Goodbye, James Mark Emmerling, my friend from two lives

A part of me has always felt out of place. The place I should be, my soul says, is Paris during the années folles (1920’s), living a poor existence as a writer among other starving writers and artists.  I’m eccentric, but many of them would be far more eccentric than me.  They would create masterpieces that would maybe go unnoticed by the masses, but that would be so infused with their soul, with all of their being, that they would be powerful to experience.  Maybe not easy, maybe not always beautiful, but powerful. 

In my current life, I had never met anyone with this kind of brazen eccentricity, this thriving tortured spirit, their soul leaping out of them.  And then, I joined Open Salon and discovered James Emmerling’s blog.  

James and I liked to exchange quotations.  One of my favorite quotations, and a foundation of how I feel about the creative process, is this one, by Jack Kerouac: “Your art is the Holy Ghost blowing through your soul.”  I don’t know if I ever shared it with James, but that is how everything he wrote felt to me.

But there are many writers of whom I could say the same.  And sometimes, it’s only in that kind of writing – something you post on a blog, or a fictional scenario or world you create – that the soul comes through.  I quickly realized, though, that James was different.

I don’t remember when or why I first sent him a PM. It was probably to thank him for a line he’d written that had really moved me.  Or maybe he wrote me first, perhaps apologizing, as he sometimes would, for a comment that he didn’t want me to take the wrong way (I don’t believe I ever did). What I discovered was the same voice I’d found in his posts: poetic, thoughtful, philosophical, naughty and silly by turns.  James was the first person I’ve interacted with who could play that mad genius role.  He made me feel a little closer to that home I’ll never know.  

We exchanged messages pretty regularly, for several years. I regret that I didn’t save the messages, and couldn’t have when Open shut down, since we were blocked from our inboxes.

We did exchange our non-OS addresses, as well, when things were looking especially dark in 2012.  But all I’ve found when searching through my regular inbox is one brief exchange with him.  Still, I’ll hold it dear.  It was, like most of our messages, about our lives and a few thoughts here and there – and there were unsolicited words of encouragement.  James had such a sincere, warm, passionate way of making me feel like I mattered, as a writer and as a fellow soul. I can only hope that my replies to him made him feel that same appreciation, respect, and friendship.  That same happy wave at a soul who was not a kindred spirit, but someone who I maybe shared a neighborhood with once, in another life -- in that life, I often think, where I still belong.

In the one longish email I still have from James, he wrote this:

i will get to paris someday. you may be a dowager by then but you wlll buy me a beer, no matter how poor or beseiged by spiders u are.


But you were already here, James! With me in another life, and I know you’ll come here now if you want.  You’re free of the things that made you afraid to venture across the ocean.

James also had another influence on my life: He taught me to see bipolar disorder in a different way. One of the darkest shadows on my teenage years was my stepfather, who was basically a good person, but who was battling addiction and what had been diagnosed as bipolar disorder.  When he was in an “up” phase, all he could do was talk and rant and rave, often incoherently or somewhat menacingly. And when he was down, he might have just been sleeping it off.  It was troubling and gave my already unstable home even more instability. Those years made me recoil, to be honest, from anyone else who might have this illness.  But James put another face on it. 

I don’t know what he was like to live with in everyday life (although from what he wrote about his family and friends – and, later, his beloved Margaret and her family, and from what Margaret posted about him, it seems he was a wonderful, loyal, loving companion), but being able to see his soul changed a lot for me.  I know James was a mental health advocate, and I’m sorry that I never got to tell him all of this.  I guess I felt embarrassed bringing it up, even though I know that’s silly because he was the kind of person you could tell anything.

James and I stopped writing so regularly in recent years.  I think it was because there came this moment where it was like, we’re both all right, domesticated, and on to other things.  He had found love and a new family.  I had become a mom.   It was like the two struggling, starving artists that we had been, escaped starvation and headed off to happier days in our own separate ways.  Every now and then, we’d reach out with a friendly hello and a few kind words for each other.  And that was all.

And that is a beautiful ending to a story. I was so happy, happy beyond measure, that James had found, not only romantic love with someone who seemed perfect for him, but also a family he genuinely seemed to love, as well.  I was always so glad to read how inspired he was by these new people in his life and heart.  

And now, my heart breaks for them.  Margaret, I don’t know if you’ll read this, but I can’t tell you how sad I am for your loss.  From what James wrote about you, I know that you are one hell of a strong woman, and that you will get through this.  But while things hurt the most, I hope you know how much all of us who knew James are thinking of you and your family, and sending prayers/good vibes to you, and wishing we could do more.

I wish I had a way to tell James so many things, and yet, a part of me wonders if he hasn’t heard all of them, hasn’t read this post. He was such a mischievous, metaphysical soul that I can’t imagine him completely gone.  He never thought his departed family and friends were, so why should he be?  

