“I think most artists are fundamentally inconsolable. That’s why they keep doing it.”

photo by Flickr’s kmichiels

Confession: I’ve had unshakable Blogger’s Block for about a week, and I considered offering up my spot to a guest more than once. None of the topics I came up with felt quite right.

How much I dislike pre-release PR activities? (Very true. Not very empowering.)

How I’m rediscovering Goodreads? (Meh.)

The importance of rich backstory? (Don tackled that well, and recently.)

How about why WordPress doesn’t recognize “backstory” as an actual word? No? Okay, then.

I was saved yesterday by a New York Times article about the film Saving Mr. Banks, featuring an interview with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. In case you need a primer, Saving Mr. Banks is the story of how Mary Poppins made it to the big screen. Not easily. Because the author of the story, P. L. Travers, wasn’t keen to see her book turned into a Disney flick.

The interview is interesting and filled with gems that writers should appreciate.

  • On listening to tapes of Travers trying to collaborate with Disney’s composers: “You can hear the distress, the tension and the resistance, just the purposeful sabotage in her voice.”
  • On Travers’ appearance: “She had curly hair, which she cut into a bubble bob, which she wore for most of her life. It kind of suited her…There’s something tightly coiled about her and tightly coiled about her hair.”
  • On how Emma Thompson tapped into Travers’ character: “She was a tough nut to crack. When I’m creating a character, I sort of do a brass rubbing, sort of put some tracing paper over the character and rub it and then think, ‘Which bits?'”

But it was this part of the interview, referencing Travers’ youth with her alcoholic father and Thompson’s experience with her own father, who was a writer, that got to me. Said Thompson:

Of course, the father-daughter thing, the loss of the father’s storytelling abilities and the loss of his control, the loss of his power is very much a connective bit for me. My father had a stroke when he was 48. I say this as I am literally rubbing my neck because it was so distressing. He couldn’t speak, and I was the only person he allowed to teach him to talk again. So I was with my father when I was 18, 19 with little cards which said, “I am” and “you are.” I thought, “I’m being given this sacred task,” but it tore me apart.

When my father came to Cambridge, when I was graduating, he’d had his stroke, and he couldn’t speak properly. He slurred his words, and he didn’t want anyone to know that it was because he had a stroke, so the teachers thought he was drunk. So there were those connections. But I think most artists are fundamentally inconsolable. That’s why they keep doing it.

Gut punch. I stopped reading, sat for five minutes thinking about just that.

Most artists are fundamentally inconsolable. That’s why they keep doing it.

Yes, well. I do keep doing something, writing about something. My father died too young, and his death tore my family apart. We’re still, nearly seventeen years later, dealing with the fallout.

This isn’t the story I write.

But writing about loss and recovery is the scratch I have to itch, the personal obsession that seems always to leak its way out of my pen and onto the page. Looking at it from different angles, considering it from the perspective of different characters, is about the only thing I can do to try to make sense of everything that happened, how we weren’t able to stop that particular train from crashing off the tracks even though we could see it coming–all of us–from one hundred miles out. Not that we didn’t try.

But you can’t control people. And you can’t control life.

These ideas were threaded through my debut but are even more firmly cemented in The Moon Sisters. I’m happy with this next book of mine, proud of it even. I believe it’s the truest thing I’ve ever written.

Is it true enough to count as consolation? Can I get over it now and move on? Maybe. I think writing can act like a cast to help strengthen our broken parts. Or like medicine to heal, or a blanket to comfort. And I don’t like the idea of being fundamentally inconsolable, and feel my Irish rise up over it–a personality trait I’m glad to have inherited from my father.

But I make no promises. It could be that these themes are as much a part of my DNA now as anything I ever received from my parents, and loss and recovery will continue to leak their way out of my pen whether I like it or not.

What themes run through your writing, and have you tapped into the why of that? How does “fundamentally inconsolable” sit with you? What’s the truest thing you’ve ever written?

p.s. I really am rediscovering Goodreads. If you’re interested, you can go there to read a letter I wrote about how The Moon Sisters connects with my family.


About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.


  1. says

    Therese, I believe all writers on some level draw from their family experiences. In my case it wasn’t until I had completed, revised and re-read my first novel that I realized how much of my adolescent hopes and dreams were present, even though the story bore no resemblance to my own experiences. This phenomenon takes place at a subconscious level. I wouldn’t describe myself as inconsolable, but I would say my writing is a way to find answers and make sense out of life. Thanks for a thought-provoking post and you should get blogger’s block more often if this is the result.

