Wednesday, April 22, 2015

webmd is like porn for people who want to be miserable

Here is what happens in my favorite episode of Maron: Marc (a stand-up comic in life and on the show) goes on the road and checks into a La Quinta Inn. When the WiFi in his room doesn’t work, the clerk at the front desk (a deadpan Tig Notaro) tells him that sometimes the connection goes out between 8 pm and 12 am. And also between 12 am and 8 pm. But there’s a coffee shop down the street if he wants to watch his porn there.

I've had good times and bad times at the La Quinta Inn in Fresno.
Marc isn’t trolling for porn. He’s Googling “mouth cancer” because he has just discovered a large, suspicious black sore in his mouth. His imagination is already spinning out, and seeing internet images of malignant mouths doesn’t help things. He ruminates about death with his podcast guests. He sees a doctor who shrugs and says “I dunno. But black isn’t good.” By the time he takes the stage that night, he’s half come to terms with dying. In a nod to Tig Notaro’s actual “I have cancer” performance, he tells the audience, “I’m just going to be real with you. I don’t know how long I’ve got.”

He calls a doctor in the audience to the stage. She looks in his mouth. She says it’s a canker sore. She asks what he’s eaten recently and then he remembers: licorice. “Well, it looks like you got some licorice in your canker sore,” she says.

It'll be ironic when we learn that licorice really does cause cancer.
The joke is that Marc is a terrible neurotic hypochondriac, but the episode is shot in such a way—not jokey-jokey, always a little dark without being misanthropic—that the real joke is that Marc is right. He’s going to die. Eventually. The episode captures the absurdity of his self-diagnosis and self-obsession, but also the terror and poignancy of grappling with your own mortality, which isn’t something I’ve seen in on-screen portrayals of hypochondria before.

I hate all diagnostic doctor’s appointments because whether my fears are about nothing (like that time a chiropractor confirmed that the strange lumps on my neck were part of my spine) or something (cancer that could—with a debatable degree of likelihood/unlikelihood—come back), they take me to the same place. It’s a dark place, for sure, but it has its cozy corners. I’ve excised some (some) of the panic and fashioned a kind of deeply sad acceptance. I mean, it’s probably an exaggeration to say I’ve accepted my own mortality. But I’ve accepted that I do a little dance with it at least every few months.

I saw my oncologists today, so it was one of those days. I’m happy to report I’m still cancer-free (knockonwood). I got to introduce the doctors who saved my life to the sweet baby I wanted to stick around for. I don’t have breast cancer any more than Marc had mouth cancer. Tig’s presence in the episode was a wink to the audience, saying, Sure, sometimes our fears are silly. But sometimes they’re legit. Usually they’re some combination of both.  

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