I am working on a long form project that I am calling “Extended Eulogies.” I am interested in the role of the “curator” behind a profile of the deceased, particularly when the deceased has left behind a portfolio of written work where they explores who they are, who they think they are, and the questions they tried to answer. This is much an exploration of memory as it is about process. The following is one of many pieces of my research to answer my own questions about how I will remember some of those who are closest to me in my own life.
I still remember the morning over the summer when I woke up to 16 missed calls from a close friend and another series of texts from someone I had become friends with over the course of that spring that started with “have you read the news?” followed by “Diana, can you call me? I’m scared.” And finally, “Fuck. I feel so lost right now.” Everything had come into my phone between 1am – 4am, the last one at 4:11am.
Remembering Marina Keegan…
On May 26th 2012, Marina Keegan, one of my high school and college classmates (we both ended up in the Saybrook college at Yale) died in a car accident that shook our communities. For days, my newsfeed on Facebook was filled with people posting on her wall, sharing memories and their disbelief that she was gone. Best know for some of her prolific written works like The Opposite of Loneliness and Even Artichokes have Doubts. And even a handful of spoken word pieces, that just as quickly as her writing does tear a hole in your heart or fill you with joy.
Among her many talents, Marina was a writer, a playwright, an activist, and a creator. Her voice is well documented, as were the questions she took time to explore with you in her written work. Marina is now the author of a bestseller titled The Opposite of Loneliness, which was like sitting in a time machine and relieving my high school and college experiences in a way that knocked the wind out of me.
Who served as a curatorial voice?
I got to know Yena when we started a salon series at Yale in the spring of my senior year. Nearly a year after the accident, Yena was a brilliant soon-to-be Philosophy Ph.D student living in New Haven and making sense of what had happened to her college roommate a year earlier. Yena is a brilliant thinker, talented writer, and dear friend to many of us.
In the months following Marina’s accident, Yena was tasked with an enormous project: she was handed Marina’s Hard Drive and told to organize the work and consider which works she would have selected to use to contribute to a lasting profile of Marina. She, alongside Marina’s mother and a handful of others, began to think through the dimensions of a collection of some of Marina’s short essays and stories. [I am comparing this collection of stories to an effective “profile” of the voice of an author.]
As Yena was remembering the experience with me, she said, “You begin to look at life and death through the voice of a person. With every artist, so much of them is embodied in their work, it feels like you are interacting with that person. It feels like a pseudo interaction that you’ve had with the person who is gone now.”
How do you process your memories? What does it mean to build a profile through Marina’s voice?
Yena first wrote this piece for the Yale Daily News to remember her friend very shortly after her death. “The YDN was me and Marina. It was very raw and [the grief] was there with me. The book was more collaborative.”
Yena started by re-reading all of their Facebook messages and emails. Some long, others shorter, asking quick questions. Some sent over summers apart, others between Saybrook and the Library.
“You are not an objective bystander. You bring a different element of you to every conversation that you have, already there is a filter or an angle. We are biased by our grief, the personal relationship with the person, and how we think about that person. When I looked back at her work, I wanted to look at it through these filters, but I also wanted to try to represent her accurately, objectively, in the ways that I loved her.”
This role, as an editor, was perhaps most pronounced when Yena was deciding what was most important to include in the book, and where some of the work needed to be trimmed or cleaned up. “[T]here is also an element: this is something I am sure she would not want other people to be reading.” The process was about taking in all of the work Marina had written over the course of her life time, beginning to organize it around common themes, and present a few pieces in a collection that captured the voice of the artist.
“It was a difficult experience — with her writing, you could hear her voice,” she added. “When you encounter that grief… it’s the expression of it that is so hard. Sometimes I felt like I needed to laugh really hard, I needed to get it out of my body.” Yena started to see this project as a “personal exercise.” It became a process that required her to manage and really feel the grief that seeped into her physical and emotional responses to the work, but it also helped her celebrate the great achievements of a friend that she admired and loved.
[Sidenote: Yena was not the only collaborator on the final version of The Opposite of Loneliness. When I first asked her about the project, she told me that the questions were a little startling because she forgot that she had helped put the work together. She remembers this book as something that was a collection of Marina’s life’s work, not a book by those who curated collection for the final product.]
What I learned from talking to Yena:
We spent a lot of time talking about what it means to “know someone.” We discussed the levels of friendship that exist and how well you get to know the rhythm of someone’s thoughts and the questions she wants to spend her life answering.
We wondered, does the product itself change depending on how well you knew someone before they died? I said yes. Because to really capture the pulse of someone’s thought patterns, you would need to see them at their most carefully edited, at their most raw and unrefined, and everything in between. Yena had the opportunity to see work by Marina in many different stages of completion.
Then Yena asked me, what is the difference between a biography and an extended eulogy?
My answer was that biographies are about extended narratives: you are meant to interact with the narrative provided by the writer and the context the writer decides to provide you with as you engage with the narrative. You are not interacting with the individual.
When the artist can leave something in her original voice, you interact with it. As Yena has told me earlier in our conversation, you build into the relationship with the artist a little more.
The extended eulogy, for me, is a project about building and protecting memories that are multi-dimensional and offer a few perspectives on a person simultaneously. You see the person, in how they would describe themselves, but you also see how others (the curators) see and remember her. You also see what their life looked like, to them, from 30,000 ft. You see what questions became important to explore and what stones they unearthed to find their answers. The Extended Eulogy offers the artist a chance to remember themselves and leave behind a breathing memory that engages with you and challenges you and promises to be the same thorn-in-your-side that the artist may have been while she was living.
The work of some artists requires little context for me. I react very powerfully to it, in the same way that some relationships with other people make sense and others don’t or don’t register in our memory at all. Some voices vibrate like strings on the cello through your memory and their questions haunt you. This is not true for every conversation and person that we come across – but for the ones who do leave a mark… we remember them. We remember the sound of their voices and the pulse of their thoughts and it stays with us.
Many of us continue to serve, in our own ways, in Marina’s memory. Though my own relationship with her was largely based on the interactions we had as activists working on some overlapping issues in our communities, I remember her for her writing.
“Do you want to leave soon?”
“No, I want time to be in love with everything… and I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.” [Marina Keegan, Bygones]