She was prolific, sure, considering how old she may or may not have been and how long she’d been at it, and we know she published under ten different pseudonyms, at least. One of us, celebrated now for having accepted the first story she ever sent out, posted recently about a Gchat they had a day before her final blog post. He refrained from including excerpts of their exchange but had this to say: “Did I know her? Maybe. Better than some, I suppose. I never expected it would be our last conversation. If I had known, I wonder what else I might have said, what else I could have said. All I know today is I didn’t say enough.” The weeks that followed were a collective field day of bloggers, Internet writers around the world, posting bits and pieces of various e-mails and Gchats we’d had with her. Many of us linked to our favorite pieces she’d written—poems about lesbian orgies, written in Sapphics, of course, and under the pen name Lily S. Hart; flash fictions under the name Daisy Jung, for which she won several Pushcarts and inclusion in all of the “best of” anthologies then later published in a single, 1,867-page collection under the name Myrtle Lox, from which she read on a six-country tour in the early days of the millennium; non-fiction excerpts from what we knew to be an eight-volume memoir-in-progress, published under Veronica Twohearted; literary criticisms (Laurel Flagerty) and book reviews (Eugenia Young Elderworthy) about many of our own writings; longer short stories that had appeared either online or in print and are out now in various collections under the names, Ivy Oe, Fern Nunez, Nerine Sullivan, and Rose of Sharon Juliet Valentine; and then, of course, there were the long passages we retyped ourselves, copyright infringements be damned, from her novellas and novels that were all in some way or another about what we are telling you now: the life and death of Aster Grande.
A Google search of her name—was it her real name? We have no way of knowing for sure—pulls up over a million results. We have sorted through these results and come to this conclusion: Aster Grande was loved. Do bloggers love one another? We think so. Otherwise, why would her site appear on over five-hundred blogrolls from Cincinnati to Singapore? Yes, she was loved, and it was we who loved her. We wish we knew more about her, but she was selective with what she chose to share. Her own blog posts were restricted to news about her publications, her nine (ten? eleven?) editorial positions and the journals’ latest inclusions, her many writings-in-progress, her book reviews and the interviews she conducted, her life, essentially, as a writer, reader, editor. Occasionally she posted something personal, always with the title: “Something Personal: _____________”. But these she eventually removed, often within the hour. One of us once asked why she didn’t leave them up, and she responded, “I don’t know. It’s a way to drive traffic, I suppose. Get people coming back to the site more often to see if they’ve missed something good.” She was obsessed, obviously, with the idea of herself as an enigma. She was mysterious because she wanted to be. She was impossible to understand because she presented herself as possible to understand, and when we tried she shook her head and indicated we should try again. When we tried to nail her down, she shocked us with something new. Recently one of us blogged about how she must have been a lesbian since all of her poetry dealt with lesbian themes. She left a comment with a link—to Flickr. Curious, we found there over three hundred photographs of men she’d known, men we took to be, posed the way they were, men with whom she’d undoubtedly had sex, for in all of the photographs there was some telling detail about the relationship of the photographer to the subject. Those men looked downright miserable. Most were good looking, yes, but every last one of them looked sad. As if being caught on film were the equivalent to saying farewell to the happiest days of their lives. This was what we thought, anyway, and we spent days searching those poor men’s faces for clues until, a week later, the link was dead and the Flickr account deleted. In its place, where we knew to look instead, her final blog post, written either so distractedly or half-heartedly that it’s clear she’d already given up:
SOMETHING PERSONAL: Good-Bye, My Lovelies
The time has come to say good-bye. I’ve had a good run, but I’m tired of it now and I am quite finished. Do not e-mail, for I will not respond. Do not leave comments, for I will not respond. Do not send letters or cards, for I do not live anymore where I used to, and the sorting out of that will be a headache for our overworked friends at the USPS. Besides, as you know, I have always prided myself on being a kind, good person. Kind, good people respond when others reach out or otherwise attempt a communication. Do not put me in the position of being a non-responsive person, though I will be, non-responsive, that is. Yes, this is that kind of letter. You’ve heard about them, but maybe you’ve never read one yourself, read one addressed to you. I have, twice. The writers of both letters apologized to me. I will not apologize to you. I am not sorry.
Why am I posting this? Because you want me to. Because if I did not post this, you would wonder. This time, “Something Personal” will not be removed from this site. It will be here in a way that I am not here, and I am putting it here now because it is the least I can do. For myself, possibly, but mostly for you. All of you. Thank you for visiting my site these many years. Thank you for leaving your comments and for welcoming me into your community. It has been wonderful. I have enjoyed every minute of it. There are other minutes, however, that I have enjoyed far less. And it is from these that I wish to escape and have escaped, I’m sure, for I am beginning to feel a bit woozy, as if I am swimming. Did you know I have never been swimming? It’s true. This is why I started Bull Pen and asked to read all of your submissions about swimming, about water, about our relationships to bodies of water and bodies in general, when seen or experienced through water. Is this what swimming feels like? I think it must.
I have inserted my valedictory above because I am getting sleepy and I may not have the chance to include it at the end, where it ought to be. I will try not to waste any more time. It is taking too long to write this, I think. I want to tell you something. Some photographs appeared online recently. They were part of a collage or a montage or a weaving or a succession of photographs, anyway, that I took back in the ’70s and ’80s of men in their rooms. I removed these photographs from Flickr because at a time like this I’m sure those kinds of associations should, oh, I don’t know, not exist, maybe. But I was a photographer at one time or another, many years ago. You never knew this about me, did you? I asked everyone I knew to ask everyone they knew, and so on and so forth, if I could take photographs of men in their rooms. I don’t remember any of their names. It took so long to amass those photographs. Really, though, where do you think the journal Aberration came from? And why else would I have asked specifically for writings inspired by photographs? Why else would I have published your writings alongside said photographs?
Which brings me to this: I am sorry I am not sorry I am sorry I am not sorry I am sorry yes I am sorry I am not sorry please don’t hate me or be angry with me or wish I had not done this thing I have already done and why am I posting this here I shouldn’t do this I know I shouldn’t do this but it is done as I am doing it now and I could remove it but if I were you I would want to read this or want it to be here so I could choose not to read it if I didn’t want to read it and maybe I would be angry yes I would be angry but I do not want you to be angry with me and none of you should be because there is nothing about this that has anything to do with you because I am tired I am just so tired and like an animal in the wild I will go now and seek a war
Not a war, of course. Most likely a warm, better place. Perhaps. In
any case, her disappearance has raised all kinds of issues, issues we had
not thought would touch our daily lives for years to come. Who among us
will be next? What will our last posts be about? A celebration here, a
trifle from our personal lives there? The endurance of another bad day
at work? The ongoing search for a job in this miserable economy? Anecdotes
about our children, our husbands, our wives? Ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends,
examinations of who we are as friends and lovers and human beings worrying
about the many things without which we would not worry? Answers discovered
since Aster’s final post we’ve decided to share with you here in what is,
collectively, our single final post on all blogs across this nation we
now offer to you, who must, if nothing else, write every post as if it
were your last. Hit publish. And then, in the moment after presenting publicly
your many vulnerabilities to friends known and unknown, go forth, go far
and wide, and seek your own bright, peaceful wars.
B R A V E S O U L S R E C E I V E
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and promptly order a copy
of the first edition of the