Friday, February 14, 2014

We Can't Stop Thinking about Jon Franklin and 'Happy Endings'

We don't want to oversimplify. Franklin acknowledges that a story of cancer death can be positive depending on how you frame it. John Donne nailed that one

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,         5
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,  10
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Or you may prefer the impersonal pantheist version in which we let the worms turn us with no regrets.

 So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take  75
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch  80
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Stoicism is beautiful, but not every story can be uplifting.  (And in practice Franklin is more nuanced than a raw summary of this method would suggest.)  We like to watch tragedy and always have, if only to comfort us by reminding that our lives, at the moment, aren't one. This story about the suicide of a transgender LA Times sportswriter is a gripping and compelling - plus a good example of diligent reporting. But I admire it - even enjoy it as an example of craft - without finding it particularly uplifting.

Or do you consider this a positive ending? (Positive enough anyway.)

Mike Penner and Christine Daniels had separate funerals. Penner was laid to rest in Orange County in an event closed to media but populated by dozens of journalist colleagues. A group of Daniels' transgender friends tried to attend but were turned away at the door for not being on the guest list, a concept the Rev. Thomas says hearkened back to the darkest days of the 1980s, when gay friends and even lovers of someone who had died of AIDS were similarly refused.
"That is why we decided to do a memorial service here at MCC for the folks who needed closure," Thomas says of the second, far more public remembrance of Daniels, covered extensively by the local gay media.
Amy LaCoe was the sole transgender friend of Mike Penner's who was invited to the Orange County funeral. The eulogies acknowledged the existence of Christine, and speakers noted that both Mike and Christine were consistently kind, loving people.
As LaCoe was leaving, Penner's brother John stopped her to hug her; he said he doubted Penner would have lived as long as he did were it not for her care.
And then, something startling occurred. As she walked by Dillman, who had never met any of Penner's transgender friends, the ex-wife halted another conversation to greet LaCoe.
"I know what you did for Mike and I just want to thank you," Dillman said. She gripped LaCoe's hand with what LaCoe describes as a "very warm, two-handed handshake."
"You're really welcome," LaCoe replied. "I'm sorry I couldn't do more."
The two women cried together for a moment, then LaCoe walked on.

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