He “Will Be Missed.” Yeah? By Whom?

He “Will Be Missed.” Yeah? By Whom?

Forget mindfulness, that living in the moment business. How can we take pleasure in the scents and sight of the Capresso dribbling latte when we know we’re due for so much obligatory sorrowing? So much missing to do! Google “will be missed” if you’re dubious and see the nation’s to-do list.

Not that it’s all heartrending work. Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show “will be missed,” along with the Air America, Ugly Betty, Paula Abdul’s hair styles on TV, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s dogs romping on Capitol Hill. That’s easy missing and we Americans are tough critters. No big deal to grab a wad of Kleenex and prepare to sniffle.

However, whether they rise to actual keening or stay at mere rue, most of our future missing obligations deal with people. Reps. Patrick Kennedy and Neil Abercrombie, retiring from the House, “will be missed,” to say nothing of Evan Bayh (though not by me, given his resignation under pusillanimous circumstances) departing the Senate. Anyway… Dunta Robinson, a right cornerback leaving the Houston Texans, also “will be missed.” Ditto Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui as they bid adieu to the Yankees. Even Simon Cowell WBM as he exits American Idol.

If not yet ubiquitous, the “will be missed” virus is spreading unchecked. The phrase is a cliché, sure, but I suppose not an intolerable one in the above instances. The member of Congress or Portuguese water dogs or hairstyles have not yet departed — or did so very recently — so the writer or speaker is merely observing that at some future moment, one or millions will be ferklempt.

What’s unsettling is that mostly, “will be missed” is tagged on to individuals who have already gone for good. Mosi Tatupu, a running back for the New England Patriots who died last week, “will be missed” according to many accounts. But he has significant competition as so many others who have departed in the last year “will be missed” as well: Edward M. Kennedy, Patrick Swayze, Betty Carter, Robert Parker, John Murtha, Charlie Wilson, J.D. Salinger, E. Lynn Harris, Sheila Lukins, Brittany Murphy, and of course Michael Jackson (whose estate might have enriched itself even more by marketing a “will be missed” macro).

The first few times I heard or read “will be missed,” my mouth merely contracted into its annoying-usage moue, the way it does at “very unique” or “less calories.” I wanted to demand, Will be missed? Will? Nothing down, pay later? Now I’ve come to loathe the expression, not just for its omnipresence, but for its hollowness.

Our culture is so celebrity-obsessed that for individuals to show they matter, they need to display their intimacy to fame. Family and friends barely have time to begin weeping before the public bewailing begins: colleagues of the celebrity issue press releases: journalists send forth I-understood-the-late-lamented’s-very-essence tributes (that often seem based on three-minute interviews at a movie publicity junket); anguished fans pour their hearts out into the sodden blogosphere, starting with some variation of OMG! and ending with a “He/She will be missed.”

Others besides me might be sensing WBM’s overuse — not that it stops them. They just embellish the phrase. The head of the British Fashion Council said Alexander McQueen “will be sorely missed.” Tori Spelling announced that Farrah Fawcett’s smile “will be greatly missed.” While Don Cheadle merely observed Bernie Mac “will be missed,” George Clooney went even further by saying Bernie Mac “will be dearly missed.” But tossing in an adverb to mitigate the offense is a mistake. Like sewing bugle beads on a vulgar dress, it makes a lousy choice more glaring.

“Will be missed” appears to be the verbal equivalent of boyfriend jeans and the breakfast pizza: Bad Fad. As for the grammatical pedigree of the phrase itself, I admit ignorance…even after looking it up; I’m not sure if “will be missed” is in the passive voice or merely a form of the verb to be with a modal auxiliary. What I am sure about is that it comes off as so damned cold.

Wouldn’t the usually well-mannered George Clooney have seemed more of a mensch if he’d said: I dearly miss that Bernie Mac? And though I myself won’t shed a tear, wasn’t there a single member of the Senate who could remark, Darn, I’ll miss that Evan Bayh!

“Will be missed” has little meaning. In fact, it could be seen as a slur, with its potential for being followed by though not by me.

And that future tense? Will be missed? When? On Memorial Day 2010? Okay, there were some eloquent speakers at Ted Kennedy’s memorial, but couldn’t more of his colleagues and constituents have whipped it up for an “is missed” or “I miss him” instead of a WBM after the Senator’s years of service to his country?

Yes, I understand “will be missed” is cant. But the way we speak about each other not only reflects our culture, it influences it. WBM is not just too easy. It’s downright icy to come out with a prefab statement of alleged sadness over a death. Better to just suffer (or not) in silence. A cliché like this shows not only lack of thought, but lack of feeling, as if we’re too busy for even a heartfelt, “Jeez… I’m, like, I’m sad.” It freezes the emotions of those who hear it and moves us ever closer to being a people who have no time for each other.

Also, for a democratic nation that considers itself the land of the free and home of the caring, “will be missed” is also an oddly stiff, detached way of expressing loss. Kennedy, after all, was a US Senator, not a member of the House of Lords.

“Will be missed” all but proclaims I have other things to do now, but I do have a reminder on my BlackBerry and, if I’m so inclined, I’ll clutch my hands to my chest and lower my head in sorrow at 4 PM on May 31. “Will be missed” is a barrier between a speaker and his gut, a writer and her ability to describe the pain (or merely the sting) of someone’s death.

