Twenty twenty-two

By: Jack Sellwood
Posted: April 08, 2023

I started 2022 reading Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking. It was in that book that I discovered grief. Joan talks about how elusive grief is, how little there is written about it and how few studies there. I can concur—finding grief felt novel.

While reading her book I began to understand that the frog in my throat was grief. He had made my body and mind his home. This wasn’t parasitic though. He would introduce new dimensions of life and existence in exchange for making him feel safe.

I read Year of Magical Thinking less than a mile where Joan lived with her family on Franklin Ave in Los Feliz. Each morning, I’d read a chapter or so sitting at the Intelligentsia in Silverlake. Buddy made me an oat milk cortado that I’d sip sitting at the back of the cafe, glancing occasionally out the windows towards Sunset Junction.

I met a French family one morning. The mom, Eloise, was particularly outgoing. That kind of puppy-dog fervency. We each went for coffee at the same time and for 2 weeks we shared the morning together. Chatting a little and exchanging just enough details about our lives. Scott Speedman was a regular too and this was important to her. He was one of her favorite actors as a child.

After the couple weeks of Joan and the French family, Intelligentsia became my 3rd place, my avocado toast. Each morning I’d go there for fellowship and thought. Reading, writing, sketching, learning, crying, and sometimes working.

This was ~6 months into LA and I was relieved to finally find Rally again. Without this time in the morning, I wandered. Creativity amiss—my energy couldn’t be focused. When I’m able to land with a regular spot like this, it’s brings me directly into the flow.

The regularity of the morning and the sunshine and the people. It reminds me, almost like a shadow projection of breakfast routines on Wedgewood with my family growing up. Mornings like that, together, as we watched the sun rise in the kitchen were like heaven. Our minds cleansed by sleep. The day and the world hadn’t crept in yet. We were there, together.

Ironically, I never made many friends in LA. Adam, my hair dresser, Ben and Tom downstairs, Christine and Tapua next door. Buddy, the other baristas, and the French family. Oh, and that one one dude who was a yoga instructor and also worked at the gluten free juice bar in Echo Park. They all helped me find my relative placement in spacetime but they lacked the deepness and longevity of the relationships on Wedgewood.

This shallowness of LA likely could have been surmounted, eased over, with time. But I didn’t have that kind of energy. Joan describes the east river ice flows, the vortex, and the hotel on Pico and how they held her grief in a sort of open suspension. For me, it was LA, Intelligentsia, the hills I hiked all the time, Franklin Ave, all waypoints, wormholes as I meandered around my grief.

Looking back at this time, grief was the first unknowable thing I encountered. It stumped me. Trauma and anger are far easier. Once you understand them completely, finish feeling them, understand what you were missing at the time, and where they want you to go—they’re resolved. Grief isn’t as neat as that.

It lingers, hides, bangs on the door, shines a light in your bedroom window, hisses, cuddles you, it doesn’t know where to head. It only knows it loved the past. It knew the past. Grief isn’t specific enough to send us in a direction.

The end of Westworld Season 1 (spoiler!) concludes with the machines realizing that the voice in their heads isn’t their programming but their own consciousness. I think grief is a lot like that.

Grief begins as an externality (programming), a death/loss/change, and then we integrate it healthfully, slowly until it births in a us a new level of awareness and conscious expression. Once we realize this new consciousness that grief has delivered I think we can move on.

The melancholy and bittersweet may return but this new dimension of self, the richness of that internal upgrade, makes it worth it. It’s with this new internal upgrade and understanding that we move beyond waypoints and spacetime into flow. Grief brings back flow to our lives and gives us a reason to create. Grief gives the now a new found importance and purpose.