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Scott Nadelson

Author’s Note

Scott Nadelson

Author of The Next Scott Nadelson

A deleted scene from The Next Scott Nadelson

Posted by Scott Nadelson on 06 Mar 2013

| Comments (17 so far)

Whenever I finish a movie on DVD, I can’t help watching the “Extras”—all those deleted scenes and low budget interviews and director comments over the soundtrack. Sometimes I even watch them before starting the film. So in the spirit of miscellany, here is an outtake from The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress. It was one of the first essays I wrote touching on the central material in the book—the aftermath of a break-up and the process of recovery—long before I knew I was actually writing a book. It lasted in the manuscript right up until the last minute, when, at the urging of the very wise Adam O’Connor Rodriguez—an editor with a razor sharp eye and even sharper pen—I decided it was extraneous; its exposition covers too much of the same ground as other chapters, and it didn’t fit naturally in the final sequence. Still, it’s a piece I have a lot of affection for, in part because it set me off on the wild journey that this book became. It first appeared in Puerto del Sol.

Let’s Go Bowling: On Dignity for the Dead

The walk down the beach had been pleasant and easy. The wind was at my back, the sun on my neck. I was happy in a wistful sort of way, indulging in a pang of loneliness and melancholy, in feeling like an artist. A busy semester had just ended, my grades turned in the day before, and I’d come out to the coast for a brief writing retreat. I’d worked for an hour this afternoon, made myself an early dinner, drunk half a bottle of wine, and come out to watch the sun set over the ocean, still a novelty for an easterner after almost a decade in Oregon.

I enjoyed feeling both proud of myself and sorry for myself at the same time—proud of my independence and dedication to my craft, sorry that I didn’t have a lover to go home to after the retreat was over. I’d been single for too long now, recovering from a relationship that had ended badly, with a canceled wedding and an abundance of humiliation, pleading, and pain. It was time to get back on my feet, I told myself. It was time to live again. And really, there was nowhere else I’d rather have been at that moment, and I was sorry now only when I’d walked as far as I could and had to turn back.

And instantly, things were different. The wind stung my face and made me squint. The low sun slipped behind Haystack Rock, a volcanic plug sticking a few hundred feet out of the waves, and suddenly my sweatshirt was too thin for the chill evening air. I smelled rotting fish and seaweed. Self-pity began to overwhelm pride, and for the first time all day I wondered what I was doing, wasting my time alone on a windy, freezing beach when I should have been back in the warm city looking for love.

Sand blew against my cheeks and into my mouth. I felt grit between my teeth. At least I thought it was sand, until I shaded my eyes against the red horizon and saw two women a few dozen yards ahead of me, bending over the surf. One of them was pouring something from a little box or pouch, and whatever didn’t hit the water clouded around their feet and coursed in my direction.

Ashes. It took only a moment to realize it, but by then my sweatshirt was dusted. I tried to get out of the way, but wherever I moved the wind found me. Finally I just turned my back and waited it out. The ash was mostly finer than sand, but every so often larger grains pelted my neck. I can only assume they were bits of bone. I tried to spit out whatever had gotten into my mouth, but combined with my saliva the ash had turned to a clumpy clay, and it was hard to loosen from my tongue. No doubt I swallowed some of it.

This was awful, sure, but my first instinct was to giggle. The same thing had happened to Jeff Bridges’ character The Dude in the Coen Brothers’ film The Big Lebowski. The Dude’s friend Walter, played by a blustery John Goodman, stands on a bluff outside Los Angeles and delivers a eulogy for their dead bowling teammate, Donny, eventually digressing into a rant about the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans. He then spills Donny’s ashes from a Folger’s can, most of which blow straight back into The Dude’s face, clouding his sunglasses and whitening his beard. It’s a hilarious moment at the end of a hilarious movie, capturing the absurdity of mortality and the futility of trying to honor the dead. With his memorial left in the hands of a friend who never showed him any respect when he was alive, what hope does Donny have for the dignity he deserves now that he’s gone?

I’d just laugh the whole thing off, I thought. I’d have a funny story to tell friends when I got home. A funny story to tell a potential lover, maybe, something lighthearted and morbid to show that I was tough despite my small frame, that I could take a few knocks and keep smiling.