  2. Deb says

    Fundamentally inconsolable . . . how these words hit home with me. I found myself searching out one of my favorite poems, called Dirge without Music, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. “I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.” Is this why I write?

    I don’t really know. I just know I keep on writing, day after day, because the alternative would feel like death to me. Writing is my way of making sense of a world that continually baffles me. It’s both a refuge and a war zone for my poor, battered self.

    Thanks so much for this lovely, moving post. Somehow I can’t seem to stop thinking about it. I look forward to reading The Moon Sisters!


  3. says


    I like to call myself “not-content,” but “fundamentally inconsolable” works as well. With each novel I write, I give myself advice on how to live my best life. But I’m not always good about taking my own advice, so I keep on writing. And, yes, I know I draw from real life, but not in a literal way, on-the-nose way.

  4. says

    David Morrell talks about writing from his “inner ferret,” something that gnaws at him with each book. For him a novel, even a thriller, has to be more than a concept. It has to hit home somehow.

    My inner ferret seems to be justice. I find that theme running through most, perhaps all, of my books. My father was a lawyer, often representing indigent clients, and was passionate about the Constitution. Maybe that’s where I got it.

  5. says

    If you have a disability, the world tells you you are broken, somehow worth less.

    Life reinforces that: the disability reduces so many of your options, that it can become a full time job to deal with the repercussions.

    A strong theme in the novel I’m writing is how one woman who has lost almost everything fights back against those limitations – and prevails – without being magically cured.

    Every time I write I have to share that part of myself with my character – and fight that battle again.

  6. says

    I find that a common theme in my writing is trying to put together a narrative of the past that explains the present, but being stymied by lack of information or misinformation, much like those folks who go onto Antiques Roadshow with a family legend only to leave with something far less special and grand, far more common and everyday. I’m sure some of this can be traced to the death of my beloved grandfather when I was six and the subsequent sale of almost all of his possessions. Of the little that remained, my parents later sold a number of items to an antiques dealer without even asking me if they meant something to me. To them they were commodities. To me they were the only tenuous links to a past that now no one remembers (or at least no one who will talk). And so stories, diaries, letters, photos–all those things that I am missing–pop up in my fiction. The clues I will never have I give to my characters.

    • says

      What great insight, Erin. And I completely relate to what you’ve described. I’m desperate to never lose photographs, especially, but many priceless (to me) photos and letters have been lost.

  7. says

    Therese, what a lovely and moving post. I employed writing in a very direct, conscious way: I lost my sister to cancer and wrote a short story about it “The Nature of Sisters.” Yes, it helped me to have created a story about her and then it was published online at Every Day Fiction. Words make things real again so there was some consolation in seeing it live in cyber space out there and know that others are reading it (I still would like to have it published in print though).

    You speak of loss and recovery and writing acting as a cast to heal. Writing the story did make her alive again for me in a way; it’s not really enough though. This kind of daily pain tests my strength, my attachment to happiness, everything about sisterly love.

    Someone once told me that “tears for the dead are sacred.” I explored that idea and found that this thought has penetrated into my other stories and my novels in a positive and uplifting way. So, I think there’s much truth to searching through pain for some kind of beauty and releasing it on the page.

    • says

      “I think there’s much truth to searching through pain for some kind of beauty and releasing it on the page.”

      I couldn’t agree more, Paula. And I’m sorry for your loss.

  8. says

    A few months ago, very late at night, I found myself googling the words “I am inconsolable.” It wasn’t depression I was feeling. Or loss over any particular thing. Just a deep, existential sense of grief that I couldn’t shake.

    So yes, I’d say I’m inconsolable. And I find the same themes coming up over and over and over in my writing (violence and forgetting). When I first realized that was happening, I stopped writing. But you know, being a writer, and being inconsolable, there’s no quitting for good, right?

    Thank you for this lovely post.

  9. says

    I am so sorry about the loss of your dad. My truest piece of writing also stems from a parental loss. I penned a short story with the MC using time travel to deal with the loss of her mother as a way to work through my own grief. Some reviewers on Amazon must have picked up on that as they had favorable things to say about that story.

