Non-Career Advice: Dale Megan Healey.

Non-Career Advice is a series that asks people - young, old, and in a range of occupations - for words of wisdom unrelated to work, career-building, dollars, or getting ahead.

Also: Teacher / observer / rescuer of cats  
Age: 29

Pay attention to what glows, even if it seems irrelevant. A few years ago, I set out to write a memoir about losing my mother. But I felt trapped in the subject matter.  As a writer, it’s good to immerse yourself in the topic you’re writing about, but I was both interested in my grief and consumed by it. So I began to write about art instead-- performance art specifically -- as a way to write about something fun for a change, and to prove to myself that I was not entirely defined by this loss.

I wrote about an artist who stalked strangers, an artist who put a frame around a piece of the sky, and an artist who crawled across the city on his hands and knees. These pieces glowed to me, and I found myself drifting towards them without knowing why. I liked art that I didn’t understand, or that made me think, “Why would someone do that?” I liked art that made me doubt it was even art--that looked more like a personal transformation, and not necessarily something made for an audience. But no matter where I pointed my gaze everything was still colored by grief.

I was frustrated at first, but looking back, this shaped me into the kind of writer that I am today. It was a triumph when I learned to write about something without mentioning my mother, and to stop using her death as a kind of barometer of meaning. Sometimes looking away from something helps me to see it clearer.

My project is still about my mother -- it’s a collection on searching for personal rituals in art and performance, amid reflections on how my relationship with her continues to evolve even though she’s gone. At first people thought I was crazy for making connections between my mother and these odd pieces of experiential art (and honestly, much of the early writing was bad). I knew there was a connection, though. I just had to write through the uncertainty to find out what it was.

Thanks so much, Megan. I love the idea of finding inspiration (and a voice) in unexpected places. And I love the reminder, too, that personal lives and creative interests can overlap in ways that surprise, enlighten, and elevate. More from the Non-Career Advice series, here.


  1. Thank you for this! I also lost my mother, about 9 years ago. I can't believe it has been that long actually. But that, coupled with a lot of family issues that have arisen since, always finds it way in my writing. Like Dale, I have often struggled with how to express what I need to express about the loss, without becoming defined only by that loss. It's so tough! Because the loss of my parents comes out in everything. But this piece helps me see that there must be a way to frame it. Thank you!

  2. The first line - "Pay attention to what glows, even if it seem irrelevant." And this - "Sometimes looking away from something helps me to see it clearer." Beautiful and poignant. Thanks for this, Megan.

  3. And the last line is as poignant as the ones Max mentioned above, to me. Very thought provoking advice.

  4. "These pieces glowed to me…" Love the idea of following the glow. Beautiful writing and advice.

  5. I love reading these posts and the lines in this one were especially beautiful.

    Wondering how you choose people for this series? Do people email you or do you get in contact with them?

  6. A lovely post and wonderful to so openly and beautifully
    Share a difficult journey.

  7. I love that art can be a nice way to work through life and I love even more the unexpected ways it happen :)

    Sorry for your lose too Megan - I can't imagine losing my Mum and the unthinkable sadness

  8. I remember when you linked to her essay about the experiential art a while ago. It is wonderful. My dad died twenty six years ago today, actually. When you lose a parent, perhaps especially when you are fairly young, it's inevitable that your whole life is shaped by that loss. That said, you can't stare directly at the loss forever, or you lose your own life to depression/rumination. I love the way she puts it: "pay attention to what glows." Just so. Follow that.

  9. Thank you all so much for your beautiful words, and thank you, Megan, for such beautiful advice. So happy to have you.



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