kottke.org posts about crying at work
The actor and comic Patton Oswalt lost his wife earlier this year to an unknown cause.
This was, Mr. Oswalt said, the second worst day of his life: “The worst is when I told my daughter the next day.”
He paused his rushing monologue, his voice lowering as he skipped over that awful memory to one from the next day, when Alice mentioned “Inside Out,” the Pixar film peopled with characters representing a girl’s emotional states. “I guess Sadness is doing her job right now,” she said.
Oh man, what a thing. How do you even deal with that? I’ve had some sad, low days over the past three years, but nothing compared to what Oswalt’s going through.
Update: Oswalt has been talking about his wife’s death and the aftermath in appearances and his updated stand-up material.
“If they would call it a numb slog instead of a healing journey, it would make it a lot fucking easier!” Oswalt said. “Because when they call it a healing journey and it’s just a day of you eating Wheat Thins for breakfast in your underwear, it’s like, ‘I guess I’m fucking up my healing journey.’ But if they would say you’re going to have a numb slog, instead you’d go, ‘I’m nailing it!’”
He went on to say that when he would sometimes tell his wife that “everything happens for a reason,” she would tell him, “No it doesn’t.” Ironically, he said, she ended up proving her point to him “in the shittiest way possible.” He added, “She won the argument in the worst way!”
Update: Oswalt writes about becoming a single parent after the death of his wife.
It feels like a walk-on character is being asked to carry an epic film after the star has been wiped from the screen. Imagine Frances McDormand dying in the first act of Fargo and her dim-bulb patrol partner — the one who can’t recognize dealer plates — has to bring William H. Macy to justice.
I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I want to tune out the world and hide under the covers and never leave my house again and send our daughter, Alice, off to live with her cousins in Chicago, because they won’t screw her up the way I know I will. Somebody help me! I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
I could barely get through this piece without losing it. Every single fear and anxiety I have is now channelled through my parenting. If this is what it feels like for me — and I am lucky to have time away from it and an amazing parenting partner — I cannot imagine what this feels like for a truly single parent like Oswalt.
Stutterer by Benjamin Cleary won the 2016 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film and is now available to view online for free courtesy of the New Yorker.
It’s a thirteen-minute movie about a young London typographer named Greenwood (Matthew Needham). Greenwood stutters, to the extent that verbal conversation is difficult. When he tries to resolve an issue with a service representative over the phone, he can’t get the words out; the operator, gruff and impatient, hangs up. (For surliness, she rivals the operator in the old Yaz song.) When a woman approaches Greenwood on the street, he uses sign language to avoid talking. But in his thoughts, which we hear, he does not stutter.
Great little film…my heart broke three separate times watching it.
Michael Chabon has written a great non-traditional boy-coming-of-age story about his son Abe, who, at 13, is obsessed with fashion.
It takes a profound love of clothes, and some fairly decent luck, to stumble on somebody who wants to converse about cutting-edge men’s fashion at a Rush concert, and yet a year before his trip to Paris, in the aftermath of the Canadian band’s last show at Madison Square Garden, Abe had managed to stumble on John Varvatos. Abe had spent that day leading his bemused minder on a pilgrimage through SoHo, from Supreme to Bape to Saint Laurent to Y-3, and now, ears still ringing from the final encore (“Working Man”), Abe reported in detail to Varvatos, with annotations and commentary, on all the looks he had seen downtown. When he was through, Varvatos had turned to Abe’s minder — a major Rush fan who was, of course, also Abe’s father — and said, “Where’d you get this kid?”
Read this all the way to the end…the perfect coda to the story.
On the first anniversary of 9/11 in 2002, just a few months before he died, Fred Rogers recorded this very short message to the parents of young children.
We’ve seen what some people do when they don’t know anything else to do with their anger. I’m convinced that when we help our children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings, ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else, we’re helping to make our world a safer, better place.
Mr. Rogers was, without question, my number one hero and influence growing up. I liked Sesame Street and the Electric Company and Captain Kangaroo and 3-2-1 Contact and all the rest, but I loved Mr. Rogers. So, I don’t know about you, but whenever Mr. Rogers looks right into the camera like that and tells me how proud he is of me, I start to tear up a little and vow to do better. See also always look for the helpers.
A collection of super sad moments from movies like The Iron Giant, E.T., Wrath of Khan, Up, and Old Yeller. This’ll have you sobbing in 3 minutes or your money back.
From The Intercept and director A.J. Schnack, a simple and powerful short film about more than a dozen mass shootings that have occurred in the US since 2011.
A scene of tragedy unfolds, accompanied by fear, chaos and disbelief. As Speaking is Difficult rewinds into the past, retracing our memories, it tells a story about a cumulative history that is both unbearable and inevitable.
