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Morgan Campbell, Leo Reich, and cells

The sun did come out the other day; now it has vanished again. But it’s still weirdly, extraordinarily mild. And yet things still feel heavy in my heart — family, finances, the world. Just … heavy.

But — a wonderful experience the other day. A few years ago, a young sportswriter, Morgan Campbell, walked into my Ryerson classroom, wanting to learn to tell his own story. He was eager, lively, a joy to teach; he read a powerful story at my So True reading event, with a large coterie of black Canadian and American friends and family in attendance, not my usual audience, unfortunately. And now he has published a memoir about his athletic and sportswriting careers and his feuding family — with Penguin Random-House, no less. I went to his book launch and was knocked out when he greeted me with, “Beth! My black-belt creative nonfiction sensei!” I’ll certainly carry THAT for the rest of time. Hope the book does really well for him. Bravo, Morgan.

Last night, two interesting things: I watched Literally Who Cares?, a taped stand-up show by Leo Reich, a young, Jewish, gay comedian, a bit off-putting at first, and a bit graphic about gay sex, but dazzlingly quick and clever. About organized religion: “It would give such meaning to my entire life! All I’d have to give them in return would be my grip on reality. (Pause for laughter.) Which, cards on the table, I barely use anyway.”

About gay sex: “It’s always interesting to figure out who’s what is going to go where.”

“I like fucking someone who hates me. We have so much in common.”

Rather than a string of stand-up bits, it’s actually a show, in that there’s music and a narrative that weaves through and returns. Unlike anything I’ve seen before: rapid fire, thought-provoking, and very funny.

(BTW, I looked up order of adjectives to figure out how to describe Leo. So: is young, Jewish, gay correct? Is ‘gay’ a purpose or qualifier? I think so.)

  • Quantity or number.
  • Quality or opinion.
  • Size.
  • Age.
  • Shape.
  • Color.
  • Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
  • Purpose or qualifier.)

And I listened to CBC’s Ideas; it was on cells, and since I’m going to start writing about my dad, a cell biologist, I thought I should hear it. Nearly tuned out like I always did in childhood, as the familiar words flew by: mitochondria protons protein molecules ribosomes neutrons electrons messenger RNA. Etc. I never understood a word Dad said about his work.

But the program reaffirmed what an incredibly interesting field it is; how I wish Dad were here to follow the latest discoveries. What knocked me out: they know now there are 37 trillion cells in a human body. And in each microscopic cell are ten million bits of machinery doing the work of keeping the cell alive.

Which means, the host calculated, that there are 400 quintillion moving parts in our bodies.

I thought of a friend’s healthy, fit 43-year-old daughter who has recently had a stroke, and thought, It’s not surprising that sometimes things inside us go wrong. What’s surprising is that those 400 quintillion moving parts usually function as well as they do, to keep us breathing, functioning, thinking, feeling, alive. Fucking miraculous, as Leo Reich might say.

Speaking of not being well, though — younger grandson Ben has been really sick for almost two weeks. Tuesday Anna had to go to work at Council Fire which isn’t far from here, so she brought him over, and we spent the day together, he lying on the sofa near the fire and I fussing around. This boy is normally a blur of activity and motion, but instead, for the first time, I got to read him a lot of stories. Joy.

We do what we can, and sometimes, maybe, it helps, sez this black-belt sensei.



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I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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