yet more news from The Mortal Front.
brace yourselves for a long read.
i promise you, it’s an important one.
i know the last blog was all about death and becca, and i don’t mean to bombard you with sickness/morbidity/mortality, but….guess what. life’s happening in real time, ain’t no stopping it.
thank you so, so much, all of you, for your incredible comments about becca, death, life, love….for sharing your own stories, your selves.
this blog is a safe spot for me – a gathering place for my feelings and yours in a never-ending ping-pong, a hive heart. i am grateful for it, for you, for this.
i’m on a plane right now to vienna, ahead of the tour, so that i can spend the night with neil.
i wasn’t planning to do that. i got some hard news and i wanted to be with him.
friday morning, i woke up really sick. there’d been a plague going around the bus, as is usual on european tours in the cold weather.
i have bronchitis. that’s not the bad news. that’s easy….i’ll be fine. i’ve had it before. a few antibiotics, some rest, blah blah.
after almost canceling the shows in paris and cologne, i went ahead and did them.
i used some brilliant tricks to survive paris….i tweeted for sign-making volunteers and did karaoke, i asked for volunteers to come on stage and sing,.
i sang shit an octave down, i dealt, i made it party. and it worked. (i did the same thing in cologne with less volunteers and more voice, but by the end of the gig, i collapsed. i saw a doctor, and am currently in bed in vienna, where i’ve cancelled all press but am going to brave the show tonight, wish me luck).
that’s not the point.
the point is: that same friday morning – the same time i was waking up to a throat hosting a three-alarm fire and a body like an aching metal slinky all impossibly jangled up in itself – i got a text:
anthony’s cancer has started. he’s going into treatment.
anthony is my best friend in the world. the term “best friend” does him a disservice. it’s too small. he’s the world to me. he lives in boston.
and he has cancer. leukemia. a bad kind.
it all started about a year and a half ago. he started feeling weird and one hospital visit led to another, and his symptoms were strange and mysterious.
the upshoot was a cancer diagnosis, with a ticking clock. they said that the cancer was lying dormant but could strike at any time. when it struck, it would strike hard and he’d need to go into chemo, with no guarantee that he’d make it out the other side.
if anyone WOULD make it, it’s him. he’s a fighter. actually, for real…he’s a fighter. he has a fucking black belt in karate, he used to be a martial arts instructor, and he comes from a HARDCORE BOSTON ITALIAN family. he’s a fighter. he’s also taken impeccable care of himself most of his adult life. he was vegan for years, he does regular yoga, he’s in such good shape that most people usually believe that he’s ten years younger than he is. he’s a champion human being. he’ll fight and he’ll win. i can’t imagine any other outcome. i can’t allow myself to imagine any other outcome. but no matter what the outcome, the treatment is starting. he’ll lose his strength, his bone marrow (to be replaced), his body will be under attack from all sides…he’ll lose his routine, his time.
i’ve never, or rarely, blogged about anthony. i’ve mentioned him in passing, but for the most part i’ve kept our relationship offline and sacred.
it’s really hard to explain my relationship with him all in one blog. but luckily, i can cut and paste something, something I was planning on sharing with you anyway, but not under these circumstances.
some background: three years ago i convinced him to publish a book of his short stories. he’d been writing them for a few years, memoirs mostly, and i pushed him and pushed him until he finally bent and did it. he asked me if i would write a foreword, and i did, over the summer while i was on the “theatre is evil” gallery tour. neil also read the book, loved it, and blurbed it.
neil knows anthony, and anthony knows neil (yes, two different things) – and if this tells you anything: introducing neil to anthony was one of the bigger events in my life. it was after we’d started dating and i was nervous as hell. anthony is my closest friend, and a mentor, and a man, and i needed this two to get along like i needed air to breathe to stay alive. after sizing him up good and hard, anthony approved, and i breathed a huge sigh of relief. things have grown since then. they’ve stayed connected independent of me, these two, and i daresay anthony has been one of the stronger forces holding us together. when i go off the deep end and neil isn’t quite sure how to handle me, he calls anthony. anthony knows me better than anyone on the planet, he knows how i tick, how i work. he’s talked neil off the ledge several times. in the sitcom of our relationship, he’s the witty, sarcastic, hilarious, and extremely sage neighbor upstairs. he is our black-belt marital (sic) arts instructor.
anthony was my neighbor in real life, and he still lives in the house next to my parents, where i grew up.
this is anthony. i took this a while ago. he’ll hate me for posting this photo. he’ll think it’s dorky.
i think it looks like him, laughing, which is perfectly him.
i’m going share here the beginning of the introduction that i wrote to anthony’s book of stories (which just got published, and which is about to have its book launch party, at which both neil and i will be reading, more info on that at the end of the blog):
Anthony moved in next door when I was nine. He was in his thirties.
