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00:00:09From the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing at
00:00:11The Ohio State University, this is Writers Talk.
00:00:13I'm Doug Dangler.
00:00:15David Rakoff is The New York Times bestselling author of
00:00:18Don't Get Too Comfortable and Fraud.
00:00:21His latest collection of essays is titled Half Empty.
00:00:24He is a regular contributor to "This American Life"
00:00:26on Public Radio International.
00:00:28Welcome to Writers Talk, David Rakoff.
00:00:30Thanks for having me.
00:00:32Well, Steven Stephens of the Columbus Dispatch recently published
00:00:36a piece that said, that asked if you were bringing a message
00:00:40of "jocular despair" when coming to Ohio.
00:00:44Yes, and I thought that was actually a really good term,
00:00:47"jocular despair." I thought it was a perfect term, in fact.
00:00:49Why is it a perfect term?
00:00:50Why does that describe you, the way you write?
00:00:52Because it doesn't take either element
00:00:55of that expression too seriously.
00:00:59It doesn't elevate the joking to sort of noble, medicinal qualities.
00:01:03And the despair is not the kind of despair that keeps someone in bed
00:01:11all day and would best be described as mental illness.
00:01:15It's a kind of more systemic melancholy.
00:01:19A way of seeing the world that doesn't
00:01:22Doesn't do evil.
00:01:24Doesn't rob you of your agency.
00:01:25Paralyzing despair.
00:01:27No, does not.
00:01:27Ok. How did you arrive at that? Tell me about.
00:01:31You're from Canada.
00:01:36And we always take the Canadians to be cheerful.
00:01:39I don't know, I'm just saying.
00:01:40No. The Canadians are, if there is a national character,
00:01:44the Canadians are actually closer to the Scandinavians,
00:01:46if you think about it.
00:01:48Well, it's their.
00:01:49It's a northern climate, so there's a certain kind of unflappable,
00:01:53almost melancholia there.
00:01:58But that's neither here nor there because my parents
00:01:59were immigrants and, you know.
00:02:01But. So I arrived out at, in a, in the way that anybody arrives
00:02:08at their essential character. It was certainly preverbal.
00:02:13It was potentially preconscious, who knows.
00:02:16But I was always somewhat, I always gravitated toward
00:02:21the melancholic end of the spectrum, just in terms of affect.
00:02:26So it was not a choice that I made.
00:02:30You know, it's not like I got to college and suddenly reinvented myself
00:02:32and gave myself a French name, or something like that.
00:02:36I did, however, in college, paint Van Gogh sunflowers in large format
00:02:40in my dorm room wall because I thought that would be
00:02:43really cool and artistic.
00:02:45Did it end up being cool and artistic?
00:02:47It did! It did! It was kind of cool, you know.
00:02:52A fairly good likeness of Van Gogh sunflowers that I painted.
00:02:55Yeah, it was kind of cool.
00:02:56But this is not that. This is just.
00:03:00This is my third book and it's not as if the sensibility of the
00:03:04previous two books, or indeed of everything that I've written
00:03:08hasn't already been through the same lens.
00:03:10I mean, it all comes out of my brain.
00:03:13And because I am fortunate enough to, if not always write
00:03:20in the first person, but am allowed to be present in the writing
00:03:24while at the same time, have the great good fortune
00:03:27of not having to be a memoirist.
00:03:29More on that in a bit.
00:03:33It had always been my sensibility to be somewhat more melancholic.
00:03:39Why the great good fortune to not be a memoirist?
00:03:42I've seen you object to that phrase a couple times.
00:03:44I do, I really bridle at a memoirist.
00:03:46That's why you used it first.
00:03:49I know.
00:03:50Because you didn't want, as we used to say in literary circles,
00:03:52a knuckle sandwich.
00:03:54Right, that's right.
00:03:55Give you what for.
00:03:56Right, interesting literary circles you're traveling in.
00:04:00If that's.
00:04:01It's more Hemingway-esque, you know?
