After the plague

I have to preface this essay by making one thing clear: I have to great love for dystopian visions, or narratives of the apocalypse.

As a much younger man, I reveled in tales of the end of the world, or of the world gone wrong. Nineteen Eighty-four was my lodestar. Brave New World possessed a strange allure, as I in my hubris knew I’d be born as an Alpha. Alas, Babylon was a seminal work in my adolescence. And, of course, who can forget A Canticle for Leibowitz, whose central theme is that the problem is with humanity, regardless of how many chances it gets to get things right.

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On my curious malady

It’s something I always ignored.

“Oh, it didn’t affect me. I wasn’t bullied. I had lots of friends.”

And no, I wasn’t bullied. And yes, I had lots of friends.

But to pretend that my curious malady had no effect on my is the mere sticking my head in the sand and ignoring my history.

What’s this malady? Why, it’s what denied me insurance as a “pre-existing condition” before Obamacare: my stutter.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t stutter. As long as I can recall speaking, I stuttered.

And we’re not talking about a cute little stammering hesitation. We’re talking about gut-wrenching, running out of breath blocks, where I just couldn’t get the words out, couldn’t make myself heard, face contorted, body twisting just to force out the words. I can just imagine what my face looked like, wracked with the effort of mere speech, speech which came as easily as walking to anyone else.

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On “The Sense of an Ending”

I read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending early last year. And it still lingers in me. Its brief 163 pages belie the universe it packs in them. And that universe is one of loss and disappointment, which, now that I’m a middle-aged man, seem to speak to me: roads not taken, decisions made or not made, an entire alternate life—a better life?—left to some other reality.


This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.

I so often, growing up, thought my life would be like a book. Don’t we all? I’d be successful, prosperous, among the gliteratti. My best friend once had a dream that I had just returned to Los Angeles from a meeting with a New York publisher in time for her wedding. That’s the way we thought.

I’m not saying that my life is awful. Far from it. I have a loving spouse. I have wonderful fur-kids. I have a job I love. I have friends and family I adore. I’m happy with the path I chose.

But did I choose it? And how much of this path I’m on was determined by my youthful fantasies, the idea that my life should be like a great story, unfolding, with a neat, happy ending? Surely at age 20 I thought I’d be a securely published writer by age 45. (Actually, I always had an idea that I’d die young. I didn’t want to age. Age was where fire died.)

Literature is plotted. It is laid out. Even when it seems without plot, there is an intelligence putting one word after another, one scene following upon the previous.

Life, if you’re lucky, sometimes bends to your will. More often it careens wildly, throwing up hardships and joys, rain on the just and unjust. As Don DeLillo said, “all plots lead towards death’; but you don’t even need a plot for that. Life will, eventually, end the same for all, by ending. With the end of a book, the reader can imagine a vista opening up past the last page. I assume some of the religious reading this say the same happens for life. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

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