Some Sort of Magical Thinking

Death is not easy to talk about. It never has been for me. It’s scary. It’s final.

I have death anxiety. Severe. There are extended periods of time (ie: the winter, bad break-ups) where I’m completely preoccupied with ‘the end’, obsessed by the idea that it may be right around the corner. Will my next step be the wrong one? I’m superstitious. I’m extremely paranoid. I’m not comfortable writing any of this right now, because I feel like something bad will happen to me.

The other day I stood outside The Dakota at the corner of West 72nd and Central Park West, gazing up at the top. It’s an imposing building with it’s gargoyles and gothic architecture, but in a way, it’s wickedly beautiful. I visit often because I’m a big Beatles fan. It’s where John Lennon lived. It’s also where John Lennon died.

As I looked at the archway – that archway, I imagined what it must have been like that balmy Monday night – December 8, 1980, Lennon walking out of his limo and through the archway before a man stepped out of the shadows fired gunshots into him. He probably had no idea what happened. Did he feel them? Was he sure they were gunshots? Did he experience pain? Could he feel death coming? Just minutes later, it was all over. Gone forever.

Exactly four years and 356 days later, I was born. My first breath came that long after his last. It’s stunning to think that these people live their entire lives before others are born. I mean, this has been happening for thousands of years. It’s just a weird thing to think about.. Why do I think this about John Lennon? I don’t know. There’s something personal about his death, so unfair and sudden that even those who didn’t even exist when he lived can feel that injustice on such a visceral level.

That brings me to the book I just read. A book about death. Real death. Personal suffering. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne were two renowned authors who worked and lived together for nearly 40 years. They mostly worked together, were close confidants and aided each other in their writing process. Throughout their time together, they had one daughter, Quintana. Sometime in 2003, Quintana became gravely ill and ended up in a coma. This is essentially where the book begins.

On the night of December 30, 2003 the couple returned home from the hospital. As Didion began to prepare dinner, Dunne suffered a fatal heart attack. Within seconds, Didion’s life is changed forever. She loses her confidant. Her daughter is gravely ill, and she’s right in the middle of it.

This detail of the story should be compelling enough to make it a book worth reading. What surprised me the most was the clarity Didion recalls this year. Her process of grieving. Trying to come to terms with her husband’s death while she needs to tend to her very sick daughter. It seems insurmountable. But she finds a way to do it.

What’s special about this book is that It’s free of melodrama and self-help anecdotes – instead, there’s a plainness to it. Crisp, clear and direct. She doesn’t want sympathy and doesn’t provide the reader the opportunity to feel bad for her. This is her life. This is her experience. This is how she is dealing with it. Cut and dry.

The Year of Magical Thinking made me feel better about dying. Of course it’s going to happen to me. It will continue to happen around me as the years go by until it’s my time. What I learned from Didion is this: You must keep on. You must persist. If you don’t, you’re doing just as well as those that are already gone.

The End of the Beginning

This is a brand new decade. It can’t be any newer. The one that ended yesterday seemed to go at a traumatically brisk pace. The 1990s seemed to exist way longer than they actually were. This, in part because there was a mélange of cultural moments, styles and ideas that shaped each year and still make them easy to define. This decade? Not so much. Every cultural phenomona seemed to hit at once, and then linger. There were so many things happening, they packed every square inch of calendar space.

The two-thousands are the first decade I can remember from beginning to end with clarity. Most of my formative years- the things that shape your life and set you on the course you’re on now happened. It was a unique time to be growing up, because instead of the glacial change and relative peace of the decade before it, the world seemed to rise and fall just as I hit highs and lows as well.

This decade was a hyper intense cycle of life and death, war and despair, hope and loss and and an overwhelming amount of information coming all at once. So much, I’ve struggled writing this because I don’t know exactly what to include.

It was an insane time to grow up – both good and bad. The wars, the endless stream of controversies, the first two presidential elections are some of the least proud moments – but at the same time, there was the music, the movies, and the people who worked to make this world (and my life) a better place.

I feel privileged to have had a front row seat. I got to form my opinions on a world that was experiencing growing pains just as I had mine. I learned nothing was easy, dreams can die, and things don’t always turn out the way they’re supposed to.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit fatalistic. If I’ve learned anything else: there’s almost always second chances. There are ways to get the things you want. There are ways to better yourself and the world around you.

There’s always the time to dream bigger and make them a reality.

I now know more than ever, this is my chance to.

2009

I felt like Lewis and Clark traveling in a sedan caravan.

I suppose what I remember most about my first excursion this year was that endless stretch of Ohio that bleeds into Pennsylvania – the precipice between the hills that age and become mountains when you cross the border. It’s like watching the evolution of nature with each mile. These memories are at the crux of every road trip. You have the enthusiasm at the get go, then the reward at the end. The middle – that’s where the magic is.

I find myself thinking about these middles a lot more than what bookend them. I think that’s what I like most about traveling – getting there. There’s nothing more than getting to lay your eyes on things you haven’t seen before. Sometimes it’s boring (ie: cornfields) or exhilarating (ie: the Appalachians). I constantly find myself in awe that I’m actually doing it, escaping from my house and making a future for myself. When I was younger, I don’t think I afforded myself that kind of freedom in my head. I had my own restraints. I honestly didn’t think I was going anywhere – nor did I really know I had the power to.

I guess that’s why I do it now. That’s why I’ve been to so many different states (and one other country) in this past year. I’m making up for lost time. I want to experience it now, not wait for some other time that I don’t know that I have. I understand how that may sound morose, but it’s true. I constantly feel I’m working against a clock.

I feel I’ve woven a pretty nice tapestry: Baltimore, D.C., New York City (x2), Albany, Buffalo, Urbana-Champaign, Bloomington, Iowa City, Toronto, Minneapolis (x3), Madison, and Memphis. The problem with this is that I haven’t gone that far West of the Mississippi, but I’m working to rectify that as early as January.

You’ve been a part of these memories – reading, encouraging, experiencing with, filling in the blanks.

Coloring in between my lines.

Richard, THIS is Happening!

While I agree that most of the DirecTV spots involving classic movies can be really entertaining (this, in particular), but the Tommy Boy one is pretty tasteless.

There’s two things that I find offensive: that Chris Farley’s likeness is being used to shill premium television, and the fact that David Spade took the dough to get in another cheap laugh at the expense of his dead “friend”. The emphasis is on “friend” because Spade skipped Farley’s funeral because “he could not be in a room where Chris was in a box.” That’s always sounded like a weak excuse to me. Then he does this.

Knowing that Spade and Farley shared a close personal relationship, and for Spade to accept compensation to depreciate (comically or not) Farley’s likeness comes off desperate, and frankly, in poor taste. I know Spade just had a kid, but he couldn’t possibly need the money that bad. He’s stayed afloat this decade on “Joe Dirt” and “Dickie Roberts”. For Spade, I guess the almighty dollar is more important than friendship. I’m not clear if the Farley family authorized the commercial, or even if they had the power to in the first place. Either way, there are plenty great comedies to choose from. Don’t pick the one with the helpless dead guy.

Even though it’s part of the ‘joke’, Spade says something profound in the commercial:

“Great, I’m here with Tons O’ Fun, when I could be at home watching DirecTV…”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be with Tons O’Fun.

I kinda miss having the guy around.

Programming Note

I just wanted to issue a quick apology. The site underwent a hiatus for the past month due to a few freelance opportunities that took up most of my free time. Have no fear though, we’re coming back. Currently, we’re editing a rather lengthy piece to put on this site and should be up in the coming days.

So stay tuned, and thank you for your support!