Fuck, that was difficult to watch. When Sandy Hook came up, I just lost it. We should be deeply deeply ashamed that that happened and we did nothing about it.
In this story by Rafael Zoehler, a father who dies at 27 wrote his son a series of letters to be opened at several of life’s milestones, including WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR FIRST KISS, WHEN YOU BECOME A FATHER, and WHEN YOUR MOTHER IS GONE. This letter was entitled “WHEN I’M GONE”:
If you’re reading this, I’m dead. I’m sorry. I knew I was going to die.
I didn’t want to tell you what was going to happen, I didn’t want to see you crying. Well, it looks like I’ve made it. I think that a man who’s about to die has the right to act a little bit selfish.
Well, as you can see, I still have a lot to teach you. After all, you don’t know crap about anything. So I wrote these letters for you. You must not open them before the right moment, OK? This is our deal.
I love you. Take care of your mom. You’re the man of the house now.
PS: I didn’t write letters to your mom. She’s got my car.
Oh man, this episode of This American Life on desegregation and the Normandy School District (aka the Missouri district that Michael Brown attended) just totally wrecked me. Tears of sadness and rage.
Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there’s one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.
America likes to pride itself on its focus on the importance of education and everyone getting a crack at living the American Dream, but as this story makes clear, neither of those things are actually true. See also part two of the series and Hannah-Jones’ series on segregation at ProPublica.
I don’t quite know what I’m doing to myself these days. Last night was an episode of The Americans in which a marriage was ending, another family was trying to keep itself intact, and a young boy struggles to move on after his entire family dies. This morning, I watched an episode of Mad Men in which a mother tries to reconcile her differences with her daughter in the face of impending separation. And then, the absolute cake topper, a story by Matthew Teague that absolutely wrecked me. It’s about his cancer-stricken wife and the friend who comes and rescues an entire family, which is perhaps the truest and most direct thing I’ve ever read about cancer and death and love and friendship.
Since we had met, when she was still a teenager, I had loved her with my whole self. Only now can I look back on the fullness of our affection; at the time I could see nothing but one wound at a time, a hole the size of a dime, into which I needed to pack a fistful of material. Love wasn’t something I felt anymore. It was just something I did. When I finished, I would lie next to her and use sterile cotton balls to soak up her tears. When she finally slept, I would slip out of bed and go into our closet, the most isolated room in the house. Inside, I would wrap a blanket around my head, stuff it into my mouth, lie down and bury my head in a pile of dirty clothes, and scream.
There are very specific parts of all those stories that I identify with. I struggle with friendship. And with family. I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can’t tell them or show them how to do that because I’m me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I’m just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it? God, this is way too much for a Monday.
Kellan Roberts died suddenly at 22. He had decided to be an organ donor and his heart went to a high school student from Minnesota, Connor Rabinowitz. After receiving the heart, Connor visited Kellan’s family in Seattle and met Kellan’s sister Erin. After a few years, Erin and Connor, well, just watch…this is a wonderful story well told.
Cord Jefferson with a beautiful piece about his mother, illness, and the importance and difficulty of being kind.
I’d just returned home from a meeting when she called again. It had been only a few hours since we’d last talked and, as she stammered when I picked up, my heart sank with the anticipation of more bad news. “I didn’t tell you everything I wanted to earlier,” she said after gathering her tongue. “I wanted to say that I’m scared. I know you can’t do anything to change this, but it makes me feel better to let you know that I’m afraid.”
Mat Kirkby’s short film, The Phone Call, won the Best Narrative Short prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and is rumored to be in the running for an Oscar nomination. It features a young woman who works in helpline call office (Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) taking a call from a distraught man (Oscar winner Jim Broadbent). (via slate)
Update: The video has been taken down from Vimeo, so I’ve removed the embed. I think it was something about film festival eligibility?
Update: The Phone Call did end up being nominated for an Oscar; here’s Kirkby and friends reacting to the nomination.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux is not really a story about Greg Maddux. Or sports. It’s about Jeremy Collins’ friend Jason Kenney, demons, self-control, determination, friendship, competitiveness, and loss.
Jason kept a picture of Maddux above his desk in our dorm room at Young Harris College in the north Georgia mountains. A beautiful athlete, the best on campus, Jason played only intramurals and spent serious time at his desk. A physics workhorse and calculus whiz, he kept Maddux’s image at eye-level.
Shuffling and pardoning down the aisle to our seats, Jason stopped and squeezed my shoulder. “Look,” he said.
Maddux strode toward home, hurling the ball through the night.
It’s 2014. I’m thirty-seven. My wife and daughter are both asleep. I’m a thousand miles from the stadium-turned-parking-lot. On YouTube, Kenny Lofton of the American League Champion Cleveland Indians looks at the first pitch for a ball. Inside, low. I don’t remember the call. I remember all of us standing, holding our breath. Then I remember light. Thousands of lights. Waves of tiny diamonds. The whole stadium flashing and Jason, who would die five months later on the side of a south Georgia highway, leaning into my ear and whispering, “Maddux.”
