I was listening to the Nerdist podcast the other day and I had a heady revelation. I know, right? They always show up when you least expect them. And I don’t say that because Chris Hardwick is a goofy comedian. I quite like Hardwick, actually, and I don’t understand why he has so many haters. Get over it, y’all. Click away. I’m sure there’s wrestling or hipsters playing mandolins or something you’ll like more on another website. Your troll anger? It’s your own fault.
So, where was I? I was listening to the Nerdist podcast the other day and I had a heady revelation. It was the episode with Tig Notaro. She’s one of the rare breed of perfectly deadpan observational comedians. I love that. Seems like it’d be hard to not laugh at yourself all the time. Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Which would be horrible in and of itself, obviously, but her diagnosis followed a bout of pneumonia, a debilitating gastric disorder, a bad breakup, and the sudden death of her mother. Talk about the universe slapping someone in the teeth, right? I would have probably had a very scary breakdown at that point. But Notaro went on stage instead. Her set, recorded just a couple of days after her cancer diagnosis, is one of the most amazing pieces of comedy I’ve ever heard. She opens with: “Good evening. I have cancer. How’re you guys doing tonight? I have cancer. I have cancer.” It’s pretty stunning. The album is called Live (like the verb, not the adjective), and you should go download it because it will melt your face. And because all the profits are going to cancer research.
The best moment on the album, for me, comes not from Notaro but from a gentleman in the audience. She had said something about how god’s not supposed to give us more than we can handle, but god might be a psychopath for piling all that tragedy on her all at once. She asked if it was too sad, her set, and if she should stop and the guy yells out “No! This is fucking amazing!” At which point, the audience loses its mind and gives her a standing ovation and you can hear her say, quietly, “Maybe I can handle more.” That whole interaction makes me cry a little. Because she turned to her art to get her through, and comedy is an art uniquely reliant on its audience. She could have gotten up there and been booed offstage for throwing all that negative shit in the faces of folks who paid to laugh. But instead she got support and laughter and applause and love. And she got through it. Like you do.
Cut to a year later, when Notaro went on Nerdist and recounted some of the events leading up to that now-legendary set and what’s happened to her since. She seems to be doing well. There’s one point in the conversation when she talks about the idea of bravery, how people keep telling her how brave she is and how much they admire her for it. How she never once felt brave. But bravery is being scared shitless and carrying on in the face of that fear, isn’t it? Walking around with no fear at all is something else entirely. You should go to a shrink for that. So I won’t call her brave, even though I do truly admire her being able to get through all of that stuff in one healthy piece. Strong, maybe, is a better word. Determined, perhaps. Impressive, certainly.
But she said something else that got under my skin and has been crawling around in there the past few days. Festering in its awesome. She said that she’s always said this thing – a philosophy? A mantra? Something like that: “How about now? How about right now?” Her example was driving past a bowling alley at ten in the morning and wondering why it was open, then turning to her friend and saying “How about now? How about right now?” and suddenly they’re bowling for no reason in an empty alley before lunch. It shakes you up, makes you feel alive having unexpected experiences. She’s always done this. It’s not a desperate need to squeeze in as much as possible to fill the time because she thought she was dying.
I thought about how many days I’ve wasted thinking about doing things and not doing them. Those are days I won’t get back. Or all the things I’ve wanted to do but haven’t because I thought it would be too hard or too dumb or someone else would tell me I couldn’t. How fucking stupid. I’m a grown-ass woman. Unless you’re an officer of the law (or possibly a physicist), no one gets to tell me what I can and cannot accomplish. I think I throw up those kinds of roadblocks for myself so that I don’t have to fail. But failure is good, failure is necessary. There’s no such thing as failure, really, if you learn from it and use it and do the thing better next time. (Take, for example, this blog post.)
Because here’s the bottom line: we’re all dying. We are all running out of time. Yeah, sure, that sounds morose, but it’s true. We try not to think about it because it’s a fucking bummer, but yes, in point of fact, we are finite. Every one of us. You can count on it. I feel like a lot of people forget that “to live” is a verb. It doesn’t happen to you. It’s an action, and requires some effort on our parts, if we’re doing it right. And if you’re just going through the motions, taking up space and using up resources, you might be alive but you’re not living. You’re merely waiting to die. I’ll admit to having done a fair amount of this myself. Maybe it’s because my birthday’s coming up or something, but I think I might be done with just going through the motions. That should be this year’s birthday resolution: to live before I die. How about now? How about right now?