Aaaah, bliss.

You know, sometimes it’s just good to be exhausted.

Now that Peanut has adjusted to Daylight Savings Time, a little government intervention I like to call The Fcuk with Parents Solstice, which was clearly invented and perpetuated by old men with no sense of empathy for the month that it takes to re-regulate a child’s sleep patterns after the shift, I’ve decided to join a gym that opens at 5am so I can workout before Peanut and Spouse wake.

This seemed more self-cudgelingly painful and ludicrous than volunteering for a lifetime of respecting my child’s needs, but the first morning I slipped out of the house before dawn, every moment was glorious. I woke groggy, but that was no different than the days Peanut wakes me in the wee hours. (Background: I have a kid who doesn’t sleep well. Never has. He wakes every 3 hours or so. He sleeps no more than 9.5 hours total, even with the waking. Totally normal, well precedented in my family, yet totally eroding the little patience with which I came to this parenting game. [NB: Do not email me with Babywise bullshit. Letting your baby cry is not parenting. Throughout the world children do not sleep until 3 or 4. It’s just biology. Stop telling me to force my kid to be different. He goes to sleep fine. He has nightmares. He wakes and needs us. Just because it’s killing me doesn’t mean I need your child abuse handbook.] And because of his sleep pattern, if I spend a little time in the evening with Spouse, and either clean or write, I’m looking at 6 or 7 hours of sleep, which is almost hourly interrupted by either a screaming child or a yowling cat. Daily considering asking the SPCA to take both.)

Being alone in a quiet house was exhilarating. Driving alone in the dark, without having to explain why, yes, we need to share the road with other cars and trucks, and that, if you really don’t want to share you ought find yourself a job and some money so you can build your own infrastructure, because the logistics of buying out the freeway system so you can watch the world go by from your car seat with a view unobstructed with other humans is a little out of mommy’s purview this week, was almost orgasmic. And the foggy sunrise was delicious. But far away the best part of getting up after 5 hours of sleep to exercise my wayward body into some semblance of energy was that I got to start, finally, Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays.

This is my definition of heaven.

I would do the elliptical backwards for four hours straight to read that man’s writing. (I wish I could footnote in wordpress [not for some hackjob parody, but because I really need to add a few notes that are too long to put into the text], but I’m angry about the new design so I’ll do parenthetical asides, instead.) (To wit: ) (This month, I have to do the elliptical backwards because of the cast I’m in for the next month. And I get my actual fitness from the erg, but I can’t read while I row, and I can’t get my pedal stroke to functional at all well the cast. So elliptical backwards until I lose feeling in my foot, then switch to the erg, silently debating Wallace’s arguments in my head until I can feel my toes again.)

And Consider the Lobster,  and thoughtful and moralistic and borderline self-righteous (in all the right ways) collection of essays (predominantly articles he’s written for some of this country’s finest magazines) has eye-rollingly pleasurable topics nestled within. I’ve often recommended that my fair readers read or re-read Infinite Jest. But honestly, I may have found my favorite DFW piece, blissfully ensconced as I now am, seven pages into Wallace’s review of a grammar usage text. This chapter/article/review has me deliriously happy.

Without fail, Wallace’s writing brings me to two, independent, and wonderful conclusions. One, I am not crazy, but if I am, I am not alone in my particular breed of insanity. If no one else does, David Foster Wallace understands me. [NB: Yes, I know I should use the past tense. But because I am still coming to grips with his death, and because I prefer the critical approach of reading the text as always present tense, as always available to us regardless of the author’s state of being, I will say that he understands me, by which I mean that I feel understood when I read his work. I attribute no intention to this sensation, for I do not believe he wrote for me, personally. Issues with the whole “not knowing me,” bit, and all.]  Two: I need to get one hundred times smarter and better each day, and read more and write more because I am compelled to express myself as beautifully, compellingly, intelligently, and hilariously as this man did. I won’t get there, but I’ll live trying.

Now, of course, wiping away tears in the gym, thrice, I have a new conclusion, one I’ve been working on since September 15 when I found out: This world, each day, is poorer for having lost him. I, again, offer condolences to his family. And I, again, roll myself into an intellectual black hole wanting more of his mind spread—-like a freshly blended hummus made from a secret family recipe that will be lost after its last knowledgeable chef burns it in a passion-fueled fire and vows, because of the pain cooking causes him in the wake of a divorce from a woman who was his gustatory muse, never to blend that garbanzo-tahini-garlic extravaganza again—-across the pages of book and magazine. May Hollywood never, never violate his words with a film version. (Just saw Into the Wild last night, finally, and found, yet again, that the book was far better. Sorry, Mr. Penn. Love your work. But the film didn’t do justice to the epistelary memoir.)

