Friday, January 18, 2013

The essential racket

Another bad report from my oncologist, another “last resort” drug kicked. Whether the tumor has spread, or has simply increased its metabolic activity, only time and further scans—PET, bone, CT—will tell. I now live in intervals of three months; that’s about as long as it takes for the latest drug to sputter out into ineffectiveness. Thankfully there are still more drugs to go. (How many last resorts can you use up before they stop being last resorts?) The hope, at this stage, is that pharmacological discoveries will come along faster than my cancer. “The longer you go,” my oncologist says with logic that’s hard to deny, “the longer you go.”

I am caught in a dizzying loop: three months of hope collide with dread when the cancer overpowers the drug I am on, but just as I resign myself to the beginning of the end, a new drug pulls the cancer down—for how long? I find that I am not afraid of death, but of end-stage cancer’s incapacity. I am haunted by dream visions of myself, foul-smelling and delirious, my children reluctant to approach the stranger in my bed. Why do I feel no desperation to read those big fat classics I have shamefully neglected till now?—Gargantua and Pantagruel, Les Misérables, War and Peace, The Feminine Mystique. How stupid of me to waste my remaining months on contemporary fiction: right? To read it at such an unhurried pace! And to write about it in this blog, which very few people will ever read! What about fame? What about influence? I’d rather watch the NFL playoffs this Sunday.

It’s true that cancer concentrates the mind wonderfully, but it’s also wonderful just what the mind prefers to concentrate upon. While the inessential is stripped away, it turns out that what’s essential is not the same as what’s important. The essential is what makes soul clap hands and sing, and no counsel to get serious in the face of death stands much chance of being heard over the essential racket.

22 comments:

Edward Bauer said...

Dear David, first of all I wish you peace. As a regular reader, I understand that this blog is not essential to you, but you do have a great deal to share with us who follow along. Time with your family and friends, intellectual pleasures, your favorite teams beating the crap out of the ones you dislike -- these are much more important. We're here when you feel like telling us something. Until then, continued prayers for full remission and restored health. May God bless you and your family, especially in this difficult time. Eddie Bauer
P.S. -- I didn't enjoy Sophie Wilder as much as I had hoped I would. Another discussion for another day.

D. G. Myers said...

Edward,

You are the first, I believe, who has not reacted enthusiastically to What Happened to Sophie Wilder. Tell me why, tell me more.

—David

Edward Bauer said...

Since you are good enough to ask, I will spend some time re-reading it and your commentary (if I can use that word), then try to write a thoughtful response. Thank you for your interest in my opinion.

-- Eddie

Frank Wilson said...

This Catholic will burn a candle for you, David.

Anonymous said...

This Catholic will keep you in his prayers too.

George said...

Les Miserables was hard enough on the patience of a man in good health; I don't think it would improve your frame of mind. Come to think of it, it has in common with War and Peace just too many pages philosophizing about the Napoleonic wars. But I have a weak spot for Gargantua and Pantagruel; at least look up the list of books in the university library.

Oddly enough, I'm not sure my parish has a rack of candles. (I've only been there, what, 8 years?) But if we do, I'll follow Frank's example.

R.W. said...

I read your blog faithfully. You have enriched my life, and this may get you blessings in heaven (and here, too). Please keep going.

Courtney said...

I think the size of the audience of A Commonplace Blog is far less important than the impact it has on your readers. It's a treasury of criticism and thought. It has brought me Francine Prose and Philip Roth. It challenges me to read with more care. Keep writing. We're reading.

Kata Phusin said...

I committed your last sentence to my notebook and blog, which is a sign of my wish to perpetuate the beauty to be found here, on your blog. Here's to quality over quantity - and reading or doing what makes the heart sing. For what it's worth, you were in my thoughts and prayers this morning.

Anonymous said...

"The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace."

Tim (Seattle)

Anonymous said...

This person enjoys your blog. You are not unappreciated. I have recently ordered some book based entirely on your recommendations.
I'm not a believer but you have my warmest good thoughts and best wishes. Thank you for writing so honestly.

Jenny said...

David,
Contemporary fiction, our part in the long conversation, matters just as much as the longer, older gems. I don't quite know how to express my appreciation for your blog and your guidance through the thicket of today's book and writing world. I also have you and your family in my prayers. I am vastly grateful for the authors you've introduced me to. Enjoy today's playoffs!

Susan Messer said...

I don't mean to be at all flip. I find these postings about your cancer to be very moving, and I carry them with me for a long time after I have read them. But I was thinking that some people talk about what they would want for their last meal, or they say, if I knew I only had ___ weeks to live, I would _____. But what book would one want to be one's last?

Anonymous said...

Dear David,
I'm in tears reading your last post but I have faith that the Doctors will find another drug that works.

You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Fondly,
Lee Ellen Bornstein Scharhon

Dan M. said...

Really sad to hear about your continued illness, but glad, selfishly, that you find yourself drawn to the blog instead of the classics.

Your work here and elsewhere has renewed my faith in writing—my own and everyone else's—after two years' worth of MFA-grade disillusionment.

Anonymous said...

To inspire others to be better is the best of gifts that we can offer to the world and you have inspired me to be better. I wish you and your family the very best.

R.T. said...

I cannot hope to understand completely your situation. I can, however, tell you (without including details) that I once went through a similar though much less harrowing experience. Someone reminded me of one of my favorite poems, which I had forgotten because of my preoccupations, and that poem made quite a bit of difference for me. The poem is Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night," one of the most remarkable villanelles ever written. I hope you will accept the foregoing in the spirit of kindness that I intend. (From your blogging friend from the past, the Gulf coast lit teacher.)

marly youmans said...

David,

You have made a difference in my life, and I pray that you find better health in the months to come.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say but I must say something. Thank you for Francine Prose. Thank you for Chaim Grade. Thank you for Perry Miller. Thank you for Wilfrid Sheed. Thank you for J.V. Cunningham. Thank you for Ha Jin. Thank you for Isaac Rosenfeld.

I have ordered your book from Amazon.

- reuven

Richard Kuntz said...

This Reform Jew will do what Reform don't generally do, say a petitionary prayer for you.

Richard

Anonymous said...

You were my professor in the early 2000s. I took two of your classes (American novel and Bible as lit.), but the extent of our communication was during your frenzied lectures/discussions, and perhaps a handful of one-on-ones after class.

I don't know if you care, but I want you to know that your instruction has impacted me greatly. You've changed the way I read and write; you've helped me evolve my thinking about authors, their intent, the problem of evil. You introduced me to Roth and Nabokov, among others.

I know you're staring down some heavy stuff, and this may not matter a whole lot at the moment, but I just want you to know that you made a difference in my life...for what that's worth.

Bob Corrick said...

An inessential comment from a new reader - your writing made me think of Primo Levi. I want to believe that he didn't take his own life, and I offer this in case it is of interest to you.