  10. Carmel says

    “Fundamentally inconsolable” makes us sound like people who wallow in their sorrows instead of doing something about them. What we do is write. What we do is work hard to figure ourselves and other people out. What we do, in one way or the other, is help.

    Congratulations on the work you’ve done, Therese!

  11. Denise Willson says

    What themes run through your writing, and have you tapped into the why of that? How does “fundamentally inconsolable” sit with you? What’s the truest thing you’ve ever written?

    Wow, Theresa. You were blocked and came up with this? So deep! You’re really making me think hard this morning. :)

    Without effort, the heart of my stories bubble with romance. Not sex, or surface fluff, but deep core emotions that erupt into something unexpected. I’d never thought about why I write like this, but maybe it’s because I have a need to FEEL. The core of me is filled with emotions (good and bad) and cannot be harnessed. Putting this onto the page gives me a sense of release, of freedom.

    Huh. Thanks, Theresa. You’re my therapist today!

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

  12. says

    Therese, what a remarkable post. I’ve discovered that, when I have a character who is “failing” in some way, it’s usually because I’m not allowing enough of my own self and emotions onto the page. I’m holding back. I just put a story collection together, and it was interesting to try to see those stories objectively. They are, every one of them, about loss and betrayal. I’m not sure I can write anything else.

    I’ll keep this piece to re-read, and I won’t be so afraid to let my “inconsolable” writer-self out of the box after this. Thank you!

    • says

      “I’ve discovered that, when I have a character who is “failing” in some way, it’s usually because I’m not allowing enough of my own self and emotions onto the page. I’m holding back.”

      I find this to be true as well. Thanks for sharing this, Gerry, and for your comment.

  13. says

    The themes that run through my writing…

    There are two. Two themes that show up in everything I write, from novel-length manuscripts to 200 word flash fictions. (I know, you’d think there wouldn’t be enough room, but somehow I manage.)

    1. Stories are power.

    The stories we learned as children, the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, and the stories that we tell ourselves as we’re lying in bed at night. Even the story that’s right now being written by someone who will later come here and read this comment. All stories have power — not just over the writer, or the readers, but over the landscape of the human condition. How would the world be different if Soylent Green was plankton? Or if Mr Darcy married Anne?

    2. What is family, really, when you get right down to it?

    This is at the centre of my writing. As you time and again follow the path of loss and recovery, I must , time and again, ask this question. What is family, really, when you get right down to it? Is it people related by blood? Or by tradition? Or by love? I don’t have an answer. So, I’ll keep asking the question. I’ll ask it of a mage with an abusive father, and an orphaned hunchback with a fear of popular culture, and a vampire-hunter following in her father’s footsteps. I’ll ask it of a police detective who believes in logic over emotion, and of a GreeK God with an off-beat sense of humour. And maybe, one day, if I get enough puzzle pieces together, I’ll be able to put them all together and see the picture that’s been eluding me.

    So. Fundamentally inconsolable? No. Not really. Maybe. I don’t know. But when I get enough puzzle pieces, I’ll be sure to tell you.

  14. says

    Thank you for such a lovely morning post. I have to agree with Carmel when she wrote: “What we do is work hard to figure ourselves and other people out. What we do, in one way or the other, is help.”
    That’s how I look at why I write.

  15. says

    Hi Therese!
    I’m glad you didn’t take my twitter advice on what to write in today’s post. :)

    I’ve noticed that my family is a recurring theme in my writing. In every story so far I’ve had an important relationship where the woman is the constant and the man keeps coming and going. Just like my parents.

    In psychiatry the talk is all about the mothers. But I think more and more it’s actually about the fathers.


  16. says

    I’ve never thought about it before but self-worth comes up in each of my novels. It’s something I struggled with as a youth. Maybe I’m still working through it.

  17. says

    That is a very powerful thought, Therese. I see myself in it, and see it in The Moon Sisters, too (which I can scarcely put down, by the way). I do have recurring themes throughout my writings, and I love the idea of sitting down specifically to go, “Why?” to each one of them. How important an exercise. Lovely post.

  18. says

    Wow, T—you really got me thinking. And pacing. Even muttering (or so I’ve been told). I think this weather (below zero Fahrenheit with over a foot of new snow where I live) has had me in a contemplative mood. But you’ve really added quite a layer to my pondering.