I’ve been trying, since then, to explain to people exactly WHAT he was (and is) to me. He wasn’t quite my friend, wasn’t quite my parent, wasn’t quite my teacher.
I usually fumbled around describing him to people by mumbling the words “mentor,” “guru,” “best friend,” but mostly found myself satisfied with this particular run-on: “Anthony moved in next door when I was nine and taught me everything I know about love and knows me better than anybody and we still talk almost every single day even if I’m in Japan,” variations of which I still use when trying to describe a relatively indescribable relationship.
He loves telling the story of one of the first interactions we had, soon after he moved in. It was a winter night, after a big snowfall in our little suburban neighborhood, and he and his wife were hosting a dinner party.
I ambled across my lawn over to his and started pelting his window with snowballs. I thought it was funny. He sort of did too.
He came to the door.
“I want a snowball fight,” I said.
“I can’t,” he said. “But I’ll get you back later.”
And he returned to the dinner party, back into the warmth and fire and wine of the adult world behind him.
Then, according to the story, I returned to his house about twenty minutes later, and started pelting their giant picture window with snowballs for a second time.
He came to the door again. “What the hell?”
“You said you’d get me later,” I said. “I’m here to get gotten.”
“Amanda, it’s been twenty minutes,” he said. “I meant later… like… tomorrow.”
I don’t actually remember this happening. But I know the story by heart, because he’s told it so many times.
I also don’t actually remember the first time I hugged him, but he tells that story too.
I was probably fourteen by that time, and our relationship had evolved from occasional snowball enemies to full-on pals.
He claims we were standing in his driveway and something had happened that merited a hug. But we had never hugged and I was, according to him, into the idea… but wasn’t used to hugging. So I leaned my body against his, he says, like a falling pine tree, letting my head rest on his chest while my body kept a terrified distance.
Anthony is a therapist, and a good listener.
I needed someone to listen. And we went to town on each other.
Everything that happened to me through my angst-ridden teen and college years, he heard it all: the sex, the drugs, the boyfriends, the break-ups, the depression, the anger, the identity crises. He listened. He took dozens of phone calls in the middle of the night during anxiety attacks, boyfriend and girlfriend fights, drunken terrors. From Germany, I called collect from the phone booth down the street at three in the morning. He racked up thousand dollar phone bills when I lived far from home. He advised, he dropped hints, but he never judged. He never reprimanded, and he never gave me an ultimatum (with one exception: the time I brought home a junkie boyfriend. When I did that, he made some relatively strong suggestions.).
He never told me what to do. Instead, he told me stories.
Stories about his life, stories about Zen masters, stories about his father, stories about his grandfather, stories about old farmers. This was one of my favorites:
A farmer is sitting on his porch in a chair, hanging out with his dog.
A friend walks up to the porch to say hello, and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from the dog.
“What’s the matter with Ol’ Blue?” asks the friend.
“He’s layin’ on a nail that’s pokin’ up from the floorboards,” says the farmer.
“Why doesn’t he just sit up and get off it?” asks the friend.
The farmer deliberates on this and replies: “Don’t hurt enough yet.”
I carried that story with me through heartbreak after heartbreak, and through giant, painful, personal transitions. And I’ve since re-told it to many friends and advice-seekers. The general moral: When it truly hurts enough… you eventually move your ass.
Here’s another of my favorites:
A Zen student walks into his master’s chamber. The student is shocked and appalled to see that the Zen master is drinking his morning tea out of a treasured, priceless Ming-dynasty teacup belonging to the monastery.
“How can you do this?” asks the student. “This teacup is a priceless treasure. What if it falls? What if it breaks?”
The Zen master smiles and says: “I consider it already broken.”