The barrage ended. I turned back into the wind, squinting again. The two women had straightened above the surf. They were both in late middle age, both overweight, with short frizzy hair and sallow skin, wearing baggy Capri pants and loosely-knit sweaters. The one who’d done the pouring, who was carrying the little box or pouch—I still couldn’t quite make it out—had reddish brown hair, obviously dyed. She was barefoot. Her thick ankles seemed uneasy on the soft sand. She was clearly the bereaved, while the other, who wore tennis shoes and whose hair was gray, had come to support her. I don’t know how I know that, but I’m certain of it. There was a subtle difference in their expressions, the gray-haired woman’s face showing concern, the other’s free of anything but anguish.

Her husband’s ashes, I guessed. Or those of a son, killed in Iraq. Or of an unmarried sister, left to die alone in a sparsely furnished flat.

The women had seen me. Or at least the bereaved one had, and though I’d brushed the ashes off my sweatshirt, she must have realized what had happened. They started up the beach toward me. I didn’t want to face them. They deserved privacy, I thought, but more important, their grief scared me. I knew how raw it would be, how humbling. But unless I changed direction and headed away from my motel, I had no choice. The sun was nearly set, and my skin was beginning to prickle with cold. I kept my head down as I walked, but as the women drew near, I couldn’t help glancing up.

The gray-haired woman gave me a tight, dispirited smile, lips pressed together briefly and then parting. There was understanding in her look, I thought, and apology. Maybe even recognition of absurdity, though without humor. My own giddiness was gone.

The bereaved woman held my gaze as I passed. The wind blew her stiff reddish hair around her ears. Her eyes were wide open and stunned. Her heavy cheeks sagged. Her mouth opened and closed, but she didn’t say anything. She gave a quick shake of the head, in disappointment, it seemed, and maybe even in anger. I understood why. She’d come here to mark her loss, and now the final memory of her husband or son or sister would include this skinny stranger in need of a haircut and a thicker sweatshirt, who’d swallowed the remains of someone she’d loved. The dignity owed to the dead had been tainted by the ridiculousness of life.

And then they were behind me. I trudged forward into the wind. Any sadness I might have felt for the woman, any empathy, was momentarily overshadowed by the sudden relief I felt at getting away from her, and the greater relief at being alive. The sting of my cheeks, the cold prickling of my skin, the pang of loneliness, all of it was so welcome next to the scattering of ashes and bone.

Soon, however, I began to wonder about my own inevitable scattering. Would I want my loved ones somber and grief-stricken? Would I want them inventing a dignity for me in death that had been so elusive when I was alive, that didn’t reflect canceled weddings and groveling and heartache? Or would I rather they dump my ashes into strangers’ hair, slip it into food at fancy restaurants, smoke it in crack pipes, keep my spirit alive with the sad comedy that had characterized the majority of my waking hours?

But even then I knew it wasn’t really for me to decide. The ritual honors the living only. The speech Walter makes on the rocky bluff has nothing to do with Donny or even with his dead buddies in Vietnam. It has everything to do with his own inexorable life and the blustery way he’ll continue to charge through the world. It’s a speech of defiance, a denial of humbling mortality.

After The Dude vents his frustration and grief following the shower of his friend’s ashes, Walter hugs him, shakes his head, and says, “Hey, fuck it, man. Let’s go bowling.”

Who would carry on so stoically after I was in the ground or on the breeze?

The sun was gone. The wind suddenly died away. I hurried back over the dunes to my empty motel room and my half-finished bottle of wine.

To buy The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress, go here.

Scott Nadelson is the author of three story collections published by Hawthorne, including Aftermath and The Cantor’s Daughter. A winner of the Oregon Book Award for short fiction, the Reform Judaism Fiction Prize, and the Great Lakes Colleges New Writers Award, he teaches creative writing at Willamette University and in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA Program at Pacific Lutheran University. He lives in Salem, Oregon.


Recipe for Getting Over Heartbreak

1 bottle of whiskey (get a good bottle, and one that’s pretty—because you will finish it, and you don’t have a love anymore, so you might as well have a nice new vase)

1 peck of friends and family

1 therapist

1 support group

1 new home

1 new hair color

Take all the ingredients and…enjoy them, or don’t, on their own. This recipe will only be complete with Time.

Kristin on 07 Mar 2013

“...their grief scared me.” Nice.

I couldn’t help but think about Lidia Yuknavitch’s beach ceremony with a stubborn little box in “The Chronology of Water.”

How do you mend a broken heart? I’m with Ms. Thiel, above, on the idea that time is the great healer, but I’ve had reasonably good luck with exercise as well. One can punch, lift, and pedal away a great deal of stress.

