Is there any good way to give bad news?
A subsurface iceberg-sized chunk of my personality is built around not giving bad news, so if there’s a good answer here, I’d like to know it, too.
Certain memories are burned on our brains. What memory is most prominently burned onto yours?
Putting my first dog down. I lived in Nebraska and had been bargaining with death for a while—one more year, one more winter—until it was clear the balance had zeroed out for her. I lived my life terrified of (and thus obsessed with) the moment of her dying. It was the place nobody could go with you, and so for my dog, I felt this obligation to see her little boat as far out into the water as possible.
Of course the grief of actually doing this was terrible. I still see the vet carrying her body away. But as time passed, my brain rewrote that day with a different script that’s developed in its aftermath. I held my dog’s face in two hands the whole time. I spoke to the white-tip fur of her ears. She could see me, then she couldn’t, just one second slipping into another, but what a gift to give her that kind of death. What joy. Though I do not know God, I hope for such hands on my face when the time comes. I am not by any means a good person, but I count this among my few good deeds, my few promises honored.
Save people and pets, what in your house would you least like to see sucked out by a tornado?
After pandemic, part of me would be happy to see just about everything I own taken by a tornado. Stuff has momentum and puts down roots all on its own. At best, stuff becomes a museum. At worst, it’s an unhappy mirror, a dependent child, or a prison. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to live in a museum, but until then: Take it all, tornado.
However—I have a very bad memory. If I have worthwhile thoughts, I try to capture glimpses of them in a notebook; often these are just lists, phrases, names, words. I enjoy Joan Didion’s descriptions of her notebooks, and her interrogation of their mysterious, apocryphal contexts. That’s a form of time travel, a universe all on its own. If I were allowed to ask, I’d hope the storm would spare me these. A kind, writerly tornado would understand. She would know the neurons probably wouldn’t ever fire quite that way again.