My feelings of grief
All beginnings start with an ending and some notes on my post-book slump
After the incredible TV show, I May Destroy You came out in June 2020, its creator, Michaela Coel described how she was experiencing grief since the project ended. It struck me when I heard her say this and I stored it in my memory, knowing it’d be important one day.
It’s been almost one month since my debut book, Totally Fine (and other lies I’ve told myself), came out and now I know why I needed to remember the language Michaela used to describe what happens once you publish your work: you experience grief.
It’s a Sin was also one of my favourite TV shows of recent times and I interviewed one of its actors, Nathaniel J Cole about his HIV diagnosis as a teen for my new podcast, Totally Fine with Tiffany Philippou. When we spoke, Nathaniel had just finished the run of his play, First Time, which tells the story of his HIV diagnosis. He, too talked to me about a loss he was feeling having finished the show.
I May Destroy You’s story centers around a sexual assault which was similar to something Michaela herself experienced. Like me and Nathaniel, Michaela turned her traumatic experience into art. We took our trauma, like a piece of clay, moulded it into something others could see and understand and presented it back to the world.
My book is a memoir of my most shameful and difficult experience, formed into something that others could see. It’s a story that I was terrified to tell, but I had an urge to create something that a reader could relate and react to and learn from. I wanted to use my story to ask questions about what it can teach us about the world we live in and the society we operate in. I wanted it to be enjoyable, heart-breaking, compelling and an experience that will stay with the reader for a long time. And while I don’t claim to have achieved this at the same level as Nathaniel and Michaela, I certainly wanted my readers to be stirred in the way that I was when I engaged with their work.
However, the process to get something ready for public consumption was a very private one. I so often refer to my book as my baby; I did it only yesterday on my Instagram when I described going to my local bookshop as ‘checking in on my baby.’
I don’t know what pregnancy feels like, but I spent three years cooking up my book and it felt like an extension of myself. Our traumas become part of us and mine felt part of me and I was fiercely protective of it as I moulded and shaped it, ready to share with readers.
As the date of publication and my book’s birth came closer, the anticipation for 17th March 2022 was so strong that I can still feel it now. And then, after a long time of feeling like that date would never come, one day it finally did and my book was out there. It was no longer mine, it was out of my care and belonged in the world. My book baby went out of my womb and straight off to boarding school. I nervously watched on as it sat in piles in bookshops, held a place on the Amazon charts and book reviewers on Instagram tagged me with their reactions. I sat there, powerless, as my book was bought, rejected, dissected or abandoned, praised and criticised.
I’m afraid that I’m unable to read the book’s reviews. I can’t handle it. I never would have predicted that would be the case.
I’d been so focused on the book’s publication date and its time of being revealed to the world that I hadn’t thought about what would happen next. Michaela’s words came back to me when I needed them and I realised I was experiencing what felt like grief. Something I’d been so focused on and working towards was over and out of my hands. It made sense to me that I’d sunk into a bit of a slump, that I had an inability to focus or get much done. I retreated and lost a bit of that promo hustle that one relentlessly needs after they publish a book. My energy was drained as I was forced to recalibrate a new future. My book is now out there and I need to ask myself – what comes next?
Whether it’s job loss, a partner’s death or break-ups, the feelings of grief are familiar to me now and so I knew that all I could do in that moment was surrender to it. Glennon Doyle said that ‘grief is a cocoon from which we emerge new’ and I’m now emerging out of my slump. I’m beginning to bounce back into bookshops, Sharpie in hand, ready to sign copies of my book. I’m sending emails pitching book-related stories, ready for the rejections that I know will follow. I’m consistently asking people to please post a review (please do that, by the way, it really helps). I’m also beginning to reimagine a future for myself.
‘Grief is a cocoon from which we emerge new’ Glennon Doyle
What once felt like an ending now feels like a beginning. Ideas for what comes next are slowly but surely making their way to me, including what the future of this newsletter looks like. So, while my book finds its own two feet in the world, it’s also time for me to boldly step out and see what’s next for me because all beginnings start with an ending. And this really is only just the beginning.
Thank you for coming along for the ride.
Have you read last week’s agony column: Dear Tiff, I’m stuck