Then there’s Billie Holiday. I recommend listening to her as much as possible to experience just about any emotion at its purest and, if necessary, to hum, dance, or cry through and past it. Except her song with Louis Armstrong, “You Can’t Lose a Broken Heart,” of course, since that suggests that the only cure for a broken heart is not to get one in the first place.

Dave Gibbons from United States on 07 Mar 2013

Long hikes up and down hills. I hiked 2 hours a day in forest park for three months.

Allowing yourself to cry and have space for whatever comes up. Avoiding people who say “just move on.” Same with “just let go.”

A therapist who allows you to just grieve and hold your heart and keep coming back to your heart and its hurt.
Resist the analysis until you feel stronger. Hard to do, but important.

Self-care is the best. exercise, massage, sauna, whatever you like.

Renee Lertzman from portland on 10 Mar 2013

First: Wait until it is dark. Drink two glasses of wine. Only two. Smoke a cigarette, especially if you quit years ago. Just one cigarette. Go for a long walk. Hopefully there will be birds.
Second: Move. If possible, to a different state. Drive there. If your things don’t fit in your car, sell and give away everything you own until they do.
Third: Donate everything that reminds you of him to Goodwill.
Fourth: Don’t try to get over him by sleeping with someone you barely know. It won’t work. You’ll only feel worse. Move into a small apartment by yourself. All of your things fit into the corner. It feels expansive.
Fifth: Wait until it is dark. Drink two glasses of wine. Don’t smoke any cigarettes. Go for a long walk. Peer into the houses in your new neighborhood and wonder if anyone, anywhere, is truly happy. Witness a couple fighting on the corner and start to feel better.
Sixth: Wake up in the morning, drink coffee. Go for a run, or a swim.
Seventh: Realize that you actually enjoy being by yourself.
Eighth: After a year, wake up in the middle of a summer thunderstorm and realize that you can’t recall his name. What is it? Remember it. And understand that one day, you might forget it for good.

Anastasia Selby from Syracuse NY on 10 Mar 2013

My recipe: immediately sleeping with someone else, usually a really nice guy who actually liked me and whose heart I was destined to break. Not saying it’s the *right* thing to do. It’s just what I did.

Liz Prato from Portland, OR on 10 Mar 2013

“My heart is broken, what do I do?” I texted my friend on Friday. I was in bed at 730 p.m. “Roller Skating is the only way to get over a broken heart,” she responded.

“Where does one roller skate?” I asked.

“Rollerskating is at Oaks Park,” she said.

Me, I eat a lot of chocolate good and bad, snobby or cheap, I really don’t care—Hershey’s or Whole Foods. I blast music in my ears until I have a headache. I buy myself flowers. I exercise or I stay in bed all day. I eat poorly or I eat very well. I eat as many starchy foods as I want. I allow myself to act erratically. I keep red wine on my bed stand.

Basically, when my heart is broken I know I should get my blood flowing but often just want it to stop. Having a broken heart is making the decision if you want to be nice or mean to yourself.

Getting in a car with a friend always does wonders too, preferable if she drives and you sit shotgun playing DJ with your feet up on the dashboard.

So does listening to loud songs and masturbating and then crying. Better out than in always, always.

Chloe Caldwell from United States on 10 Mar 2013


Mark Russell from United States on 10 Mar 2013

Buy three old TVs from Goodwill. 
Borrow handgun from zealot brother.
Drive to desert.
Shoot TVs in the desert.
Also whiskey.

jc from United States on 11 Mar 2013

I had a friend who swore by this recipe:

Load your multi-disc CD player with a good variety of music. (iTunes or iPod can be substituted in these newfangled times.)

Hit shuffle.

Listen to the first song that comes up. You will then listen to this song on an endless repeat for many days, maybe weeks.

When you finally grow sick of the song, long after everyone else is sick of hearing it, you will be well enough to continue with your life, post-heartbreak.

Andrew Scott from United States on 11 Mar 2013

I scream in as many ways as I can, sleep in longer than I should, then go outside and spend time with people who’ve always lifted me up rather than shutting me down.

neekta from jefferson city, TN on 11 Mar 2013

Loud LOUD music does the trick at times. There was this guy, long ago, where our relationship was dragging along in the limbo grey zone where we were taking time to figure out if we should break up for good or try again. Apparently he thought we were finished and I don’t remember us having that conversation. Anyway once I hung up the phone I got into my car and put in a Hole CD that I used to love listening to in high school. I turned it all the way up and screamed along to all the songs. After I drove myself to the store for a bottle of champagne that I drank with a friend later that night in celebration of my freedom. The combination of the two was highly effective and a bit fun honestly.