00:04:02Well the thing is you just have to look at me
00:04:04to know I'm just all brawn.
00:04:06Right, yeah.
00:04:07I got the same.
00:04:09See the fists flying first and then ask questions later.
00:04:10That's why you can see on the cover of your book,
00:04:13Just a violent.
00:04:15It's violent.
00:04:15Kind of a He-Man book, yeah.
00:04:17That's me.
00:04:18So memoirist, not you, why?
00:04:21Not me because I always bridle up the term for a variety of reasons.
00:04:26One is that, just if one were to read my actual writing,
00:04:32it's extremely guarded in its personal revelation.
00:04:35This book is more personal than my previous books.
00:04:39But generally, if I'm writing about myself and experience that I've
00:04:42had, it's, and experience that I've gone out
00:04:45to have in order to write about it.
00:04:47I very rarely write about my life in such as it is and if I do,
00:04:51it's almost always in the past in a very, very past kind of way.
00:04:56Also, I don't write about my family.
00:04:58I mean, I acknowledge that they exist, I wasn't.
00:05:01I'm not, you know.
00:05:02I wasn't raised in some petri dish.
00:05:05That is the most guarded statement I've ever heard someone say
00:05:07about a family: "I acknowledge that they exist."
00:05:09You know what I mean.
00:05:10I wasn't raised on some smear of Agar gel in a petri dish.
00:05:13I have a family, you know.
00:05:14So. But I don't write about them.
00:05:17I don't write about my love life, I don't write about my
00:05:19romantic life or my sex life.
00:05:21It's just, I don't do it.
00:05:23So in that sense I'm really not a memoirist.
00:05:26The other thing is that I think we've reached a point culturally
00:05:31where not only is there a glut of memoirs on the market,
00:05:36but so many of the memoirs rely upon the harrowing nature
00:05:41of the tale that they're telling,
00:05:44to real detriment and complete ignoring of notions of craft.
00:05:49Do you know what I mean?
00:05:50The fact that your father dispatched the rest of your family through a
00:05:54wood chipper on Christmas Eve is really the crux of the book and
00:05:59whether or not you tell the story well is secondary.
00:06:04That's not sort of how I feel about writing.
00:06:07I'd rather be known for my capacity for language and ability to render
00:06:15things accurately or vividly than I am the particulars of my biography.
00:06:22That said, I'm aware that that's a little line that I'm choosing
00:06:25to walk and there may well be people who have read my stuff
00:06:29who are saying to themselves while watching this,
00:06:32"who does he think he's kidding?"
00:06:36But that's my little story that I tell myself.
00:06:39It's not really for me to say whether that's true.
00:06:43I hope it's true.
00:06:44I hope I'm not a memoirist for all those reasons I just cited, but.
00:06:47Well that interests me because you've done a of work for
00:06:50"This American Life."
00:06:52And you're often associated with David Sedaris.
00:06:55Who I think walks a different line.
00:06:57Yes, very much so.
00:07:00And David, you know, is one of my best friends, and I really feel like
00:07:02I owe David my entire career.
00:07:04So let's talk about David.
00:07:05No, I'm just kidding.
00:07:07But you know, it is a different.
00:07:09And everybody makes these choices and I'm not questioning the choices,
00:07:12I'm curious about what leads to them, you know.
00:07:15I mean you've got somebody like David Sedaris who's exceptionally
00:07:18well known, I think incredibly funny, but he's taking it a different line.
00:07:24And everybody gets to make that choice.
00:07:25But when you're with him and you're talking about writing
00:07:28and you're saying, does that come up?
00:07:31Do you say, "David, how do you review?"
00:07:34Oh, when I'm with him.
00:07:35I thought you were about to say when one is with him.
00:07:37David and I are very close, but we've never really had that
00:07:41conversation, which is interesting.
00:07:45I think also and this is a complete sidebar, I think David, for all his
00:07:51fame and all his prominence, does not get enough credit for being as
00:07:55fine a writer as I think he is.
00:07:59I think almost nobody ends an essay as beautifully as David does.
