Jonathan Light

Writer. Director. Producer.

An Open Letter to Humans Who Live Today

Dear People,

After reading the open letters and articles that address standards of living and work ethic, it seems as if all you people think you know everything about everyone just from reading first-person testimonials on this “internet” thing. This is wrong, so I thought it imperative that I give you all the benefit of perspective, from someone who’s been there.

I’m just a little older than you, though not much. I’ll be turning 153 years old next week – and that century-plus can be very important. Just like you, I moved to New York in my 20’s, looking to study typography, which I believe we’re calling graphic design these days, but I was also  set on pursuing my dream of avoiding the roving bands of murderers who wandered my Eastern European country looking for people to kill.

I was lucky enough to have a distant cousin living here – I wrote to him asking for help, and three months later he replied, offering me 20 hours a week as a pickle-delivery-man AND a mattress in the corner of the home/office he shared with forty-seven other people in a 5-floor-walkup in the Tenth Ward. My parents were long dead – one from cholera, the other from the pogrom the week before – but I understood my white privilege was the only thing allowing me to leave. Others in my village weren’t so lucky.

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I Was Told There’d Be Joy

The children were quiet. Too quiet…

I walked out of our bedroom to peek into Nathan’s room, expecting to see them both dead on the floor from some sort of karate move gone wrong, but – instead – I see this picture:

Isaac, 6 years old and learning to read, sitting on the floor with Nathan, 20 months, on his lap. Isaac holds Goodnight Moon – aka “Moo Book” – and is intensely trying to sound out the words to Nathan, who stares at the page, enamored and riveted. He points to the bunnies and the different things in the room and looks back at Isaac with his trademarked, “hennghh??” And Isaac says, “yes, Natey that’s right!” because that’s exactly what Rachel and I say whenever Nathan says “henggnh,” as if “henggnh” is the most profound observation of the universe a human has ever expressed. Which, of course, it is.

I took a moment to endure the cuteness-overload that flooded my brain, and then went to Rachel and made her look at what was going on.

She looked in and tears welled – joyful tears, tears that come out only when you see these moments that seem to make everything worth all the screaming and crying and mess and sleepless nights. Then she grabbed her belly: “Oh my god, my ovaries.” She wants another kid, and somehow – in those moments – I do too.

HERE is the the joy I was promised, I thought. Such delight. Such love between the two humans we created, the two babies for whom we have sacrificed and slaved for all these years, and for whom we will continue to do so until we die, even if it is this very sacrifice that will be cause of our deaths. Here is the wonder and happiness and pure, unencumbered joy that comes with being a parent.

But then Isaac saw us watching, and he got up and wouldn’t put his socks on. Nathan – livid that his 352nd journey through the Great Green Room had been left unfinished – started screaming something a lot less cute than “henggnh” at his older brother, who was now ignoring him.

We had to leave, so I asked Isaac once again to put on his socks, although the actual reaction was probably more along the lines of: “PUT YOUR SOCKS ON NOW OR I’M TAKING AWAY YOUR POKEMON CARDS!” to which he responded by bursting into tears and running into his room, which led to another Rachel EyeRollÔ and a very concerned look from Nathan, who suddenly smelled very bad.

As all parents know, these moments of pure happiness followed too quickly by abject rage are pretty much a daily occurrence. It’s stressful, and the extent to which you are able to cope with that stress is the number one indicator of your happiness as a parent.

Several times a day, I ask my older son what he wants to eat. Without fail, he replies that he doesn’t know, so I list some options, ranging from scrapple to duck l’orange, each of which is met by an emphatic “No.” I then give up and insist he decides, and the reply comes: “I just want something that I want that’s good.”

What the hell does that even mean, you incoherent spawn??

At this point, I have three options:

  • Decide for him, then when he starts screaming that this isn’t what he wants, calmly explain that he wasn’t being clear so I was forced to make the decision, and offer to have a fruitful discussion about communication.
  • Tell him I will be ignoring him until he decides, then refuse to engage even when he start shattering glass with his screams and end up an hour later with a still-screaming child who’s even hungrier and no closer to deciding what he wants.
  • Scream at him to just tell me what the fuck he wants, for the love of motherfucking GOD, then run upstairs and angry-cry into my pillow.

Though my responses have always shifted between A and B (yes, this conversation happens several times a week), I admit that there are more and more days lately in which C is my choice, albeit without actual F-bombs.

Clearly my children are the reason I had cancer and heart disease.

I’m kidding, of course, but when you find the baby drawing on the furniture even though you were sure you put the markers out of reach, this is an easy trap in which to fall: It’s all their fault. If only I had chosen to not have children. If only I had chosen to stay single and un-tethered to anyone or anything other than my own happiness and ambitions. There’s no way I would have gotten cancer and heart disease had I chosen another path, one paved with fewer diapers and less stress.


Reasons to Move to Cherry Hill

“Where are you from?”

We’ve all been asked this question. But there is only a small subset of humanity that is able to answer – truthfully – “Exit 4 off the New Jersey Turnpike”

It’s a special person that can reference a dilapidated six-lane superhighway-off-ramp in the heart of Southern New Jersey in their origin story. And you can join this exclusive club by moving to Cherry Hill™, NJ.  Continue reading

Thirty-Nine Meets Three: A Dialogue

This is a verbatim conversation.

