David Rakoff lived and loved, wrote and broadcast, suffered and died — an intense life packed into forty-seven years that ended with his death from cancer on August 9, 2012. The outpouring of grief at this far-too-early passing is testimony to how much he was loved by those who knew him personally and those who only knew him through his work, by his radio listeners and readers of his articles and books, by the literary community and the gay community.
Damn. What a loss.
Shrimp, a reflection on childhood anxieties that Rakoff published in 2006, is placed as the first essay in his book Half Empty and includes the trenchant observation,
Everyone has an internal age. A time in life when one is, if not one’s best, then at the very least one’s most authentic self. When your outside and inside are in sync, and soma and psyche mesh as perfectly as they’re ever going to. I always felt that my internal clock was calibrated somewhere between forty-seven and fifty-three years old.
Rakoff’s self-defense from the schoolyard abuse that invariably befalls a scrawny and less-than-macho kid was the early intellectual maturation into a smart and acerbic wit. From childhood through to his last days, he used his tongue and his pen to skewer bullies and puncture pretention. And his own foibles were not immune from brutal analysis—that comes, in part at least, from having a psychotherapist for a mother and a psychiatrist for a father.
David Rakoff was a humourist who struck a fine balance between on the one hand an anti-romantic clear-eyed realism about the world around him and on the other hand a heart wide open vulnerability to a life whose richness resided most of all in the company of good friends and in the exhilaration of good art.
But it was not to be a long and pain-free life for David Rakoff.
The last essay in Half Empty entitled Another Shoe was written in the context of his lengthy disabling battle with cancer and the attendant surgeries that exacted a devastating toll. I read with gut-wrenching sadness as he writes,
…fear lays waste to one’s best reserves. It foments rot in my stores of grain, eats away at my timbers. If I dwell on the possibility that I might be dead by forty-seven, I can’t really find a useful therefore in that.
Having lost the love of my life to cancer, I too have written from the depths of that dark place. Sure, there’s the thankfulness for the good times. But that’s not enough.
Damn. What a loss.
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Short YouTube video of David Rakoff giving a poignant reading of one of his last pieces: http://t.co/xEAUUUxr
For information on David Rakoff’s book Half Empty, see: http://amzn.to/PdosvE
For information on my memoir August Farewell and my novel Searching for Gilead, see my website: http://DavidGHallman.com