David Rakoff:: My Birthday Brother

Despite the intention of this blog, movies, tv and my random thoughts on those things, I feel that writing about essayist David Rakoff, who did act and wrote some material that was later filmed, is still appropriate.  He passed away a couple of weeks ago and I have a lot to say about him.  I know that this entry is pretty self indulgent, but isn’t a lot of blog writing?

One of the things that I am most proud of as a writer is that I share a birthday with the brilliant David Rakoff.  Not the same year, but still, it has been a source of immense pride for me.  A kind of lifeline, if you will, that I might have it in me to be a working writer.  I know that this theory relies heavily on a belief of astrology, which I have, but that Rakoff probably didn’t.  It’s moot now, but I always dreamed of a day that I could share with him that we shared one of the rarer of coincidences; being born on the same day.

We did have some similarities to which I attribute to our birthday.  He said that he didn’t like childhood, I wasn’t really a huge fan either.  He said that he was born to be a man of 47-53, and I totally get this.  Not only did I always want to be older than I was, when I was 26, a new friend guessed my age at 36 and I was genuinely flattered.  My tendency to embrace getting older may slow down when I hit 50, but as I approach my 40th birthday this year with admittedly less girlish glee as I approached my 30th (for the three years before I actually turned 30, when asked my age I would proclaim with childlike enthusiasm, “I’m almost 30!”) I am still filled with a sense of pride that I will get to say that I am in my forties.

I think part of why I have felt so close to David over the years despite our obvious demographic differences (he was a gay, Jewish, Canadian, man, I am a straight, gentile, Oregonian, woman), is that he wrote with such witty honesty.  He made you laugh while he was showing you his scars and his genuine feelings about whatever he happening to be talking about.  It made it feel like I was the friend he chose to share these things with over a glass of wine.  It was an illusion, of course.  Everyone who read his work got the same raw stories that I did, I wasn’t special to him by any means.

That feeling of secret privilege is also why essays are my favorite form of writing.  When someone is good at it, it is a very intimate genre.  It’s what makes This American Life so engaging.  David was a frequent contributor to TAL and I used to get so excited when I heard that he would be on that week’s episode.  It’s because of that radio show that I got hooked on David’s voice, so smooth, so elegant, always with a hint of a wink.  Although I’ve read all of his books, I also own audio versions of all of them.  When I was unlucky enough to have a particularly demoralizing job, I would listen to David’s “Half Empty” on my hour plus each way to and from said job.  I felt like I was carpooling with my friend and I felt less hopeless.

So although I have no claim on the man, I miss him.  I love that the places that we frequented together; Fresh Air, This American Life and the NPR website, gave tribute to him.  They all seemed as mournful as I felt, yet so dedicated to celebrating the genius heart that was David Rakoff.

I’ve always wondered if the celebrities that pass on know of the heartfelt feelings of their fans have for them.  I really hope they do because I really want David to know that I loved him as only an admiring, adoring fan that also shared his birthday can.


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