Essay: The Expanded Writers Collectiveon the trails of grief.

Archipelagos of grief: crises partially digested

25, 081 words written by eight women, over one year. A shared on-line document; a camaraderie of regular zooms. Beyond us, and through us: much personal and collective grief. One day, we took our words to several types of snail. Then we became-snail and nibbled at the mass of words, digesting fragments, leaving trails; collectively oozed slivers of everyday grief. 

What Remains?

What Remains?

What Remains?

I recall the story of a snail told to me by an artist once, who was making a work investigating the fragmentary nature of memory, and the human habit of incoherent recollection. She was filming a speculative portrait of an elderly man aimlessly wandering about an abandoned building. One day as she was filming, a snail serendipitously passed through the frame. Delighted by the rogue guest she zoomed in to capture its tentacles guiding its lone trajectory. On viewing the final draft, the commissioning funders were adamant that the snail scene must be deleted.

I have many questions, about the slivery reckoning. 

Clusters of snails conspire in the absent space of our letterbox.
A myriad of gribbles live in the understory.

Snail mail eaten away

I’m not sure what is going to come out of this writing

my absence and neglect of this document have nothing to do with the gratitude and pleasure it brings to visit all your words.

document together
bed together
live together
olds together
dance together

A little foothold on real experience.

we grieve other losses human and non-human

It’s 10.30pm Monday. I keep saying to myself what remains? 

What remains? 

Figurine of Isis enthroned preparing to suckle Harpokrates.
Terracotta. About 200 CE.

My headings are the only ones in the sidebar.
That’s part of the space-time warp, I think

I think I don’t want to go back to living in public so much. 

“I never want to leave the island again.”

The art of improvisation is not valued enough.

Today I stepped onto the front porch and felt as if I’d stepped into some other dimension. There was nothing obviously unusual, but the air was still, and thick. It had been raining softly all night and there was a sense of being in a lull, a kind of waiting-room feeling. There’s this collective forgetting but we are all changed, nothing is quite the same.

I don’t mind using kinds of technology technology ology technologies. 

Went to get a fasting blood test and left my medicare card behind.
Left the pathology collection place and left my phone behind.
Missed the tram and was late to a meeting.
Filled my new water bottle with filtered water and on the tram
discovered I’d left an info sheet in the bottle. The water tasted weird.

I’m so tired

My friend Vik has slugs that come in and eat her books. I photographed
the eaten parts and drew the shapes then overlaid that on top of
screenshots of some chosen parts of the text. I tried some with code
positioning the text overlays randomly too. 

I often feel as if I momentarily don’t know where I am these days. 
Not in an early-onset dementia way, but in a seeing-things-anew kind of

I believe in collective action, even when it doesn’t work.

I will embroid (embroider?) this

I’m dictating this into my notes on my phone 
now I know the machine better now I have met the machine 
now I have become less separate from the machine 
I have reconciled my intimacy with the machine
now I have come to see you see how much I am always with the machine

houses we
when we
if we
way we
so we
and we
and we
as we
and we
here we
while we

Can we erase ourselves from the cloud?

C L I C K  H E R E .

We are spammed by hungry ghosts

The final breath, the body lying there.

A lot of young people not doing so well. High school students not
finishing – I know these kids who have dropped out of school. Others that can’t go back to the classroom who will stay online for good now.

I find myself going to work some days and being all out of sorts,
like really making it up as I go along, just like being really
ad hoc about everything.

I consulted an astrologer.

In Japan people believe that a Baku (a mythical creature, like an Asian tapir) eats dreams, including nightmares. A guardian while we sleep, perhaps, when terrors visit. 

I looked down at the step where I’d left my text the other day
and it’s been

entirely eaten
eaten away
eaten up
eat into

ache, long, pine, brood, mope, fret, sigh,,,bleed, yearn, agonise, suffer

a logarithmic spiral structure of a snail crunched under my feet.
The calcium carbonate leached out.

What course of action did I set into motion?

Dancing words, digesting words

What to read when a loved one

as if a funeral feast was writing

A snail is a technical organism. 

