"I have been given this role. . . . "
June 12, 2015 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Oh, my, I had no idea she used to be here! I had the NYTM piece up on my screen at work all day reading it in bits and pieces.

“When I look back from my current spot in the land of hiatus, the entire process” — of chemotherapy and radiotherapy — “makes me think of clubbing baby seals, although the seals I’m familiar with aren’t adorable chubby babies, but glossy, black, athletic adults leaping for fish at feeding time in London Zoo when I was small, and gigantic elephant seals lounging on the shore in an Antarctic bay paying not the slightest attention to me as I picked my way through the spaces they leave between them. Vast blubber sacks, lolling, shapeless with fat, their truncated trunks flaccid, concealing lipstick-red mouths and throats that appear when they open wide to yawn. No, not them: baby seals, small, helpless, newborn, cute white ones with big watery eyes.”
posted by mittens at 4:00 PM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well that sucks.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:09 PM on June 12, 2015

Diski is a truly great genius, and if you haven't been reading her ongoing memoir in the LRB you're missing out. Unsugarcoated and painfully acute as always, and important not just as a piece of writing on its own but also for what it reveals, good and ill, about Doris Lessing.
posted by RogerB at 4:34 PM on June 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

Oh, dear lord, the hiatus. I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

Having had my own struggles with cancer and other health issues, recently I found myself contemplating how I wanted to die, if I had to die.

It seems to me that dying in your sleep with no warning is about as good as it's going to get. Knowing you're going to die, having time to get your affairs in order, to cross items off the bucket list... I think that stuff's vastly overrated. It's not actually better to kiss your loved ones one last time, knowing it's the last time. Better to just be living your life as well as you can, being a happy dope, and then pop, one morning you're gone and you never saw it coming. If somebody you love just up and dies like that some day, grieve for your loss but know that they really got out easy, relatively speaking.

Spending your last days knowing the end is coming soon, waiting, waiting... fuck the hell out of that.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:35 PM on June 12, 2015 [23 favorites]

Why did she leave here?
posted by cjorgensen at 4:43 PM on June 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

That's so painful to read.

cjorgensen, your answer lies in the last (metatalk) thread she participated in. Fair warning- reading that thread makes me want to leave here for good too :(
posted by stagewhisper at 4:49 PM on June 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

I did read the essay, but I wasn't sure what to say about it. Diski seems like a very interesting but prickly presence. Oliver Sack's take on dying was a lot more philosophical and upbeat than mine, but Diski's seems bleak and numb and depressed, despite the wisecracks. Now, I'm not judging her for it! Death is a crazy thing, and we all get through it in our own ways. Calling Sacks a "self-involved sentimentalist" sounds so harsh, but I suppose it makes sense if you regard your own imminent demise with a sneer.

And then there was Angelina Jolie's recent essay, where she made thinking you were dying sound tranquil and kind of lovely, like a day at the spa. That struck me as fake as hell, but then again I'm sure not Angelina Jolie. When I thought I was likely terminal, I spent every day in a tornado of panic, wanting to do a million things but too terrified to be of much use. My emotions were so raw that a silly human interest story on the news could send me into a weepy meltdown. And this went on for weeks and weeks!

Four different people, four entirely different attitudes toward our deaths. Dying is something we all go through, but at the same time it is an absolutely individual experience. Deaths are like snowflakes.

I can relate to some of what Sachs had to say, and some of Diski's take. But I haven't read the cancer essay yet that really reflected my own experience, the endless, spiraling terror of dying, the feeling of suffocating dread. Maybe nobody wants to depict themselves like that, having a whimpery, 24/7 panic attack. It's not a good look. Or maybe the people who feel like that are too busy being terrified to write anything worthwhile about it. I was.

I hear a lot of people with cancer talk about how much they resent being told that they're brave. Well, let me tell you, those sentiments are not universal! (Cancer is kind of like going up against the smoke monster from Lost; all you can do is stare it down, feel it flow and roil around you while it roars and makes those weird tikka-tikka-tikka noises, and hope it doesn't snatch you up in a big smoke tentacle and thrash you to death on the rocks. Being brave won't save you, but being brave matters.) Don't let the rebuke of some cancer patients convince you that all of your reassuring pleasantries are useless to cancer patient in general. It's an individual thing, but telling somebody they are being very brave may just be the very best thing you can do for them that day.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:52 PM on June 12, 2015 [12 favorites]

stage whisper, I just read through those links. I have been struggling with my own Metafilter presence recently (some of it is me and some of it is MeFi) and this has cemented my decision to leave. Had I read that thread earlier, I wouldn't have given 5c to this place, let alone $5. I had a great deal of respect for some of the people in that thread and just about all of it has evaporated. What a horrifically little clubhouse, fuelled by petty rules and in-jokes.

However, I will not be missed - I would be surprised to even net a 'good riddance' I've had such little impact. But, with Diski leaving, I think that Metafilter lost someone that should have been missed. I wonder how many other people were driven off in similar manner?
posted by nfalkner at 6:55 PM on June 12, 2015 [11 favorites]

Things have gotten a little bit better in the eight years since that thread.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:00 PM on June 12, 2015 [9 favorites]

It seems to me that dying in your sleep with no warning is about as good as it's going to get.

On his last night my grandfather dined at his favorite restaurant with my grandmother, came home, called his son, had a glass of scotch, went to bed, got up, had a heart attack and that was it. That was my grandfather: good at everything he did, even death.

