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Melancholy, the Flame to My Moth

A while back, I read a blog post on divorce by Anna Spargo-Ryan.

Raw. Powerful. Relentless. That's how I would describe her writing. It has such feels. I saw the silhouettes. I heard the shouts, as well as the sighs. Most of all, I felt the sad.

It’s easy to pound on the table but hard to whisper heaviness. Most writers rely on the meaning of their words to create atmosphere. Anna also sets the mood through the cadence of her words. It sprints, halts, then barrels forward again.

You can’t really teach that stuff. Haruki Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood is a story of quiet but deep hurt. He once said, "No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist." Well, Anna certainly need not worry about the talent part.

Her writing reminds me of a manuscript I betaed a while back. It was a coming-of-age story. A young dad, trying to tell his daughter complicated things about her mom, goes through remembrances of how he grew up. I love that novel, and I hope it'll get published someday.

That got me thinking. What is it about those writings that makes them memorable? I look back at the books I've loved in recent years: 1Q84, Rules of Civility, Bel Canto, The Road. And I realize that they all have one commonality: melancholy.

I like melancholy. Not pain. There's enough of that in real life. I've read stories with so much suffering that their depressing effects lingered for months, if not years. That's too much.

The sweet (bitter?) spot is to have just enough sadness to touch beneath the skin, where all the vulnerable bits are, but not crush the bone. Enough to bleach the world to grayscale, not to obscure it with darkness. I can't find my way out if I can't see a thing.

Melancholy draws me in. I can't help it. Moth, flame, and all that.


  1. Ah, Alex, I love the poignant way you've captured this, the idea of grayscale and, especially the idea of the melancholy not being so dark you can't see your way out. Lovely.

    It's a fine line an artist treads.


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