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I’m fine, so far

Sorry for not updating, but all three people who read this have probably already been notified…and I somehow got thrown back into work the last few months.

I’m OK. Chemo worked. Listen to doctors, because they know of what they speak.

I have some chemo side effects and my stamina still sucks, but I’m doing very well and it looks like I’ve beaten it. That is all.

Feels weird to write this, actually. Like it was a role I played in a terrible play for a year and now it’s over, leaving only really bad memories.

Last One…

So today is my last day of [scheduled] chemo – Round 6, part B…the 12th visit total. Here is what happened this morning. (If the file isn’t visible, click on this sentence to view it.)

I’ve been lax

Sorry for the lack of updates…all I have to report is that this sucks and I’ve only got three treatments left, after which my doc thinks I’ll be done and Hodgkins will be a thing of the past.

So until then, I’ll just keep pushing through. This is what that looks like:


Rough couple weeks

I had a not-so-great time after the last two treatments (hence the lack of updates..) BUT I’m out of the hole, until next Thursday at least. Although chemo brain is definitely a thing…I just typed “whole” and almost didn’t notice. Proofread, people.

So for both of you refreshing this page for an update, one of you being my sister who I talk to every day anyway, I’m doing fine enough…only four more to go. Hopefully.

And not that you were wondering, but yes, the election definitely made it worse. Stress level is high, which just seems to enhance all the shit.

If you don’t feel like reading my take on it, then stop now…

I’m having trouble hearing everyone say “it will be OK, let’s just wait and see.” I’m trying my best to intellectually polish this turd, but the bottom line is this: Either he will do exactly what he’s been saying he will do, and hundreds-of-thousands-perhaps-millions of people will be “adversely affected” [translation: lives destroyed] by those policies, or he WON’T do what he says, and will instead follow along with the goals of the current Republican Congress, and perhaps slightly fewer people will be “adversely affected” [translation: lives destroyed] by those policies. 

We are way past this idea that politics is messy and this is just a normal rightward curve in a direction that will balance out to the mean. That was where we were with George W. Bush, who at least understood how a bill becomes a law, and wasn’t empowering truly evil people like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions. I never doubted that the country could survive Bush as President.
This is different. There are no more checks, especially if he can pack the courts. Laws are only effective if people believe in them, and if there is enough of a balance of power to allow for bad laws to be challenged. I fear that he has enough support to make things that have been illegal until now, not – and vice versa.

Everything I believe in – clean air and drinking water, voting rights, protection of speech, justice for innocent people, a healthy and robust Fourth Estate, the idea that words matter… EVERYTHING is in peril with this guy. If those aren’t priorities for you, fine. That’s sad, but fine. But if you say they are, and you think that Trump will be OK, then I urge you to be concerned and vigilant. He has launched a soft coup without firing one shot, and has infused our system with the idea that profit and power matter above everything else. 

That is the real sadness here – instead of a government whose goal is to serve its people, to create a setting in which individuals can thrive and speak out and worship and feel free from want or fear, we will soon have a government whose goal is to enhance profit and protect the wealthy from losing anything, using tactics that delegitimize dissent and stifle empathic, altruistic thinking.  And due to a combination of cynicism, mistrust of “the media” and the lack of any kind of civics education in this country – supported by a healthy percentage of racism and bigotry – he’s rode in on a wave of support from people who think he’ll upend the system, turning everything back to being “great” – whatever that fuck that ever meant.
I just don’t think whatever semblance of a democracy we have left is equipped to handle such a soft, insidious threat – a threat that uses not a shred of nuanced thinking or rational analysis, but will require both to combat. The different realities that exist in this country are too bifurcated to actually do what needs to be done and rework our Constitution to reflect the modern era. This document was, after all, created by men for whom the Internet would seem like Darke Magic and  to whom “the Negro” only counted for three-fifths of themselves. Yes, that second one changed, technically…but has it really?

Sorry, that’s a whole other essay, I guess.

To conclude: No, I don’t know how to fight it, other than trying to pressure my representatives to do so on my behalf.  I don’t have the money or connections to run for office myself, and I’m skeptical that anything other than vicious legislative fights will do any good in the current atmosphere of misinformation and mistrust of real journalists. (Cynical, I know. Sorry.) The system is what the system is, and we can only hope that we’re able to stop them (not just him) from creating a situation in which we’re unable to vote them out of power.

But hopefully that will happen, and hopefully I’ll be cancer-free when it does.

How many stages until Acceptance?

When I was diagnosed, I experienced all the stages of grief in a very short time. Within those first two weeks, I denied, got angry, bargained, slipped into depression…seemingly all at once.

Somehow, however, I quickly accepted it and implemented a plan of action. I started looking at cancer as a problem to overcome and began to explore the best options on the table to address it as nothing more or less than that: a problem to overcome.

Don’t get me wrong: anger, denial and depression still slide under the covers with me every now and then, but for the most part, I’ve been lucky enough to find acceptance and I’m following a plan of action.