.  . .- –  – – – — ——–  — — —– — — — — -…. – – –  –  —  –  – – —- – 

…a … jellyfish … came … to … me … in …  my …  dream. …  It …  was …   … really…  big …  and …  floating …  above …  me. …  I …  suppose …  I …  must …  have …  been …  in …  water, …  it …  was …  tropical …  water, …  warm, …  bright …  azurite. …  The …  jellyfish …  was …   … brilliant …  and …  vividly …  coloured. …  It …  was …  shot-through …  with …  violet …  and …  glowing …  against …  the …  blue …  sea. …  It …  brought …  a …  magical …  feeling …  to …  me …  in …  the …  dream. …  Delight, …  brightness, …  wonder.

I was reading Beckett and came across this formatting and it reminded me of the text eaten by our snails

That is very dreamy. 

oh yes, staying

 .. .  –  . …  .—– –    –––– -. ..       —-

MC 2.8.22   grief  greif  who knows how to spell it

We have had a string of stray/lost dog events in the past week, suggesting that the dogs are picking up on something, are restless and breaking out, searching. There has been something oddly askew about the atmosphere lately.

i am slipping into this habit of dropping capitals is that ok?

i don’t think so i really don’t think so

I used to only worry about the heat and now I also worry about the rain. It’s pouring again today so I’m worried about floods. My denial mechanism around this climate crisis has been quite strong so far, but perhaps it is beginning to falter. Like when my father died, I kept the new reality at bay for at least two years before it crashed over me.

the pain for everyone is not exactly the same,

“When our loved ones die, it is our guilt and regret that eat into us.”
(a Zen sister quote)
Grief eats into our bodies, our stomachs, our guts, our flesh, our bones

There was no violence. She had just died — maybe a heart attack. I am not sure. I just found her on the ground of her coop. I put her on my lap and stroked her. I cried and spoke to her of how I loved her companionship in the garden. Of how much I appreciated her enthusiasm for life (she was called Queenie: ‘Queen of Enthusiasm’).

Everything I thought was solid is only brittle emotion; calcified
optimism and glass conviction shatter to the sound of a
well-placed B sharp.

sleep must have at some point morphed into something else,

I remember walking around kind of dazed and saying to the nurses ‘what happens now?’ and they looked at me like they didn’t know what to say. I really meant ‘what happens to his body now?’ Because none of us were ready to leave without him but that’s what we did. 

our porous bodies,

With all these memories, I dug a hole in the garden,

— –– –-–—- – -– – –- — —- –– —- –– —– –— – — —- – – -–…. – — –

What happens to our words of grief, when they are eaten by snails? Can the trails and the shapes they leave behind be a comforting reply?
So we might see beauty and poetry in those remains?
Thank you to snails that eat our words of grief,
and lessen our worries by eating the bills in our letterboxes

– —- … .. – — —— – – –

The ‘final breath’ was a very strange moment partly because it’s sort of a series of moments, so many breaths before had seemed like they might be the last one, and so many times everyone in the room held their own breath, waiting to see if another breath would come

The world becomes full of petty details not worth considering, because everything is grave, a force is pulling from the grave, from the gravity of the loss.

I am completely unmoved by the Queen’s death.

 Feeling the space where feeling is held.

Feeling a kind of grief for all the lost species of plants and animals

What remains? What remains?

I sneeze just like my dad.
I blow my nose just like my dad.

I have never found anyone’s pulse, not even my own

The snail anecdote lingers –

In Moore’s 1977 book, Ada Lovelace is quoted: ‘Do you know it is to me quite delightful to have a frame so susceptible that it is an experimental laboratory always about me, and inseparable from me. I walk about, not in a snail-shell, but in a molecular laboratory’

among us
guide us
of us
for us
on us

told us
at us
of us
moves us
among us
of us
reminds us
around us
getting us
to us
hammering us
at us

The ‘unmoored’ and ‘stray dog’ vibe
from earlier entries resonates for me.

How to live together?
How to live with myself?

my busyness means that I haven’t been able to visit her
And I would like to spend more time holding her hand
Looking into her eyes
There is so much in those actions

…“the tears were falling from her eyes” she said, which I think meant that something was falling away.

