A Block of Parmesan and a Pot of Darjeeling

J.T. Ellison

It’s been one of those weeks, so let me beg your forgiveness up front.

I’ve been nestled in my chair, hard at work, moving only to cut nibbles off a block of Parmesan cheese and brew copious pots of tea. Never distracted, that ‘s me. I WISH!!!

I’ve realized that I’m much too caught up in "current events." Current Events was one of those items you’re graded on in elementary school, then morphs into a class in junior high. I excelled at Current Events. Excelled. I’m a news junkie as a result, and now I realize I’m a media whore as well. The death of one of my favorite actors, Heath Ledger, stunned me into immobility on Tuesday. I sat and stared at the television, stared at my laptop screen, stared into space. I "experienced" the moment, along with millions of others. It sucked.

And it’s funny, because I’ve broken myself of the habit of having my television on all day tuned to the news stations. I never turn the TV on during the day anymore. My Mom called to tell me Thompson had pulled out of the Presidential race, so I skimmed the web news sites that I frequent. The Breaking News about Ledger came up, so I turned on the TV, in shock. Something in me kept waiting for them to say it was all a mistake. I waited, and watched…

Three hours later, hubby arrived home. My laptop was burning hot in my lap, I had four windows open that I was refreshing every few seconds, the TV was blaring, and I was still in total shock. Just then, they broke in to show Ledger’s body being wheeled from the apartment building. I thought I might just throw up. I kept going back to TMZ (TMZ, y’all. I was in a bad way) to see what tidbits they had uncovered. They got most of it wrong, as did all the news services, but little bits of truth scampered out. I resisted the urge to email a friend who works in the ME’s office in New York, just to say if he saw the body to say a prayer over it for me.

Hubby, not greeted at the door with the customary slippers and a martini, wandered into the living room looking lost. I assume he looked lost, that is, because I didn’t look up from the computer screen. I was much too busy refreshing, replaying the stretcher rolling, imagining  Ledger’s gorgeous body in there and all the people who loved him being subjected to this insane treatment of his last day on earth. Imagining how I’d feel if I DID know the lump in black. Throwing up was again an option.

Hubby broke the spell. He frowned and said, "I see the copyedits are going well."

Oh, yeah. Did I mention, I’m doing copyedits??? Sandwiched in between two out-of-town appearances on back-to-back weekends, leading into the Killer Year signing next week. No excuse, but still…

I had given up for the night anyway. Something about this kid dying just rocked me. I don’t know him. I’ve never seen him in person. I’ve never met anyone who knows him. Yet as I watched the coverage, I knew deep in my heart that he wouldn’t be happy with all the fuss. An intensely private media person, Ledger was being publicly dissected, and I was furious for him.

That’s when I realized I’d fallen into the black hole myself. I hate the idea of this kind of media frenzy. yet I watched, pointed and clicked with bated breath all afternoon. Shame on me.

Shame on all of us. Why do we let these vultures, the paparazzi and the media, perpetuate this insane culture of excess, celebrating, CELEBRATING, when kids go down the wrong path. If you’ve got money and fame, by God we’re going to hear about your escapades. When you die as a result, well, that’s ratings gold.


I dragged myself back to the page on Wednesday. It’s late Thursday now, and I’m nearly done. I’ve been lost in Taylor’s world for two days, and am starting to feel that incessant curiosity about the real world leave me.

So how do copyedits and Heath Ledger combine into a cohesive blog post? Well, they don’t, really. This has to be the first week in a long while that I just didn’t know what to write about. I’m a bit burned out on the blogging front, I’m afraid. It’s one of those weird moments when you realize you just don’t have anything to say.

So let me share what I’ve learned this week.

1. Don’t take anything for granted. In life, in art, in our hopes and dreams. It seems more and more that you need to be tortured to be an artist. I vote for less torture and more art. Try to live life to the fullest, because it is a frail beast.

2. When you’re copyediting a current book, you need to make sure that the changes being addressed are consistent with your last book. I imagine the further into the process you are, the worse this phenomenon gets.