Great, great story. As Tom Junod remarked on Twitter, “Every once in a while, a writer throws everything he’s got into a story. This is one of those stories.”
In racing video games, a ghost is a car representing your best score that races with you around the track. This story of a son discovering and racing against his deceased father’s ghost car in an Xbox racing game will hit you right in the feels.
Update: This story was originally shared in the comments of a YouTube video about gaming as a spiritual experience. (via dpstyles & @ryankjohnson)
Update: See also this story about rediscovering a loved one’s presence (and presents) in Animal Crossing. (via @shauninman)
Peter Bach, a cancer doctor, writes about losing his wife to cancer.
The streetlights in Buenos Aires are considerably dimmer than they are in New York, one of the many things I learned during my family’s six-month stay in Argentina. The front windshield of the rental car, aged and covered in the city’s grime, further obscured what little light came through. When we stopped at the first red light after leaving the hospital, I broke two of my most important marital promises. I started acting like my wife’s doctor, and I lied to her.
I had just taken the PET scan, the diagnostic X-ray test, out of its manila envelope. Raising the films up even to the low light overhead was enough for me to see what was happening inside her body. But when we drove on, I said, “I can’t tell; I can’t get my orientation. We have to wait to hear from your oncologist back home.” I’m a lung doctor, not an expert in these films, I feigned. But I had seen in an instant that the cancer had spread.
The last sentence here really got to me:
Our life together was gone, and carrying on without her was exactly that, without her. I was reminded of our friend Liz’s insight after she lost her husband to melanoma. She told me she had plenty of people to do things with, but nobody to do nothing with.
Bach’s discussion of treatment options reminded me of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, which is one of my favorite books of recent years. I was also reminded of how doctors die.
A reader saw my post about UPS drivers seldom taking left turns and sent in this story from 2006. In it, Michael Gartner shares the secret to long life relayed to him by his father: no left turns. Among other things:
My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn’t seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.) He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home. If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church.
He called the priests “Father Fast” and “Father Slow.”
When Owen Suskind was three, a switch flipped within him and he went from a typical chatty rambunctious three-year-old to autistic.
I had just started a job as The Wall Street Journal’s national affairs reporter. My wife, Cornelia, a former journalist, was home with him — a new story every day, a new horror. He could barely use a sippy cup, though he’d long ago graduated to a big-boy cup. He wove about like someone walking with his eyes shut. “It doesn’t make sense,” I’d say at night. “You don’t grow backward.” Had he been injured somehow when he was out of our sight, banged his head, swallowed something poisonous? It was like searching for clues to a kidnapping.
After visits to several doctors, we first heard the word “autism.” Later, it would be fine-tuned to “regressive autism,” now affecting roughly a third of children with the disorder. Unlike the kids born with it, this group seems typical until somewhere between 18 and 36 months — then they vanish. Some never get their speech back. Families stop watching those early videos, their child waving to the camera. Too painful. That child’s gone.
But a tenuous connection remained between Owen and his pre-autistic self: Disney movies. And through them, Owen slowly learns how to communicate with the outside world again.
So we join him upstairs, all of us, on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in November 1994. Owen is already on the bed, oblivious to our arrival, murmuring gibberish…. “Juicervose, juicervose.” It is something we’ve been hearing for the past few weeks. Cornelia thinks maybe he wants more juice; but no, he refuses the sippy cup. “The Little Mermaid” is playing as we settle in, propping up pillows. We’ve all seen it at least a dozen times, but it’s at one of the best parts: where Ursula the sea witch, an acerbic diva, sings her song of villainy, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” to the selfish mermaid, Ariel, setting up the part in which Ursula will turn Ariel into a human, allowing her to seek out the handsome prince, in exchange for her voice.
When the song is over, Owen lifts the remote. Hits rewind.
“Come on, Owen, just let it play!” Walt moans. But Owen goes back just 20 seconds or so, to the song’s next-to-last stanza, with Ursula shouting:
Go ahead — make your choice!
I’m a very busy woman, and I haven’t got all day.
It won’t cost much, just your voice!
He does it again. Stop. Rewind. Play. And one more time. On the fourth pass, Cornelia whispers, “It’s not ‘juice.’ ” I barely hear her. “What?” “It’s not ‘juice.’ It’s ‘just’ … ‘just your voice’!”
I grab Owen by the shoulders. “Just your voice! Is that what you’re saying?!”
He looks right at me, our first real eye contact in a year. “Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!”
