Dan Savage’s Mother

I think that, like just about everyone else, I view my life as a series of cycles running Monday through Sunday. Some may pick Sunday through Saturday, but whatever the case, somewhere back in the mists of time someone arbitrarily picked the seven day grouping as the next most basic division after the day and with all the institutional reification, we just think that way. No TGIF for me: the high point of my week is Thursday morning. I get coffee and a baked good on my way in and just as soon as my work PC is booted up, I bring up the website of The Stranger and spend the most coveted fifteen minutes of me week immersed in the wit and wisdom of Dan Savage and the depravity and befuddlement of his correspondents. Hungry pervert that I am, this is indisputably the highpoint of my week.

I followed my normal routine this week with the usual growing anticipation. It started slow — a lot of Mr. Savage’s own words — I usually prefer the columns with more of his own writing than that of his advice seekers, but I was waiting for the punch line, but there wasn’t one this time (“At a Loss,” The Stranger, Vol. 17, No. 31, 10 April 2008).

I thought I could bang out a column today — a regular column, a column about my readers’ problems and their freaky fetishes and all those asshole politicians out there. You know, the usual.

The day my son was born, I managed to slip out of the maternity ward and write a column; I wrote one the day I was indicted by the state of Iowa for licking Gary Bauer’s doorknobs. (I was actually indicted for voter fraud — on a trumped-up charge, your honor — but Bauer’s knob needs all the attention it can get.) I’ve written columns on days that I was dumped and on the morning of 9/11. So I figured that I could bang out a column today.

I opened my laptop and started reading your letters. I love reading your letters — I do. But I couldn’t get into it. I just don’t have a column in me this week. I’m disappointed in myself. I write this column at Ann Landers’s desk, for crying out loud, and the old lady banged out a heartbreaking, truncated column when her marriage collapsed. If Landers could bang one out under that kind of emotional strain, then I could damn well bang one out, too. Just do it, right? Just fucking do it. But I just fucking can’t.

My mother died on Monday.

S. and I have read both of Dan Savage’s personal books. We read The Kid one after the other at the recommendation of a coworker (thanks Donna). I read The Commitment to S. as she drove on a number of five hour trips back and forth to her parents’. We laughed and laughed and got angry and were provoked to numerous discussions and had some sentimental moments. We have pushed these books on anyone we judged sufficiently edgy and open minded to enjoy them as well. (I have previously commented here.)

One of the standout characters of these books has been Dan Savage’s mother. I have vague imaginings in my mind’s eye of the Chicago home where Mr. Savage grew up, where the kitchen must have been situated with respect to the rest of the house (the referenced learning to bake cakes), what the back alley must have looked like, et cetera. She was alternately a voice of calm and reason intervening at the apex of a crazy moment, or someone humorously driving Mr. Savage to such a situation in her humorously pillared idiosyncratic insistence — especially so in The Commitment.

There is also something deeply weird about my sad response. My first inclination is to blame my emotional involvement with a complete stranger on the exhibitionism and voyeurism of the Internet age. But I imagine that people have been becoming emotionally involved with famous people, national leaders, writers who have used their biography as source material, et cetera for generations. Perhaps it is a phenomena of the wider age of mass media.

Whatever the case, I feel like Dan Savage is a friend of mine — if not exactly in the usual meaning of “friend” — even if I’m a complete stranger to him. His books have taken life’s milestones as their subjects and given them a contemporary, tradition-defying take. I am hoping that coping with death — certainly one of life’s milestones — may be the subject of his next book. And maybe it can be a platform for how an atheist cops with it.

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