A memorial for Ellen Miller
Sunday February 8th, 2009
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 West 10th Street
New York, New York
I posted a few weeks ago about the death of my friend Ellen, who had a heart attack on December 17th and died on the 22nd. She and I had met in a writing workshop at the Westside Y in 1994--although actually we met for the first time in a workshop in 1992. In the first workshop, Ellen called me after the first week to ask if I would turn something in in her place the following week. It was a strange, dramatic phone call, and she kept talking to me long after the issue of turning something in was resolved. She never returned to the class, and there really is no reason that either of should have remembered such a brief encounter, but two years later we were sitting around another room at the Y, with another teacher, and Ellen arrived for the first class with a 30 page short story that was passed around the room for discussion the following week. The story was called "Water Sports" and when I saw the title, I looked back down the table to see who had written it. She smiled this wicked little smile that she deployed on a regular basis with friends, and later she said, "You know, we met before." But I remembered.
I went to Columbia. She went to NYU. I would take the train to meet her or we would talk on the phone late at night. She wrote big, long, heady scenes. I wrote short, clipped, minimalist stuff. But often what we were writing about was essentially the same. Later, when my collection came out and her novel was released in paperback, we toured the west coast together. She had cats. I had dogs. When we disagreed, we did it in extremes, but we were still friends. Once, when I visited her apartment, I found books exploded everywhere throughout the living room. In the middle of the night, the shelves had pulled away from the wall and deposited books across every surface. And it stayed like that for a while, so you couldn't ever sit down to talk to her without rearranging books. But that's what her life was about, after all.