In 2013, Martha Cooley, author and professor of English, went on sabbatical with her husband to a medieval village outside Parma, Italy.
In 2013, Martha Cooley, author and professor of English, went on sabbatical with her husband to a medieval village outside Parma, Italy. There, amid colorful characters both human and animal (particularly feline) and surrounded by the natural world and remnants of the region’s rich past, she contemplated the loss of 10 friends in 10 years, all of whom were under 60, and the declining health of her elderly parent.
She’d planned to write a novel but instead wrote the memoir Guesswork: A Reckoning With Loss (Catapult,2017).
On January 24, 2018, Cooley hosted a Meet the Author event at the East Meadow Public Library on Long Island to discuss grieving and read excerpts from her book. The deaths hadn’t been worked through, she explained, and she was finding it difficult to write. In the book, she said, she reflects “on permanence and mutability, an awareness of history and things sustained, and the ever-changing-ness of the natural world, and I realized my feelings were mutable too. I didn’t have to be stuck in my place of loss.”
There are no bromides or blatant takeaways in Cooley’s book; readers will take from it what they will. As Cooley, who finds wisdom and solace in the words of great writers such as Emily Dickinson and e. e. cummings, writes, “Stories, novels, plays, poems—they have beginnings and endings. (Though not really: they are written, read and rewritten in their readers’ minds. A cycle, a continuous stirring.)” And hopefully they too will find the strength to move past their place of loss.
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