Frater ave atque vale

   The funny thing is, he was a huge hypochondriac. I used to tease him all the time about his dozens of imaginary ailments, and his many phobias.
    “I am no longer afraid of flying,” he announced to me once. “I have to fly next week, and it is not bothering me one bit.”
    “Then why,” I asked, my skepticism clear on my face, “is your right eyebrow twitching?”    
    His knee, his stomach, his teeth — even his brain —all had their day in the sun as the suspected locus of his latest mysterious physical malfunction.
    So when he told me one day in 1994 that he was having trouble swallowing, it didn’t make much of an impression on me. If I took any notice, it was only to give him a hard time about his latest health crisis.

    We lived 1,500 miles apart, but we talked every day, at least once, and often two or three times.
    We were as close as two people could be. When he was a little boy, I taught him to read. It wasn’t easy. He had dyslexia. Later, when he was eight years old, he had big ears and carried a briefcase to school. When the other kids called him “dummy” I beat them senseless.
    When he was a teenager he ran away from home and came to live in my apartment. He had a talent for creating fine leather goods that were sought after in chic boutiques in Boston and Rockport, Massachusetts.
    He had a dynamic entrepreneurial streak, and when he was 25 founded a company called Cyntron that recruited high tech employees for the technology belt around Route 128 in Boston. I gave him $10,000 in 1980 to help start the company. It went great for about five years and then went bust in one of the region’s periodic recessions.
    He worked by himself from home for a few years, then in the late 80s, started another company. This one was called Wedgemere Traveler, and it placed medical professionals in temporary assignments throughout the United States. By 1994, when he told me he had trouble swallowing, his company was within sight of $3 million in annual revenues. He had a lovely wife, wonderful home, and a four-year-old daughter. He was 39 years old.
    If you are the kind of person who suspects that something in this story is about to go horribly wrong, you are correct.
    I called his office one day and was told he was out “for personal reasons.” His secretary told me, “You’d better call him.”
    I dialed his home number and he answered.
    “It’s me,” I said.
    “I have cancer,” he said.

    He had been to a number of doctors about his trouble swallowing. Mostly they suspected a stomach ailment or acid reflux disease or throat polyps…but tests showed nothing. Finally, someone thought to take an x-ray, and there, high in the chest cavity, pressing on the esophagus, was a large tumor.
    Some days later came the diagnosis from Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Non-Hodgkins T-Cell Lymphoma. He would be undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
    Without telling him, I located an expert in Utah, and managed to get through on the telephone.
    “The prognosis on this is very bad,” the expert told me. “I’m sorry.”
    For the next two years, he fought the good fight. Treatment. Remission. Celebration. The return of the cancer. A bone marrow transplant.
    (When they put a needle into your bones, there is no anesthetic in the world that can stop the pain. I heard him screaming all the way down the hall.)
    The white cell count is up. The white cell count is down. Then something called veno-occlusive disease. Here’s what the medical literature says:

Hepatic veno-occlusive disease (VOD) is a common complication occurring within 20 days of bone marrow transplantation (BMT). The pathogenesis involves endothelial damage due to radiation or chemotherapy with deposition of coagulation factors, red cells, and hemosiderin-laden macrophages within terminal hepatic venules. VOD occurs in over half of BMT patients, and although approximately half of all cases resolve, the mortality rate can be over 90 percent in severe cases.

    He had a severe case. The family gathered. There were probably a dozen people in his hospital room at 5 p.m. on June 26, 1996. He was in a coma. I was holding his hand. I leaned up close to his ear and said “I love you.” He had not been conscious for several days, but suddenly he said to me, “I love you.” Each breath came slower and slower, and finally a last one. (Today I can never hear the phrase “took his last breath” without being upset.) I looked up and saw the doctor look at his watch, to note the time of death.
    My baby brother, Guy, dead at 41.
    The next few days were filled with loathsome tasks. Picking out a coffin for someone you love is a lamentable duty, one among many, as I tried to comfort my mother and siblings, politely acknowledge the condolences of others, and make the necessary plans.
    You could say, so what? Every family is touched by grief, some worse than others. Some had their entire families go up the chimneys in the death camps. And I agree. There is nothing special about my story, which ended ten years ago today.
    So Diedre, this is for you and Myriah. And Jenni, for you and your dad. And for all the grief in all the world.
    My brother was a sweet, gentle person who seemed to bear out that old cliché about the good dying young.
    Hemingway wrote:
    "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

