Friday, August 10: Perspective on a Whiner (RIP David Rakoff, Part One)

David Rakoff: Au revoir.

It is Friday morning. I have a toothache. My laptop is behaving oddly. I am on deadline with an essay I don’t feel like writing. The morning news claims temperatures will reach 115 degrees today, and I have errands to run.

I am sitting in my dining room, feeling sorry for myself, when I receive an email from my friend Nathan, who’s writing to tell me that the writer David Rakoff has died. He was 47, and had battled cancer, off and on, for more than half his life.

I want to cling to the perspective that this dreadful news brings. So it’s hot outside today, I tell myself. At least you’re not dead. Nothing. I try this one: Lots of people get toothaches—and you’ve not had one before. That doesn’t work, either. I go for the big guns: And so you haven’t finished the manuscript your agent is waiting to see. Yet you’ve never had cancer.

That one works, but just then I drop my pen and it rolls across the floor and out of my reach, and I have to get up and walk all the way around the table to pick it up, which ruins my entire day, all over again.

I decide to think about David Rakoff. I have read all three of his books, collections of the delightfully dark essays he published in esteemed journals these past several years. I didn’t take to Rakoff’s darkly complex stories about himself at first—usually a good sign with me, because if writing is too facile, I get bored with it. But the more I think about David Rakoff, the worse I feel—for him, because he’s dead, and for myself, because I won’t get to read any more of his essays. And because I’m the sort of person whose day is ruined by having dropped my pen on the floor, a feeling I’m just barely wise enough to be ashamed of.

I write back to Nathan. I tell him about how horrible I am because a writer I admired is dead and I’m feeling sorry for myself because I’ve just discovered a tear in the sleeve of my dressing gown.

And Nathan writes back, “You sound like David Rakoff! Don’t be ashamed. He wouldn’t want you to be. He’d want you be funny and cynical and write something good.”

I’ll try, Nathan.

Thing I Hate Today: Death

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