Fourth Wall

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Missing Julia

We are almost through that time of year when every publication comes out with a page, section, or issue devoted to the big names who have passed away since the last New Year's Eve. Reagan and Arafat have had their names thrown around, but the journalists have stayed away from their stories. Everyone remembers them-- and anyway, their articles were already written.

Julia Child is, as Dylan Thomas would say, no longer whinnying with us. I miss her. She was smart, she was funny, she had stage presence like you wouldn't believe. Czeslaw Milosz died the day after-- sad news for bluestockings and their male compatriots everywhere. It is hard to lose the strangers to whom you looked for joy and inspiration. It is hard to know that, as much as one turns to their works for comfort (or kitchen guidance), the author will always be elusive. She will always be a stranger.

The New York Times Magazine published a fascinating collection of lives, from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the researcher and hospice advocate who got her start at The University of Chicago, to Joe Gold of Gold's Gym. Tony Randall and Marlon Brando. Mary McGrory, the sort of elegant journalist I wish I could be, and Sydney Morgenbresser, the philosopher who left us, cruelly, without works in which we can study his genius.

Very rarely are we given the stories behind the deaths. My parent's friends tell me that Carl Rakosi's last words, when asked who was president, were "Bush, the goddam bastard." He was the last of the objectivist poets. (N.B.: Objectivist poets are those who, like William Carlos Williams, consider the poem an object. They are not students of Ayn Rand's.) Spalding Gray, an early monolgist whose work helped spawn our modern confessional culture of the memoir and blog, ended his life by jumping from the Staten Island Ferry.

Iris Chang left us too, too early. You know her name because she was the journalist who wrote "The Rape of Nanking." She was 36 when she committed suicide this past November, leaving two who will most miss her presence-- her husband and daughter.

Fr. Vitto gave an excellent homily last Sunday, in which he talked about the danger thinking that we are on our own. I know that my friends who read this are all over the place tonight, but I hold you in my prayers and in my heart-- for Julia, whom everyone loved, and Iris, whose daughter is left with no mother to hold.