    Lately there have been a lot of posts and discussions about HEA versus “sad” endings. I can’t even join in. It goes so much deeper than happy vs. sad for me. Heck, even my happy endings are tragic. Something is always lost in order for something else to be gained. And the loss inevitably weighs on the joy of the gain. But there’s catharsis and poignancy in embracing a choice. If that’s so, I guess there is consolation to be found, even if it’s only temporary.

    I suppose that ephemeral aspect of life’s beauty is what keeps me seeking. I know my own mortality is part the baggage I bring to the page. It’s sort of a Rilkean concept, but I think there is beauty to be found in the apparentness of life’s transience.

    Lovely post. Sorry about your dad. Thank you for sharing the beauty of the stories that have been wrought by your loss. Wishing you consolation and joy, my friend.

  19. says

    During the course of working on this one novel, I’ve lost both my grandmothers, three friends, and watched my parents marriage crash and burn.

    My story is very directly about death, loss, and love. The theme is that love never really has an ending. It leaves an imprint on us. All my stories and poems revolve around these themes.

    Perhaps I am inconsolable, and that’s why I find myself in the position of the one who consoles others. I’m the oldest of five girls, and often find myself being the shoulder they lean on, the one they call at three in the morning. I do this with my writing as well. I know exactly what I’m doing now (which has helped me find that complex thing called Voice)- I’m trying to tell the story of the roundness of things, how things never really end. Their echo goes down the halls of life and death for as long as we breathe and pass our stories down for generations.

    I recently wrote a short story about one of the darkest nights of my life and felt like I’d given the girl I once was a proper burial. Perhaps my destiny isn’t to be consoled, but to to move forward in my grief and regrets and tell stories I hope are one day a lifeline to readers. That’s what I like to think; that’s what writing means to me and why I’ll never stop.

    I find myself being okay with this, and finding a kind of peace with being “inconsolable”. I’m okay with the tears that come when I hear a certain song in a certain moment, or the overabundance of feeling when my little boy gives me a hug for no reason.

    Beautiful post. I always thought you had a luminous soul and you’ve said many things here I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Thank you.

    • says

      “I’m trying to tell the story of the roundness of things, how things never really end. ”

      Love that. And you, Tonia, are strong and admirable. I’m sorry you’ve seen so much loss in such a short amount of time. Thank you for turning that grief outward in such a giving way and not allowing it to eat away at you destructively. I would give you a hug if I could, right now, and I mean it. Write on.

  20. says

    Therese, this really spoke to me. I won’t go into the why, but like you, my debut (which will release sometime this year) and sophomore novels flirt with the thing that has me inconsolable. But now, after reading this, I see how I can be more purposeful in a new one. Thank you for sharing this.

  21. says

    “Fundamentally inconsolable.” There’s a grain of truth in the statement. It’s that which drives us to write in the first place, but when diving into our writing if we find the honesty we require then we slay those demons. I often write about families that fell apart and how a character fixes the family, even if that means making peace with its demise. My family fell apart when I was three years old and when it crumbled it crushed each member. Much of my life was about struggling to pick up the pieces, pieces other family members couldn’t figure-out how to pick up and haven’t still. Related to that, I explore self-esteem and self-discovery. How fitting that I’m writing this from a hotel room in Missoula, Montana where I’m looking for an apartment. A fresh start. Just over a week ago I reconnected with the father I hadn’t seen in 36 years. He’s in a home where the pieces elude him still. Tragedy is a moment in time. It’s up to us how long it endures.

    • says

      The comments in this thread are all so astounding. Christina, strength to you for reconnecting after so many decades. Wishing you, in this moment of great upheaval, all of the very best.

  22. says

    My husband and I saw “Savings Mr. Banks,” and I have to confess that I wasn’t sure I’d like it. I alternately laughed and cried through it and have encouraged others to see the movie.

    What struck me was how she couldn’t part with the image she had of the characters so deeply embedded in her heart. She wanted to be certain they would be understood the way she intended them to be. But I kept thinking that she was still really struggling personally with the issues that filled her story. I see this in my own writing practice and my photography as well. The fear of sharing the story/image and having it be misinterpreted, miscast, misunderstood.

