Thursday, March 16, 2006

Obituary

Today would have been my sister's fourteenth birthday, so I'd like to just print her obituary today. The funeral is tomorrow.

Davis, Ellen M. age 13, late of Frankfort, died March 12, 2006. beloved daughter of Bob and Katie (nee Goga), dearest sister of Jayne Davis, Audrie Davis and Aaron Davis, also survived by numerous uncles, aunts and cousins. Student at Summit Hill Junior High and a member of the Junior High Band. Funeral services Friday, 10:30 a.m. at Peace Community Church, Frankfort. Interment private. Visitation Wednesday and Thursday, 2 to 9 p.m. at Gerardi Funeral Home, Lincoln Hwy. at 95th Ave., (1blk. E of LaGrange Rd. on Rt. 30), Frankfort. Memorials are requested to the family for a charity of their choice. Info., 815-469-2144. Published in the Chicago Sun-Times on 3/14/2006.

Love you, El.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Don't Stop the Reading

Does everyone else read several books at once? I know it can't just be me; others out there do it, too. I find that the flexibility of the mind demands it. Sometimes, a required book can be too dry to accomodate constant attention. If reading is feeding the mind, then an occasional bit of candy needs to be thrown in.

I've just finished reading A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. By finished, I mean stopped. 50 pages in, and I've already had enough of him. Man, the American Academy of Arts and Letters will give an award to just anyone these days, won't they? The man's only put out eight books, just four of which were novels. High Fidelity was a highly enjoyable book, but About a Boy crumbled towards the end, and How to Be Good was even worse. Good plot, yes, but no real point. A Long Way Down is already crumbling; Hornby simply has nothing interesting to say about life or death. I'll wait for the movie; I loved the movie versions of High Fidelity, About a Boy, and both versions of Fever Pitch far beyond the books themselves. Hornby is the unthinking person's Julian Barnes; completely insubstantial, but I suppose he could be mistaken for deep if a person were not much of a deep thinker.

I'm susceptible to books like these on occasion; they're easy to read and sometimes they're fun, like High Fidelity was. Becca works at a bookstore, so sometimes I get advance copies and read through them. About the worst book I've read in the past couple of years was Adored, newcomer Tilly Bagshawe's awful attempt to emulate Harold Robbins. It was trashy and overblown and overlong and, if you have as many problems trying to reconcile the fairy tale of young girls with the reality of them as I do, contentious. Still, if you do read it, picture Lindsay Lohan in the lead. Eerie, isn't it? I try to stay away from the chick lit, but I thought Megan Crane's English as a Second Language was pretty pleasant. Valerie Frankel's The Accidental Virgin, though...

Today I finished Steve Martin's novella Shopgirl, which I really loved. I've also started his The Pleasure of My Company, which I'm already enjoying more. As an author, Steve Martin is well at home. He's surprisingly intellectual (Pure Drivel, a collection of humorous pieces, is one of the few works I would describe as comic genius), and writes in a style similar to magic realism. I was only irked twice in Shopgirl, at two sentences I found clumsy (the shopgirl of the title, Mirabelle, is described as a girl with "blunt-cut nut-brown hair"--the repetition of the "ut" sound was annoying, and "blunt" and "cut" so close together made me see a totally different word; the other occured when she is described as "having recently placed several of her recent works with a local gallery"--the unconscious repetition of recent is annoying). I know, I'm overly critical. Both novellas show Martin's excellent flair for observing and understanding human behavior.

I've also been reading through some books related to animation, one of my passions: Walt Disney and Europe by Robin Allan, and The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney's War Against the Counterculture by Bob Levin. And graphic novels are rotated endlessly; the most recent I've read is required reading for anyone who, like me, thinks that a life without dinosaurs is worthless; Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology by Jim Ottavini & Big Time Attic.

In more practical affairs, there's an onslaught of Early English works for my Early English Literature class (we're doing Sir Gawain and the Green Knight next week), and Jane Goodall's Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe for an Anthropology course.

I love books of quotes and anecdotes, and recently read The Literary Life and Other Curiosities by Robert Hendricks; The Book of Insults, Literary and Modern by Nancy McPhee; and The Portable Curmudgeon by Jon Winokur. A lover of history, I checked out Kenneth C. Davis's Don't Know Much About History, which I'm afraid I'm going to have to add to my history library. It's a great overview of history with some hard, myth-busting facts that are always glossed over in school. I've also been captivated by Mark Davidson's indispensible Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today's American English Usage, which I may also have to buy. If books are like candy and meals, books like these are my mental floss (Carl will get that joke).

And in my beloved genre, SF and fantasy, I've only had two recent reads: The Language of the Night, a collection of essays and speeches by Ursula K. LeGuin; and The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, by Thomas M. Disch, which I've read once before. So, more work needs to be done there.

Anyone else read anything interesting lately?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ellen

Ellen Margaret Davis was born on 16 March 1992. Last year, just before her thirteenth birthday, it was discovered that she had a cancer called osteosarcoma, which had caused a tumor in her leg. The tumor was removed, and a piece of her bone and most of her knee was replaced with metal. But by that point, the cancer had spread into her lungs. Over the course of 2005, Ellen had numerous rounds of chemotherapy, and through two operations, one half of each lung was removed. This left her weak, but it looked as though she might pull through by Christmas.

But the cancer had continued to spread. She needed a regular supply of oxygen because each lung was at half-capacity, and this made it harder for her to take the newer, more aggressive chemotherapy she would need to destroy the rest of the cancer. She lost her hair a second time, and was being home schooled. Soon, it became hard for her to walk, even with her crutches; she was forced into a wheelchair. The chemotherapy wasn't working; it was only making her sicker. She was constantly nauseous and could barely eat without getting ill. A tumor developed in her back.

Unbenownst to me, she made the decision on Wednesday to quit her chemotherapy. Her mother was suffering. Ellen's quality of life was wretched. Our father agreed to let her live the rest of her short life in relative peace. Ellen died this morning, peacefully in her sleep, sometime between one and seven AM. Four days before her fourteenth birthday. Sadly, today was also my stepmother's--Ellen's mother's--forty-sixth birthday.

What has happened that has brought so much tragedy to my family? Five years ago, my grandmother died. My grandfather was already dead. This is on my dad's side of the family. My dad is the sixth of seven children; in the last three years, three of his siblings, including his younger brother, have died. On Friday, his oldest sister died of starvation. Now Ellen, his third of four children, my half-sister as well as my goddaughter, is dead.

I went to see her today before they took her to the funeral home. I had never touched a corpse before, and I couldn't believe how cold she was when I kissed and hugged her still, lifeless body. It wasn't until my dad carried her onto the stretcher, and helped wheel her into the van from the funeral home, that I realized--watching him break down--that I'd never really seen my father cry before.

I'm not a religious man. I prayed for Ellen, many times. I told God to kill me and let her live. I told him several times. I don't believe in him, but I thought it might help. I don't believe in heaven, either. It's awful that she's gone, and I miss her so much; but it doesn't do me any good to think that she's in heaven, either. I'm just glad her suffering is over. And I'm proud of her for her decision. Ellen fought this cancer harder than I thought a teenage girl could. She went out on her own terms.

I miss her tonight. I will for the rest of my life. But I love her, and I know she loved me.