Tag Archives: death

The Stars Look Very Different Today

12 Jan

 

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
 - Mary Oliver

 

I needed something else to think about.

It was as complicated and as simple as that.

I had always been a fan. In fact there was a period of time when Hours was on constant play in my home. But in June of 2014, after I was diagnosed at 37 with cancer I needed something else to think about.

That something became David Bowie.

I listened to him and only him constantly. I analyzed his lyrics. I filled in the gaps of my record collection. For a period of time the only thing that stopped me from worrying about a premature death was David Bowie.

I had three surgeries that summer. I wore my David Bowie t-shirt to all of them. It sounds stupid but I needed him. I needed a little bit of stardust and magic.

He was the only one, even now, that has truly and completely transcended the chasm that my diagnosis ripped through my life. Every other musician feels….tainted. I can’t listen to their music because it belongs to that other life. In the same way that when I look at photos of myself right before diagnosis, I think “that girl, right there, has cancer and doesn’t know it yet.”

Bruce. Bob. Ryan. Everything felt like it was tethered to a life I was, in a very real way, no longer living. Except Bowie. Bowie, like the starman he was, found a way to bridge the gap, to pull me over, to help to slowly stitch up that rip.

(Coincidentally my husband experienced the same thing with music and also found someone to carry into this new strange life. His was Neil Young.)

I am in no way exaggerating when I say that David Bowie’s music saved my life.

And now here we are. And David Bowie has died.

It seemed impossible, even as my husband, as gently as he could broke the news to me.

I spent close to an hour in a state of absolute shock and then, when that finally wore off, crying.

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art because I thought that maybe I could fill this star-sized hole inside of me.

David Bowie died.

How was that even possible?

He lived for 18 months with terminal liver cancer. He kept it a secret.

He would have been diagnosed around the same time as me. Spring/Summer 2014.

For awhile I kept my cancer a secret too.

In the last year of his life, he worked, just like he did in all the other years. Because the work mattered. Because he crafted a giant net in which all us freaks could be together. Could find each other. Could love.

There was a piece in the New York Times last weekend about how you should live every year like it’s your last. This is unabashedly how I try to live. Even before the diagnosis. I recognized how incredibly unlikely it is that we should even exist. Every single one of us is a product of everything going exactly right. Miraculously right. The fact that the right sperm and egg got together. The fact that your parents even met. That their parents before them met. Every perfect necessary  moment stretching back through all of time.The slim chance that we all somehow managed to survive.

To be here. Now.

To have been lucky enough to have lived in the world at the same time as an artist like David Bowie. To be inspired. Delighted. Moved and,  yes, saved.

Saved.

So thank you, David Bowie. From the deepest bottom of my very broken heart.

Remember friends, you only have so much time. Don’t waste it.

bowie

Stories Are A Lie And A Truth All Rolled Up Into One

22 Nov

When I was in college, a friend told me that she thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder.

I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.

Here’s some of the signs:

  • Extreme reactions—including panic, depression, rage, or frantic actions—to abandonment, whether real or perceived
  • A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, opinions, values, or plans and goals for the future (such as school or career choices)
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few day
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness and/or boredom

 

Needless to say, she was wrong. She didn’t mean borderline like that. She meant borderline like something on the edge. Open to interpretation.

She was trying to say that I have a malleable personality.

Flexible? Yes.

Ranging in extremes? Yes.

Subject to flights of fancy? Hell yes.

I saw my oldest sister the other day and during our conversation she told me a story about one of our Ya-Ya weekends together. Our Ya-Ya weekends were when my two sisters and I would get together for one weekend a year and hang out. We all live far away, my family had been through some hard shit at the time, so my sisters and I decided that we would make a point of seeing each other, just the three of us, once a year.  I have fond memories of these weekends.

But the story she told me  was one I didn’t remember, which isn’t a shock – I have a terrible memory. It’s the reason I have kept journals since I was a teenager.

So at one of these weekends I apparently burst into tears when my sister was faux-complaining about the “press 1 for English” thing on the phones. Again, I don’t remember this. I can only assume it happened because it SOUNDS like me.

I think it’s empathy to a fault.

Faulty empathy. Squishy-mushy personalities. I can quite easily put myself in someone else’s shoes. The problem is, I never seem to give them their shoes back. I just sort of keep them, carry them around with me emotionally.

I’m like an emotional junk lady.

labyrinth

Remember her?

I just keep collecting other people’s stories and twisting them together with my own.

When I was younger I had a problem with lying. I like to think it was an unhealthy expression of my innate desire to tell stories but the fact is I hurt people so I don’t deserve to get off the hook that easily.

But it’s like I would pick up pain or happiness or fear or anger and stick it on my back and it would become a part of me. Even if I didn’t own the cause of those feelings to begin with.

I was thinking about this because the number one question I have gotten from people who have read my book This Is Sarah is that they want to know if this is based on a true story.

And I tell them again and again, it’s not. I am not Sarah, or Colin, or Claire.

No one I knew had been kidnapped.

So, they wanted to know, how did I know so much about what it’s like to go through something like that?

Because everyone I knew had lost someone.

Had grieved. Including me. And grief, regardless of how it arrives, is universal.

I thought that was a pretty good answer. And yet more often than not they were disappointed.

As if my “making it up” was somehow untruthful.

A lie.

I had deceived them.