    Sorry about your dad. I lost my sister just over 10 years ago. It was comforting to me to read what you said about still dealing with the fallout 17 years later. This is so true for me 10 years out, and I thought perhaps I was strange for this. (Thank you.)

    • says

      Cyd, I’m so sorry about your sister. You know, shortly after my dad died, I talked with an older man about my grief. He told me that he still missed his mother, keenly, though she’d died thirty years before. I remember at the time feeling almost bereft over the idea that the longing wouldn’t ever go away. But I guess it’s just one of those things. It’s better to feel, and be human, than shut off our humanity in favor of numbness.

  23. says

    “Getting over it” isn’t something we actually do, even when we do it. What I mean is: we can rationalize, move on, intellectually understand, but there will always be that place within that aches and wishes things could have been different. The place that is inconsolable. That is the well of feeling all authors must plumb if they are to imbue characters with enough emotion to move readers. Tough job, sometimes.
    Great post, Therese! Thank you.

  24. says

    Wow. I loved so much of this post. There’s power in telling unvarnished truth; in the right hands it can be life-changing for a reader.

    I had to think about the theme question. I like characters that are diamonds-in-the-rough–and all the facets of a personality that range from humorous and quirky to outrageously wicked and divinely driven. I’m drawn to sadness laced with hope that leads to a purposeful end. I guess, in my novels, bad things can be overcome as a stepping stone to better things b/c I want to believe that this is true of real life. The soul of each character, even the villain, is important to me b/c I want to believe redemption is possible and a choice.

    But I don’t believe in candy-coating the experience either; each win, every goal achieved always comes with a price.

  25. Alisha Rohde says

    What a moving post and a fascinating (also moving) set of comments! Therese, I think you do such a lovely job here of articulating something we feel often but struggle to explain–at least I find it challenging. Somehow I am not surprised that Emma Thompson is so articulate about it, either…she’s marvelous. :-) “Inconsolable” can sound sad or negative, and yet I found this whole post encouraging too: creating a story, sharing an experience has tremendous value. It takes courage to look at that truth and bring it to life.

    I’m still exploring what themes tend to surface in my writing, though I have noticed that issues of identity (who am I/where am I going, for any given character) and the sense of something larger, small “s” spiritual often emerge. When I try to avoid the deeper issues and themes, I notice the writing either falls flat and/or I end up making things harder for myself (kind of what Gerry Wilson was saying)!

    I was already interested in tracking down The Moon Sisters; now I’m even more intrigued. Thank you for this post on this particular day, Therese!

  26. says

    I’ve taught “public” school for nine years. Before I became a teacher I worked in mental health as a drama therapist and research assistant for PTSD (combat trauma and stressful life events). I have always been compelled by people’s stories, their struggle and what they’ve decided to do with the tenuous hold they have on their lives.

    When I started working solely with kids, I witnessed a struggle of an entirely different magnitude: children can rarely be actors unto themselves. They must adapt because they have few other choices. Their world is defined by people who often don’t have their best interests at heart. I wrestle with feeling powerless in a sea of so much need and despair: witnessing adult needs trump the necessary emotional and physical needs of children (I’m not talking about Junior having the latest gadget, game or gizmo). I try to nourish voices I don’t feel are heard in the “mainstream” into the characters in my plays, books and short stories.

    I want to give my teen characters abilities and talents that free them from their oppressive climate in a way I think every child has the ability as they mature into adulthood. I fundamentally believe in hope and redemption at some level. I don’t start a story with that idea in mind, but I am beginning to believe that a story, such as my novel, The Curse of Beal Atha, that started with a girl whose Mum is abusive and father has disappeared is less about time traveling and more about finding yourself when others are trying to define you only by what you can do for them. It is possible to free oneself from the identity others have imposed on you.

    Perhaps the fact I grew up in Japan in a military family and have now lived half my life abroad helps to give rise to the need for “third culture” youth voices or that I love rooting for whomever I feel is the underdog at the time. I want to feel that my characters are real people who exist somewhere; people who someday I’ll meet and feel like we’ve known each other forever. And perhaps, when that day arrives, consolation shall as well.

  27. says

    My husband and I were talking about my “family of origin” while driving through The Storm of the Decade last night. (Pick yer metaphor.) What you say here is so true, Therese, and so well phrased. We are fundamentally unconsolable, and we keep writing about what is close to the bone. Fantastic article–thanks for the insight into the way many of us keep writing the themes that are in the marrow.