3. I have zero grasp of the plural possessive. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Mrs. Grasso, who made me read Animal Farm instead of teaching me how to use a damn apostrophe.

4. No matter what, Fate will make sure that there are four or five tree-trimmers in your neighborhood running chain saws and wood chippers whilst you try to copyedit. Gaaahhhh!

And now, some announcements.

Kim Alexander from XM radio’s Fiction Nation kindly interviewed me about All the Pretty Girls, Killer Year, and life in general. That was a fun phone call, let me tell you. Her review is up on the Fiction Nation website, and the interview can be heard on Take Five, XM 155 on Saturday January 26th at 6pm and Sunday January
27th at 10:00am and 8:00pm, and on Monday January 28th at 12:00
midnight and 3:00am. You can also hear Fiction Nation on Sonic Theater,
XM 163 on Thursday January 31st at 3:00 pm. All times EST.

I’m guest blogging for Tasha Alexander this week and next while she gallivants in Istanbul. We’re having a cocktail party just for her, so stop by and say hi.

Patry Francis’s THE LIAR’S DIARY comes out in paperback Tuesday. Please give it a try — it’s a brilliant book. Honestly, if it doesn’t make Oprah’s pick this month I’ll be shocked.

Marcus Sakey’s second novel, AT THE CITY’S EDGE, came out on Tuesday. He’s written another wonderful book, and I highly recommend you give it a try.

And of course, our labor of love, KILLER YEAR: Stories to Die For, dropped on Tuesday as well. Guaranteed to make you sit up and take notice, the stories from both debut and experienced writer’s are stellar, and the essays by Lee Child and Laura Lippman are worth the price of admission.

Thanks for putting up with me this week. I promise a stellar column to make up for it.

Wine of the Week: Copious amounts of whatever red is close to hand.

KIDDING! How about a yummy Spanish — 2004 Ostatu Crianza

P.S. As I was putting this column to bed last night I received some terrible news. My English teacher from high school, the one I’ve mentioned here was my inspiration for becoming a writer, lost his oldest son Dave in Iraq last week. I have a few boys over there, and I pray for them constantly, but this one is a real blow. Dave Sharrett was a hero, a young man who joined up in 2006 because he knew it was the right thing to do. He was a sweet kid, one I remember as Bean. I can’t believe he’s gone, and this whole post now feels eerily prophetic. I debated long and hard about deleting it entirely, but that wouldn’t change anything. Please keep the Sharretts in your prayers today. 

11 thoughts on “A Block of Parmesan and a Pot of Darjeeling

  1. J.B. Thompson

    I’m glad you didn’t delete it, JT. Sometimes we need a slap in the face from that monster called Reality to get us to focus on what’s important in life. I concur in the voting on your point #1. More art, less torture. And seconds on the plugs – THE LIAR’S DIARY is a fantastic book, of course the anthology is brilliant, and I can’t wait to get a hold of Marcus … er, Marcus’s next book. 😉

    Rest in peace, young Heath. You will be missed.

  2. J.B. Thompson

    P.S. – And of course our thoughts and prayers are with the Sharrett family. It’s easy to dwell on the loss of a celebrity and all the trappings associated with it, but when the world loses a young man whose only goal was to serve his country, the pain goes even deeper. As the proud daughter of a Viet Nam veteran, it saddens me to know that the whole world will know about Heath Ledger’s death while only a handful will hear about Dave Sharrett, and my whole heart grieves for his family.

  3. Naomi

    I was in that black hole, too! Maybe because this young man took some creative risks and succeeded. At only 28 years of age his potential seemed boundless. And, of course, that he leaves behind a toddler daughter that he seemingly adored.

    I was tuning into tmz.com as well and feeling slimy afterwards. These folks are financially benefitting from other people’s pain and I was contributing to it.

    Actors and writers, they touch us personally. It’s no wonder that we feel that we know them when we really don’t.

