DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Saying yes, and writing again

SUCH A PLEASURE to talk with my friend Alice after a series of emails. Hearing Alice Derry’s voice on the phone is like hot tea with honey.

Alice, formidable poet and professor, is generous to the core. She’ll give a free, public Studium Generale talk in the Little Theater on Peninsula College’s Port Angeles campus at 12:35 p.m. this Thursday, and then guide a free workshop.

The talk, scheduled months ago, has her reading from her essay and others in the new book “Widows’ Words,” a collection of writings by women from all over the country.

After the hour-long program Alice will give the writing workshop for people who have lost a spouse or other significant person in their lives. To join, contact organizer Kate Reavey at kreavey@pencol.edu or 360-417-6268.

When Alice first told me she might do this reading, she wasn’t so sure it would appeal. “It seems like a sob event,” she said last spring.

“You’re so direct,” I replied, and we laughed.

Alice’s mate of 33 years, Bruce Murdock, died suddenly of heart failure in 2014. During the ensuing months, she remembers, she hated poetry, hated writing. All of it seemed meaningless.

Instead, “I self-medicated with novels from the 19th century,” from Dickens to Austen and George Eliot. These tomes were as far from her own life as she could get.

Alice also went walking. Solace awaited in the mountains, in being alone with the trees. She felt a kind of union with the animals and plants up there.

Eventually Alice returned to writing; her friend Tess Gallagher told her about the then-nascent “Widows’ Words,” subtitled “Women Write on the Experience of Grief, the First Year, the Long Haul and Everything in Between.” She penned a piece for it titled “The Most Precious Fit,” drawing on the journal she kept after Bruce’s death and on C.S. Lewis’ “A Grief Observed.” Ironically, that Catholic author showed Alice, who’s not at all religious, how his path had matched hers.

Her essay is rich in truth and detail. And while I was expecting it to be hard going, it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve read all year. “Most Precious” shines out from the middle of the book, surrounded by writings of women young, old and in between. Titles include “See! I Told You So” by Mimi Schwartz, “Make Lemonade?!” by Lisa Menn, “Becoming Maggie” by Maggie Madagame and “Ten Scary Things I Have Done Since My Husband Died” by Debby Mayer. Each grapples with the question of how to continue life after losing a part of yourself.

“I’ve never said yes to an essay prompt before,” Alice told me, adding she’s still amazed that she chose to participate this time. “Widows’ Words” is available from your local independent bookstore, on the shelf or via special order.

A year and a half ago, Alice added, she wouldn’t have wanted to give a public reading. Now “I think I can say some things that might be helpful or interesting. One helpful thing, I think, is the idea that you have to go through the whole process. … You can’t dodge it. If you dodge it you’ll have a worse experience down the road.”

After walking through the fire, you are a different person.

“One day at a time is how I’m living these days,” Alice told me. And she has nearly completed another book of poetry: her ninth. This time the words descended on her, and she wrote them down.

This fall has been filled with poems, memories — and beauty. Alice is able to notice it now.

“You’re driving up,” she said, “and suddenly, there’s this beautiful red tree right in front of you.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Nov. 20.

Reach her at Creodepaz@yahoo.com.

More in Opinion

PAT NEAL: To build a fire

Camping isn’t just for summer anymore. The woods, beaches and campgrounds are… Continue reading

ron allen
POINT OF VIEW: Good stewardship for future generations

IT IS A tribal saying that “Every River Has Its People” and… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: Fishing from a sinking boat

It was another tough week in the news. Steelhead fishing on the… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: The 50th anniversary of the Boldt Decision

It’s been 50 years since the Boldt Decision of Feb. 12, 1974.… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: The green crab blues

The green crab is in the news again. Scientists are tagging them… Continue reading

The monument to the October 1808 wreck of the S.V. Nikolai marks the area where a handful of survivors built a refuge after escaping from the Quileute and the Hoh. The monument at 5333 Upper Hoh Road was dedicated in 2015. (Pat Neal/For Peninsula Daily News)
PAT NEAL: Those crazy Russians are at it again

Those crazy Russians are at it again. In 2022, Russia made itself… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: Remembering a guide’s friend

Like the good Book said, “There were giants in the land.” We… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: A short history of winter

As a kid, I remember the old-timers saying, “We don’t have winters… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: Peninsula power problems

IT WAS A dark and stormy night. Then the power went out… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: New Year’s resolutions

By now, I’m pretty sure we’ve all had it up to here… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: ‘Tis the season of holiday stress

It’s been another tough week in the news. The holiday stress is… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: Yes, Virginia, there is a steelhead

I am 8 years old. My family and I have been fishing… Continue reading