00:08:04I mean, almost every single one ends in beautiful, beautiful prose.
00:08:11And I actually think that David needs
00:08:16constant reassessment as a real craftsmen.
00:08:20As a prose.
00:08:21Truly, as a prose craftsmen.
00:08:23Yeah, I think he's really, in addition to being screamingly funny,
00:08:26and he really is screamingly funny.
00:08:28And in addition to personally owing him my career,
00:08:32I think he's just a marvelous writer.
00:08:34But we've never discussed the choice of material.
00:08:38It's just about a comfort level.
00:08:41And I think that even David himself would acknowledge to you that the
00:08:45version of his family that is presented in his work is a somewhat
00:08:49rareified version of his natural family.
00:08:52He's written about that.
00:08:53And there's one essay that I think addresses
00:08:55both of these that he talks about and not to get into talking
00:08:58about his writing too much, but,
00:08:59Why don't you just call David if you love David so much!
00:09:01I know, I know, I know.
00:09:03We couldn't get him.
00:09:06He's too expensive.
00:09:07Well the thing about that, the essay that I'm thinking about,
00:09:10is the one that ends with the parrot in it.
00:09:12Saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
00:09:14And that is really a beautiful, poignant ending.
00:09:17In the same way that you're talking about, but it also requires him
00:09:20to admit, I think, you know, that there is a certain amount of being
00:09:24the writer and taking sort of advantage of the things like that where
00:09:28you can, you know, go back and hopefully your family accepts it because
00:09:31I've certainly talked to writers whose families did not accept it.
00:09:35And I'd rather not be in that position, so I don't do it.
00:09:37I mean that's the thing,
00:09:38I would just rather not be put in that position.
00:09:40But it's just not your family, but that's everybody.
00:09:42Everybody in my life, and you know the writers
00:09:45are always selling somebody out.
00:09:50Yes and no is my hope as regards to my own writing.
00:09:54It is one reason that I find reporting.
00:09:57I used to joke that I was the worst reporter in the world.
00:10:01I'm not the worst reporter in the world anymore.
00:10:03I've gotten somewhat better.
00:10:05Why were you saying you were the worst reporter?
00:10:06What was not going well?
00:10:08For precisely those reasons.
00:10:10For a variety of reasons, actually.
00:10:13I find it tremendously difficult to be among people just in general.
00:10:20I turned out to be a very shy individual.
00:10:23But you know, I'm not a kid.
00:10:24I'm forty-six years old so I've learned
00:10:26the compen-, compen-satory.
00:10:28/com pen' sa TOR y/ or /com pen SA tor y/
00:10:30How does one say that?
00:10:31We're going to go with /com pen' sa TOR y/
00:10:33Ok, lets say "compensatory."
00:10:35But I'm not guaranteeing that's right.
00:10:36Well for the /pur pos' es/ (purposes) of this conversation,
00:10:38lets just say "compensatory."
00:10:40So I've learned those compensatory coping strategies
00:10:43where I can now walk into a room and conduct myself
00:10:45without dying inside of too much shyness.
00:10:50But that said, I do find it difficult to sort of just
00:10:53approach people and start talking.
00:10:55And even more than that, asking questions.
00:10:58It makes me shy.
00:11:00Even though that extreme self-consciousness is entirely internal.
00:11:05I know that to the rest of the world all those things that I think
00:11:08are screamingly obvious, the rest of the world look and says,
00:11:11"Oh, dark hair." I mean literally I understand that,
00:11:16that people don't really respond to me in the way
00:11:18that I fear they're responding.
00:11:21But I find it also tremendously difficult to ask questions whose
00:11:27answers strike me as being obvious or axiomatic,
00:11:32but if you're reporting a story, you have to ask them.
00:11:35So I would never want to ask a man who's standing among the charred
00:11:39remains of their home, ok, wearing clothing that is soiled with ash and
00:11:47perhaps the last remaining streaks of blood of his now dead family.
00:11:51I don't want to ask him, "How are you feeling right now?"