  4. pari noskin taichert

    J.T.,If this is the kind of post you turn out when you’re burned out, well . . . I think it was just gold: fame, our feeding on fame, voyeurism, death — these are important and potent themes.

    But the thing that struck me most was what J.B. alluded to — two deaths. One of a famous young man, one of a young man lesser known — both events so damn tragic.

  5. JT Ellison

    JB, you hit it on the head. Everyone will know about Heath, but few will know of Bean. Thanks for the perspective.

    Naomi, that’s exactly what I loved about him. Fearless, and not kowtowing to the establishment. It’s the Johnny Depp syndrome — take risks, stretch yourself, work your art. I love that.

    Thanks, Billie. I need it.

    Pari, I wish I was in a better frame of mind, I’d like to explore this more.

    Toni, it’s good to know that I’m not alone. Between you an Naomi, at least I don’t feel so bad.

    I heard from Dave Sharrett’s dad last night. I sent my condolences, he responded by telling me he was proud of me. Now you know why this man was such an incredible teacher.

  6. Catherine

    As I’m on the other side of the world,(Australia) when a Murderati author puts up a new post topic I often read it just before going to bed.This post really struck a strong emotional chord with me. So I sent off an email to JT going look I’m so pissed off about this situation I’m not even sure if this is coherent, but I have to get it off my chest so I can sleep. On waking had an encouraging note from JT and a less wussy attitude….

    I was watching some breakfast TV here when the news broke regarding Heath Ledger, and I seriously thought no way, they have that wrong…that moment of disbelief and well suspicion that the media can be trusted to boost ratings but not necessarily be trusted on the truthfulness, the integrity of news.Our access to information is so double edged these days. I had a moment of thinking if this is true, has anyone even notified the family privately before this has hit all the media outlets? On one hand we can connect with people all around the world, and yet the village square and the sharing of news/gossip around the well/water cooler has gone global.

    I wonder at how much of society’s avarice for news of celebrity happenings be it birth, weddings, promotions, scandal, sickness or death is an extension of some innate need for story telling. So much information seems to be inflated to epic heights and lows. It all seems an awful price to pay for people drawn to entertain…it’s like this hellish encore…you may leave the movie set, music studio or stage, but people keep wanting to keep the connection going …sometimes through sheer admiration of talent, and a host of other motivations. I also wonder sometimes if it’s a reflection of society’s boundaries being in a constant state of flux. Celebrity is such a contrary thing, individuals and the industry supporting it wants to promote a connection to interest people to come and attend performances, yet the balance seems so far out of whack. I would hate for one of my loved ones to be speculated on so vigorously alive or dead.

    I’m also so sorry to hear of your friends death. Anything other than dying in your sleep peacefully at 80+ to me …no words. There are so many people who do lose their life at such young ages, it astounds me the impact a strangers passing can have to kick people into an appreciation of life…

    So, I’m still pissed off by the situation, and whether the news is shared quietly or blasted to every corner of the earth…I feel for anyone that loses a friend, a parent, a sibling.

    Thanks JT, and all fellow posters for sharing your perspective with so much honesty.

  7. JT Ellison

    Cath, so glad you decided to join in. Your post has some raw truth in it that we all need to consider. The thought that his family heard the news from a reporter on the scene breaks my heart. We are perpetuating this culture. It needs to be reined in.

  8. Fiona

    The loss of young people, with their whole lives ahead of them…… no words suffice.

    I have two sons. One will be old enough to draft by the next election. I constantly tell him to PAY ATTENTION to world events–they could become intimate details in his life before he knows it.

    Enough mom preaching…..

    I will remember your friends in my prayers. I can’t imagine their loss, and hope I never do.

  9. D.A. Davenport

    I hope both Heath and David are resting in peace. So sad and tragic.

    Thinking of all the young women and men in Iraq and Afganistan is something I do every day. Realizing they are each worth a thousand of any one of the politicians who have sent them there and keep them there, and that they face horrible and life-altering situations on a daily basis, eats away at me.

    Please send my sympathies to the Sharrett family. He was a true hero.


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