A new way to kill time in the middle of the night: write this diary. Especially after a bad day all around. A column I’d managed to convince myself was soaring and lucid is extraneous to itself when it comes out of my editor’s computer on the other side of the country; this is a regular occurrence, and every time I convince myself there’s no chance to say what I want to say before starting over. My wife is slammed by chemo. Her fourth treatment was last Friday, the toxins accumulate, her face is all self-dread, her head feels like it weighs a hundred pounds, and on top of that it’s shot day. Her treatment is meant to suppress the immune system, but hers crashes, so she needs shots to boost her white blood cell counts; under our health plan you administer them yourself. Her oncologist showed us how (“I’ve taught 4-year-olds to do it,” he said; we believed him, but plenty of 4-year-olds can do plenty of things we can’t). He gave my wife a shot of saline, he had her give him one, he had me give myself one. It was easy–until we got home and had to try it again. Luckily our one close friend who’s an M.D. lives five minutes away and is the rare sort of person you believe when he says something is no trouble. But the shots carry their own aversion and their own side effects, and this time it’s slam on slam.
Snaking inside this is the sort of nagging rebuke that can subvert a day more insistently than anything worth the time. A friend had passed on a new magazine containing a long, you could say comprehensive, piece on my last book: In substance, I was a racist and a closet Republican. I learned years ago not to even think of responding; I’ve always hated those pompous “The reviewer must somehow have neglected to actually read my book” letters to the editor, and the snarling reviewer’s comebacks when they’re caught out in some significant error: “I may have misidentified Trotsky and Queen Victoria, though that the author chooses to stress the point only further confirms his inability to … ” But this piece got under my skin by attacking not only my arguments, such as they might be, but my dedication and acknowledgments: In both cases I was accused of attempting to drape the reputations of others over my own. So I sent the writer an e-mail asking why it would have been more honest not to recognize friends whose help I had relied on–and received in reply a few lines of the sort of Stalinist criticism I thought got used up in the ‘30s. The dedication, he wrote, lost any presumption of innocence because I had once publicly disagreed with the dedicatee over a film; the acknowledgment in question was suspect because the person acknowledged has a different approach to writing history than I do; claiming affinity with others in the face of such contradictions cannot hide the intent to exploit them. This came with an invitation to contribute to the magazine. I thought of writing back Dear Mr. X, you are a fascist moron, but hey, that would only make things worse. Better to do it in public.