The Art of Losing in 2019
By Nick Chhoeun
The annual Art of Losing event took place on April 24, 2019. For those unfamiliar with this event, its mission was celebration. Every year, we lose writers and artists that impacted in our lives for the better. This event gave people the space to read and listen to work from those writers and artists that influenced them in any way. We shared laughs, smiles, and nods. It was a celebration of people who we may not have taken the time to celebrate if the space was not offered.
This was my second time attending the event. Last year, I attended merely as a listener and I left filled with thoughts about those artists that I never took time to memorialize. Since then, whenever an artist I followed passed away, I went back to his or her work and read them over. I remembered what these works meant for me at the time. I celebrated them.
For this year’s event people shared work from a variety of writers and artists which included: W.S Merwin, Mary Oliver, Neil Simon, Stanley Plumly, Stan Lee, and, even a former workshop student of David Keplinger’s, Henry Morgenthau III. We shared some of these writers’ works and discussed why they resonated with us even after their passing. It prompted discussions about our own work and outlook on what will be left behind after our own passing’s.
I came to the event with a folded piece of paper. On the paper was an excerpt from a New Yorker piece titled, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” by the late Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain passed away in June 2018 and the news of his death shocked my family and me. I grew up watching his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown with my family during and after meals. There was something about his shows that was different than all the other travel/food shows and as I reflected back on my memories of him, I realized it was his writing and approach to people. On a basic level, Bourdain traveled the world and shared meals with people. He tasted unusual foods, learned about different cultures, and showcased his experiences on his shows.
But it was the way he presented his experience and the way he carried himself through the unfamiliar that was meaningful. For Bourdain, food was a universal language that brought him closer to people. His narration throughout his shows explained the varying cultures approach to food with an understanding for them. He was not trying to expose them. He was revealing the truths of their lives from a place of empathy. Often his language was blunt and perhaps offensive, but the always came from a place of love. For example the first line from “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” is: “Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay.”
Most of my writing contains food in one way or another. I can’t help but think that Bourdain’s work influenced, in some way, my approach to writing about it. The concrete details are the food in my poems they represent and symbolize people, experience, and emotion.
If an artist, or writer that was important to you has passed away in the last few years I urge you to take the time to remember their work. Reflect on what their work meant for you. The Art of Losing event gave us a space to share and remember, but that shouldn’t constrain us from taking the time to do so more often. Celebrate their lives and their work.
Nick Chhoeun is a staff editor at Café MFA and a second-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.