  28. Shuna says

    An interesting post, which raises some interesting questions… when I first started writing short stories my mother had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, looking back, every story dealt with death in some way.

    I live overseas and wasn’t able to get back to see her as often as I had hoped. When I got ‘the call’ from my father to say she was dying and didn’t have much time, I jumped on a flight that night and was by her bedside within 24 hours. I was so affected by what I saw that I went up to my room and wrote a poem about seeing her… I’ve never had poetry published before, but that piece was published by Everyday Poets, pretty much word for word the way I wrote it that night. “Before She Slips Away”

  29. says

    That’s why I love Emma Thompson.

    Fundamentally inconsolable… yes, and also furious with the world. My writing is about compassion. Compassion as justice, and compassion as wisdom. Big words, but I can’t help it. :-)

  30. Linda Peters says

    Writing can act like a cast to help strengthen our broken parts. I like that. Perhaps most of our stories are casts, because we all have broken parts and writing is our therapy.

    So far my stories are mysteries, with protagonists who are part of the justice system; detective, undercover ATF agent, game warden. I can’t say for sure why that is my theme.

    Recently my mother died three months after my father. My belief that our family of two loving parents and six children, which I considered more normal than most, turned out to have secrets. Going through their papers, we discovered that before my parents met, my mother had my older brother, and my father had a son, named after him, whom we never met or knew about. My head is still reeling. When I first found out, I was truly inconsolable. There’s got to be a book in that.

  31. says

    Well this one got me thinking. My primary theme is that of lost dreams. Of course, I’m an engineer who wants to write. I wrote once that most of us make the “right choice” when we’re young. Society, family, teachers, friends tell us what the respectable choice is. The path to success. But all of us have a light inside us, the dream we held in our youth. It was the seed of our soul that God originally planted. It shone brightly then, but it grows dimmer as years pass. Only when the body dies does it die. We have with us, constantly, the opportunity to nurture it. That’s the choice that many of us here have made.

    Along with that is the theme of second chances. My characters tend to be middle-aged to older men, all seeking the dream they once gave up on. Some even seek a second chance at love, at lost relationships.

    So I guess you’re right. I am inconsolable. I chose the right thing to do. I don’t detest my life by any means. It’s been a good one. Wonderful wife and kids, a good career. Can’t complain (but sometimes I still do). But now is the time to kindle the flame. A bit of an awakening of the soul.

    Thanks for a great post. That movie is on my “must see” list.

  32. says

    Well, I think you can safely say that you kicked that block over, Therese.

    A re-occurring theme in my writing is outsiders overcoming challenges.

    Why? Well, because for most of my life I’ve felt like an outsider. You see, social service workers and academics wrote me off—at a surprisingly young age, because, in their eyes, I had a disability. The idea that so-called professionals would freely wheel that much negative power got under my skin.

    Am I fundamentally inconsolable? Honestly, I have to answer yes. But there’s a lot of energy in admitting and living with that. And I want to use that power to send the message home that even though you may be different doesn’t mean you’re lesser. It doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. The truest thing I’ve ever written is a trilogy that was built around that message.

  33. says

    Goodreads scared me off from the beginning, and then there was a glitch that wiped all my books (reviewed and not) off my shelves. I had never written a bad review (nor were they culling, so that wasn’t the problem), they apologized and I’ve never really put the time back into it.

    But, oh…recurring themes. Yes, I have them and they seem to be as ingrained as my DNA. Almost all of my stories somehow incorporate them.

    As I read Emma’s words, I flashed to caring for my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and loved Emma’s attitude, for it was the same as mine:

    “I thought, ‘I’m being given this sacred task,’ but it tore me apart.”

    For blogger’s block, this was damn good, Therese.

  34. says

    Therese, thanks for opening a vein (and thank god there are towels). I’ve written about absent or distracted or missing fathers in a number of stories, very likely because my own father retreated into alcoholism for most of my adolescence and beyond, and later languished in the limbo of Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years of his life. Yet he remained a warm, good man throughout both trials. Loss and love do their dance, alternating leads.

    The “fundamentally inconsolable” quote reminded me of this one from Salinger: “The worst thing that being an artist could do to you would be that it would make you slightly unhappy constantly.” Makes me wonder which comes first, the state of unhappiness or the nature of the artist? No answers here, but surely they are just a keyboard session or two away.

