Speed On.

I turned 35 on Friday. 35 doesn’t feel old enough to have friends with cancer. 35 doesn’t feel old enough to lose friends to cancer. At least not friends my age.

My friend Mark passed away this morning. He filled his last months with all of the things he’d always wanted to do. The last time we chatted, he was brainstorming menus for the bar he recently opened, and I told him how much I was enjoying following his “fuck cancer” adventures. He turned 40 last month. I don’t even know what to say.



Welcome to Bonnaroo!


Mark, I hope that paddle boat we always talked about stealing is waiting for you wherever you end up.


Charles Richard Fesenmeyer Jr, 1948-2012

On Thursday, I drove to Iowa to bury my uncle. He passed away at home last week.

Unlike my grandpa, I don’t have photos of my uncle to post here. I don’t have affectionate stories about him from my childhood. I’m not traveling through the stages of mourning, as we didn’t really have a relationship to mourn. When I got the news last Thursday, I was – and remain – honestly more upset by my lack of reaction than by any feelings of loss.

I had the unpleasant task of contacting Rich’s Facebook friends to spread the news of his passing. I can think of few less appropriate ways to notify someone of this sort of thing, but we had no other way to reach these people, and no indication of others that he would have wanted us to contact. The responses I received described a man I never knew.

After the brief service on Thursday, the lot of us went out to lunch: my parents and grandma, my mom’s siblings, a cousin, and a few friends. My grandparents’ angel neighbor asked my mom and her siblings about their favorite memories of Rich, and it’s telling that most of them involved conflict, but that they could be told with affection and laughter.

So this is what I know of my uncle: he was wildly intelligent, and applied this intelligence to the things he was passionate about: astronomy, model trains, cameras, motorcycles, computers. He He hated the military, and gained weight to avoid having to serve in Vietnam. He had a friend who was poet laureate of some South American country, and when his friend received this award, they drank a station wagon full of beer. Until this fall, he held the family record for the half marathon – when I beat his time by several minutes, he reminded me that he had run the race in a storm with an injured plantar fascia. He was difficult and argumentative – as wildly intelligent people often are – resulting in polarized relationships with his family, but deep respect from his friends. He loved cats, and is buried with the ashes of some of his late feline friends. He smoked enough pot in the 70s that he developed an allergy to it. He was proud of me and my siblings, and told his friends that my sister and I were beautiful, though we never heard it from him.

He didn’t believe in God, and would have turned in his grave – or walked out – at the words of compassion and grace meted out by the pastor at the service. Regardless, I hope he’s at peace tonight, wherever he may be.

Charles Richard Fesenmeyer, 1920-2011

My grandpa passed away tonight. He was 91.

Baby Jenn

This is how I’ll always remember him: comfortable in his chair, whether it was with a book and a grandchild (that’s my sister in the photo) or falling asleep watching The Frugal Gourmet while home for lunch. That chair is the hottest commodity in their house, followed closely by his chair at the kitchen table.


At some point he stopped being the one behind the camera at all the family occasions. At some point he stopped driving – they stopped driving. They didn’t come to Jenn’s wedding, or to my second. Travel was too difficult. I can’t imagine the feeling of losing yourself by inches over a tremendous amount of time. Hands no longer steady enough for surgery or woodwork. Retirement, finally, at 79. Walking with a cane. No longer having a garden. Pride compromised by infirmity.

Gram and Gramp

My grandparents had more than a lifetime together. If we’re lucky, most of us get 75-80 years on this planet. My grandparents were married close to 70. Seventy years with another person. Can you even imagine? The home nurse is staying with Grandma tonight, and Tom will be there soon, if he’s not there already.

With Grandpa!

Mom called while we were bowling, then texted me to ask me to call. I tried to go outside, then stopped in the foyer in my rented shoes. It was like a physical blow, then a literal lump in my throat, then kicking off the bowling shoes and standing outside, doubled over, sobbing. I had just been talking with my friend about plans for the weekend – whether I should go to Vegas for a friend’s wedding, whether I should cancel my plans just in case – so they knew what had happened and surrounded me with hugs. We came home and sat on the step and smoked pink and blue cigarettes and I drank a bourbon and told stories.

The time that Grandpa tried to convince me to eat disgusting cabbage rolls by making them talk to me in funny voices.

His old man pajamas, bow ties, and slippers.

His poached eggs and tea in the morning. How many eggs must Grandma have made for him in a lifetime? 10,000? More?

His shampoo – Herbal Essence something in a green bottle – which I would always use when I visited.

That photo of him on his pony.

The way he would always make sure that we had money and gas before we hit the road.

His wood shop in the basement.

His “office girls” that would still take him to lunch more than a decade after retirement.

The y-shaped scar from his heart surgery in 1999.

And, in my drawer, a delicate bracelet brought home from the Philippines, where he was stationed as an Army (?) doctor during World War II.


I love you, Grandpa. I hope that wherever you are tonight, you’re at peace.

thoughts on stuff

A lot of things on my mind that I can’t seem to really wrap words around, so here’s a small list:

  • I read today that despite the spread of nuclear power, in 1984 only 13% of our nation’s power came from nuclear plants. That made me wonder if electricity is cheaper in this area because of the concentration of nuclear plants in the northern Illinois region. No real point to that pondering – just wondering.
  • I wonder what the new Manchurian Candidate will be like. Shawn and I watched the original spread out over last night and today (because, yes, I fell asleep). I found it disturbingly visionary, and just generally great, despite Frank Sinatra’s excessing sweating.
  • I finished Chuck Palahniuk‘s Stranger than Fiction, which included observations from his research as well as personal essays and portraits of various people (including Juliette Lewis and Marilyn Manson). More to come on the book club page, but suffice to say that this book was thoughtful and odd – and ultimately proves that he can do the wonderfully introspective just as well as the hella crazy.
  • I really think Alan Lightman’s Dance for Two is a lot of what Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything wanted to be.
  • I think I’ve worked out my position on death. It’s somewhat similar to my position on heights. I understand death and its eventuality as a concept, and am fine with that, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for it personally. On the other hand, though, I wonder at the industry we’ve made of prolonging life at all costs.
  • This morning I read in bed while Shawn slept for a while. The reading lamp shone on his blond hair, and it was like all kinds of cliches – a pool of gold, radiating a holy light, etc. It just made me smile.