• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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This Lightning Storm This Tidal Wave This Avalanche I’m not afraid

Sitting on a plane with my manuscript next to a woman reading on her K. I realize that a year or so from now, she will be reading the book I am working on in a million pixels. But I will still be the lucky bastard who got to read it first, who offered notes and thoughts on structure, on the title, on a plot point. I will be the one who first admired this simile, that character detail. I will still live in a tactile world where raptors drag devices through the Colorado desert, where water will find its source, and the last printing machine will suffocate beneath the plexiglass, the small plaque unread. Born. Dead. What are you reading, I asked.  The Help, she said.

How do you know when you’re dead?

40 Responses

  1. She’s reading The Help on her kindle and I’m downloading a peekaboo farm app on my iPhone to see if my daughter will like it – and it strikes me that in some ways nothing has changed: most kids won’t grow up anywhere near farms and they may read tablets not books, but they’ll still learn the cow goes moo moo and the pig goes oink oink … Which is apparently sacred knowledge when it comes to books for infants…

  2. You are lucky, first read indeed. I’d know I was dead if I couldn’t read, books, Kindle, whatever, as long as there are words to see I’m alive.

  3. Love the image, but hate ironing.

    I’ll be on a plane later in the week, reading Little Gale Gumbo, by our own Erika Marks – it just arrived on my Kindle.


    How do you know when you’re dead? You don’t.

  4. When you don’t get to read anymore books, either before or after someone else.

    Or maybe there are books in heaven?

  5. When you don’t care anymore.

    And that picture? Oh, do I relate.

  6. I don’t know. I haven’t done that yet.

  7. You don’t. It’s the living who know you’re dead. As long as you still can feel, you’re not dead yet. And The Help, on a Kindle, whatever you may think/feel about that, is someone reading. Which is a good thing.

  8. When I’m dead, I won’t have to empty the damn dishwasher again or fold laundry. Unless hell is real and I’ve been worse than I thought.

  9. OMG. All those young and teenage years with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all I worried about was the verse, “There will be no marrying in heaven.” I knew I didn’t want to get married, but I DID want to have sex.

    Eventually I left the J.W.s and had sex and plenty of it, but why did I never worry about books in Heaven? I never realized until this very moment that reading is better than sex and always has been! (Except when I was actually having some.)

    My life plan now is to outlive all my favorite authors. Some of them are half my age, which is worrisome, but still. I can’t die until I’ve read their latests.

    • Sex and reading: Reminds me of something I read once.

      A South American poet whose name is not Neruda (I’d run to look it up but my notebook is all the way upstairs) wrote:

      People think obsessively about sex except during the act, when their minds tend to wander.

      And here I thought it was only me.

  10. You don’t know when you’re dead. As long as you’re wondering about it, you’re not. My shiny copy of The Help is on the shelf. I’ve been fighting it, but my new Kindle should arrive today. Stories will still be written. Editors will still edit. People will still read. Words won’t die. They’ll just live in skinny little boxes. “And they’re all made out of ticky tacky. And they all look just the same.”

  11. I’m sure it’s when nothing hurts any more, lots of drifting and riding.

  12. I live a kind of death every time I try to write. It’s like purgatory, going through the same scenes over and over again and again, trying to perfect them, trying to make sense of it all … why the hell won’t it line up ?

    I’m still wrestling with your blog from yesterday, honestly. I realized that I don’t love my characters anymore, not at all. I did once when my world was young, but now I hate them, every single freaking one of them. I’m pretty sure they hate me too – why do I put them through this endless torture ? Why won’t I let them move on. What kind of omnipotent, omniscient being am I anyway ? We just stay together for the kids.

    Every now and then I think of the new book, the one I fantasize about, the one that will be perfect, it’s virginal, it loves me for all my faults, it has no rewrites because it has yet to be written. It will save me. What are you thinking about ? my current book asks. About you. Liar, you’re thinking about the new one aren’t you ? No baby, I was just looking, honest. It’s you, it’s always been you.

