Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Fault In Our Stars, Or Why I Finally Read a Book About Cancer (And Am So Glad I Did.)

Bon nuit, Mes Anges! Ooh, mixing it UP! That's because for once, I am actually blogging at night. And there are few things that can make me open my computer for Things That Are Not Twitter And/Or Celebrity Gossip Related.

Britney's conservatorship is up any day now, y'all. SHE COULD BE SHAVING HER HEAD AS WE SPEAK!

But today I finished reading John Green's THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and I wanted to talk about it, and hey, what is my blog if not a place to talk about anything that strikes my fancy? First off, let me say this: I do not read books about cancer. It's something of a rule of mine. No matter how brilliant said books may be, or how moving, I want nothing to do with them.

I SAID "brilliant" and "moving." SIT DOWN, SPARKS.

As I've talked about on the blog before, cancer killed my dad when I was 17. (Specifically, skin cancer so, for the love of Pete, kids, WEAR YOUR SUNBLOCK.) This, I think, makes cancer the Count Rugen to my Inigo Montoya.

Does this even really NEED the caption?

And as much as I'd love to slash cancer in the face and then stab it a whole bunch, it's a disease, not a person, so I can't. And when you live with cancer, have had it go off like a nuclear blast in the middle of your family, have had it steal someone you loved so very, very much, you have- I think understandably- Feelings RE: Cancer that are both strong and weird.

And I think my aversion to Books About Cancer is all tied up in those strong, weird feelings. Part of that is because when my dad died, lovely, well-meaning people gave me journals, knowing that I loved to write. And time and time again, they said, "One day, you'll write about this."

Sadly, none of the journals looked like this. Because that would've cheered me right on up, lemme tell you.

Even then, I flinched pretty hard at that. I knew what they meant, and I knew it was said with all the love in the world, but the idea of taking the experience of my dad's illness and death- something so devastating, but still weirdly joyous, something so complicated with every emotion under the sun- and then... I don't know, turning it into something for public just wasn't something I could ever- or will ever- do.

And, I mean, my dad got sick the summer before I started high school. He died the summer before my senior year of high school. The dates were 3 years and 2 weeks apart, which is why July remains something of a cursed month for my family. If I wrote that in a book, I'm sure an editor would be all, "UM, HEAVY-HANDED WITH THE SYMBOLISM MUCH, HAWKINS?"

But that's the thing. It wasn't a book, it was my life. And unlike a book, there's no easy answer, no magical moment when I looked up and saw a rainbow and thought, "Oh yes, my dad died, and that is sad, but life goes on, and so shall I." It was, and remains, a strange, twisty thing too complicated to sort out. Would I have still become a writer if my dad were still around? is that what pushed me into this ten years down the line? I know it made me a different person, but how?

I think, too, there's that weirdly possessive attitude we get when terrible things happen to us. Like, "How dare you write a book about cancer/a car accident/a national tragedy/a random bear attack/a Surprise!Mudslide if you didn't actually EXPERIENCE those things?"

Death By Surprise!Mudslide: An Actual Thing That Happens In This Movie.

And so when I see a book about cancer that seems particularly exploitative, or manipulative or whatever, I get even more, "Grrrr, CANCER BOOKS SMASH!" about the whole thing. Anyway, that's where I'm coming from as far as Books About Cancer are concerned. A lot of the time, they strike me as kind of cynical, the way certain movies can seem "Oscar Bait-y."

But even when I heard the premise of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, I still wanted to read it, canceriness aside, because I loved John Green's stuff, and I thought, "If ANYONE can make me read a book about f***ing CANCER and NOT make me want to throw/maim things, it is John Green."

So this week, I bought it. I read it in a day. And I'm so, so glad I did.

I think part of the reason I could do this particular book was because there was some distance for me. This wasn't about a kid dealing with a sick parent, but rather, two sick kids dealing with the truly sh*t hand fate had dealt them. And while I could go on and on about how much Augustus and Hazel touched me as characters (because they did. Seriously, I loved those kids so hard), the biggest thing that struck me was how much John Green got it. What it's really like to live with terminal illness every day.

Sure, it's an unwanted house guest, and you wish it would hurry up and GTFO every single day, but that doesn't mean there aren't beautiful things hidden away in its suitcase. It doesn't mean you don't still laugh and find joy in stuff.

That was the thing The Mama and I used to talk about with Daddy: it was like everyone thought we were living these sad, tragic lives in a House of Death or something, and yes, there were days when it was very hard to be us. But there were still jokes and memories that I wouldn't trade anything for.

(Which actually brings me to another Cancer PSA/Aside: We had a lot of people who were more wonderful than I can ever express when Daddy was sick. And we also had people who stopped coming by because it was, "too sad." Mes Anges, if someone you love is living with someone dying of can I put this delicately? Sack the eff up. I know it might make you sad. But let me guarantee you it is making THOSE PEOPLE DEALING WITH ACTUAL CANCER IN THEIR ACTUAL HOUSE a metric buttload sadder sometimes, and they might need you. Also, it'll be good for you. See below.)

The amazing thing is, there were still way more joyful days than sad ones. And I don't mean in the schmaltzy, Sparksian ways. We didn't, like, go on magical boat rides where we put wishes into bottles or whatever it is they do in those type of Cancer Books.

"What did you wish for, my love?"
"I...I...*sniff* I wished for more time."
"Seriously? Because I wished for a pony. But, um, a CANCER KILLING PONY."

Just the regular kind of happy days. Days like when my dad, who was in a wheelchair and had very slurred speech due to an aneurysm, had to show a photo ID for something. When the clerk said, eyebrows raised, "You have a driver's license?" Daddy looked him square in the face and drawled, "Yup. Scary, isn't it?"

Days when we made fun of The Waltons, which my dad watched obsessively. Days when we were just a regular family with a sadly not that irregular thing happening to us.

All this rambling is just to say that TFiOS captured that, and still managed to get across how grossly unfair cancer is. When Steve Jobs died, I said on Twitter that when cancer has taken someone you loved, you feel like everyone it takes was someone you loved. And look, I'm sure cancer has killed some real a-holes in its day, but doesn't it ALWAYS seem like it takes the best and brightest, the most loving and amazing of us?

And to take an experience that, for me, is something I'm still sorting out and processing 15 years later, and have me, the girl who will break out in hives at the THOUGHT of Cancer Books, tap the pages a think, "Yes. This is it. This is exactly what it's like"...well, that's something.

Of course, it also helps that the book is hilarious, and I probably laughed more than I cried, and at one point actually laughed WHILE crying, which was gross, but 100% worth it.

Which is why you should all read it.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that John Green is SO PSYCHED about my endorsement.

"Why, yes, I know that my book is popular. It just spent 2 weeks at #1 on the NYT list, but...who? Who said people should read it? Rachel Hawkins? not know who that is. Oh wait, is that the girl who writes Bulgarian pornography?"

Yes. Yes it is, John Green.

Until next time! XOXO!


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