Wallace’s review, the fourth piece in Consider the Lobster (after a riveting and pathetic look at the porn industry’s Oscar night, a scathing review of Updike’s latest self-absorbed book, and a brilliant explanation of what I’ve always found interesting about Kafka’s work—that it’s funny in a way few people comprehend) offers frenetic  grammatical satisfaction to those among us who cringe at the general linguistic ignorance of those around us. If you get off on words, and are passionate about the language in which you read, write, and speak, turn to “Authority and American Usage.” It strokes the grammar wonk’s ego, it oxygenates the fires of grammatical anger, and it offers 62 juicy pages of critical argument about the political nature of language.

62 mathafuckin pages, y’all.

Laugh all you want. I gladly fly my geek flag, higher today now that I know Wallace’s flag is right there in my courtyard, too.  To read that DFW, a man whose work I admire more than any other author I’ve read, in whose words I’ve found a friend and a home, and for whose memory I plan a long critical academic career (which might well having him doing subterranean 360s), gets just as frothy as I do when college students submit their first papers riddled with such eggregious errors that we feel the need to conduct an emergency English grammar seminar in our classrooms, pushing literature and critical thinking off the gurney and diemboguing our linguistic scalpels with the sole intent of making the world a better place to read.

I’m actually ready to get out of bed every morning, with maybe five hours of sleep behind me, to read David Foster Wallace’s essays again and again. I only wish I hadn’t quit reading his work during my grad school and baby years, because I feel like I’m playing catch-up, devouring his writing like a person who finds herself, after a full day of unblinking focus on a newborn, starving and ready to eat anything in the house; and just as she scours the cupboards for something edible, she turns around to find a gorgeous, tasty, well balanced, hot meal from a caring and likeminded friend just sitting there, as though it’s been waiting for her.

Goddamn he’s good.

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Books I love, that nobody seems to read.

After our extravaganza about classics we loathe, the erudite blogosphere and I have undertaken another endeavor.

Books we love that nobody seems to know about or read:

(This is harder than I thought it would be, since all my books are in a POD storage facility, waiting for us to either buy or rent, hinging on the daily fluctuations of the market, interest rates, and my hair-trigger vascillations. That said, if I know these are true loves from memory, isn’t that more authentic? Let’s pretend so.)

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Walker Evans and James Agee. Oh, my. Gorgeous photos. Compelling journalism.

Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zola Neale Hurston. Dear, me, that woman can write down to a person’s bones. Passion, love, poverty, power, and above all, the indefatigable soul of fatigued women. Damn.

Silences. Tillie Olsen. Can’t do it justice with words. Which is the point, as its goal is to textualize the silent periods of authors’ lives.

Collected Works. Grace Paley. Choose your favorites.

One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gabriel Marquez Garcia. Maybe people are reading this and I don’t know. I did not find Love in the Time of Cholera enjoyable. Everyone who has ever read One Hundred Years, though, was touched to the core, by its magical realism and epic grasp on the human heart. Is this already on everyone’s list? Please go read it. The Nobel Prize announcement insisted that, in his writing, he creates: “a cosmos in which the human heart and the combined forces of history, time and again, burst the bounds of chaos – killing and procreation.” Who wouldn’t read all of his books after that?

Nightwood. Djuna Barnes. Some of the most compelling scenes I’ve ever read. Some of the most sadly endearing characters I’ve ever met. Some of the most confusing passages I’ve ever pushed through. Really, really brilliant work.

Wings. Shinsuke Tanaka. Gorgeously spun tale of joy and intolerance, difference, and love. As with all good stories, we have to fudge the ending a bit with our toddler, but it’s easy to change the story’s climax just a little to make sure everything turns out even more okay.

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. Chris Ware. A poignant, gorgeous, thought provoking graphic novel. Especially tender about relationships of fathers and sons. The year I read it I gave it to everyone I knew for Chrismakkah.

Princess Bride. William Goldman. The cult following of the movie would imply a large fanbase for the book, which is (predictably, both for the track record of “the book was better” and for Goldman’s MASTERY of narration) ten thousand and three times better than the film.

Tender Buttons. Gertrude Stein. penelope said it first, but I second it. This is the work worth reading. There is molto there there.

Absolom, Absolom. William Faulkner. For some reason it’s neither read nor assigned as often as it should be. It’s the most compelling, for me, of his work because the female characters are the most poignantly drawn. As I Lay Dying is good, but not good enough to re-read a third time. The Sound and The Fury is remarkable, but harder reading. Light in August is brilliant and compelling but I can’t take the violence right now.

Poetical Dictionary. Lohren Green. Philosopher and History of Philosophy guy makes language visual and poetical. Very compelling intellectually.

An American Tragedy. Theodore Dreiser. I wrote my undergrad honors thesis on Sister Carrie, and I loved that book. And for a historical perspective on American industrialization and women, it still reigns supreme. But something about An American Tragedy just really floats my boat. No pun intended. Oh, dear, I should edit that out. No pun intended at all. Gross.