    Yet I can’t leave it, I won’t, not until it’s done once and for all. Not until I can love it again, or something akin to love. Tolerance maybe.

    • When there’s no love, commitment and goodwill suffice.

    • Your old book wants you to buy her a pair of fishnet pantyhose and some French perfume, but you keep bringing home Chinese takeout and spray starch for your shirts. You wanna wake her up, you’ve got to get freaky.

      (Sorry, Spring Chicken, I was trying to behave. I blame DJ and his adorable monogamy.)

  13. I think you can be breathing and acting in life and still be dead inside. Until we really live, we can’t detect our death. Life is so much more than just breathing and existing.

    Who knows, in a year, when you’re working on your next book, someone may be sitting next to you on a plane reading their Kindle with your book on it, not even realizing that they are sitting next to the author who has the next book – and the chain of life goes on and on.


  14. When all you see has no sound and all you hear has no sight. You can speak, but no one listens. Why can you see yourself so clearly? This just means you’re getting close, but after that I have no idea.

  15. When you stop dreaming because you know it won’t amount to anything, when the words won’t come and you don’t care, when you stop reading because it’s all been said before, when you see hope in someon’s face and scoff because your cynicism knows better…that’s when you’re dead. Even if you weren’t, you might as well be.

  16. When I send out a resume that says my research was in emerging markets that have long since collapsed or become thriving commercial centers. When I realize I’m firmly planted in that Old News-Who Cares? category. And above all else that I’m afraid they may be right.

  17. When it’s no longer funny

  18. I’ll be dead when old hardbacks stop landing on our brick stoop. Yesterday a copy of GOD’S POCKET arrived, which finally completes the Pete Dexter shelf. All is right with the world.

  19. The Fall. It’s the only time dead smells good.

  20. I guess I am dead because I don’t own a kindle and never will. I’m sticking with my laptop and real paper. I will never read The Help. Saw the movie. Hopeless. Distortion. Not funny. Mira Bartok will win a Pulitzer for The Memory Palace. Finally a brain-damaged author who admits it. A real honest psychotic mother.

  21. This was a trick question, wasn’t it. My goodness. Of course goodness had nothing to do with it.

  22. From my experience (I flat-lined on an operating table), it was a black void, a deep pause, filled only with sadness. Sadness in the understanding that I was dead and separated from those I loved and from the activities I enjoyed. Before the defib. finally worked, though, I began to slowly and peacefully consider what might happen next – then I awoke to screaming surgeons and nurses.

    I don’t want to revisit that scene anytime soon. I’ll accept the numbing sting of rejection, the warmth from a winter sun, those moments when I’ve forgotten all adjectives and embrace all struggles to feel that spark of Alive.

  23. I’m dead if I don’t have a new book (printed, not ereader)! to open, savor, and read. I told my sons to pull the plug if I can’t read anymore. For all the THE HELP haters, I thought it was a good read. The movie was sorta melodramatic, but the book ain’t bad at all. Give it a chance.

  24. “How do you know you’re dead?” she asked.
    When your obituary is tweeted, and goes viral, in 140 characters or less. R.I.P.

  25. I’m dead if I’m reading The Help.

  26. I’ll know I’m dead inside when I become indifferent to kitty cats. The day that I am not interested in investigating one more cute cat video is the day that my husband has permission to smother me with a pillow.

    Wait. I mean “metaphysical poetry” instead of kitty cats, and “neo-Platonic conceit in the work of John Donne” instead of cute cat video. Yeah. That’s what I really mean.

  27. I don’t know. I felt like I was dead a couple of times, but I was wrong.

    And I didn’t read The Help, and I don’t want to, but you are scaring me. On my Amazon page it says people who bought my book also bought The Help.

  28. If energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but simply changes form, how, then, can life be extinguished? I’m convinced that my individual consciousness is an irreducible unit of energy, independent of the particular body I inhabit. So, no death, but the upheaval of total transformation is a most fearsome thing.

  29. “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
    —Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

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