Don’t speak ill of the dead. Do you follow this rule?
A while ago, I decided to write a few posts using letters I’ve received from different people over the years. I went looking for the letters. Most I found. The letters from my mother I didn’t. Hours passed as I tore through boxes looking. A few boxes I dug through five times.
Friends consoled me. You’ll find them. I’ll pray for you to find them. One friend–the one friend who knew my mother–said, “Maybe you’re not supposed to find them. Maybe there’s something in them you’re not ready to hear.”
Twenty years after my mom’s death and this may well be true. Some of the letters are comforting to read. Others I put away after I read them the first time and was afraid to ever look at them again. But I’m not 15 anymore. What made me cry then, may not make me cry now. Who’s to say my memory is true?
My husband found the box of letters under a pile of suitcases in back of the closet. Now I can read them. I’m glad I found them but not sure I want to read them. The ultimate rejection letters.
You know that feeling when you look into the mailbox and see your SASE staring back at you? I’m so tired of reading, “We wish you the best but we don’t like what you’ve done.”
That’s what I signed up for, isn’t it?
9 thoughts on “Letters from the Dead”
Actually, that isn’t at all what you sighed up for; you are hopeful of finding a readership for your stories and not only that, you are hopeful that many of your wonderful pieces of art are given homes where they are accorded some place where they will radiate your vision 24/7, in a sense a part of you being right there. Letters are a side effect of a process, just as another side effect of the process is that individuals you known and do not know at all will assign meanings and values to your stories that are at complete odds with your intentions.
You signed up to reflect and process, then filter your visions. Fact of the matter is, you continue to write new stories and make new art, setting them out for those of us to see who will. You’re doing your part.
Sometimes I do feel that if I were doing my part I’d be better at it. But. I am completely and ridiculously full of hope even though I don’t know why.
The ultimate rejection letters indeed!
I know this is what we sign up for by virtue of being writers. By virtue of trying we must accept the inevitable failure. With every effort we make, there will be successes and those things which leave us panting and spitting blood and teeth. And we are expected to grin and go back for more.
Interestingly, the vanguards of the industry don’t apply this to their own persons when they deal with it. I’ve read more than one editor and agent blog about being insulted and injured by careless comments in the cyber-aether. And yet, they expect US to be able to grin and bear it.
The double-standards suck, but they’re there. And if we want to get through the (many) gates, we must accept them and keep going. Rejection’s NEVER fun, for ANYone. But we can do it.
If I found a box like yours I’d be afraid to read it too.
I see double-standards in plenty of places, but I try to put them out of my mind when it comes to my own efforts. All I can ever do is what I do. How someone treats me as opposed to someone else–I can’t control that and would make myself nuts trying. Or being angry.
On a good day I like to think that I haven’t failed until I give up.
I tend to speak the same way about the dead as I did when they were living. Death doesn’t give them a free pass!
It hurts me to hear you refer to letters from your mother as rejection letters. I can only hope my children grow up and don’t feel that way about anything I write them. It reminds me to stay on my toes with what I might write to them when they’re older. I want them to know they’re loved.
I try to speak of someone dead as I would if they were alive (depending on who’s present anyway!), but with my mother that is a whole ‘nother thing (no amount of English teaching will rid me of ‘nother. Just saying.).
Maybe they aren’t rejection letters. But they aren’t all fun reads.
I’ve never had to test that speaking ill of the dead thing, mostly because I haven’t had anybody die that I had any dirt on. I do feel bad when people make fun of dead celebrities, but only because their family has to hear it. Maybe that’s where the rule came from. Trying to be nice to the people who are left.
I’m really glad you found your mom’s letters. I wanted to give you a hug when you were so frantic looking for them.
It’s hard to know if it’s perseverance or a waste of time, isn’t it? Hang in there…until you want to take a break.
I always assumed the rule came from fear of angry spirits, but trying to be nice to the living is a good (and more sensible) reason. There are a lot of jokes one can make about some famous people, but I often wonder about how the person telling the joke would feel if confronted with the parents or children of the deceased.
Did you ever see the movie <Heathers? The character Veronica laughs at a joke her boyfriend JD tells about the way a jerky, stupid, football player died. Then she see the football players tearful kid sister and it brings home to her how truly crazy and awful killing the boy was. Everyone has family. This is why I’ll never be a comedienne. I’d rather be nice.
Oh, wait. I’m a writer. Are writers nice?
I’m glad I found the letters. Thank you, Sherri. I know some of them will be painful, but some of them are great. And they mean a lot to me.
Writers of fiction can be terrible to their characters and still be nice people. 🙂