Michael J. Fox - Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist

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Always Looking Up -- It Just Gets Better from Here

Jun 5, 2009 (Updated Jun 6, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Inspirational, Muhammed Ali, his kids, Tracy, humor, real look into PD, Michael J. Fox

Cons:Writing in a few sections slow and stiff, optimism will annoy some

The Bottom Line:

This enjoyable memoir of Michael J. Fox provides a journey into the core of what makes him so optimistic. It's a memorable story of strength supported by love.


The question goes beyond the glass being half full or half empty, it asks what adventure will be on the other side of the door rather than asking will the door open?  Michael J. Fox is apparently genetically predisposed toward being an optimist and it’s a good thing. 

Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist celebrates one man’s spirit, simultaneously providing a first-hand introduction to the daily challenges of Parkinson’s disease. Without a strong sense of hope it’s unlikely Michael J. Fox, actor, foundation founder, father, “musician”, and husband, would achieve his goals let alone pursue them – he could easily hide with self-pity. He could respond with “Oh the things I can’t do because of PD” – but instead he responded with “Oh the places we can go and the doors we can open because of PD.” 

Always Looking Up documents Michael J. Fox’s effort to share what it’s like to be an optimist. We meet Michael and his “personal policy of engagement and discovery.”

This book opens with Michael optimistically leaping from Spin City into the unknown.  His thoughts were to spend more time with family, to deal with health issues, and to eliminate the stress from managing creative scheduling and medications.  He could no longer count on his body to keep pace with the timing required for jokes or the needs of the actor – it was time to find another avenue for his creative energy.

He identifies himself as an actor, husband, and father, but also as an activist.  His life was lucky, he enjoyed exceptional opportunities, financial success and lots of friends. His influence formed the Michael J. Fox Foundation (“dedicated to finding a cure for PD within the decade through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today”).

Michael doesn’t shy from political viewpoints nor does he camouflage his questions of faith.  Always Looking Up introduces us to the man we once knew as Alex P. Keaton in Family Tiesor Mike Flaherty in Spin City.  He’s actively concerned about stem cell research, not only for PD research but for diabetes. He is not the adolescent from Family Ties, instead he’s a complex man with a strong sense of community, politics, contribution, work, and family. His family ties motivate him as he proudly watches his four children mature into quality people capable of independent thought. He follows his conscience knowing his family, especially his wife, accompanies him. I found myself impressed by the supportive relationship with his wife, Tracy, and his enthusiasm for his children’s pursuit of their own goals.

His memoir travels backward and forward, rather than chronologically, as he highlights the important themes of his life. He provides glimpses of influential moments from his youth and then jumps forward to connect them to the present. You sense he is intensely genuine; he is who you expect.  He’s happy with his life and runs the risk of being saccharine until we’re reminded of his daily struggles.  Underneath all of this bravado is a man serious about social commitment. He is a man of quality who loves life. 

Michael J. Fox tells his story and along the way shares moments with Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, Chris Reeves, Robin Williams, and lesser known (but equally memorable) individuals. Each of these encounters proved points of influence in his life, each provided pivotal moments upon which he altered (or strengthened) his direction. 

Following 20 years as an actor it seemed appropriate to change the focus of his energies.  “In order to do my life’s work, I had to quit my day job.” His activism became his day job and his acting became secondary. He opened new doors by quitting Spin City; he walked into an entirely new direction with a specific focus that only he could.

Deep down I knew that my love of working – that megavolt crackle that licked up my spine when a well-written joke was well-timed and well-received—was still there. A hard-earned comfort had developed after so many years of performing…the unfortunate irony was that at a time when I felt in full possession of the emotional and intellectual dimensions of my performing identity, I could no longer count on my body to play along.” Accepting this reality, he moved on.

His new direction, the Michael J. Fox Foundation became “dedicated to finding a cure for PD within the decade through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today.”

While isolating the political Michael J. Fox from the professional Michael J. Fox (and foundation) he expanded his efforts into the political arena campaigning for key politicians during a time of changes, pushing for support of stem cell research.  Obviously he found many opposed to stem cell research with some attacking his reputation.  There were accusations, as well as some inappropriate mimicking on the part of Rush Limbaugh, yet Fox found a way to turn these actions into lemonade, a gift that provided new inspiration for reaching his goals.

The entire book is not about stem cell research, nor is it all about his foundation; instead it is a meaningful memoir that is uplifting and a matter-of-fact exploration of the four key influences on Fox.  Each aspect of his life is tightly intertwined; they shape the man we now know.

While admiring his accomplishments I couldn’t help but think about his good fortune, his income and opportunities, his supportive family and friends, and his connections that differ so much from those of someone far less fortunate. At first there seems to be a disconnect between him and the real world. I doubt others with PD are as optimistic as Michael but I look at him as a champion for garnering support and funds for PD-related research and causes.  He is a genuine man doing an honest job with his life. How can you not feel inspired by his efforts?

Regarding the book.
I applaud the man, the book’s content and inspiration. I laughed with him (his timing still works in print) and ached as he controlled his body while sitting on his hands.  I found the writing in some sections, mostly in the Faith chapter, stiff as if he was struggling to describe his religious beliefs. I found myself wondering where his spiritual search was going, where it would end, and if he really ever figured out that aspect of his life. Overall Always Looking Up is a terrific, very readable, memoir– but it’s not a sweet little book about Alex Keaton or the man who was once that young conservative. He grew in meaningful ways. You’ll either love it or despise it – I found it enjoyable but I too am an annoying incurable optimist willing to launch myself through unopened doors.

 


Recommend this product? Yes

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