00:11:54To me it seems quite obvious,
00:11:56I can surmise how he's feeling,
00:11:58and the answer would be some variation on "not good."
00:12:01You know, so, for that reason I find reporting very difficult.
00:12:04I'm just curious, did you have an experience when you started out
00:12:08that was maybe not that extreme, but something that you said,
00:12:10"Ok, here's the line that I'm never going to cross,"
00:12:12because that scenario is clear.
00:12:15But there are scenarios in the middle that are harder to make the
00:12:18argument about, or are harder to figure out where you come down and
00:12:21that's what makes the reporter.
00:12:22Well, yes.
00:12:23This is the big problem because I also fancy myself
00:12:25as a somewhat empathetic fellow.
00:12:27So if you're empathetic in your personal life, you know I am the person
00:12:30people tell secrets to, and I guard all those secrets.
00:12:33So I fancy myself, whether delusional or not,
00:12:38as being able to essentially glean human nature.
00:12:43Do you know what I mean?
00:12:44So there are a lot of things that I would be saying,
00:12:46well of course he doesn't feel such-and-such
00:12:49or she doesn't feel such-and-such.
00:12:50It follows naturally that this is the case.
00:12:54But if you're reporting a story, you can't write that,
00:12:57you actually have to ask that question.
00:12:59I'm not so good at that.
00:13:02I've gotten better, again, I've gotten better.
00:13:05But the selling out of people, I don't really do it.
00:13:11I try to remain really vigilant about my targets.
00:13:14Look, I obviously say a lot of.
00:13:16"Targets" instead of "subjects," but we'll come back to that.
00:13:18Well I'm talking in terms of if I say something somewhat biting
00:13:22or for humorous effect, therefore a target as opposed to a subject.
00:13:29So if I'm rendering them a target, I try to be really vigilant about
00:13:34why am I doing it, thinking of this person as a target.
00:13:40So generally they would have to be either a public figure
00:13:43or someone who somewhat deserved it.
00:13:45You know, I've said some really biting things, for example,
00:13:50about the former president, George W. Bush's mother, Barbara Bush.
00:13:54She deserved it.
00:13:56A, she's a public figure, B, it was in response to
00:13:58some pretty horrible stuff that she had said.
00:14:01What I said was undoubtedly sharp, but I did not sell her out.
00:14:08Well, because you don't know her and she's a public figure.
00:14:11There's that and because it was done.
00:14:14What she said entirely merited my response.
00:14:17So, do you know what I mean?
00:14:18I didn't call her and say, "Boy, is she fat,"
00:14:21you know, for no good reason.
00:14:24A, I didn't say it and B, it was not some sort of ad hominem attack.
00:14:28So in that sense, I don't really subscribe to the thing.
00:14:32I'm not always selling somebody out.
00:14:34I try very hard not to sell people out and I think that one can still
00:14:38write good journalism without having to sell people out.
00:14:43You seem really concerned about, like you said, the biting
00:14:45comments and things like that and there are times that you
00:14:49won't go forward with it, right?
00:14:52So I'm curious where that line is for you.
00:14:55Is it personally if you know them or is it something else?
00:15:01Where do you say, you know, this is a person who's done something
00:15:03maybe marginally difficult to say, but you won't go after them?
00:15:07It has to be somewhat earned.
00:15:10For me to go after it.
00:15:12Yeah, they have to have earned it.
00:15:15But again, even though as I say this to you I feel like I'm sort of
00:15:20letting myself off the hook a little bit.
00:15:26You know I wrote a piece, a chapter in a previous book about going
00:15:30on a Buddhist retreat lead by Steven Seagal, the action hero.
00:15:35Which seemed like the perfect set up, really.
00:15:37Precisely, and I thought he would really be the guy that I would
00:15:39go after, but it turns out that I sort of went after the people
00:15:42who were on the retreat with me for their very terrified
00:15:50and reactionary fear of the world and the presence of things
00:16:01in the world that were perhaps darker than they'd like to contemplate.