He regaled me with tales from the sixties that made my heart yearn and pound to turn back the clock and live in a time when everybody hitchhiked and smoked hash while listening to rock ‘n roll. He drew pictures of wild kids creating a new reality and paradigm in an upheaved world, running around with feathers in their hair and knives in their boots, terrorizing the system and trying to score as many girls, joints, and adventures as they could.
Anthony was raised in a big Italian-American family who’d made their fortune in the liquor and real estate business. His whole network of brothers and sisters and cousins reminded me of The Godfather. His weird combination of a calm, Buddhist approach to life (he taught and introduced me to yoga, meditation, and the general concept of mindfulness) and the facts that he had a black belt in Karate, would arm me with pepper spray before I went on long trips alone, and had an arsenal of bizarre, conventional and esoteric self-defense weapons in his therapist’s office never struck me as strange. I recently realized that in my Hollywood biopic, he’d be Mr. Miagi from the Karate Kid but played by Robert De Niro. In a critical over-dramatic scene in the film, I would tell him that I’d been raped by a boy from school. He would then narrow his eyes, make an Italian gesture in which he bit his folded tongue in half while wrinkling his nose and say, calmly: “I’m going to find that guy and beat his ass,” then he’d put his hands in yoga prayer position over his heart, bow his head and add: “…with compassion.”
We used to talk about what would happen when he died. I worried about it. He’s more than twenty years older than me. It seemed inevitable. I once asked him what I should do at his funeral, since probably I’d have to say something.
He gave this some thought. He said he’d like me to walk up to the front of the room, carrying a stick from a tree outside.
“Don’t say anything,” he requested. “Just hold that sucker up in the air, break it in half, and throw it on the floor.”
We shared our stories on the phone, in long letters, sometimes typewritten, sometimes handwritten, and eventually over email. In person, on long walks, over food, over tea, over coffee, over wine. Over years and years.
As I got older, he shared more and more of the real things. Not just the entertaining stories, but the sad ones. The scary ones. The mean ones. The shocking ones.
Meanwhile, I wrote songs. I tried to make them as honest as I could. I got better and better at being less afraid to share the terrifying. We egged each other on. Our ability to share our darknesses made us lighter. And through all this, we hugged. As much as needed, close and unafraid.
Then he started writing some of his stories down, for real….
and….i’ll let you read the rest in the book. if i can do anything concrete for the guy at the moment, it’s to plug his story collection, which is heartbreaking and excellent, and available on amazon as of a few weeks ago. its a book is made of truth, and i’d highly recommend it to anyone into any sort of reading. it’s…harrowing, deep, painfully human, and very, very fucking funny. it’s called “Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections”.
this not the point, though. what’s the point?
he was with me when the kickstarter for “theatre is evil” hit a million dollars.
we were having a catch-up lunch and were about to take a long walk. it was funny for me, sitting there with my huge news, trying to explain to him the significance of the kickstarter and how massively significant it was that i had crowdfunded all this money, while he was sitting there with his cancer-bomb sentence and crazy symptoms. i felt sort of…stupid. he was sick. really sick – facing big things. i was just giddy about my giant record. i kept apologizing for checking my phone every ten minutes, my finger at the ready to launch the crazy naked body-painted victory photo me, pope & lee had taken that morning in anticipation. i sat there waving my hands going “i know you can’t totally understand what’s happening here, i know you never go on the fucking internet, but it means a shit-ton people believe in me and believe in the record. it’s giant, it’s going to be national news.”
he sat there, grinning at me in my manic insanity, two cups of tea between us, his newly-needed cane resting to the side of the café table.
he’s been following my career since before it started: the crazed touring, the longer and longer stints away from home, the psychic battles with managers, record labels, myself.
i still call him almost every day. he’s been following the side that nobody else – not even the boyfriends – have followed. the long-term plot, the person inside. what i’ve become, who i was, who i became, what i’ve sacrificed, what i’ve fucked up. he knows it all. he’s seen me gig probably two dozen times, from the days that i was solo and awkward in my early twenties, through the rise of the dresden dolls, through amanda fucking palmer, ukulele-slayer, right up til now.
his favorite clip on youtube is a mini-documentary chip yamada made to “ampersand”, and it’s basically just of me signing autographs and hugging fans. we were talking, on the road, back in 2008, when he saw that one. “it was actually you”, he said. “i saw that video and i thought….that’s my girl.” i asked him what he liked about it so much. he said: “you can really see you. and who you are, and what you do. you’re really being with people. i’m so proud of you.”
i went back and tried to watch it through his eyes. i could sort of see what he meant, but to me it looked like every other night of my life. taking pictures, making jokes, signing shit, hearing stories, telling stories, hugging, thanking. the things you do when you sign. (watch it here when you’re done reading this if you’d like)
back to the café. i refreshed my kickstarter page. i looked at him.
