Mary South: How Do We Move On From Grief?
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Mary South is this week’s guest. Her debut story collection, You Will Never Be Forgotten, is available from FSG Originals.
From the episode:
Brad Listi: Technology is a factor in these stories, but it’s not central. It’s maybe part of the frame on which you hang the very human stories that you were trying to tell. So I’m wondering, and it sounds like maybe this was the case, when you’re trying to come up with an idea for a story are you looking around at the various technologies that people interact with on a daily basis and starting there and then saying, OK, well, you know, phone sex, like people are so lonely they’re calling up these 900 numbers or whatever it is to try to get somebody to talk to them intimately? Did you just start with that and then say, well, you know, what would be a place I could potentially situate this and then you move on from there to an old folks home, or was it vice versa?
Mary South: I think it usually starts with the emotion first. I mean, in some cases, like with the story “Realtor to the Damned,” it … really started by thinking about grief and thinking about that grieving is actually fairly mysterious to me. When you experience a huge loss, which we all will at some point—parents dying or our loved one—how do we move on from that? Because we ultimately all go through the stages of grief, denial, bargaining, anger, depression. I don’t know how we ultimately move on, other than we do.
Brad Listi: Have you been through big loss in your life?
Mary South: I had early as a child. Some relatives died very sadly. One to suicide and another was a very sad car accident. One was my uncle and the other was my grandmother. My father had found my grandmother, and she hadn’t been well. It made him extremely depressed for a while. You know … finding her after she committed a suicide attempt, but ultimately, you know, you grieve and you heal and you move on. But how that happens is … when does it happen? What does the process look like? It’s, of course, different for everyone, but also ultimately mysterious, you know. So for that one story, I was thinking, what if someone experienced such a huge loss that she refused to move on? What if someone got stuck in the stages of grief? She’s essentially stuck in bargaining by trying to remake her daughter. She doesn’t ever have to feel the depth of her grief.
Brad Listi: It’s the mysterious part of grief. Sometimes I think it has to do with the memory and how over time your memories just fade. It’s almost grim to say, but maybe it’s necessary for some kind of healing to take place, or scar tissue to build up and for you to just be able to carry on as a functioning organism. Because, you know, if you have all of these memories like super solid and immediate, it’s going to be pretty hard. I think part of it has to do with the necessity of forgetting.
Mary South: You do have to forget and and that’s hard to do … Sometimes feeling new emotions almost feels like a betrayal, once you have a moment of levity. You remember something funny, for example, that the the lost person did and you have a laugh about it. You remember some good things … I don’t want to let go and I want to let go of the sadness. It feels almost like you’re having to let go of them in a way and move on, but you have to move on with your life. You have to move on into the future.
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Mary South is a graduate of Northwestern University and the MFA program in fiction at Columbia University. For many years, she has worked with Diane Williams as an editor at the literary journal NOON. She is also the recipient of a Bread Loaf work-study fellowship and residences at VCCA and Jentel. Her writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Baffler, The Believer, BOMB, The Collagist, Conjunctions, Electric Literature, Guernica, LARB Quarterly, The New Yorker, NOON, The Offing, The White Review, and Words Without Borders. She lives in New York.