I don’t mean to suggest that others should process and approach their own treatments the way I have, but this election has affected us all, and if, like me, you’re stunned into anger, denial and depression by Donald Trump’s election, then we need to move quickly to acceptance and focus on a plan of action.

In Which I Embark on an Extended Metaphor

Our country has been diagnosed – no, injected with cancer…an ideological cancer. Trump and the ideals he promoted to win this election, ideals which a clear fifty-percent of the country either implicitly or explicitly condone, are cancer cells that have metastasized. Hatred, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, gleeful ignorance – these are not abstract things. They are actual ideals that actual people have and defend. If we allow them to, these ideals will lead us down a dark hole of destruction and threaten our entire society.

But here is an important distinction, and it cannot be emphasized enough to those who just lost: Donald Trump’s supporters are not the cancer. Donald Trump’s ideals are the cancer. We need to remember that [most of] the people who voted for Donald Trump’s ideals are people, human beings with families and loves and fears…just like you or I. They do not see these ideals as bad or hurtful, they see them  as solutions to problems that are going unaddressed. That does not make them all irredeemable idiots. Misguided? Yes. In need of a civics education free from partisanship? Absolutely (and I would argue that’s our biggest problem.)  

So we can all agree, more or less, that we have problems in our society. But a free society has and always will have problems…the only question is which ideals we employ to solve them. Trump has sold his to half the country – but to paint as “stupid” every person who voted for him is just as dangerous as voting for Trump.

The faster we realize this, the faster we will be able to attack this cancer we all have. And yes, I say ALL – if we are to be one country, if we are to be part of a shared society and throw our lot in with each other, we have to accept the burden of our sickness together.

It is his ideals that are the sickness, his ideals that have taken hold of our society and infected our cells. It is these ideals that need to be addressed, challenged, attacked and beaten. We need chemo, immediately – and chemo is an absolute bitch. It’s hard, disruptive and ever-present. There will be days when you can’t inhale without dry-heaving, when your whole body aches, when simple acts require herculean efforts. Even on the days when you’re between treatments, it will be hanging five feet above your head, like your own personal guillotine that you know will drop in just a few more days. But that is what is called for now in our country. It won’t be easy to face the chemo we need, but face it we must.

And by that I mean, we need to get involved. We need to engage – not with those who agree with us, but with those who don’t. With love, empathy, patience and understanding – without yelling or demonizing, even when faced with it in return – we need to convince our fellow Americans that Donald Trump’s ideals are not good ideals. That they are not the ideals of a healthy nation. That they will lead to nothing but hurt and pain and destruction of all the things we hold dear as a society and as a Constitutional Republic.

And we need to do this not in the impersonal and shallow comments section, but with in-person, face-to-face discussions. Debates. Gatherings. Events that create real discourse among people and force everyone to take on everyone else’s concerns. I’m not talking about anything specific, and I don’t know what form these could take – but I do know that actual dialogue is necessary, and that it is still possible for everyone to meet somewhere in the middle if we just took the time to be a society again. Like chemotherapy, it is an uncomfortable, difficult path. But like chemotherapy, it’s our last, best hope to rid our body of this cancer.

I truly believe the ideals in our arsenal can win. Inclusiveness, generosity, empathy, society and love…these all stand in direct opposition to those other ideals espoused by Donald Trump, and they are the best bet for a healthy republic. But they will not win if the only way we’re promoting them is by sharing trite memes or re-tweeting clever one-liners for our own personal echo chamber. We need to engage with those in our society who think Donald Trump’s ideals are good, who think that the cancer doesn’t exist, and convince them to join us in the I.V. chair. It’s a difficult task, and there’s no guarantee of success, but if we want to fight for the ideals that would relegate Trump and his to the proverbial dustbin, we have to roll up our sleeves, take our anti-nausea meds, and shove that needle in as quickly as we can.

I’m grateful if you took the time to read this. Hopefully we can overcome this together.

Chemo Climb 2016

A week ago, I actually climbed a real route in the Gunks (New Paltz) – and even though it took me half an hour longer than it should have and I was huffing like I was at 25000 feet, I actually followed the whole thing clean, no falls or weighting the rope or anything. It was the best day I’d had in months, even though I couldn’t really move for two days afterward. Thanks to Felix Danila for guiding me and taking this photo.

20161023_140126I realize this is ridiculous, but I’m starting to feel a little guilty. It makes me sad to sit in the chemo room next to so many people who are really struggling and have the nurses comment loudly on how well I’m doing. Not that everyone is anything but supportive and upbeat… in fact, it’s a surprisingly friendly room, given the hell that so many people are going through. Chemo-side-effect remedies are a wonderful topic to bond over with strangers.

So yes, I’ve been doing well. The pattern is holding so far this time – I’ve been sick and run down since chemo Thursday, but I’ll probably be fine in the next few days. This last one was number 6, which means I’m halfway through, believe it or not. As I’ve said before, it feels like I’ve had this forever and that I only just started last week, all at the same time.

So anyway…chugging along. Give someone a hug today.


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