My Impending Death


Because I can barely persuade myself to climb the stairs each day—

Because, if I have to tell one more heart-tugging tale of misfortune, I will go on a rampage with a machete—

Because the prospect of escaping the pain in my ankles and osteoarthritic knees arouses something close to joy—

Because it’s impossible to accomplish anything worth doing—

Because I’m weary, stale, fat, and unprofitable—

Because I don’t really give a shit about anyone, and that’s no way to live, or so I hear—

Because my own glib wit has grown tiresome to me—

Because no one will miss me—

Because I’d rather choose the date and manner of my departure than be found by EMTs, naked on the bathroom floor—

I choose to be done.

It was Dr. Bronner who inspired me. Unable to summon the will to leave the shower, I read the entire loony label on his liquid soap, and found this amid the prophetic babble:

Face the world with a smile, life is always worthwhile!

The optimism drove me like a golf ball to the opposite edge of the universe. While hot droplets pelted my back, I saw that nothing obligates me to keep going. I’m free to open the door and let myself out at any time.

If a book gives you no pleasure, you can stick with it till the unsatisfying end, or you can put it back on the shelf. Chances are my life story isn’t going to turn into a white-knuckle thriller two-thirds of the way through.

There’s no unbearable misery here, no howling despair. That’s what makes the idea original.

Note to self: eschew melodrama, and don’t leave a mess. Just step quietly off the night ferry when no one’s looking. A splash in the dark, covered by engine noise. (Not literally, of course. No way will I go by drowning. My last words will not be blub blub.)



The concept for this book began with Angus’s job. Reading the “Neediest Cases” articles in the New York Times, which profile real people with tragic stories, reminded me of my own work writing fundraising materials for nonprofits. The need is real and the cause is important, but the work can be maddening. Just as reciting the same truth over and over again makes you feel as if you’re lying, the piety of this sort of writing becomes hard to bear. The wish to say something rude builds up like intestinal gas, until…

Once I figured out what sort of man Angus was—aggressively witty, depressive—I still needed a story. My inspiration came from the Charlie Chaplin movie City Lights. If you’re going to write about a supremely pessimistic, misanthropic guy, what better counterpoint than a sentimental, romantic tale that throws him together with a lovely dying woman?