David Rakoff, best known as a storyteller, author, and a regular contributor to the radio programs "This American Life" and "Fresh Air," has died of cancer. The news first appeared on the website Third Beat. Rakoff wrote beautifully about the experience of going through treatment here, in the New York Times.
David Rakoff—writer, aesthete, genius, New York devotee (the City was "the great love of my life," he wrote), exceptional reporter and observer, performer, director and incredibly kind person—died after a phenomenally unfair and incredibly prolonged series of medical travails, which rarely slowed his creative output or his deeply human black humor. In early 2009, a pinched nerve was discovered to be a malignant sarcoma, caused, he said, by the radiation treatments from the lymphoma he'd had two decades before. An incredibly complicated and ethical person, Rakoff channeled his anxieties both into crafts, making elaborate products in his incredibly organized home such as duct tape wallets, but also into a phenomenal amount of writing.
The New York Times Artbeat blog remembers him here. Writing in the Times about "the empathy broadcast," a thing that we who have cancer experience from some who mean well, Rakoff said:
We like to think that the empathy broadcast with the swooping, downward intonation of the “aaawwww” is an evolutionary comfort; something we are programmed to welcome and offer freely ourselves. As a comment on something that has already happened, it probably works. But as an anticipatory tool, it does not soften the blow, indeed it does the opposite. It leaves you exposed, like grabbing onto the trunk of a tree for support in a storm only to find the wood soaked through and punky and coming apart in your hands. The sweetest bedtime-story delivery is no help when the words it delivers are a version of “ . . . and behind this door is a tiger. Brace yourself.”
More at The Atlantic.
* Photo by Don Denton.