“I think we go from asking as young people, ‘What does life mean?’, and we sit around drinking beer & talk late into the night. As we get older, we ask, ‘What did life mean?’, and go to bed by 8 o’clock. We’re never in that one place where we know what life means.”
With his new memoir, GOODBYE TO CLOCKS TICKING: How We Live While Dying (Steerforth), writer and professor Joseph Monninger writes through the experience of a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis, delivered only 3 days into his retirement in 2021. We talk about how he’s navigating life on borrowed time (& the miracle drug that’s loaning him that time), his notion of legacy and how it plays out in his books and his students, and what he’s learned about impatience and regret. We get into the books that brought him solace, the comforts of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, how Wilder’s Our Town inspired the memoir’s title, and his desire to take the world in while he’s still in it. We also discuss the origins of his writing life, his Peace Corps stint in Burkina Faso and the big novels that he and the other volunteers traded, whether there are any books he wants to get to before he dies, what we each learned about oncology waiting room etiquette and the grace & goodwill of oncologists, the issue of assisted suicide, and a LOT more. (Plus, I talk about this week’s NYC memorial for Michael Denneny.) Give it a listen! And go read Goodbye To Clocks Ticking!
“I’m interested in my past, in the sense that in some primordial era, I’d have stood in front of the fire with an oak staff & feathers in my hair and said, ‘This is what it was like to me,’ and bore people. I’m interested in the old stories of mine but I know how much of them would bore everyone else.”
About our Guest
Joseph Monninger is the author of eight novels and two memoirs. He has written for Sports Illustrated, American Heritage, Scientific American, and the Boston Globe. He is a two-time recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in New Hampshire.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Joe by other people. It’s on my instagram.