I thought the David Rakoff interview I caught on NPR for the ten minutes it took to drive my daughters to the park yesterday was just a delightful happenstance—I love when I accidentally get to listen to something great in the car on my errand bursts. Only later that evening, as I was rushing to pick up the babysitter, listening to the news report, did I realize that he’d died. At age 47. Cancer. And along with feeling incredibly sad, the fact of his death left me jolted, gave me a little mortality-reminder slap in the face.
David Rakoff was invited to crown the reading series at Lesley University one summer night in 2010, during my first residency at the program. He was brilliant and hilarious and had me completely star struck. Toward the end, he read an essay he’d written on assignment about Utah, of all places. And I decided I’d use that as an excuse to introduce myself. It must be said that I’m typically very awkward at such introductions. Also, that I just can’t seem to help myself in making them anyway. I see someone I admire—someone famous—and think: why not? (The answers “dignity” or “mortification” almost never come up in these moments. Case in point: I literally once threw myself in front of Pierce Brosnan (then, merely of “Remmington Steele” fame) on the slopes of Sundance when I was 14. Rather than helping me up, though, he simply skied around me.)
So after the reading, before the crowds queued up, I went over to him and said hello.
“I’m actually from Utah,” I said. “So I really enjoyed your essay.”
He seemed genuinely surprised, even interested, in this. For once in my life, it seemed announcing myself as a Utahn might be a positive.
“Are you Mormon?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, nodding.
He nodded with me. Then stopped. “Still?”
“Yeah,” I said again, almost apologetically. We started nodding again and then I slinked away.
Later that night, I tried to salvage the experience by telling my newfound friends about the encounter. “So…you’re from Utah?” they wanted to know.
Me again: “Yeah.”
Being Mormon is about as cool as having warts (for the record, I do also have warts. On my foot. So don’t go borrowing my slippers). I actually never planned on mentioning the Mormon thing on this blog. I wanted this to be my “cool, normal, writer” blog. Not the place where I’m that nerd-Mormon with a foot thing. But the truth is, I am a nerd Mormon with a foot thing. And even though my relationship to Mormonism has shifted and shattered and evolved into a somewhat unorthodox mess, I still consider myself Mormon. They’re my people. We get each other’s weirdness.
What does this have to do with David Rakoff? Nothing, really, except that sometimes when a person that talented and kind dies tragically early, it spurs other people—people who didn’t really know him but still admired him—on to bravery. On to outing themselves to their three-person blog readership. Because life is short. So it may as well be full and honest.
And while we’re on the subject of weird and miniscule subset groups, my favorite Mormon feminist, Joanna Brooks, was on The John Stewart Show the other day, promoting her memoir: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith. It came out this week—picked up by an imprint of Simon and Schuster after she self published it a few months back. She says no one was interested in publishing a book about a Mormon—even in 2012 with the whole Mitt Romney thing full force.
On her blog, (where you can read her awesome behind-the-John-Stewart-Show-scenes recount) she says she originally wrote the book for the editor who told her years ago that “Mormonism is still just too weird to write about.” And it is weird. No question. But I’m with Joanna, who believes that “good things happen when we’re brave enough to tell our stories.” So here I am, trying to be brave in the telling, true to my own brand of weirdness. As persistently awkward as ever.