Amy Czerniec with Roopie, December 20, 2023
Amy Czerniec reunited with her pal with Roopie, December 20, 2023.

Another Week: Number 52

by | December 24, 2023

When I started Another Week a year ago, it was an experiment aimed at filling the expressive void left after I quit social media. I figured it made more sense to create content for my own website, and I wanted to see whether I could do that on a regular schedule. Of course, I had no idea what these posts would come to encompass.

My sister Lori died during week 8. She had been dealing with leukemia for almost two years, but her decline accelerated rapidly in her final month.

During week 18, I snapped a photo of a robin on our roof while Amy slept beneath it. That was the morning I realized something might once again be threatening Amy’s life. But I kept that to myself and instead wrote about grass seed.

This past Sunday, as Amy slept in yet again, I knew she would not be able to make it down the staircase and our back steps at 5:45 a.m. to keep her Monday morning chemo appointment, so I emailed her oncologist to alert him. He phoned me later and said that after treating Amy’s cancer for ten years, he was afraid she might be going. He said it was time to think about “comfort care.”

It’s been a challenging week. Family and friends have visited each day. Wednesday, we took delivery of our new Coddle couch, which I later learned is called a “click clack couch,” because of the noise it makes when you convert it from a couch to a flat sleeping surface. Late Thursday morning, Amy made a tremendous effort and we got her dressed, down the stairs, out to the car, and up to Froedtert to pick up a chemo prescription, do labs, and get shots which must be paired with that prescription. Thursday night, I got to make up our brand-new couch as a bed, because there was no way Amy could climb the stairs after everything else.

Friday, on top of her fatigue, Amy began to suffer from intense acid reflux. At dinnertime, she threw up not long after taking her chemo pills. Up in bed, she clutched her vomit bag all night long, coughing from the acid burning her throat. Saturday at dinnertime, her Ensure Complete shake and everything else was rejected a minute after taking her chemo pills.

I have described this cancer gauntlet as a chess match. Now Amy’s oncologist feels he’s pretty much out of moves, and this last weapon, while doing some apparent good (her liver function has improved a bit according to Thursday’s labs), also seems to be causing agony.

We are cornered.


Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool

We have been fans of Mike Birbiglia for years, and rejoining Netflix allowed us to watch his most recent Broadway show, released on the streaming platform last month.

Birbiglia is so good-natured and generous in exposing his considerable quirks and shortcomings that it’s surprising to hear he wasn’t raised in an “I love you” family. His humor in confronting his health challenges made our own more tolerable, at least for an hour and a quarter.

This gentle, human style of comedic storytelling is rare these days. At times it’s touching and it’s also hilarious throughout.

We need more of this.


Maestro (2023)

Wednesday, a friend of ours stopped over to see Amy and we decided to watch a movie together. We chose Maestro, the Leonard Bernstein biopic just released on Netflix with Bradley Cooper directing and starring as Bernstein.

The inherent problem with biopics is that they rattle off a series of mileposts in their subjects’ lives like a kid with a stick along a picket fence, using lots of exposition in the dialogue to label the important moments. The effect is like flipping through a photo album. You don’t get a feel for the person living those moments.

Maestro does some things differently.

For one thing, along its 45-year span, it recreates the style of the movies of each period, from visuals to mannerisms to film grain and aspect ratio. These results are astounding — as is Bradley Cooper’s transformation from age 25 to age 70.

For another, there’s much less exposition in the dialogue. As a consequence, you’re left wondering who these people at the table are, and what they’re referring to, and what cathedral this is, and so on.

The main story Maestro explores is the tension between Bernstein’s affection for and marriage to Costa Rican actress Felicia Montealegre and the fact that he is gay. Carey Mulligan plays Felicia, who is aware of Bernstein’s true self but also the scandal that would ensue if it came out publicly. Suppression creates conflict between them over time. (A post at The Mary Sue appreciates one well-layered scene portraying this strife.)

Cooper does a good job as Bernstein — especially as a conductor, and particularly in an extended scene near the end performing Mahler at England’s Ely Cathedral that will surely be excerpted aplenty at Oscar time. However, his accent eventually becomes a bit much, like someone suffering from a cold.

Maestro is not a perfect gem, but it has some brilliant facets that make it well worth a look.


Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres (2022)

On Friday, Netflix suggested a rock and roll documentary and so, of course, I bit.

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres profiles a writer I read for years as a young rust belt hippie, never really appreciating how extraordinary his down-to-earth style was in the realm of egos and groupies and substance abuse.

This film is a well-organized and standard biographical documentary. It wears the accepted structure like a comfortable pair of jeans. Fong-Torres’ personal story unfolds alongside excerpts from his interviews with the most legendary rock stars. Stars of Rolling Stone are also included — Cameron Crowe, Annie Leibovitz, and Jann Wenner.

It may all sound routine — but little by little, a sense of this astonishingly modest man took form, and a feeling of joy inflated in my chest.

It was reassuring to be reminded that there are some great people in this world.

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres


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