00:16:06And that struck me and strikes me indeed if this book advocates
00:16:10anything, this current book, it's to look at the world in all its
00:16:15unvarnished sadness, darkness, and beauty.
00:16:20So I really sort of went after the people who were
00:16:22on this retreat with me in that way.
00:16:25People who, it must be said, did not ask for an undercover journalist
00:16:29to be writing about them and even though I changed their names and
00:16:31pertinent details, it's debatable whether they deserved what they got.
00:16:37But again, I tried to be extremely vigilant about what
00:16:41I was criticizing them for.
00:16:45The line is.
00:16:48I was going to say the line is imprecise, it's not, it's an absolute line,
00:16:51but it is subtle and changeable and cannot be reduced to
00:16:59"here's the line." But you know what I mean.
00:17:01Right, but that's the thing that you have to, I think, wrestle with
00:17:06in saying, "Where is that line, when does it change, when
00:17:08does it move, when do I get to say this about that person?"
00:17:12And they are times when the line has been thrown out entirely
00:17:14in this book and I even admit to it here.
00:17:18Well let's go to the book and talk a bit about it.
00:17:19You've got it. It's called Half Empty, rather than half full,
00:17:23so this suggests a certain viewpoint.
00:17:26And I'd like to know how do you combat
00:17:28the negativity about pessimism?
00:17:31How do you combat, both from two ways:
00:17:33One from people saying, "You should be more of an optimist.
00:17:36You should look at the world and be happy
00:17:37as the little bunnies are on the front cover."
00:17:40They seem happy, although I have to say I just noticed
00:17:43the double barreled shot gun aiming
00:17:45at the rabbit on the front cover.
00:17:47Yes. The entire landscape is a rebus of potential disaster.
00:17:51It's an idealic setting, of course you see that the mountain in the
00:17:55distance is a volcano and the happy canoeist is about to
00:17:58meet his maker over a waterfall and yes, even the flowers
00:18:02are those venus fly traps.
00:18:04Oh, you're right.
00:18:06The banner that the bluebirds of happiness are carrying is torn
00:18:09and patched, but still it's beautiful.
00:18:14At first glance, but then the world is revealed to be
00:18:16a horrible place that will kill you.
00:18:18I like to call it the world.
00:18:20The world is revealed to be the world.
00:18:22So how do I combat the?
00:18:24So when people say, "Be more of an optimist in your writing,"
00:18:27partially I read something like this and I think it's an affectation.
00:18:33Perhaps in some ways it's a way of dealing with the world that leads to
00:18:37comedy because you've got "Warning, no inspirational life lessons will
00:18:41be found in these pages." That's your cover warning.
00:18:43You know like Tipper Gore used to have things on the front of CDs.
00:18:48But I look at it and the thing that I thought was,
00:18:51there's no inspirational comedy.
00:18:55Tell me what an inspirational comedy would be,
00:18:57you come out of it feeling,
00:18:58No, an inspirational comedy,
00:19:00would be not funny, I think.
00:19:02No, you're right, it would be death to comedy.
00:19:05In the use of that, in the use of inspirationals
00:19:09we think of it as being somehow.
00:19:11There are comedies that make you feel good.
00:19:13Or that inspire you to want to go home and do good work.
00:19:16Not good works, but good work.
00:19:18Good writing work.
00:19:20But you don't leave a comedy because there's always
00:19:23that sense of something has to be, you know.
00:19:25We have to be tearing the cover off something that we thought
00:19:28was the bluebird of happiness, but the bluebird of happiness
00:19:29is carrying a banner that's ripping.
00:19:32I mean, the nature of humor is to show the world in all its,
00:19:36Is to deconstruct something.
00:19:36I think the only inspirational comedy that I can think of is
00:19:39Sullivan's Travels by Preston Sturges.
00:19:43With Joey McCrane and Veronica.
00:19:44I'm trying to remember how it ends, because.
00:19:46He goes back and decides to work for the people.
