Mar 28, 2008

A Class By Himself

in Paris last May. I made up the french and have no idea if it's accurate.

I haven't updated The Blackwing Diaries for more than two months and it's about time I jumped in and posted.
I never meant that the gap would be such a long one. Part of the struggle to get back in the swing and just go on and hit "publish" is due to my ambivalence about whether to address why I haven't been writing.

This really isn't a personal blog. It's meant to be as widely inclusive and journalistic as I can manage regarding my vocation, animation. The easiest option would be to skip over the personal and get right back to Topic A.
But first I'm going to ask your indulgence as I write a bit about this blog's number one follower, the real audience I am always writing for, my husband Peter Bateman.

Pete last August at the beach in Ventura

He wasn't in animation but he certainly knew plenty about it, and not just from being around me. He couldn't draw for beans, at least not as we usually judge these things. I used to kid him that his development as an artist had coalesced around the 5th grade from the evidence(which was pretty entertaining to see)--but he had excellent taste and a great eye.

He knew more about film and loved movies more than anyone I've ever known, and that's saying something as I've known some people with incredible credentials. He was also a reader of prodigious scope, enjoying everything from Michael Crichton to Malcolm Lowry, from Ann Beattie and Claude Lévi-Strauss to MAD magazine, Sgt Rock and Martin and Lewis comics.
His senior paper at NYU film school was on Howard Hawks and he had a great love for French new wave cinema, in particular the lesser-known works of Jacques Rivette and Agnes Varda and the better-known Renoir, Godard and Truffaut. His taste was wide-ranging, eclectic, informed--he seemed to know everything. I'm a pretty big film buff and I know a lot of trivia, but I'm sure I learned at least half of what I know from Pete. The other half I probably get wrong in the details. Pete never forgot the details.

Every entry I made here was read by him first, as it went into his email inbox the second it posted. Many's the time I'd get a phone call at work from Pete and hear a reaction to something I couldn't believe he'd read so soon. Usually he complimented me--okay, he actually complimented me every time whether I deserved it or not. He was a cheerleader.

This time for the first time I'm going to have to go into his email myself and see the message from Blogger that Blackwing Diaries has been updated, because Pete can't. He died on February 13th. His death ended 15 months of unbelievable courage on his part, enduring treatments, several operations, and living life with that large heavy other shoe poised and liable to drop--we knew not when.

Some readers may remember that in October of 2006 I was on a panel for a talk organized by the Animation Guild (my union) involving Geena Davis and her research into gender representation in animation.
I had been flattered and excited to be part of a panel with Geena, Dean De Blois, Jill Culton, Brenda Chapman and Fred Seibert moderated by the union president, Kevin Koch. But came the day, Pete and I had just heard that afternoon from his doctor that something awful was wrong with him, something that would be confirmed after test results came. But they wouldn't be ready for several days. All we could do that evening was wait. It was pretty horrible.
As I sat on the dais I could see Pete's face framed between the shoulders of the row in front of him, terribly pale. I wondered as the various questions were fielded and answered between panelists and audience what our lives were going to be--how much life did we have? Could it be something not so bad? Would it be the absolute worst news imaginable?
Some old friends and colleagues I hadn't seen in ages came up afterwards to say hello. I don't know what I said. I felt a million miles removed from Burbank, in fact from anywhere normal and familiar on planet Earth. It was all incomprehensible, surreal.

The following Tuesday the boom was dropped: Pete had kidney cancer, and it was advanced. He'd have to have one kidney removed immediately, undergo aggressive treatment...and that was that. His only symptom had been a loss of about 10 pounds over several months, which he'd put down to being extra busy and on his feet more than usual at a new job. He was fit. He'd never smoked. He was otherwise--otherwise!--in great health. He had no history of cancer in his family. It was just bad luck, "one of those things." He was 48.
Thus began our lives "A.D."--after diagnosis.

2007 was a very full year for us. Everyone at work (where I was in the thick of storyboarding and voicing a lot of bees) was so supportive-tactful, accommodating, and compassionate. I was and am quite emotional about the loyalty and love my studio friends who knew the situation showed me. Work really is a great tonic--one Pete had too little of as he'd had to leave his own job soon after the year started. But he continued to work: on a long-planned coffee table book of rare film stills he'd collected over the years; proposals for articles; appraisals. Together we sold and wrote a lengthy article for FIRSTS magazine, on author Betty MacDonald. We went to Paris last May, a place neither of us two francophiles had been, and loved it (of course).
We did what I know a lot of people in our situation do--take life not just one day at a time but one minute at a time. There's no tomorrow to fret about, just now. It doesn't always work in practice but one tries.
In hindsight things were pretty great until late October, when the downhill trajectory became faster and steeper. As usual we shared Halloween, our birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Always there was chemo, transfusions, different cocktails of drugs side by side with our own plans for trips, for projects, for little bits of future fun.

In January there was a weeklong trip to Stanford for a treatment that proved futile. Then there was the hospital, then we were home, and then it was obvious that he wouldn't rally. This is when I stopped feeling as if I could write anything, or indeed do anything.

He got a horribly rotten deal but he never, ever complained about it. He made friends of his doctors and nurses. He went from a typical guy who hated needles and all things medical to a stoic, blase patient with the highest pain threshold imaginable--even his specialists were staggered that he'd managed as well as he did for months. To some people he barely referred to his illness--to others, not at all. He hated to burden people or bring them down.

He had the happy talent of being kind, encouraging and likable to anyone and everyone. He was great with kids and dogs, cats and birds and horses. He loved good wine and knew all about it. He played a serious game of chess. He was a great listener and he'd laugh at all my inanities.
There isn't a thing--whether in two dimensions or three--in the world as I know it that doesn't have a connection with him for me. He's left an incomprehensible hole behind him. I'm still constantly on the verge of asking him something, of wanting to tell him an anecdote or run something by him. Again I think of that inbox and I'm reminded of my dependence on his thoughts about things.

By the way, I know he would want me to insist that all of you guys and girls act on the first hint of any differences in your health, no matter how insignificant they might seem. Trust your intuition--and most of all, get a regular physical. Much better to be safe than sorry. Kidney cancer is called "the silent killer" for a reason. It's one of several forms of cancer with few or no early symptoms. Take care of yourselves.

Thanks for your indulgence, and for all your feedback and interest these past years.
I'll be returning tomorrow to my regularly scheduled nonsense. I enjoy doing this blog, and I know my biggest editor, critic and sounding board's gentle spirit will remain with me as long as I'm around.

Thank you, Pete.

Under the big Irish sky.