Julia Flaster & Elena Tjandra | First published in Issue 01, August 2021
At the end of 2020, Julia asked me if I’d like to be part of a new literary magazine. The theme for the first issue was 'anticipated grief'. She tells me the idea through Letty—a friend whose parents’ tenacious efforts to protect her from paedophiles would instil in Letty, both fear and expectation that now in her mid-twenties, has given way to a fear of losing her dog, Fresco, to dog nappers, fast trams and mysterious fur loss. Anticipated grief, Julia explains.
          In the current moment as the world mourns the loss of countless lives in a global pandemic, grief steps in, rippling through communities, urgent and acute. For others, grief is balled up, lying in wait, released years after loss, or never at all. Julia’s hesitancy to answer phone calls after the death of a close friend in 2019, precipitated into a series of missed calls from unknown numbers, should they too announce the passing of loved ones. My own recent diagnosis of complicated grief has had a stubborn tail, tripping me over whenever I thought I’d found balance. I came on board to DEBRIS in reflection that grief abounds, but its experience comes in pieces.
          We began to look for stories exploring experiences of delayed, imagined and anticipated grief, and considered calling the first issue ‘before-grief’. In the process of commissioning contributions and reading drafts, however, we realised that we were producing a bigger project that spanned more than one edition.

Our inaugural issue presents twelve texts, a photo essay and comic strip. Across these works is prolonged longing, reinvention, acts of meaning-making, unfounded strength and strong emotion that underlie the human experience of grief. In this edition, grief was brought out in different forms—not only anticipated, not only in five stages. The so-called ‘five stages of grief ’ we often see on brochures in doctors’ waiting rooms do not do justice to the overlapping, fluid phases experienced by those who grieve.

In Nick Kilner’s posthumous homage to his brother, grief is a loss gradually unfolding, punctuated by the occasional spark of connection and the burden of mourning as his brother transforms with drug addiction.

Jennifer Philip elegises the range of reactions she witnesses, as she delivers bad news to cancer patients. She bears witness to “deep animal groans of pain” and finds quiet family resemblance that strikes at her own heart—futility in the face of sorrow. Jon-Michael Frank delivers caustic wit as they too illustrate deep pain in comic strip. In the words of guest editor, Anna Yeon, “grief is a shape shifting purgatory between life and death.”

Some simply refuse to grieve. This is true in Shokoofeh Azar’s fiction, led by characters whose denial to acknowledge death and humanity in Iran is experienced not as a ‘ stage of grief ’ but a stance of defiance. Similarly, in Julia Flaster’s review of Allison Chhorn’s docu-fiction The Plastic House, silence is key in translating between worlds and generations where memories of Cambodian genocide are too painful to be articulated. Alice Pung also reflects on unspoken intergenerational trauma made manifest in her up-bringing and the anticipation of a new baby.

Mira Asriningtyas meditates on uncertainty and risk in grief, explaining the affects and practices of living in the foothills of Mount Merapi, an active volcano. With the imminent likelihood of loss and destruction, the orchestration of a travelling community-based archive shows how the past and present of the community takes on new meaning. For Hasib Hourani, the act of packing up, putting on, squeezing off and holding on to jewellery also expresses a longing for the past to arrive at the present, to return to home and family. Together, they show how memory—and grief, can be transported and carried around: the weight of trauma-cum-expectation placed on Alice Pung during pregnancy; the baby in Shokoofeh Azar’s story is carried on the narrator’s shoulder.

Sofie Westcombe and Lur Alghurabi lift heaviness into reconstructions of time: surreal offerings of what could have been, and what has been done, left behind. They both speak to the difficulty of knowing something or someone that is no longer there.

Haunted remains are carried forward literally, through Tim Edensor’s study of remnant bluestone in Melbourne, and the ‘blackened husk’ of the Little Saigon market in Footscray, where Ngoc Tran begins her recipe for mock meat.

Meanwhile, Mahmood Fazal interviews Malyangapa, Barkindji rapper Barkaa, about her experiences of displacement and redemptive breakthrough to music. They find common appreciation for family that will back you in a fight.

Chris Taylor explores grief as reckoning unfinished business; and shows through a series of fictional and re-appropriated book covers the ways in which authenticity, truth and authority about grief might be conveyed.

We all grapple with unfinished histories, anticipation and loss, on-going. After months of working on grief, we don’t feel any closer to an answer—the kind that would offer emotional closure (is closure one of the five stages? We can’t remember). Instead of definitive answers, this issue offers reflection on how messy, wired and sometimes beautiful, grief can be.

Julia Flaster, Founder & Co-ordinatorJulia is an arts worker, film producer and hospitality worker. She holds an Honours degree in Geography and a Master of Arts and Cultural Management from the University of Melbourne. She is originally from France and is currently based there.

Elena Tjanda, Editor-in-Chief
Elena is a Melbourne-based writer and PhD student in human geography at the University of Melbourne. Her PhD research considers place and everyday life across the highway from an underground silver mine in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Saturday May 28 2022