Brooke from Seattle on 11 Mar 2013

Take a road trip. The bigger the heartbreak, the farther you must drive.
    Roads leading away from people are especially cathartic. Like the Alaska-Canada highway. Mile after mile driving through the Yukon, with its stunted trees, the occasional human—I once met a woolly guy named Stew who mailed me (why did I give him my address??) letters for months after—and the territory’s dearth of filling stations. You’ll forget your lover’s name. And maybe your own name, too.
    If you’re lucky, you’ll break down on the side of the road and be forced to rely on the kindness of a trucker to transport you to a diner/grocery/motel/garage fifty miles back where you barter for a fuel pump to replace the crapped-out one in your 1984 Honda civic, and end up having to sleep in that over-priced hell hole for two days during which buzzing mosquitoes and biting black flies reawaken your heart to its true longing, not for your ex, but for the deeper and more abiding love of glorious civilization.

Meagan Mac from Washington on 11 Mar 2013

I immediately make a hair appointment when I have a broken heart. The more drastic the change the better. It’s a way to shed the old skin.

a.m. o'malley from portland, or on 11 Mar 2013

Thanks, everybody, for all the great advice so far. If I’d known half of this ahead of time, maybe I’d never have written a book.

So, to make sure I’ve got it right: you should go roller skating drunk while listening to loud music, sleep with someone whose heart you can break in revenge, get a mohawk, pick up some Arby’s (in order to induce purging?) on the way into the wilderness, where you’ll then shoot up old TVs, masturbate, cry, and awaken with amnesia? Is that all it takes? Sounds like a breeze.

Keep it coming!

Scott Nadelson from United States on 11 Mar 2013

The first thing to do is take anything they left and burn it. And if you just can’t light the match, throw it out. And if you just can’t throw it out, put it in a box. And if you just can’t throw it out, curl up around the pile of it on your bed and cry. Then burn it. Or maybe just donate it and then tell your friends to ban you from that Goodwill for two weeks to make doubly sure that it’s gone so you don’t buy it back. Or go back in and get in trouble for pulling it out of the donation bin.

Next, go out with the girls/boys/whatever. Your gender, or at least people attracted to the same sex as you because then you can start to bitch. Get a good mad on and let it rip over two, three, ten tequila shots. Cry a little. Okay, cry enough they kick you out of the bar and you wake up the next day unsure if your pants are off because you tried to undress yourself before falling over into your bed or…no, let’s stick with that scenario.

This will get boring—for your friends. They will try incessantly to cheer you up. Let them. Well, let them try. It’s always polite to let them try. Even pretend a little. And then you find that pretending starts to work. Sometimes when you’re pretending, you actually do forget that you’re supposed to be wailing and beating your chest and pulling your hair. You’ll laugh again. Good. Now, because you’re a writer, here comes the fun part.

You’re feeling wonderful, you’re starting to flirt with the cute man/woman/questionably human being in the next cubicle over. And all you’ve got left is the lingering bitterness. But you’re a writer, so let that bitterness fuel you. As one of my favorite writers once said, “Have I ever based a character on someone I know? You know the duke? Yeah, he’s based on an old boyfriend. And I killed him. Twice.” (That would be the duke, for clarification, not the boyfriend. This poster does not condone actual homicide, only literary multiple homicide. It’s cathartic.)

Rebecca A Demarest from United States on 11 Mar 2013

Revenge.  It’s the best antidote to grief.  But sometimes, like grief, it takes years.  It has to be subtle revenge—not tit-for-tat I-can-do-it-too revenge, but something lasting, something that makes the other one smart.  Something that will last long after you’re really over it all.  The best one I know of is the young man who wrote a song using the name of the woman who had scorned him—and it played on the radio over and over, and even now it sometimes makes the airways.  Nothing more—only his lonely voice crooning out what he had once felt to remind her “it is Margaret you mourn for.”  And I know for a fact he made a little money off his mourning, and he made some new friends from his mourning, and he found another woman through his mourning—and, well, revenge is sweet, and life goes on, and all those sayings must have sources . . .

Judith Kitchen on 12 Mar 2013

Remedy for a broken heart: read all of Elmore Leonard, chronologically from early novels to his most recent. If necessary, repeat.

susan t. landry from Bath, ME on 21 Mar 2013


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