Books·How I Wrote It

Marianne Apostolides explores the grief of abortion in new memoir

Marianne Apostolides discusses the creative process behind her memoir Deep Salt Water.
Marianne Apostolides is the author of Deep Salt Water, a memoir. (Melanie Gordon)

To explore the reaches of her grief, Marianne Apostolides uses the ocean as her metaphor in Deep Salt Water, lightly obscuring details in some areas and highlighting deep truths in others. The memoir, a combination of prose by Apostolides and collages by artist Catherine Mellinger, describes the pain of abortion, several years after the fact.

Below, Apostolides tells us about the experience of writing Deep Salt Water.

Artists' exchange

"Catherine Mellinger, a friend of mine and an artist, sent me some collages. She asked, 'Could you write some text to this?' I wasn't sure, but I loved the work. She'd taken vintage fashion magazines from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with these blithe insouciant women and then collaged over them this grotesque ocean imagery. But in that sort of way that ocean stuff is simultaneously gorgeous and repulsive.

"So I had the idea of writing in the voice of this insouciant woman, who nonetheless knew everything about the death of our oceans through climate change. But I had, at that point, recently reconnected with this man after 17 years and we kept getting together and breaking up.

"It was quite rocky, but there was so much love that existed. There was also so much grief in hearing that he and his wife had never had a child, despite years of trying. Realising that I had carried the only child he could have had made me re-examine the abortion. Very rapidly, as I started writing in the voice of this woman, I was writing in the first person. Within three days, the 'I' became 'me' and the subject became abortion.

"I immediately wrote to Catherine and said, 'This work is going in a different direction. I can't write to the collages you've done. I'm just going somewhere else with it. I'm sorry.' I thought that would be the end of it, but she responded, 'Marianne, go for it. Go where you need to go. But would you mind sharing with me what you've done and maybe I can create images to your words?' It was this really neat exchange — not so much a collaboration as an exchange of artistic creation."

Excavating emotions

"I gave a talk at York University and someone asked, 'Is writing therapeutic?' I was like, 'No. It's not a nurturing process at all.' However, it excavates emotions intensely. I'm able to experience the grief much more deeply than if it were just in the background. I spent two years of my life with it, every day for hours a day. One can't examine something that closely, examine it to the point of articulating it for others, without feeling and coming to terms with it. You just can't do that in a normal, moving-through-your-day."

Activist vs. Artist

"I feel a responsibility as a writer to engage deeply with what is occupying my my thoughts. So if I'm a politically aware individual, then that will come into it. I do not feel a responsibility to speak directly to what's happening politically. I'm not an activist, I'm an artist. I am a pro-choice woman. I'm horrified by the limitations and threats of increased limitation to abortion in the United States.

"However, there are things in this book that pro-choice people don't say because it's so politically charged that we feel we don't have the space for saying it. It's hard for a lot of women, not for all, but there's grief and sometimes you don't feel the grief right away. As an artist, I need to say that. As an activist, maybe I couldn't say it because I have to argue stringently for a woman's right to choose. My goal as an artist is to give a full sense of an experience and to find a way to express it in a way that yields a deeper truth in the reader. That's my responsibility."

Marianne Apostolides' comments have been edited and condensed.


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