  35. says


    What does it mean to be consoled? It means to be comforted, listened to, understood and affirmed. It’s, “I know, I know…and I’m sorry.”

    “Console” is also an architectural and decorative term meaning the carved figures that support a shelf. Support.

    When our pain is echoed back to us with sympathy, we feel better. Usually. When we do not, the matter becomes interesting. Why does comfort fail?

    There can be only one reason: The overt pain is not the true pain. The echo feels empty. The pain continues. That is why therapists listen for a long, long time (at $200+ per hour). It takes a while to get down to the bedrock issue.

    The phrase “fundamentally inconsolable” obviously resonates with us (see above) but I would put it differently. Writers are not “inconsolable”. Every human can be comforted. Writers, though, may be people who have not yet hit their bedrock issue, and who keep digging for it.

    In stories. And thank goodness for that. Through stories we console one another. We’ll never hit bottom, either, and I’m glad about that too.

    • says

      I’ve long believed that writing, even fiction, is the best form of therapy. Dig down to the bedrock. Absolutely. You might not feel any better once the shovel hits bottom, but in believing it could matter you empowered yourself. I don’t think that can be overrated.

  36. says

    Sigh. I love your posts.
    The theme that repeats most in my own work is isolation.
    I think the truest thing I’ve written is an essay on my second pregnancy. I can tell it’s the truest thing because I was nearly sick at the thought of people reading it. I was surprised at how it connected with others.
    I’m sorry about your father. I bet The Moon Sisters is going to be great.

  37. Jeanne Kisacky says

    Fundamentally inconsolable to me means I reach for the pen, not the bottle when the traumas of the past come knocking. And lack of control is definitely a big part of that interaction. Once again, thank you for baring your inner being with honesty and truth so that we can all figure ourselves out just that much better.

  38. says

    Sorry about your father. It’s so true that the pain never leaves, it just looks different. I lost mine in 1985, and I still warmly recall his smile, the way he and I dove for stones in the lake, and how at other times, we lightly wrestled, half tickling, half hugging. As for other family struggles, writing is one way to deal with what can’t be fixed or changed. As you say, you can’t control people; you can’t control life.

    Inconsolable, am I? About some matters. Does it help my writing? I don’t know. Perhaps. Thankfully, the joy I have of putting words on the page outweighs the heaviness of the heart at times. Thanks for a great post. Also, great comments.

    Good luck on Moon Sisters. Love the title.

  39. says

    “Fundamentally inconsolable” rubs me the wrong way, too, and I’m Irish only by marriage! It’s the finality and permanency that bother me, which is probably why I write about hope.

    I’m reading Change or Die right now, in which the author looks at the commonalities among institutions or people which make profound and enduring changes. One is that they rework their narratives-of-self until past behaviors are seen with a kind and forgiving eye. Until that’s done, they can’t move into new patterns in a sustainable way. (A basic tenet of all 12 Step programs, of course.) I’d argue this need is true of all human beings, not just writers. Are we all fundamentally inconsolable, or are we wired for perpetual healing? And guess which interpretation I prefer. ;)

  40. says

    What a thoughtful and inspiring post. Like you and other commenters, “fundamentally unconsolable” has a fatalistic ring. I also think that writing, or creating in general, is an incredible way to explore our wounds, our grief, our losses, our thrills, our obsessions. The recurring themes and questions of our fictional worlds may ultimately tell us more about ourselves than years of therapy. And I loved how you framed the entire post within blogger’s block! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  41. says

    Consoling always makes me think of a consolation prize — like thanks for trying.

    I need comfort and peace where I am and if I don’t have it I seek it and if I do have it I try to think of the best ways to keep moving. Consolation seems like a kind of “just passing through” place to me.

    Consoling words are probably helpful, but I am not so sure an artist seeks that and I am sure that is not what drives their work. Maybe it is like happiness, that you have to find it in yourself. I think I will have a look in the dictionary again. Now I am thinking of commiseration and I don’t think that is where you meant to go at all.

  42. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Fundamentally inconsolable is the fate and state of all that is terminal. Because no matter how beautiful a day, a moment, or a song is, eventually it must end. Even if we try to treasure a memory forever, no one has shared or found proof that the memory will have a forever once we’re gone. Writing is a form of immortality for the fundamentally inconsolable. Beautiful post, Therese. Made me think of that Hopkins poem about the little girl weeping over the Goldenrod.