00:19:48And he says, well, you know it's about a comedy director who wants
00:19:52to make a very inspirational movie called "Oh Brother Where Art Thou,"
00:19:56which is where the Cohen brothers got the name.
00:19:58And it's in the middle of the Depression and he wants to really go out
00:20:00and show the common man and through a series of mishaps he finds
00:20:03himself on a chain-gang and everything.
00:20:05The film has a brilliant monologue at the beginning by Sullivan, the
00:20:10director's butler, who says to him basically, you think of poverty as
00:20:15being the lack of something, but it is not the lack of something.
00:20:18It's a present and clear, rapacious thing.
00:20:22It eats away at things.
00:20:24It's an active and terrible thing and you're romanticizing it.
00:20:27Basically telling that he's full of it and he doesn't get it,
00:20:31so Sullivan goes off and has his.
00:20:32And it's a very funny, but a brilliant movie.
00:20:37And then Sullivan comes back and he's ensconced in Hollywood and he
00:20:40realizes the nobility of what he does and he says something like, you
00:20:44know something, words to this effect, there's a lot to be said about
00:20:50making people laugh.
00:20:52It's all some people have in this cockamamie parade,
00:20:57or something like that.
00:20:58And it's terrific.
00:21:01It's a little self-aggrandizing, and certainly, in the decade since
00:21:05that wonderful movie, it's been invoked and used to justify a lot of
00:21:10very self congratulatory douche bag comedians.
00:21:18Am I allowed to say that on here?
00:21:19Well, they may take it out, but we'll find out.
00:21:22So you don't have inspirational comedy.
00:21:25You don't have inspirational.
00:21:26The cover burst is essentially.
00:21:30A lot of horse training goes on in a publishing company between authors
00:21:33who don't want subtitles and publishers who don't just want your name.
00:21:40Let's leave it at that.
00:21:41I was going to say how much say you had in this
00:21:44because it seems like it's,
00:21:45Well the cover I had almost all say in.
00:21:47And I think they listened to me closely
00:21:49and I think they did a beautiful job.
00:21:52But marketing languages, it's the nature of the beast.
00:21:55Well tell me about your work for "This American Life."
00:21:57What's the difference between writing for the ear
00:22:01and writing for the eye, and what's your attraction to doing radio?
00:22:05Well, writing for the ear and writing for the eye are different in
00:22:09the following ways, and I've said this before because the question
00:22:12comes up a lot so forgive me if you've heard me say this before.
00:22:22When you're writing on the radio, for the radio,
00:22:25you're leading people along a string in the dark.
00:22:31You're telling them a story and it's like this.
00:22:36And if you let them let go of the string, you cannot get them back.
00:22:40They are lost to you and you are lost to them.
00:22:43So you have to keep things lean.
00:22:47And when you're writing on the page, at least for me,
00:22:53I'm allowed to be, for want of better term, boring.
00:22:57You're presenting someone with a set of plans so I can say to you,
00:23:00"Ok, here's where's going to be the kitchen and this is a garden.
00:23:06Oh, and look over here, this is where I used to go to school.
00:23:08So back at the kitchen," So you can sort of see it all and I can
00:23:11digress and I can go on tangents and the danger of that is much less
00:23:18so when you're presented with this set of plans.
00:23:21I think I get what you're going at.
00:23:23You're talking about sort of the cognitive work you need to do as a
00:23:26listener versus what you do as a reader where you have control over
00:23:30that as reader, you can say,
00:23:31"Wait a minute, where did he say the kitchen was?"
00:23:33and you go back and read it, you're ok.
00:23:35Where as on the radio, I mean podcasts may be changing this,
00:23:39but you don't typically move backwards in time.
00:23:43You have to go and you have to do a lot of stuff, even little things.
00:23:46When someone reappears, you have to parenthetically
00:23:49give their Homeric moniker one more time.
00:23:53Now I don't want to shortchange this, but I do want to ask you
00:23:56about the writing of this new book.
00:23:57During the writing of this new book you were diagnosed with cancer
00:24:00as a reccurrence for you.
