Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Half Empty

I heard another very striking interview on Terri Gross' Fresh Air last week.

She does fabulous interviews. I don't always enjoy her subjects. She seems to have a fascination with newly dead or dying country/blues musicians (not ShaniaTwainCountry, but WalktheLine Country). I'm not into that, so often skip them. And, in my humble opinion, she has way overharped on the Bush-dragged-us-into-this-war-and-he-lied-a-lot topic over the last few years. I don't listen to most of her interviews.

But when I like her subject matter, she does a great interview. In this case, maybe too good. I found her interview with David Rakoff amazing and affirming for me. So amazing and affirming that I immediately went home and bought the audio version of his new book of essays, which I feel lukewarm about as a composite. Terri did such a good job covering the best essays of the book that the 15 minutes about the Tomorrow House at Epcot just didn't float my boat in comparison to how the author feels about his second primary cancer before the age of 50.

David Rakoff is a gifted satirist, equal parts comic (generally deprecating, self or otherwise) and cynic. The cynic is the part I like and identify with, I guess. (Disclosure: I also appear to have a predilection for gay, Jewish men? Not sure what to say about that....) I'd never heard of him before. He's apparently frequently appears on PRI's radio show This American Life, in addition to his writing for magazines and his own published books of essays.

Their interview covered his feelings about cancer, about death, and the anarchic disregard that the universe has for all things human. It was more than music to my ears. It's what I've been looking for, someone else who thinks like me. Why is that so validating? I don't know, but it was. I found myself wanting to text IKR* to him with every new sentence of the interview.

Does it bother me that talk about cancer, death and anarchic disregard is what I've been craving? Maybe.

I'll include a couple paragraphs from the interview about his newly released book, Half Empty, posted on the NPR website.

"Writer Melissa Bank said it best: 'The only proper answer to 'Why me?' is 'Why not you?' The universe is anarchic and doesn't care about us and unfortunately, there's no greater rhyme or reason as to why it would be me. And since there is no answer as to why me, it's not a question I feel really entitled to ask. And in so many other ways, I'm so far ahead of the game. I have access to great medical care. My general baseline health, aside from the general unpleasantness of the cancer, is great. And it's great because I'm privileged to have great health. And I live in a country where I'm not making sneakers for a living and I don't live near a toxic waste dump. You can't win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say 'Why am I not winning this contest as well?' It's random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren't me? Absolutely. I still can't make that logistic jump to thinking there's a reason why it shouldn't be me."

This is EXACTLY what is in my head most days. I've won every contest but one. Granted, it was a fricking big one. But still...

I continue to struggle with this on a daily basis. Of course, it's "Why Henry?", not "why me?", and Henry obviously lost his own biggest contest. But those who loved him continue to carry his life and death with us every day. Every contest but one. I want to learn to embrace my grief, to accept it as part of me and move on. I need to stop trying to flee from it. It's part of my game, like playing basketball with a broken wrist. I'm still playing. And it's worth it to keep going.

Mr. Rakoff, you interview too well. It made your book somewhat superfluous. But as someone searching for as many kindred spirits as I can find, I thank you.

*IKR For those of you without pre-teens, it's "I Know, Right?".

Tuesday, September 28, 2010



This memory has been on my mind the last few weeks.

We took a long weekend at the beach. This was during his recovery from his more intense chemo, he was feeling pretty good, but didn't have a lot of stamina. One way he coped was to spend a lot of time on various wheeled vehicles. So we took his "mogocycle" many places with us, including the boardwalk.

He took great pleasure in chasing off the seagulls. He would clear them out, and then when they landed again, he chased them off again.

At one point, he slowed to a crawl. My daughter asked what he was doing. He looked at her, incredulous. Secretive. As if she didn't know.

Whispered, "The policeman is here...I don't want to get a ticket."

Sure enough, a uniformed officer had just arrived.

**I have a measurable amount of angst publishing this. It's painful to go through old photos and videos, I inevitably get hit with one I wasn't expecting that I wasn't ready for. And I have a weird hangup about enumerating my memories of him. So I am considering this a trial run.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hi Ho Cherry-O

We recently learned from a friend that she has incurable lung cancer. She's been given less than a year to live.

I wouldn't call her a close friend, we've not known her very long. But she is a true friend, says what she means, does what she wants, and has meant a lot to our family. She became very involved with us during Henry's illness. She was invaluable in many ways.

(If I had a bit of a persecution complex, I'd advise everyone to quit socializing with me. I seem to be a human talisman of death and destruction the last couple of years. I wonder, is it just my age? I'm older, I know more people, bad things happen all the time...but it really does seem excessive.)

In our first conversation after her diagnosis, she said to me, "I know you don't believe what I believe, but one of the things that comforts me about what is to happen is that I will get to see Henry again, and we'll play games again." They often played Hi Ho Cherry-O while he was sick. He usually won too.

I told her, "I really don't believe what you do, but that's ok. Nothing would make me happier than if that were to happen."

Up until now, insinuations that Henry was frolicking through a field catching butterflies with other dead people angered me. However well intentioned, it seemed such a silly, ridiculous thing to suppose. That it was supposed to make it easier that he was no longer alive was the bitter pill to swallow.

But something about what she said softened my heart. And while I don't believe that it will happen, there's a small piece of me that smiles if I imagine that it could.