Walt starts to shout, “Owen’s talking again!” A mermaid lost her voice in a moment of transformation. So did this silent boy. “Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!” Owen keeps saying it, watching us shout and cheer. And then we’re up, all of us, bouncing on the bed. Owen, too, singing it over and over — “Juicervose!” — as Cornelia, tears beginning to fall, whispers softly, “Thank God, he’s in there.”
This is the best thing I’ve read in a month, so so heartbreaking and amazing. Just pre-ordered the book…can’t wait to read the full version.
So, there’s the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial for the Macintosh. There was the Think Different campaign. And the Mac vs. PC ads. But I think Apple’s newest effort, Misunderstood, is perhaps their best ad ever:
Or maybe I’m the biggest sap in the world…either way, I’m totally crying at work.
ps. But of course, that can’t be the best Apple advertisement ever because that title will always and forever be taken by a drunk Jeff Goldblum extolling the virtues of the iMac’s internet capabilities:
Great, now I’m crying from laughing at work.
Just warning you, this piece by Ariel Levy will wreck you, put you back together, and wreck you again. Damn powerful beautiful writing.
My doctor told me that it was fine to fly up until the third trimester, so when I was five months pregnant I decided to take one last big trip. It would be at least a year, maybe two, before I’d be able to leave home for weeks on end and feel the elation of a new place revealing itself. (It’s like having a new lover-even the parts you aren’t crazy about have the crackling fascination of the unfamiliar.) Just before Thanksgiving, I went to Mongolia.
People were alarmed when I told them where I was going, but I was pleased with myself. I liked the idea of being the kind of woman who’d go to the Gobi Desert pregnant, just as, at twenty-two, I’d liked the idea of being the kind of girl who’d go to India by herself. And I liked the idea of telling my kid, “When you were inside me, we went to see the edge of the earth.” I wasn’t truly scared of anything but the Mongolian winter. The tourist season winds down in October, and by late November, when I got on the plane, the nights drop to twenty degrees below zero. But I was prepared: I’d bought snow pants big enough to fit around my convex gut and long underwear two sizes larger than I usually wear.
File this one under crying at work: a man finds a newborn on a subway platform and he and his partner adopt him and then blub blub blub, I’m sorry I have to go there’s something in both my eyes and my nose.
Three months later, Danny appeared in family court to give an account of finding the baby. Suddenly, the judge asked, “Would you be interested in adopting this baby?” The question stunned everyone in the courtroom, everyone except for Danny, who answered, simply, “Yes.”
“But I know it’s not that easy,” he said.
“Well, it can be,” assured the judge before barking off orders to commence with making him and, by extension, me, parents-to-be.
This video shows a fourth grader trying a bigger ski jump for the first time. If you’re a parent, I defy you to not tear up at least once while viewing. Oh, and the audio is essential.
#cryingatwork (via devour)
This photo was taken recently by Sergey Ponomarev in Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan:
The line on the wall is the high water mark from the March 11 tsunami and the time on the clock is when the water crested (Wikipedia puts the max readings right around 15:20 local time). Each element alone is documentation of a thing…together they tell a story.
I have a soft spot for storytelling clocks in photos. Joseph Koudelka’s 1968 photo of the empty streets of Prague before the Soviet crackdown of The Prague Spring is one of my favorite photos. And obviously I love the photo taken by my wife of me holding my son Ollie when he was exactly 20 mintues old. It was the first time I’d held him and oh crap I’m crying at work again… (via in focus)
In 1981, Ray Towler was convicted of rape, kidnapping, and felonious assault of two young children and sentenced to life in prison. Twenty-nine years later, in 2010, DNA evidence proves he didn’t commit the crime and Towler is released from prison.
So many choices. Which car insurance. Which cereal. Which deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo. Rows and rows of products. Varieties, sizes, colors. Which is cheaper? Which is better? What’s the best buy? Which gum to chew? When he went into prison there were, like, two kinds of chewing gum. Now there are a zillion. One of the small gifts he gives himself is trying all the gums. “I can spoil myself a little so long as I stay within my means,” he says. Papaya juice! Kiwi and strawberry nectar! Green tea! Arnold Palmer — he was a golfer when Towler went down. Now he is a drink, sweet and so incredibly thirst quenching.
He loves work. He got out May 5 and started working June 21. Hell, I’ve been vacationing for thirty years. He wears a smock and pushes a mail cart. He stops at all the cubicles, greets everyone with his friendly smile. Ray even loves commuting to work, especially now, in his new car, a black Ford Focus. He’s like a sixteen-year-old who can finally drive himself to school. It costs almost the same to park as it does to take the train.
File this one under “crying at work”.
Kamikaze pilot Masanobu Kuno wrote a farewell letter to his young son and daughter the day before he flew to his death in the Battle of Okinawa. From the translation:
Your father will become a god and watch you two closely. Both of you, study hard and help out your mother with work. I can’t be your horse to ride, but you two be good friends.
I should have a “crying at work” tag for posts like this.