    And so we went to the cemetery, and standing there beside his coffin and that terrible hole in the ground, I read this poem from Catullus:

By ways remote and distant waters sped,
    Brother, to thy sad graveside am I come,
That I may give the last gifts to the dead,
    And vainly parley with thine ashes dumb;
Since He who now bestows and now denies
    Hath ta’en thee, hopeless brother, from mine eyes.
But lo! these gifts, the heirlooms of past years,
    Are made sad things to grace thy coffin-shell;
Take them, all drenchéd with a brother’s tears,
    And, brother, for all time, hail and farewell.



Fifty Of Those 91 Million Are Mine

   You know the importance of search engines to your marketing strategy, and it’s hard to overestimate the importance of search engines to accessing, understanding, and using the vast pool of human knowledge that is the Internet. There are some scientists who believe that search engines are primitive examples of artificial intelligence. Just think, they tell us, about how our own brains acquire, store, sort, and analyze information.
    Isn’t that pretty much how search engines work?
    So, as the universe is Google-ized, we are all going to live happily ever after in a world of information that will empower each of us.
    There is one small problem however. Each one of those billions of searches being conducted — 91 million per day on Google alone — requires some small amount of computing power. Computing power only comes from computers.   
    How many computers? And where do you put them? Well, it seems for Google, the answer is 450,000 computers, and The Dalles, Oregon, respectively. Read about it in this New York Times article. (Registration may be required.)

Unexpected Rewards

    Astoundingly, it seems that, as of Sunday, I will have been writing this blog for two years. I’m not sure that I have anything profound to say to mark this insignificant occasion, but here is my collection of random thoughts about the experience:
    • It’s nice to have a platform. Writing a blog really makes you think about the ever-changing face of mass communication. When I was a young journalist, in order to say anything to the world, you needed to own a printing press, or to work for someone who did. Even then, your reach was usually confined to your immediate geographic area. Any wider distribution was reserved for media superstars: syndicated columnists, TV reporters, radio show hosts. The blogosphere is open to anyone with a computer, an Internet connection, and some blogging software. I am amazed by the reach of this blog. I have received email from Britain, India, Indonesia, Brazil.
    • A blog, more than a newsletter or a published article, feels like a conversation. I enjoy the comments on my posts. I really enjoy it when some other blogger likes what I have written and links to it. I enjoy commenting on and linking to their blogs, as well. I enjoy it when my clients and colleagues write guest posts for my blog.
    • I have made some great friends in the blogoshere — people I have not met in person but whom I feel I "know" — people like Matt Homann, Larry Bodine, Gerry Riskin, Andy Havens, Michelle Golden, Monica Bay, Tom Kane, and others.
    • When I write about marketing, I get some comments and nice responses. When I write about something personal — my time in travel hell; a birthday letter to my son; my experiences as a journalist — it seems to get a much greater response. (Marketing lesson: tell stories. People are more interested in other people than they are in concepts or abstractions.)
    • When it comes to blogging, I’m streaky. I get on a roll and post every day or two for a while, then not for a week at a time. Blogging tends to fall into the Steven Covey category of Important, But Not Urgent.
    • Blogging is really much cheaper than therapy.   
    • Finally, I was not prepared for the flood of emails from impassioned female admirers. Likewise the book and movie deals.

The Anonymous Law Firm

I know that, as a busy attorney, you do not have enough to do. After all, that’s why you have minions — to do the work. That means you have plenty of time to surf the web and spend a couple of hours looking at phony law firm websites. I have long been a fan of the Anonymous Lawyer’s blog. Now comes the book and, hilariously, the website. Can the movie be far behind? If you’d like to know more about Jeremy Blachman, the evil genius behind the whole Anonymous Lawyer thing, you can read his personal blog here.