If you’re a more pragmatic person and don’t like to think of such things (and I do think I hear the echo of James’s written guffaw -- “Haw Haw!”-- at that), I’d encourage you to read or re-read his blog posts here at Our:


His last post, about Margaret’s mother’s last days, feels even more poignant now, and even wiser.  As does everything there.  James knew about life, death, and suffering.  Not just through the poets and philosophers he loved, but through what he’d experienced.  He also knew about joy, silliness, laughter, and that bright flame in our spirits.

I will not say I hope James rests in peace: I hope, rather, that he has an exciting and fulfilling and wonderful afterlife.  I know that those of us he’s left behind will never forget him.  

I wrote earlier about how James and I often exchanged quotations we liked. Going back through his posts, I came upon this one:


To live in hearts we leave behind

is not to die.




Views: 1329

Comment by Alysa Salzberg on January 18, 2016 at 6:53am

When I heard that James had possibly died in a car accident, like everyone here, I prayed it wasn't true.  Like many here, I tried to find answers by looking through obituaries...and my research led me to clay ball's recent post:

which confirms this information. 

A  part of me fell apart when I read that news.  I had to keep smiling, though, and playing with Julien, and I felt like James would have liked that idea and laughed at it, too, for being so wise but frustrating.  Keep being joyful for others. 

As soon as I put Julien down for his nap, I came here to write this in James's honor. I hope it does him even a fraction of justice - he was such an amazing person and brilliant writer.

As I said in the post, my thoughts and prayers are with those he left behind, especially Margaret and her family.

Goodbye, James.  I will miss you  more than I have the power to express...and at the same time, I'm not fully convinced  you won't be gallivanting around in spirit form, visiting loved ones and places you always dreamt of seeing.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on January 18, 2016 at 6:56am

perfection, friend, perfection 

Comment by Phyllis on January 18, 2016 at 7:06am
As you say, how could he not be gallivanting around the cosmos. I miss him like you do and regret drifting away, but he was happy with his family and that was right. Here's to him having an afterlife better than any he could imagine.
Comment by Sheila Luecht on January 18, 2016 at 7:24am

This was beautiful. I know for many that OS seems a long time ago. For others OS is still a part of our everyday lives, of who we have become because of our memories of it. We might connect with a few people from that time still, and we do feel the depth of knowing them, through who they are and what they once wrote. There are so many threads and they connect to so many different colored balloons. I love to remember them and many I still appreciate floating into my sky. Thanks for sharing this about James.

Comment by tr ig on January 18, 2016 at 8:24am
This is so well done Alysa. I cried, still am, though not sad tears, tears of joy at your genuine and beautiful words here and for Emmerling who has left now.

This typing one thumbed from my phone. I'll be back. Thanks you sweetheart.
Comment by alsoknownas on January 18, 2016 at 8:46am


I know he admired you. He told me so.

I purged 100's of emails  a few months ago so only have some left. I may have them in another folder. The last I see was before the New Year arrived.

Comment by koshersalaami on January 18, 2016 at 8:53am
I love this.

I talked to James a lot, except in the last several months when, for the first time, PM's went unanswered. I knew before he went to Ohio that he was going and he told me when he got involved with Margaret. Oddly, I didn't have his email, but also,oddly, I somehow had Margaret's. I don't remember how I got it. I tried it yesterday and it worked. And she answered and confirmed that what had to be true was true.

It's almost like the short death he had a few months back was a dress rehearsal. He wrote about it and Margaret filled in details.

I don't know what to write about him. He was the Quotemeister. Blake, Whitehead, Dylan. He found something so important in Margaret: someone who valued him for what he valued about himself. For her, his bipolarity didn't define him, his quirky deep intellect did. In Connecticut, no one seemed to even want to get him. That, oddly, made his writing great. His character stories about group homes were wonderful.

He didn't hide anything. Never saw the point. Wrote about some experiences that were awful, like that horrible absurd episode that left him in prison until it occurred to his family that he was actually innocent and they went to bat for him.

Margaret was a Godsend.

But she's my worry now. She lost her husband years ago very suddenly. Her mother lived with her over the past year or two, then her mother got sick and died, and now she's lost James suddenly, like her husband but just after her mother. I have no idea how one handles that. I hope she seeks us out.
Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on January 18, 2016 at 8:57am

When Margaret reads this thread, and I'm, thinking she will, in time, she'll likely be ready to seek out extended friendships, here and, I hope, closer to home. 

Comment by JMac1949 Today on January 18, 2016 at 9:02am

An excellent remembrance of a brilliant mind and a good soul.  R&L

Comment by koshersalaami on January 18, 2016 at 9:02am
We have to thank Lorianne for putting James' work on the cover today.


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