I started reading Diski in the '90s (drawn initially, I think, by her euphonious name). I wish her an easy end.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:11 PM on June 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

stage whisper, I just read through those links. I have been struggling with my own Metafilter presence recently (some of it is me and some of it is MeFi) and this has cemented my decision to leave. Had I read that thread earlier, I wouldn't have given 5c to this place, let alone $5. I had a great deal of respect for some of the people in that thread and just about all of it has evaporated. What a horrifically little clubhouse, fuelled by petty rules and in-jokes.

You did see that thread was eight years ago, right? For sure nothing you can see there is fixed but I'd have a hard time arguing that this isn't a much better place now.
posted by atoxyl at 11:23 PM on June 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I understand why people leave and make a vocal stink about it even if they don't actually disable their accounts, but it's really self-fulfilling prophesy and if you can't take the heat, good luck finding a better kitchen.
posted by aydeejones at 1:37 AM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

The voices are always missed, and the ones that stick around do shape the site for the better, but it's no one's obligation. Anyway, Fuck Cancer *fist-bumps a nano-bot*
posted by aydeejones at 1:38 AM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't blame her one bit for leaving. That was a particularly bad period in MeFi history.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:07 AM on June 13, 2015

I don't blame her for leaving, but I wish she had stuck around... However, as is our custom, we never really let anyone shake free of the title, "Mefi's own." Not after buttoning. Not even posthumously.

I'm glad I stuck around through those days as things did gradually improve. But also because I'm grateful to have discovered her writing here, which I had never read before now. I had initially heard about her because of her difficult relationship with Doris Lessing and her conflicted feelings writing about it, and now I want to read more of her work. She's wonderfully cantankerous and honest, particularly about her own emotions, whether she uses metaphor or understatement.
The remarkable thing about Diski’s life-writing, by contrast, is its cerebral, anti-sensationalizing tone, the way it tacitly rejects the notion that early trauma retains an ineluctable hold on the self.
In my experience, she sounds very much like someone who grew up with trauma and abuse, because of — rather than despite — her detachment and deadpan humor in describing her life. It's the way a lot of people survive it, by developing a narrative that leaves no room for sentiment or melodrama, puncturing the crazy arcs by delivering them flat, highlighting the absurdity and dysfunctional thinking that motivated her and the people around her in the manner events unfold. She elides her own emotional experience, allowing the events of her life evoke the reader's emotions in their straightforward telling.
Born in Central London to a pair of “suicidal hysterics,” as she describes them, both of whom sexually abused her, Diski grew up in the years of postwar austerity. Her father, a professional con man and prolific adulterer, abandoned her and her mother several times before finally disappearing for good. “Except once,” Diski notes, in “Skating to Antarctica,” “when we saw him at Tottenham Court Road tube station and my mother chased him with the knife she kept in her handbag expressly for the purpose of killing him should they ever meet by chance. He outran her.” Her mother, unstable at the best of times, drifted into psychosis; when they were no longer able to pay the bills, and bailiffs came to take away their possessions, Diski was instructed to go barefoot about the house, “in case the downstairs neighbors guessed we were carpetless.” Her adolescence was spent floating among foster families, in and out of psychiatric hospitals. At 14, she was raped by a stranger — a singer, he claimed — who had lured her into a recording studio in Notting Hill. Soon after that, she attempted suicide for the first time. In the background, the ’60s were happening, and the era’s drugs and delusions hastened Diski’s mental unraveling.

“The first half of my life was very busy,” Diski said to me, by way of summary, sounding a little incredulous.
I think that last sentence, the first sentence of the next paragraph, would have been better as only her quoted words, no attribution or description. It's contained and complete, like when she ties up the scene of her knife-wielding mother chasing her father with, "He outran her."

Cancer and trauma, now you're speaking my language. It's enough to live with cancer, and nobody should be obligated to take on cliched dramatic roles for the satisfaction of bystanders. I lived through it, but it was indeed an interruption, not a heroic tale. My memories of it are mostly of the tedium of appointments and diagnostics, and the vivid side-effect of chemo that triggered nausea, a chemical plastic odor hallucination permeating my skull. The only other time I experienced that smell was during an LSD trip trespassing in the Yale Blvd. graveyard with with a group of punk kids several years prior. Both times my senses had been distorted by chemicals into concocting powerful scents that don't exist; it was all in my head. However, completely different chemicals and circumstances produced an identical imagined alien odor.

Cancer does get in the way of everything, except perhaps writing. May your days be full of writing, Jenny Diski. Except for cooking meth, what else should there be to do?
posted by krinklyfig at 2:16 PM on June 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

She does spend much of the month of May on twitter ranting about ice cream and/or opium, and it's quite delightful, frex
Dear Twitter followers thank for following. I'm going to have ice cream now i'm about to become space dust. Who dares deny me?
Who dares indeed. Mad points for style.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:22 PM on June 13, 2015

I actually begged her to stay in PM, back then, because her voice was strong and made MeFi a better place.

Forum-based formats are observationally rather problematic to the strongly iconoclastic, because so many people want a piece of you to contradict or conflict for the sheer sake of it, itself, rather than any real purpose or content or results.

Space dust is all we ever are, anyway. Be brilliant now.
posted by loquacious at 6:44 PM on June 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

This post isn't about her history with MetaFilter. If you want to talk about that you should take it to MeTa.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:09 AM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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