They wanted the story itself to be real. It didn’t matter that the emotions were. It didn’t matter that the pain and the anger and the fear were. It didn’t matter that some people, like Colin, shut down in the face of death. That other people, like Claire, refused to. None of that mattered as much as wanting it to be true.

Strange how people are, isn’t it?

John Green wrote a book called The Fault In Our Stars. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s pretty famous. He dedicated the book to Esther Earl. Esther was a young girl that died of cancer, and the author of “This Star Won’t Go Out.

Mr. Green met Ms. Earl at a Harry Potter convention. He was moved by her story and he credits her with being part of the inspiration for his character Hazel. The book was published in 2012, after her death.

In a goodreads interview John said the following:

I could never have written this if I hadn’t known Esther. She introduced me to a lot of the ideas in the book, especially hope in a world that is indifferent to individuals, and empathy. She redefined the process of dying young for me.

Walking out of the hospital in 2000, I knew I wanted to write a story about sick kids, but I was so angry, so furious with the world that these terrible things could happen, and they weren’t even rare or uncommon, and I think in the end for the first ten years or so I never could write it because I was just too angry, and I wasn’t able to capture the complexity of the world. I wanted the book to be funny. I wanted the book to be unsentimental. After meeting Esther, I felt very differently about whether a short life could be a rich life.

But a lot of people have interpreted that to mean that John’s main character IS Esther.

As if a story about death – the most universal thing of all – the only thing that equalizes every living creature – wasn’t as powerful if there wasn’t one specific life behind it.

Again, people are strange.

Gayle Forman, also pretty famous, wrote a book called If I Stay. It is the story of Mia, a girl who narrates her story from a hospital bed after losing her entire family in a car crash. Except Mia is in a coma.

Gayle wrote a piece for the New York Times about how that car full of people were her friends. Except for Gayle, no one lived.

Mia, the cellist, was fiction, but the accident, and Mia’s family — her punk-rocker turned 1950s throwback of a father, her strong-willed mother and her adorable little brother — were resurrected from the ashes of my loss. A loss that no longer had the power to sucker punch but instead had become part of me, like a scar, or maybe a smile line.

I fell off a waterfall one year in high school. I also fell in love with a boy who fell in love with another boy. That’s a story I’m working on telling but in the end, it will just be that: A story.

The power in stories lie in the fact that they are universal. That the people that populate them are us.

You. Me. Them. Us.

That they are talking about something that we all know.

Love. Sadness. Hearbreak. Fear. Joy. Misery. Loneliness.

Stories are woven. They’re partially the writer, partially the people they know, part strangers, part imagination, part reader.

They’re a lie and a truth all rolled up into one.

And if they’re good, then they make us remember what it means to be us.

 

 

The End of the Tenth Doctor – SPOILERS

27 Oct

Last night I watched the end of the David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who. I was a mess. And by mess, I mean I was worse than her:

And I still don’t have a Tardis cookie cutter or blue icing. Though I didn’t think his forehead was too big (that line was hilarious) but I did describe his face as “all lumpy” which was a bit harsh and I’m sorry Mr. Smith.

So I’ve spent today reading about the doctor’s death because it bothered me so much. He didn’t want to die. His parting words of “I don’t want to go” ripped my heart out. A lot of people think that Tennant was too “human” but really, he just loved life. And as he said about his regeneration “Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And I’m dead.”

I came across one video that argued that the doctor’s death alienated viewers and made Matt Smith’s job even harder. Never has the doctor not wanted to die. All the previous incantations always faced their regeneration with a certain about of bravery…not a plea to a godless universe. And there is a lot in that argument that I agree with. [See my above comment about lumpy heads].

But then I found this gem in the commentary section from Joe England.

Many other Doctors end on an up-note… serene or thankful or gently irreverent, or they rest in quiet surrender. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But really, most people don’t die that way. Because we cling to our lives, because we love living. And never has there been a Doctor who clung so tenaciously, who loved life so much that he railed so fervently against its end, even if it was merely the end of this version of himself. A man who lives in such a way would live forever if he had the chance, and if not, he would fight to live even to his last second. There is no crime in this. There is nothing selfish in joie de vivre. To love life is to love all things in it. It makes his sacrifice all the more noble, since it is perhaps harder for him than for any of the other Doctors.
And you know, I think he did accept it, at the last. And in the midst of this acceptance, his final words are even more a fitting declaration. He does not want it to be over, he wants to keep going, he wants to have fun and adventure and explore and show off. With his last breath he tells the universe that he still wants to be him, that for all his mistakes he still loves who and what he is and that he would go on if he could. He says that he is still alive, still embracing life even to the very end.
What could be more inspiring?

So maybe all my tears were just a sign of a healthy fear of death. When Nora Ephron died, I read her list of things that I’ll miss and won’t miss and remembered thinking that yes, waffles! What about waffles? And no more Paris? No next year in Istanbul? No next year at all.

Maybe it’s cause I’m so afraid that my final thought will be I don’t want to go. Or that it was the final thought of the people who I loved who’ve died. That maybe it is the only final thought anyone could ever really have.

Maybe I just miss my little grey cat.

I don’t know. I guess it’s pretty silly to get so worked up over a television show but hey, I’ve always been a nerd at heart. And I guess we get our hearts broken over the death of The Doctor.

So here’s to Mr. Smith (even with his lumpy head). You’ve got big shows to fill. Don’t mess up. Allons-y!

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