maybe you’re gonna make it after all…

or maybe not.

Hey, if you’re slowing to a crawl, thanks to the soul-crushing, voracious ghouls chasing you, here’s a bit of a pick me up: a site that will tell you, based on your birthday, about all the fascinating people who died before they made it to your age.

If cheating mortality ain’t good enough for you, I’m not  sure what is. Thanks to the literary folk at NewPages for this one…

Dead.AtYourAge.com

Wanna see how relatively young I am?

I’ve outlived Phil Lynott by almost a week. He was a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and founding member of rock group Thin Lizzy. He died of heart failure and pneumonia on January 4, 1986, when I was 13 years old.

Franz Fanon was two weeks younger than me when he died on December 6, 1961. He was an author of “The Wretched of the Earth” and advocate of anti-colonial violence. He died 11 years before I was born.

I’ve outlived Jacques René Hébert by two weeks. He was an editor of radical newspaper “Le Père Duchesne” during the French Revolution. He died of execution by guillotine on March 24, 1794, 179 years before I was born.

Bruno Hauptmann was about two weeks younger than me when he died of execution by electric chair on April 3, 1936. He was a perpetrator of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh, Jr.. He died 37 years before I was born.

See? Fun.

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David Foster Wallace

In grad school, the professors wouldn’t let me write my thesis on Infinite Jest because none of them had read it, and when they saw that it topped 1100 pages (I don’t have my copy to give you precise numbers, I just moved and don’t have anything in the fridge and need to go shopping but can’t get past a long day of running around after a toddler with a heart heavy from the pain of DFW’s death thudding around in my stomach, and am not in the best mood, so bear with me on estimates) of densely packed text and endnotes sheer rambling genius, they balked at the workload reading both his novel and my thesis would bring to their carefully balanced lives.

I resented their laziness. Then I changed topics and vowed one day to write an erudite lit-crit analysis of the text. Especially because Wallace excelled at but distrusted literary criticism. But shite happened and I haven’t gotten around to it.

I blogged about a month ago that I felt disconnected from the world when I realized Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had been dead for three days before I knew. It was as though my sadness didn’t count any more because I had missed the window.

This time, the world rotated twice before I knew DFW died. The announcement rocked me to the core but didn’t change my day. And that, itself, saddens me because it means my life is so shifted off its base that the shockingly early death of one of my top five creative inspirations doesn’t even rate a schedule change. The rest of my week, though, shuddered and sputtered as the implications of his death sunk in.

And I don’t know what to say. I’ve known for two days and I don’t know what to say. (Updating this weeks later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) His writing changed me. I saw him speak once (thanks MPB and SBB) and his speaking did not change me. The creepy cult curiously smarmy cadre of followers did not change me. I was rarely tempted to quit my job and run off to Pomona to be his student, because I didn’t feel any need to be connected with him personally. I didn’t want to be taught by him or to talk with him or to write for him. I wanted to read his work.

And now there won’t be more.

I may be silly to feel his death as a weighty presence in my life. The man himself had no presence in my life. His characters, their actions, their idiosyncrasies, their seismically surreal lives had a transient presence in my life. But all I have to do is recall the cover of his weighty novel and I can again touch the intellectual dance of reading it. I can feel my hunger for more as I read myself bleary-eyed for the entire summer of 1997 (I was busy in the summer of 1996. I didn’t pick up IJ because of the grant. I picked it up because I wanted a book that would ensure nobody would talk to me on BART, a la The Accidental Tourist. But I loved it intensely then, and would love to reread it now.) I can feel my connection and revulsion and confusion at Wallace’s characters every time someone says his name.

And I want more. I’m angry and disappointed that there won’t be more.

I loved his lobster piece for Gourmet magazine. I love that he took the job, puzzled at the pop cultural status that brought him such tangential work, and I loved his rambling thoroughness. I loved that he came to the conclusion that it’s just not okay to boil creatures alive.

I haven’t read the obits. I don’t even know how he died. (I found out later and wrote a horrible post on this blog, of which I am embarrassed but which I will not erase.) I don’t care how he died. This is not a Jeff Buckley story or a Kurt Cobain story or a River Phoenix story. I wish I knew what kind of story this is. All I know is that the woot from Sept. 16 made me feel all too keenly that nobody will take DFW’s place.

And now all I can think is, I hope all you bastard literary canon snobs will read his work, because you missed the boat the first time. When I write my PhD dissertation on his work and one of you lazy self preserving pricks says you haven’t read it, I will produce all the contemporary fiction on the shelves and say, “well, it’s better than and worse than and different than this….And it’s all we have left.”

