Saturday, August 11, 2012

David Rakoff

I would first like to acknowledge that clearly I am no good at this blog thing. As anyone who knows me is probably aware, I, who likes to think that I'm excellent at everything I do, am loathe to admit this. l do it only because the glaring date stamp that will inevitably attach itself to this post seems to require it. That stupid series of numbers and letters will not let me go on without addressing the fact that I have not written a word that wasn't forced out of me by a professor or boss in more than 18 months. 

While I am an extremely creative person, I have never considered myself a very good writer. Well, that's not completely true. There was a time, during a ninth grade poetry unit, where I wrote a poem about my addiction to Sprite (my Diet Coke addiction didn't begin until the following year) and my English teacher responded so positively that I thought maybe writing was my calling, but then I went home for the day, turned on my *Nsync CD for the 147th time and, in true ADD fashion, forgot all about it. (In case you are wondering, I found that poem recently, and yes, it is just as terrible as it sounds.)

For me, writing has always been the most impressive of the creative arts. Don't get me wrong, I marvel at other artistic acts just like the next person, and even fancy myself capable of some of them, but to form a thing of beauty that is intelligent, relatable, and entertaining by stringing together 26 letters in various order has always seemed so far beyond my abilities that it is awe-inspiring. I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with the insight my tendency to gage the impressiveness of something by how quick I am to say "I could do that" gives you, but if I'm honest with myself, a lot of you are already aware of that, and so my lack of comfort is moot.

When I sit down to write, whether it is creatively or technically, I typically get writer's block so severe I give up. If that isn't an option, I procrastinate until I piece something together that I know is crap, and thus confirm my inner monologue that I am a terrible writer. I say this not to fish for compliments (really. I promise) but to ensure you understand why, when I opened this blog six months ago to write my annual "new-years-resolution-y" post, I just couldn't write a word and gave up. 

Preparing to write by re-reading my post from the previous year was a bad idea. Every single accomplishment I had so humbly chronicled was no longer true. Just two weeks before Christmas I had been "laid-off" from a job that, granted, had gone from fulfilling to torturous, but still compensated me nicely and gave me a lovely excuse to avoid pursuing what I really wanted to do. 

Because of my busy schedule and then sudden lack of income, I had stopped seeing a personal trainer and, of course, stopped going to the gym. That, coupled with an unhealthy relationship with taquitos I really don't want to get into, meant I had reverted to my doughy, pre-personal trainer self, which, even women with the healthiest of body images will tell you, does nothing for the self-esteem.

My lack of time and money had also forced me to give up piano lessons after learning how to play only one song ("Bluebird" by Sara Bareilles in case you were wondering), and thus put my secret ambition to be a mildly successful singer-songwriter so thoroughly on hold that you might as well have called it "given up." I had also moved back to Provo, partly to foster a budding friendship with two girls who seemed to like me and my obsession with Doctor Who, but also to jump start a romantic life that, despite all my touted improvements, was growing more stagnant by the minute. 

In short, it felt like I had given up all the ground I had gained in 2010, and was still stalled in the middle of the race track. You can see how, six months ago, writing about my growth as a human being and my outlook on the year ahead sounded like an activity more akin to torture than a creative and fulfilling exercise. 

So why am I writing now? I would love to say that it is because I just have to share the amazing ways I have turned it all around again and am doing so well that I am starting a Tony-Robins-esque speaking tour titled "I'm Perfect, and You Can Be Too!", but alas, that would be a lie. (I know. You're shocked) 

Things have gotten better than they were in January. I managed to find a job I really like in spite of the fact that it pays less than I was making at Kinko's and provides no access to benefits (a dilemma for another post). I went through the temple and am developing a relationship with God that feels more authentic and real than ever before. I also played "Bluebird" on the piano while singing in front of people for a ward talent show. I'm still doughier than I'd like to be and I'm still too lazy to do anything about that but, my social life in general is much improved. My romantic life is just as stagnant as ever, but that fact, while not pleasant or satisfying in any way, has become sort of comfortable, even as I prepare to watch a sibling get married for a second time this year. 

No, this overly-long post (I am sorry) was not inspired by my own self-improvement, but by a writer named David Rakoff. Like me, you may know David from his regular contributions to the radio show "This American Life" (see here). When I first heard a segment by him, I was thoroughly impressed by the Intelligent, yet conversational way he was able to relate his life experiences with grace, wit, and honesty, even if that honesty wasn't always flattering.  He was such a master at balancing humor and solemnity that he could have you laughing one minute and ready to cry the next. It's a testament to his talent that I related intensely to the stories he shared, despite the fact that, on paper, we had nothing in common. He had so many more challenges than I did, including a recurring battle with cancer, but I found his answer to the question "Why me?"so inspiring I wanted to share:

"Writer Melissa Bank said it best: 'The only proper answer to 'Why me?' is 'Why not you?' ... In so many other ways, I'm so far ahead of the game. ... 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."
David Rakoff died on Thursday, killed by the cancer that he had written so beautifully about. His death, though not at all surprising, was surprisingly heart breaking for me, and as a tribute to him I've been devouring as much of his work as I could today. Listening to his work always makes me feel verbose, and that, along with a desire to pay tribute to him compelled me to write honestly about myself, just as he always did. 

I will leave you now with my favorite and most recent piece of his for This American Life: Stiff as a Feather, Light as a Board, about losing the use of his left arm. Enjoy.


Post a Comment

Total Pageviews