I’m not railing about pop expressions. Some are dandy because they’re lively and real, like the use of dog as a synonym for friend, as in “Hey, dog, you’re looking fine.” It’s a language fad that makes sense, connoting attachment, what we feel about our pals and our pets. It’s all about affection.

But “will be missed”? Pure affectation. When it dies, it will not be missed.

[Published on Huffington Post, March 1, 2010]

The Not-So-Mystifing Mystery of Northwest 188

For a mystery writer like me, much of the why the plane overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles conjecture has been deeply unsatisfying. Like “The pilot and copilot got preoccupied with smarmy online videos/labor-management” theory or the “They fell asleep” hypothesis. Several people I spoke with posited the Lost Boys had been engaged in some traitorous conspiracy or sex act so enthralling they failed to notice the 16th largest metropolitan area in the United States.

I admit that last one intrigued me. Still, even as a great fan of sex, I cannot imagine any liaison that would cause me to miss not just Minneapolis, but St. Paul too.

But if you take off your headphones and don’t hear the alarm? I asked myself. I received no answer, so after a recent flight, I had a quick chat with one of those sweetie-pie pilots who stand near the galley to say bye-bye to disembarking passengers: Hey, could those two guys piloting that Northwest Airbus have slept through the clamor of an alarm, like I might sleep through the ringing of my bedside clock? No way, he told me. Those alarms are so loud that the only people they could not wake are the dead.

Hmmm. I checked the official FAA transcript of the conversation between Northwest 188 and the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center. That first explanation from the cockpit did not inspire in me a profound belief in the Boys’ forthrightness: “ah roger we got ah distracted and we’ve over flown ah minneapolis we are over head eau claire and would like to make a one eighty and do arrival from eau claire”

Sadly, there was no way to check out the getting distracted business, as many news accounts pointed out. The Detroit News explained: “New recorders retain as much as two hours of cockpit conversation and other noise, but the older model aboard Northwest’s Flight 188 includes just the last 30 minutes — only the very end of Wednesday night’s flight after the pilots realized their error over Wisconsin and were heading back to Minneapolis.”

Aha! That was it! Were I one of those aggressively tweedy whodunit authors from the 30s or 40s, I would have my detective-protagonist gather the pilots, an FAA honcho or two, a US Attorney, and a cross-section of pissed off passengers from 188 in the vicar’s drawing room to announce a solution.

So, for what it’s worth… The pilots must have known, as apparently everyone in the airlines business does, that those older cockpit voice recorders, like the one that Airbus A320 , record in a loop. That is, after some set length of time, in this case 30 minutes, the continuing recording process erases the previously recorded material and replaces it with new content.

The Lost Boys might have been distracted earlier in the flight, but once they were nearing Minneapolis, they must have became painfully aware. They suddenly understood that whatever they had been saying or doing should not be on that searchable tape. Whether the material was indeed criminal or merely vile or inappropriate enough to result in their decertification — maybe even prosecution — is not knowable. But clearly they decided it was worth the risk to get rid of the proof. Since they couldn’t destroy the near-indestructible black box the recording was in, they did the next best thing. They destroyed the account of whatever went on… by flying an extra 150 miles. With time as their accomplice, the inexorable, looping recording continued and any hard evidence against the two of them was no more.

[Published on Huffington Post, December 11, 2009]


Welcome to my thrillingly updated website, susanisaacs.com.  Fine: I can’t guarantee unrelenting ecstasy.  But besides the new, jazzy format, I’ve added a lot more content.  Like this blog.  Before I became a novelist, I worked as an advice to the lovelorn columnist, magazine editor, political speechwriter, and freelancer, doing everything from editing a cook book to making up questions for a TV quiz show to writing quickie radio spots on fashion for Women’s Wear Daily.  Since then, I’ve covered the 2000 presidential election for Newsday and nattered on in print about everything from sports to First Amendment issues, fiction, and film. I’ve written four screenplays, two of which were actually made  Compromising Positions and Hello Again), and authored a book (Braved Dames and Wimpettes: What Women Are Really Doing on Page and Screen) on what I alternately call feminism or cultural criticism, depending on how intellectually insecure I’m feeling.

Because I wrote a screed yesterday on what used to be called “current events,” i.e., Celebrity Death Fun And Frolics– http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-isaacs/rip-vip-we-will-always-lo_b_228133.html — I’ve decided to open with one of my 937 book tour stories.

So I’m at the public library in Denver about to read and discuss my latest book, when a pleasant-looking Coloradoan (of the no makeup, cheeks burnished from the outdoors variety), a woman about thirty, comes up to me and says, “You’re my favorite author!”

I say, “Thank you!” with great enthusiasm that probably won’t convince her I’m the sort of writer who could leave her keyboard and ride a bike up the mountain.

No You’re welcome: instead she says, “I’m so glad you’re not dead!”

“I am too,” I say.

“Don’t you hate it when you really like a writer and you find out she’s dead and there won’t be any more books?”

“I do!” Then I promise her I won’t die for a while, at least before I get out another novel or two or three.

So, Burnished Cheek Lady, I’ve completed another one, As Husbands Go, which will be published in 2010.  I recently had my annual checkup (including an echocardiogram stress test) and I’m good to go.  Keep your fingers crossed.  For my part, I’ll keep writing.