Nicholas Grider is an artist and writer whose work has appeared in Conjunctions, Caketrain, Drunken Boat, [out of nothing] and many other publications.
An excerpt from Tiny Gradations of Loss appears in Issue Forty-Three of The Collagist.
Here, Nicholas Grider talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about breathlessness, unnamed protagonists, and failure.
1.Tell us about Tiny Gradations of Loss and its origins.
The months after my mother’s death are hazy, so I don’t remember the book’s exact origins, just a feeling of pressure that I had to write something down, not to “let it out” but as some kind of impartial document that, in my shock, made it safer to accept my mother’s death as real.
2.What made you decide to take the unconventional approach of using a third-person point of view in this work of nonfiction?
I used third-person mostly to distance myself from the painful subject, but also with an eye towards Samuel Beckett’s short plays populated by nameless protagonists always on the edge of some kind of loss and never quite able to speak for themselves or as themselves.
3.I look at sentences like this one—“The closer Day 1 gets the more often he has to call the hospice hotline they give him instructions they send out a nurse”—and I feel the structure evokes a frantic, panicked stream of consciousness. What are these strung-together sentences meant to achieve or capture?
The omitted commas are meant to evoke the panic of being helpless in the face of terminal illness and to mimic breathlessness itself; my mother had lung cancer and I’ve grown up with plenty of lung conditions so something as simple as just breathing can become so tenuous and complex that it overwhelms things like the logic of proper usage.
4.On your website you say your work is “most concerned with failures of memory and history.” How does this theme come across in your writing? In a work of creative nonfiction, must you compensate for your own failures of memory, or can you use them to your advantage somehow?
I think every piece of writing of mine is a specific kind of failure to articulate something, but it’s the failure that I’m interested in, loose ends and blind spots and blanks instead of a smoothly narrated history or even just a smooth narrative. I’m not too pessimistic but I glean most speech acts and writing expression as a kind of response borne out of failing to listen and/or understand the world or the people in the room or yourself in a Chekhovian sense that everyone has a lot to say but nothing gets said and in the end it’s the silences that are most meaningful.
5.What projects are you currently working on?
I’m at work on a parody of a detective novel and have a book of short stories, Misadventure, coming out from A Strange Object next January.
6.What have you read recently that you want to recommend?
I’ve mostly been reading art books (Sol LeWitt, Fred Wilson, Mary Heilmann) but in terms of things on my radar I’m excited about I’d include Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too, Steven Zultanski’s Agony, and this great medical book I got at a used book sale, Alan C. Tjeltveit’s Ethics and Values in Psychotherapy.