00:24:03And how did you work through that?
00:24:04I mean, how did that?
00:24:06You've talked about it before.
00:24:08You're actually remaining optimistic about it,
00:24:10which given your writing is perhaps a little surprising.
00:24:19Go on.
00:24:21So what did that.
00:24:22When you're dealing with things like pessimism and you're dealing with
00:24:27these difficult life situations and then something like this happens,
00:24:30did that have an impact on the writing of the book?
00:24:32I mean it seems to me it must have had an impact.
00:24:34What was that like?
00:24:36Well it certainly had an impact on the writing of the book because
00:24:38the book was late and the book kept on being late because
00:24:41I was in a great deal of physical pain for two years
00:24:45before we found out what it was.
00:24:47So for two years I was really rendered essentially, non-operational.
00:24:53I just couldn't get my work done, I was in too much pain.
00:24:55So the book was very late and I think also the dribs and drabs of work
00:24:59that I was able to do during respites of pain must have colored some of
00:25:04the essays or all of the essays, I'm not sure.
00:25:08So in that sense the thing is in imbued with physical pain.
00:25:16As for, and I address the being ill in the final chapter.
00:25:22If you were writing a book that advocates that we have reached a point
00:25:28culturally where we no longer leave any room for people
00:25:32who might see the world melancholically, not sadly and not badly,
00:25:36but just somewhat darker.
00:25:38And again, not an unbeautiful place as a result.
00:25:42It was kind of my "putting my money where my mouth is" moment both in
00:25:49terms of having to write about something rather large and hoping to do
00:25:57it with enough style and enough,
00:26:02"Craft" is what you said earlier.
00:26:04Craft, yes.
00:26:06To not be clouded by the hugeness of the personal experience.
00:26:10And I'll be honest, to me it's a pretty huge personal experience to be
00:26:14sick again, but I didn't want that to be the loud car alarm in the
00:26:21background that you're hearing.
00:26:23I wanted it to seem.
00:26:25I wanted the writing to be good.
00:26:27As for where my pessimism lead me within that thing within that
00:26:31experience, I do think that in fact I even address it where I talk
00:26:37about the whole notion of "why me" and how it doesn't come up for me.
00:26:43"Why not you" is what you say.
00:26:47It's not like I deserve it less, it's not like I deserve it more,
00:26:52even though there are aspects to both arguments to be made,
00:26:56but those are more personal.
00:27:00And in terms of the optimism, it turns out that the life force,
00:27:08and I remember this from the eighties during the AIDS pandemic,
00:27:11and I had friends who were.
00:27:13I lost a great many friends living in New York at the time.
00:27:16I've lived in New York since '82.
00:27:18It never failed to amaze me that friends who, even though I was able
00:27:23to see the person that I knew and loved within the truly
00:27:29skin-wrapped skeleton, you know.
00:27:34And I remember thinking, why haven't they given up yet?
00:27:37I mean, what is this person waiting for?
00:27:40It turns out that the life force is a very optimistic thing.
00:27:47You have to really be in much worse straights than I currently am to
00:27:55give up your optimism that things will essentially work out for you.
00:27:59Do you know what I mean?
00:28:02It takes a lot more than a fairly rare and fairly serious bout of
00:28:05cancer to make you pessimistic on that front.
00:28:10I don't want to take away from the experience.
00:28:14I want to say that I think I know what you're saying, but not having
00:28:16gone through that, I don't want to claim that experience.
00:28:19Does that make sense?
00:28:19Sure, you can say you know what I'm saying.
00:28:21I think it's a fairly universal thing that I just said.
00:28:24Well that's great because that means that we end on an optimistic note,
00:28:28which I think for the author of Half Empty, I've done a good job.
00:28:33So David Rakoff, I want to thank you again for being here
00:28:37on Writers Talk.
00:28:38Thanks for having me.
00:28:39And from the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing at
00:28:40The Ohio State University,
00:28:41this is Doug Dangler saying, keep writing.
Note : Transcripts are compiled from uncorrected captions