The Macarthur grant bit always forces the genius label. I don’t know that he was genius. I just know I really love reading his writing. I don’t even know that I love his writing itself. I love the experience of reading it. And that is the ultimate compliment for an author. I don’t even love your work, man. I just love what it does to my head.

We’re all going to miss you, and our minds are poorer now that yours is silent. I hope, at least, that the pain is gone.

Arrested moment of reflection

The instant Peanut goes down for a nap, I fire up the computer. My goals are always to check email, to read the news, and to do some writing. Often I spend the whole time at amazon, but that’s an entry for another day.

Today the first thing I check is the CNN homepage. Staying at home with a small person makes me feel frighteningly isolated, and I often worry that nobody would tell me if the sky were falling, or there were a terrorist attack, or we’d finally gotten rid of the electoral college, or Kurt Vonnegut died (I’m still not over that I didn’t know for a few days about that one). Ten minutes into nap (not right away because I have to pee some time. When Peanut was a baby I never had time because I had to much to do. Now I don’t have time because..well, because I have too much to do. And because he barks at me, in two-year-old-ese, Mommy No Pee!! I don’t let him tell me what to do, of course, but I like to do what I need to do without someone hanging on me, whining at me, yelling at me, and watching me. Label that what you will.)

Anyway, ten minutes into nap, when I finally sit down, the lead story on CNN announces Randy Pausch’s death. I’m sure you’ve seen the lectures on YouTube , or the Oprah special, or something. If not, please do. I’m not generally a “live your life as though today was your last day” because I’m not that smaltzy and because even the people who believe that don’t really live that way all day. It’s a goal, fine. It’s a lovely sentiment. It’s just not me. But Dr. Pausch’s lecture was compelling in his message to his children. Well written, funny, warm. Parental. Not patriarchal. Not pedantic. Just darn parental.

And I’m sorry, so sorry, for his family that he’s gone.

As I read, I begin to think about the lecture, its meaning, my family, my life; and I get about 3 seconds into a life-affirming and potentially attitude-altering moment when my cats start going at it. Not just the afternoon wrestling, but serious, fur flying, yowling, painful fight about a foot from my ear. So much for thinking about what my family will mean to me when I’m dying—I’m deciding how to handle the little bastards’ intrusion into my hour of peace.

I coo at them, gently berating them to be nice to each other because, as I remind them, they’ll be dead some day and then they’ll regret treating each other so poorly. Not the best parenting, I know. But I use them as practice. I have to get out all the sarcasm, the clichés, and the detritus so I’ll get to the good stuff by the time Peanut needs perspective on why we don’t beat the tar out of each other while mommy is trying to freaking think about life and death.

If I was living the lessons of Sarah Napthali’s Buddhism for Mothers: a calm approach to caring for yourself and your children, I might have just observed the cats’ altercation, gently redirected them to more pleasant activities that respected their need to engage in physical activity, and guided my thoughts softly back to Randy Pausch, his family, his students, his life, my life, my family, my goals, my dreams, and my aspirations for making the world a better place. But I’ve only gotten a few pages into Napthali’s book and haven’t really internalized the whole “living each moment fully” central tenet of Buddhism. My moments for reading are few—during Peanut’s nap or nighttime slumbers, but only after I’ve tidied, washed and put away dishes, dragged Peanut’s bathwater out to the garden (screw you, Al Gore, Bono, and all the rich people who have “people” or technology to handle their grey water), swept, done a load of laundry, packed lunches for the next day, checked email, returned phone calls, paid bills, done client work, cleaned visible dirt, changed the litterbox, regretted not working on videos and photo albums, exercised, snacked, washed, brushed, and changed. So maybe in a few years, when I’ve read a few more pages, I can react more appropriately to the rude interruption during contemplation of Randy Pausch’s words.

Maybe I’ll think about how to live more fully tonight after I do a few things around the house. Or maybe I’ll save all the work for tomorrow, so I can spend all of Peanut’s waking hours doing chores instead of interacting. While I’m at it, I can regain my focus on writing, thinking, and being a whole person instead of being awash in the confusion, frustration, and giddiness of being a newish mom. I could push our toddler to the back burner and make some headway on my projects. But that would mean I hadn’t learned anything from Pausch’s lecture, and what kind of student would that make me?

(Okay, seriously, they’re going at it again. I can’t even wax semi-philosophical for a stinking blog without the cat bastards intruding into my otherwise tenuous grip on adult thought. Why, why, why didn’t I just adopt a newt?)