I remember a muffled feeling of being insulated somehow by some very different kind of time, of being thrust into a totally different dimension of experience. Love happens, I suppose, if you are lucky. When someone dies there’s an energetic wormhole (is that what you call it? Some kind of blip in space/time continuum?) and if you’re lucky, love fills it. The complications come later; but in that first, fresh day or week, if you are surrounded by people who know how, you will love and be loved so clearly and simply, perhaps unlike any other time in your life. 

(I put these images here randomly, then read the text between and realised it was about last breaths. They are cropped images of a work I stitched when I sat with my Mum for the last time when she was dying.)


I think it’s the first death I have experienced that felt ok in its sadness. She left a hole in the world, but I didn’t fall into it or keep falling, like Alice, for a very, very long time.

Rain as well
Something on paper
Cold rain
Turning white

Or layered illegible trails of text

Planting the seeds borne of grief I wonder what will grow.

…like when my mother died nearly 30 years ago. Except, the pain for
everyone is not exactly the same, it’s just of equal magnitude – the punch is not just in the stomach, it’s a punched hole in the whole world, space-time bends and warps and moves things around in ways that make everything appear strange

Where is the heart in all this? What is it doing?

We have no idea what our writing does

Is there more to do?

And that thing that you can’t explain, so many things.

Or maybe things just take on such significance in those moments, it’s all
your brain making sense of what’s happening.

Small moments are lift-rafts in the tsunami of grief, something one can
hold onto. As small as between a forefinger and the thumb.

Mum was interested in palm reading. She has a couple of books on the subject.

4:30pm. Gotta go to a friend’s house for drinks, but the afternoon winter
sun is still shining through the bedroom window and I would rather stay
here and keep reading.


I tend to explore omens around the house.

Lately I keep encountering snail facts in the most unlikely PLACES.

On the back of menstruation paraphernalia:

Snails sleep for 3 years; Snails have thousands of teeth;

The handedness of a snail’s shell is inherited from its mother.

During a game of trivial pursuit with my daughter:

the humble snail appears in the question of locomotion, how far does it travel in 1 hour?

1 mtr, 10 cms


All the world’s knowing cannot bring me past this feeling of quicksand 
that has oscillated recently to a stuck-in-the-mud experience.
A muddy swamp is not as fast moving or in one linear direction, it is a sort of 


It was the air, I think.


Something transfigures through ingestion.


Snails in Australia are thick on the ground.


A bizarre amalgamation of spirilic lines of force: the pavilion’s exotic architectural folly juxtaposed with the snail shell’s living assemblage; mutual communicators of cultural inheritance. The apotheosis of intangible heritage, through which embedded colonial power structures can be disrupted ever so tenderly. 


We crumble into it, as if a universe of stars
burns into our flesh and makes a mound of painful pieces
– the bits not yet burnt.


Rocks that show you how they are made


If art is attention
Snail song.


What remains?
Hertz rental (Rental Agreement number 667736683)


Perhaps the snail could be all that remains. No technological
dependencies. Some say that the gods are most concerned with the fate of snails because they build them houses. While every day, the acidification of the oceans continues as humans add more carbon dioxide, fertilisers, and industrial waste, to the planet. So, what’s left? After the snails, corals, mussels, calcified plankton, and macroalgae succumb to disintegration. After the platypus chokes on microplastics. A planetary mausoleum. 


ancestral members that have passed away.
Kulin deities – the birds.
lorikeets above.
They chirped back a reply.

The merging of old memories and the making of new ones
Keep me moving forward


What word will I embroider? 



The insistent divinatory qualities of the diaphanous trail of a snail sped on an up-hill day.


I am so looking forward to seeing you all on the 19th.


Cutting, pairing, blobbing, dripping, sploshing,


Lots of new & interesting paths


plane on the horizon – lower and closer.
carbon-farting planes on the horizon
The sky is blue. Not a single cloud. 


Tilda Swinton talked about staying collective. “You don’t have to get separated from your kin and your herd.”


I said that to someone, they acted as if they were insulted. 


As if making space 
So there is room for everything
Bigger than the self
Is writing


Yesterday, a soft storm.


                       …-.    -–– ..   –

Published July 10, 2023
Part of The Collective: In this third series of jointly commissioned essays, the SRB and non/FictionLab have brought writers together to help revitalise our ways of being and thinking in the collective. All The Collective essays →
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