong to the people who we choose to share our lives with.

But that doesn’t mean that we control them or we have the right to their life and Death. They’re sharing their life with us.

They don’t need to share their Death with us too.

Maybe I’m just overly protective of Death because it feels very personal and close to me. I feel protective and outraged when people attack our right to die.

Suicide may be an end to tragedy. You may disagree with it and you may mourn–you’re allowed that. You’re allowed to wish and hope, and you’re allowed to share your feelings of regret.

That’s all fine and valid.

But so is a suicide’s right to hold itself private. We are allowed to die and you don’t deserve to know why.

And while the world will miss Robin Williams, he doesn’t owe you anything, especially in Death, especially after giving the world so much.

Let him have his peace.