April 19, 2007


I have found out that I’m a lot more sick than I had thought. I mentioned in a much earlier post that I’ve had problems with my kidneys. In my twenties, the problem was pretty much stable so I chose to ignore it. The results of my biopsy were inconclusive and it was easier to believe that the problem wasn’t so bad. Going to the doctor every six months to hear the same thing again was deflating, a reminder twice a day that I was sick. It was so disheartening to be 25 and have the constitution of an old man.

I went to the doctor last week and found out that my kidneys have deteriorated pretty significantly, 26% capacity. It could vacillate closer 30% but not much more. Doctor told me that most healthy people lose 1% of their kidney function every year in their forties, so I’m looking at a pretty big drop-off. Basically, I’m dying faster than most people my age.

Now that I’m a father, I’m much more eager to take care of myself. It’s also less insulting to me that I should live like an old man—avoiding salt, cholesterol, and healing slowly. I can live with it. I want to. I’ve also got a hell of a lot more to live for than when I was 25, lost, self-hating, and immature.

I really feel like I’ve made myself sick. In the past few years, I’ve been insanely caught up in all the world’s ills and how we’re heading to collapse and, in many ways, deserve it. I really think this mental toxic build-up is partly responsible for this. Too much toxic feeling has been entering my body, overloading it. Not that I’m going to drop my novel—about WW III—but I think I do have to change the way I think, along with what I eat, how I exercise, etc.

Meanwhile I’ve been watching the horror in Virginia and it ties into this. I’ve been immersing myself, like I don’t have a choice, like I might learn something. I had the same response after reading about that young guy who killed his neighbor, a ten-year-old girl, about a year ago. He had a blogspot blog and it was a horribly eerie thing to read, like something I might have written myself at a certain time. He wasn’t totally empty, a moron—on the sidebar were interesting links, he had interesting taste in music, showing that he was somewhat alive. Cho is the same way—his plays are deranged but he wasn’t illiterate. It takes some positive energy to create something, doesn’t it?

My first novel was about a celebrity stalker who begins by stalking a girl on a college campus. She doesn’t respond to his letters to her and so he gets angrier:

I would care for you like you've never been cared for before. I know the pains of the world so I know how to avoid them. I could have been your shelter. But you ignored me. If only you knew what you were ignoring. One day I'm going to be great and you'll regret you ever let me go. I'm the one. Do you have so much better to do? I've seen your friends. They're not very interesting, like most people here. They care only about themselves. And what do they care about? Frail, vile, boring people like themselves. Maybe like you…But remember, I've got the upper hand. I know who you are but you don't know me. I'm the one and you didn't realize it. You're too petty. Maybe the best way to get back is to get revenge.

Later he stalks and tries to kill Tim Griffith, movie star, a veiled version of Tom Cruise:

I will show the world what a false man you are. I will make you suffer like the rest of us. I am going to ruin you. Afterwards, you will be a broken man. That will be your real lesson. I will teach you like a ruler on the back of the hand. And then my job will be done.

None of this is so far off from Cho railing against the rich and the privileged who ignored him at Virginia Tech. I have felt this way before—felt that I was glorifying something that should be shunned. At the same time, it’s a book. And it’s a book about ideas—the idea that celebrity represents vanity, superficiality and shouldn’t be so adored, which it shouldn’t. The book’s not just about hate, but how love doesn’t exist as much as it should. I would never in my life make murder a reality. But I can't deny that the book came from a similar place, a lonely, less-attractive kid railing against the rich and comfortable. And if I wrote the book while I was in college—which I did, actually, just not for a class—they would have singled me out as a potential shooter.

My natural state of being is just to point out the shit in the world. I’ve justified it in the past: at least it fuels writing, even if it’s not healthy. Like I watched a news report about VT in which the anchor sounded so excited to be talking to a guy who was trapped in a classroom watching his classmates die—you could hear the glee in her voice. The guy is bruised for life and she is happy about her scoop. Fuck her, I think.

The other morning I open up my Yahoo homepage and there’s a story that David Mamet is going to direct Ford commercials. Fuck him, I think. Does he really need the money? There are so many “fuck that” moments in my day to day. Ways that the world is crumbling. I just see the world as full of so much pollution, and, to get esoteric, bad thoughts are as bad for the atmosphere as a smoke stack. I believe that, just as I believe that all of my negativity hasn’t been so great on my body.

The new novel ends on a positive note, even if the road there is brutal, sort of how I see my life going. This news about my illness does have a positive flipside. There are things I appreciate more now. Much like when my daughter was born—it was a slap in the face telling me, this is what it is to be alive. I don’t want to waste any more time.

All in all, though, it’s been a fucked up week, meditating about death: my own, innocent student’s, and the world’s. I really need to start thinking differently. Like Travis Bickle says, “Too much abuse has gone on for too long.”


nat said...

Yeah man, absolutely. The whole angry, adolescent thing is bad news. Indeed, it is has been pointed out that those of us with darker dispositions would do well to surround ourselves with those more well-adjusted.

As for Mamet - no need to hate! Surely, he has his own problems.
Apparently he can't write plays anymore (or perhaps he chooses not to, as he is apparently obligated to have his wife act in them - and the less said about her talents, the better).

Here's the thing: anybody living in the USA and working (or even flailing desperately) in the arts has nothing to complain about.
We are all very lucky to be alive in a country where we are past the point of trying to survive, and can focus on trying to be happy/fulfilled/whatever. For even if we fail, we're doing better than 99.9% of the world.

Freud himself noted that neurotics, hysterics, etc, were all products of the upper and upper-middle classes! When people have actual real life/survival issues to deal with, personal demons became a moot point.

Steven said...

Change the way you act, and it will change the way you think. Trying to do it the other way rarely, if ever, works.

Henry Baum said...

Both helpful comments, thanks. This a mantra to live by: anybody living in the USA and working (or even flailing desperately) in the arts has nothing to complain about.

Especially the flailing desperately part. I've got the freedom to flail, to study what I have been. I also like this quote I saw recently, from Mark Twain. Sort of related:

"It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them."

Natalia said...

Oh dear! I just hope that you can take care of yourself in all this!

My very young cousin was born with a deformed kidney. She's been dealing with this shit ever since she was very small. But you know, she's getting on fine. Even in a place like Ukraine.

So there is definitely hope.

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