Sunday, December 03, 2006

TB and Me

I’ve discovered the reason why I’m not a better writer. It’s antibiotics.

Let us start with the Christmas season and the personal pain I feel during it. Not the mental kind of anguish, with drunken fathers pissing on the X-Mas tree on the ABC Movie of the Week or choking on Aunt Bertha’s Fruitcake of Death. It is not the financial pain over paying $500 for Junior’s MegaManPlayStationTalkingAnusSuperDoll or the legal woes when you’re arrested for assault after mugging an old lady over a parking spot.

(One of the great things about being Jewish is that one doesn’t have to fret over such Christmas evils, and if there ever was a Festival of Lights that approached these holiday dramatics, I daresay it was only because somebody tried lighting the Christmas Bush instead of a menorah.)

My pain is quite literal. Read one or more of my entries, and you may detect the bitching in regards to my knees. These oft-injured joints have put at least two orthopedic surgeons’ children through Harvard, and more recently, I have had trouble with my back, which twisted into something resembling an advanced knot from the Boy Scout Handbook.

The dry, cold weather only exacerbates my aches and pains, and if there was ever a bright spot to global warming, it’s that my knees petrify into stalagmites in January instead of November.

Feel my pain

Among the younger set in my cohort of friends (those youngsters under 40) my various aches and pains are a standing punchline. I’m old, cranky, and curmudgeonly. I can’t play basketball or tennis; forget that hike into the mountains with an incline over 3 degrees high or 15 minutes long. I injured my knees many years ago, and my back only a few years ago, and I all roll this into my inevitable decline into decreptitude.

Getting old is not that interesting, as Groucho Marx once said: all you have do is live long enough. While aging brings wisdom and patience to some, it just makes me neurotic, as in, I’m too old to be having my first child, and too old to publish my first novel. The former will happen in several months, and the latter may not happen ever.

But my aches and pains are simply that; they are not life-threatening diseases. For slackers like myself, modern medicine is the worst enemy of art. Even though I may not admit it, subconsciously I figure that I will live until I’m 70 or 80. Though I’ll probably be a blubbering fool by then, there’s plenty of gas left in the tank to waste.

Most of history did not afford this luxury of assumption. You made it past 40 and you were doing pretty good. This is where penicillin comes in. I wonder how I would have lived in the days before modern medicine, for it is antibiotics that combat the 19th Century’s favorite disease: tuberculosis.

Everybody and their mom died of TB back when, and it seemed half of them were famous writers. Keats plotzed dead from tuberculosis at 25. Emily Bronte also succumbed to tuberculosis at 30; her sister Charlotte wasn’t 40. Chekov kicked from consumption, as did George Orwell (and in the 1940s). Neither man was yet 50.

Thanks to antibiotics, an American is more likely to die today from laughing himself to death than from most bacterial infections, and though TB still exists (and kills millions worldwide) , your typical American can reasonably expect to make it to 70 without coughing up blood or spending one’s final weeks at a sanatorium.

And, of course, Chekhov

If I had that figurative Sword of Damocles hanging over my head, I might have more, say, urgency in writing. If the consumption was, well, consuming me, I might not obsess about other people’s successes or my failures. I might not waste time thinking about whether or not TomKat’s baby will grow up slightly fucked up or completely fucked up. If I were sick, or if reaching 70 was considered a miracle, I would feel the urgent need to write to create, put all of my other concerns aside, and devote my time, energy and soul to writing.

Damn mold ruined everything.

Now excuse me while I go watch the end of the Bears game.