  43. says

    First the post blows me away and then the comments do me in. Ask writers to describe the deep things and watch the beautiful result. Wow.

    I know that I fit Emma Thompson’s comment (I greatly admire and respect her). There’s some part of me that missed out along the way and remains a tender spot. Perhaps because of that, I write about outsiders or those who feel isolated in some way, though even my tragic endings hold a glimmer of hope.

    Thank you, Therese, and all the commentors. I have a long flight tomorrow and will be thinking about this.

  44. says

    I read somewhere recently a writer’s response to the question: “What do you need to write?” And the answer was: “An unhappy childhood.” Don’t know if its true for everyone, but for some of us, it sure helps seat the itch.

  45. says


    May all your blocked days yield such pearls.

    It seems to me that if artists/writers were unique in the fundamentally inconsolable sphere, non-artists wouldn’t be moved by their work. My eyes and heart say all humans share these pains in hard to reach places, and we artists are that class of human that chooses to scratch/support through communication.

    On the personal level, my current novel draws on my background in that it rubs both sides of the fence between justice and corruption—in layers from government down to family—and explores how secrecy is the gift that keeps on killing. But I have been drawing inspiration lately from David Corbett’s THE ART of CHARACTER, which encourages writers to plumb ALL the corners of the soul to expose the spectrum of human qualities. So many itches and so little time! Ha!

  46. says

    “How does “fundamentally inconsolable” sit with you?”

    For me, to be consoled is to lessen the pain. So in that manner I am definitely consolable. Plus, I believe a certain amount of pain is healthy. I’m not going to say I embrace it, but I do accept it.

    “What themes run through your writing, and have you tapped into the why of that?”

    Themes dealing with religion, stereo types between men and women, and the value of relationships will forever run through my stories. And yes, the why of it is clear to me.
    In short, I disagree with what I’ve been taught about religion; I can share and express those feelings through stories.
    I believe the human race has placed a grand canyon between men and women, and I want to bridge that gap or at the very least make the gap a little smaller.
    Aside from things regarding survival, relationships are what I value most in life. Embedding them into my stores is one of the best ways of asserting that value onto other people without being a bully.

    Whether people accept my opinions on these matters is their decision, and I’m okay with that. I am only trying to plant the seed.

  47. says

    I don’t exactly understand “fundamentally inconsolable.” Is anyone ever fully consoled? Was she meaning in life or in their art?

    My themes are heavy into family, motherhood (Of all things. In fantasy I think it’s practically unheard of,) and social justice type issues. These are the things that fill my life and have priority for me. Writing about them is a way to explore what I don’t understand, and to fix what I can’t in real life.

    Your post is beautiful. I’m glad you didn’t give up and put in someone else’s guest post. :)

  48. says

    Yes, it took me a long time but I finally realised that a huge amount of my writing came from my mother dying when I was 14.
    Not so much now, but it’s still there.
    Thanks for a great post – food for thought.

  49. says

    If I became consoled, would I have no more stories to tell?

    I’m not a broken person or a sad person. I have created a good life. But all the darkness from childhood is still there, and it spills all over my writing. I’d certainly be a different kind of writer without it.

  50. says

    Therese, I’ve had this tab open for days, trying to think of a comment that would do justice to my thoughts and feelings about this post. I simply cannot, I’m sorry. But thank you so much for writing this, for sharing it. It’s beautiful and true.

  51. Rachel Thompson says

    I’m deeply curious about the human condition and sometimes perplexed. I’m driven to connect the dots and understand it better. I seek truth and much of it is horrific. I pick specks of good out of the fly-shit of humanity on the one hand while spelling out reality on the other–few are willing to face raw reality. Willful ignorance is the enemy of humankind. It’s been said, “You can’t handle the truth.” My work is a side long sharing of what I have learned and what others should know. My fiction is truth in bite sized chucks.
    Maybe I am inconsolable, not about my life, but about humanity running its self over a cliff.

  52. says

    This is a lovely post. But perhaps I’m not a true artist, because I’m no longer inconsolable. True, I was once lost, but now I’m found; and I write because of a longing to share this perfect consolation.