Molly Fisk: Reality, What a Concept

Last week I had a tooth extracted, fell down and reamed my left leg while I was rescuing a cat, and lost a friend to melanoma. Mercury is going to be retrograde for 16 more days. If you don’t live in California, let me just say this is not good news. When Mercury is retrograde, according to the astrologists among us, things you’ve never even imagined go wrong.

The tooth had been root-canalled since my senior year of college, but it still hurt  to get it out, and the really fun part was throwing up over the deck railing all night when I turned out to be allergic to Vicodin. The leg went through its storm-to-sunset-to-slime-mold color progression and then cleared up, except for a red patch on my shin where blood doesn’t seem to be reabsorbing very well. Apparently this can be dangerous, so I’ve spent the last four days on the sofa with my leg propped above my heart, alternately working on my laptop and reading thrillers.

I used to read novels all the time, five or six a week. Reading was how I relaxed, traveled, dispelled loneliness, and distracted myself from the real world’s annoyances and obfuscations. About three years ago, right around when I got on FaceBook and began a tumultuous relationship, I stopped. There was too much else going on, and I was getting so much social contact from the computer and the boyfriend, I didn’t need to dip into the lives of fictional people to feel as if I was part of an interesting larger world. The boyfriend is now history, and FaceBook has become kind of routine, but I hadn’t picked up a novel until this leg business put me on the sofa.

I think my willing suspension of disbelief has a crack in it. Granted, I’m reading thrillers, which are unlikely to begin with. But at least half my brain is commenting as I read, and the remarks are not kind. “Oh, are you kidding? That makes no sense. Right, how convenient! Next thing you know some lovely, long-legged woman is going to come on the scene – see? Like clockwork. Spare me . . .” Usually I have no trouble throwing books across the room if they’re idiotic, and I’ve done so with quite a few authors. But the thrillers I’m reading this week are by people whose work I always liked before.

Some of this is having stepped away for so long: the plot twists are too obvious, the characters too shallow and predictable. When you read a lot, you get to kind of liking fictional people despite these flaws, but I haven’t built up the requisite patience with them yet. And some of this is because my friend Rodger just died.

When real death enters your immediate vicinity — when you watch the flesh at someone’s temples turn porcelain white and sink in toward the skull, making beautiful but terminal hollows — then the superficiality of fictional death seems absurd. Someone in a thriller gets shot and is left lying on the floor while the plot races on without him. One of your friends reaches his last week with cancer and you watch his wife and daughters getting used to the idea. You think of what you could say that might be meaningful. The world slows down and takes on more intense colors. My sense of smell actually got a whole lot better in Rodger’s last days.

Fiction isn’t going anywhere, and I’ll probably shift from thrillers to classics, to cut out some of the ridiculousness. But I think I’ve crossed a threshold, where reality is more appealing than it used to be. There’s something about it that’s just… I don’t know… REAL. That matters. I’m not sure I have time for things that don’t.

I think I’ve finally bumped up against my own mortality

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  • Jan Hersh April 19, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    P.S. and also what Carol Ann said.

  • Jan Hersh April 19, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I am trying hard not to cry on my birthday but your essay touches and squeezes my tear switch. Luckily, my mental “way to go writer!” response over road the the first switch.

  • Leslie in Oregon April 17, 2017 at 3:18 am

    I am sorry that your friend Rodger has died. Heartfelt condolences to you, Leslie

  • Wendl in Manhattan April 15, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Molly, what insightful and observant awareness of a personal sea change. My deepest condolences on the loss of your friend.

    • Molly Fisk April 15, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      thanks, Wendl.

  • carol ann hoorn April 15, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Ah, Molly, once again you have brought me to tears and laughter simultaneously. I place you with Molly Ivins and Mark Twain in my admiration for wit and wisdom. Reality and mortality bear witness while we reach for the stars or attempt escape through novels. Bless you and may you soon recover from these physical ailments. I know you have already found some words for your grieving friends, and may you, too, find comfort in remembering and continuing always to share the love and laughter you experienced with those who have died.
    All these wounds, physical and heartfelt are still fresh and painful. I am proud to be one of your many readers who have gained and continue to gain from your passionate, compassionate, wise and funny words. Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy life. I hope you are well and healed very soon.

    • Molly Fisk April 15, 2017 at 9:53 pm


  • Mickey M. April 15, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Hugs, Molly. Me, too. Fiction to escape the ‘real’ world. Dorothy L. Sayers is my go to for detective fiction. Jane Austen for romance. Right now Ruth Rendell, which one? rats, I can’t remember, sieve brain. Josephine Tey, to me, is better than Margaret Allingham. Pretty close to DLS. DLS wrote fiction to earn cash and like Doyle, got very tired of her character because she was a scholar. One of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford, she translated Dante, wrote Christian plays. Hugs, again.

    • hillsmom April 15, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      Mickey, Is that you from Tucson? Thanks for the Dorothy L. Sayers steer as I had forgotten that she was recommended to moi by the local librarian. Here we have landed from “Bad Girl Chats with Donuts”…I still miss “The Class”. =^..^= Had to join Facebook to catch up.

    • Molly Fisk April 15, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      DLS did a great translation of Song of Roland, too, that I read in college for a class. I’m sure I’ll get back to the good, smart voices. 😉 xo

  • hillsmom April 15, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Dear Molly, Here’s hoping you are feeling much better by now. I’ve been having some dental work done recently, and am not finished either…ugh. Next will be a couple of implant$ otherwise the gaps will show. Good time for reading in bed consoled by warm kitty. The last extraction of an upper molar was not “painless” at all. One root broke off and caused a lot of digging and smoothing of the bone. What fun…NOT! Well, it didn’t hurt at the time, but later, as the swelling and discoloration traveled down under my jaw. I decided to stay home and take Advil. I’m not even going to mention something called a “liver clot” which happened with the other upper tooth earlier. Thankfully, I called the next day, a Friday, to ask if the bleeding shouldn’t have stopped by then. I mean who could bleed to death from dental surgery in the twenty-first century? They got me in pretty fast and fixed that…phew. TMI? The next time you have the sunset bruising, try Arnica Gel which really helps with the discoloration as long as the skin isn’t broken.

    So Spring has officially arrived here because the last of the Juncos left Tuesday and the Chipping Sparrows showed up the next day. In addition, the deer ate all the emerging tulips. “And so it goes…” =^..^=

    • Molly Fisk April 15, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      When I lived in Stinson Beach, CA all the locals referred to deer, whom I had no quarrel with, as “meadow rats!” Because of tulips, roses, and anything else precious. They just chomped everything down. 😉

  • Deb Lundstrom April 15, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. Retrograde, indeed! I understand exactly what you are saying, because I’ve been in a similar place. But, I do hope you get your love of thrillers back, as there will always be a need to escape from reality for a little while. Take care of yourself, Molly. There are many of us out here who need to hear your voice.

    • Molly Fisk April 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm

      thanks, Deb. appreciate it.