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EPISODE 2: Jon sunsets a cancer scare

Jon's wife Christy got pancreatic cancer ten years ago, but Jon still carries the fear of losing her. It's a long hallway from diagnostics to recovery, but Jon's found the right doctor.

Host Todd Boss helps Jon stop over-intellectualizing, cutting through the voices in his head, until only sweet remission (from the Latin "to relax,") colors the horizon. Revealed to Jon on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2023, Todd's tongue-in-cheek poem is written in the talky après-dinner-party style of poet Tony Hoagland, and features candid, ad-libbed cameos by Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Czesław Miłosz, and Raymond Carver, who, like all of us, just wants to be loved. From sorrow to joy and back again, this story lets Christy have the final word, and has Jon breathing a sigh of relief. Todd's poem for Jon, "Thanksgiving," quotes a stanza of Tony Hoagland's "Among the Intellectuals," from his posthumous collection, Turn Up The Ocean (Graywolf Press). Used with permission.

The poem


Inevitably, you find out

you are lost, really lost;

blind, really blind;

stupid, really stupid;

dry, really dry;

hungry, really hungry;

and you go on from there,

says Tony. Flan says,

where you came from

is gone, where you

thought you were going

was never there, and

where you are is no

good unless you can

get away from it.

Tom says, I tried

following God, but

following somebody

who’s everywhere and

nowhere at once is just

humiliating. Milo

stops kissing the

stem of his pipe long

enough to say, A few

of me followed God, a

few went crazy, a

few got day jobs, and

at least one of me is

upstairs right now,

agonizing over the

tense of a verb. A bird

trapped in a barn, says

McCarthy from the couch

where we thought he’d

been asleep, passes

through the slats of

daylight bird by bird.

I just want to be loved,

says Ray, is that

lost, blind, stupid, and

hungry enough for you

screwballs? And now

Christy, cancer free,

is rounding the corner

with a tray of fresh

drinks. Shut up, she says,

all of you, and

pay attention. You don’t

get too many more

sunsets like this one.


Todd reflects:

Our Zoom meetings find Jon in his study surrounded by his books. He wants to sort out his feelings, but when I ask him about them, he intellectualizes instead, quoting Aristotle, Flannery O’Connor, the book of Job…

I keep after him. Offline, I give him focused writing assignments and ask him to leave me voice mail messages, reflecting on various aspects of his story … but again and again he reverts to quoting others.

After talking with Jon one afternoon, I look around the Santa Monica apartment I share with my girlfriend Hila, taking notice of all the books, read and unread, that crowd my own mind on a daily basis. On our coffee table is a copy of Tony Hoagland’s posthumous poetry collection Turn Down the Ocean (Graywolf Press). Opening it to a random page, I discover the lines that will open Jon’s poem ("Inevitably, you find out you are lost, really lost ..."). The other voices, arranged as if spoken at a cocktail party Jon might enjoy, are adapted from other books on my shelves, or from passages he quoted to me.


A conversation between Jon and Cristy about the experience:

Jon: “I just thought, ‘Why would I be talking to someone about his, to document this experience I’d had? I thought there’d be a dramatic twist, like my life is a story.’ […] I thought it was going be […] really dark, and was actually grateful that it wasn’t.”

Christy: “I thought that it brought a lot of things together. […] I guess I didn’t know exactly what you were talking about, the whole time you’d come and tell me different conversations. I just let that kind of be your thing, from your perspective. I thought it was a really fun poem. It made me giggle, and it was not what I expected. I thought it was going to be really sad, just sort of twist the knife kind of feeling. […] I’m super grateful for the process, and the poem was really fun and beautiful.”

Jon's favorite books:


If you think there's a poem in your story, leave us a message on our Haiku, Hawaii, guest line, at 808-300-0449.

Become a TAPIT insider by clicking here to join Todd’s Patreon followers for sneak peeks and outtakes.

Big thanks to Jon, whose vulnerability and willingness were the catalysts for a truly transformative conversation.



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