“it happened. it hit a million.” i drank some tea. “holy fuck. i almost can’t believe it. that’s so much money.”
“i’ve raised a million dollars, from actual people, to put out this record.”
he nodded again. he didn’t say anything.
then he did something that he’d never done before.
he picked up his phone and texted me. right there, on the spot. it came through instantly. i picked up my phone to see what he’d sent.
“if you love people enough, they’ll give you everything.”
i thought about that.
he’s responsible for so much of who i am.
what’s the point?
the point is: my best friend, a person i’ve loved for a long, long, long time, the person who – outside of my husband and my family – means more to me than anyone in the world, is about to go through hell, and i’m going to be with him.
it may mean canceling some tour dates in this upcoming year.
if i do, please, please understand.
the treatment is a four-month course, and though anything’s possible, it sounds like a make-or-break scenario. it’s not about being there if he dies. he’s not going to die. it’s about being there when he’s suffering.
god knows he abided by me through years and years of my own suffering, again and again. he never once let me down, never once judged me, never once wasn’t on the end of the phone when i needed him, never once didn’t come through with help, in whatever form (sometimes it was a train ticket, sometimes it was money to cover my rent, but most of the time it was just a shoulder to cry on or an ear to bend while i sorted through one break-down or break-up or another).
i don’t want my best friend to go through this alone. i want to be near anthony and his wife, laura, with whom i’ve become closer and closer over the years. they don’t have kids. they have an incredibly tight-knit group of family and friends, of which i’m a part. this is my time to abide by him. he doesn’t know what he’s facing, and i don’t either, but i know i have to be there.
before anthony got the news about the cancer kicking in, he’d already set up his book launch and neil and i both agreed to read, play, and share at the event.
he’ll start treatment a few days after the book launch. he asked the doctors if it was ok to delay it until then. they said yes.
the book launch is in Lexington, MA (near Boston) at the town hall, where i grew up and where anthony still lives. anthony will read a few stories from the book, i’ll read my foreword and play some uke, and neil will do a reading of some sort or another. i expect it will be a relatively intense gig, given what’s going down, but i wouldn’t expect anything short of a deep joy-fest in the face of the news, since that’s the way we roll.
at Cary Town Hall in Lexington, MA
tickets are $10.
all the proceeds from the show are going to a local hospital to benefit cancer care and research.
tickets can be found at: http://lunaticheroes.bpt.me
here’s a link to order the book on amazon: http://amzn.to/Svg4UJ
and it’s also available at:
• powell’s: http://bit.ly/VPiHkV
• barnes & noble: http://bit.ly/Tu10aV
• many other independent stores…the ISBN is 9780988230002 if you want them to try and special order it.
once you’ve read it….if you love it, review it and pass it on, it’s totally self-published and will only survive via world-of-mouth.
the few reviews so far on amazon are already stellar, and i’m so fucking proud of my friend, for baring his soul, his teeth, his heart, in his writing.
this particular review by jamy ian swiss (a great writer himself) is brilliant (and spot-on about the emotional content of the book, better than i could do): http://amzn.to/Rbrb66
i don’t know what’s next.
i’m figuring this out day by day.
please stick with me.
whatever’s next, we’re ready.
and even if we’re not….it’s happening anyway.
i’m saying it now.
i’m saying it so….you’ll understand what’s going on if i have to pull out of dates this year. it is not a habit of mine, and i’d only do it if i had a really serious reason.
the point is:
if you love people enough, they’ll give you everything.
the point is:
since i was nine years old, he’s loved me enough.
i’ll give him everything.
here’s some pictures i took of me and anthony over the summer (click to enlarge).
and i thought i’d throw this in for good measure, since it relates.
anthony took this picture about 15 minutes after the kickstarter hit a million and we were sitting in that café.
i’m holding his cane.