Not a Box. Antoinette Portis. Yes, it’s a children’s book, but it’s absolutely inspiring.

Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace. Detailed and stream of consciousness and meticulous and hilarious and disturbing and prescient and nakedly raw. Delicious. Also Brief interviews with Hideous Men. Not so much The Girl with Curious Hair, only bits of which did I enjoy. Still working on Oblivion. I had taken a Wallace break to raise a child and write my own fiction, but now I’m tearfully relishing his every word. My God, I ache knowing that we’ll never get more.

The Yellow Wallpaper. Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I keep a copy in every room, and in my glove compartment. (Okay, not really, but I’m considering it this week.)

I couldn’t include many of my favorites here because most people have read them and still read them, which disqualifies them by definition. But I feel the need to show some lovin’ to some of the greatest books ever written: Catch-22, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Joy Luck Club, Lord of the Flies, Green Eggs and Ham, The Color Purple, Their Eyes Were Watching God, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Grapes of Wrath.

Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings—-review, sort of

Let me begin with a caveat: I’m not a music critic. I’m not a professional reviewer or musician, and, quite frankly, don’t know what I’m talking about. But Counting Crows’ music has always had a place in my life, for various reasons, and my response to the new album is different than I expected. So I thought I’d throw it our into the blogosphere. Be gentle. These are just personal reflections.

(The short version: I started out not liking most of the tracks. Then David Foster Wallace died and I can’t stop playing the album. What seemed trite and pedestrian is now deeply meaningful. What failed to resonate is now rocking my soul. I guess I wasn’t depressed enough for a Counting Crows album until last week. Now, the band that used to know my confusion and delusions once again speaks to me. The album was growing on me with repeated play. After the suicide, though, I can’t find many faults with it. It probably won’t ever pluck the chords of my self-seeking and disillusioned gypsy soul the way previous albums did, but we’ve all turned a corner in our lives,  and at least I have a friend in the CD player again. The lyrics still grate a bit. But the instrumentation intrigues and the album finally feels like the old friend I’ve always found in the Counting Crows.)

The unapologetically long version:

Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings was purportedly intended as a musical chronicle of the hard living/remorseful hangover pattern most of recognize from some point in our lives. I figured the album would have little in it for me, since my Saturday nights can not have one iota in common with Adam Duritz’s, and my Sunday mornings are farther from my idea of a Sunday morning than I ever thought they would be. We’ve taken different paths, The Crows and I, and, even though we were never even on the same road, I was sure that this album wouldn’t even have a shadow of the hope-doubting, 3am-ceiling-staring, surrealist aspirational beauty I so crave from this band.

The earliest Crows’ albums hit me in two ways. Some of the surreal and intensely soul-wrenching lyrics pluck a moment of my inner world and echo its exact vibrations for the duration of the song. Others wrap me into a world I can’t know, but allow me some enormously cathartic empathy surfing. All of their early songs find me in a crowd, resonate within me, and then leave me speechless, jolted out of complacency and scanning my surroundings to find something familiar. For some reason Duritz often hits chords, metaphorically, that know me, shake me, and comfort me. Each of the early albums seemed to understand my current stage of hopeless hopefulness. The Counting Crows always felt like home, even though they left me feeling achingly isolated and out of place.

So I imagined that this album would disappoint me, not musically, but in its capacity to find and touch me. I’m sure that, on the artists’ list of creative and musical goals to accomplish, finding a way to address their hopes, joys, and mental anguish to me personally ranked somewhere around 365,741,980th. But I was willing to taste that morsel, stuck to the tread of the boots worn by some roadie who swept up after a Dublin concert.

As I expected, I have little in common with the Saturday Night Crows. I don’t particularly like “1492.” “Hanging Tree” is lovely and catchy, but foreign to everything in my dizzy life. “Los Angeles” bandies about all that I loathed about living down there, and makes me yearn for my “ghosts in San Francisco” even more. Now that I’ve moved back, and DFW found the soullessness of LA too much, I like the song infinitely more. While the Boston reference in “Walkaways” still makes me cry, “Los Angeles” and its mentions of Boston leave me cold. “Sundays” sounds fine, and “I don’t believe in anything” either. On paper I can really get into (Except the skinny girls bit, which will always be offensive for so many reasons.) “Insignificant,” is now playing incessantly in my head on runs–a good sign that this is old school Crows. I, too, don’t want to be insignificant, or feel so different. Similarly, the lyrics of “Cowboys” resonate, and the tune is wearing off its original shiny annoyingness to feel like worn old leather. In my original review draft, I was beginning to think I was just dead on the inside, in the little spaces where a batlike Adam Duritz used to hang upside down and keep watch on my neuroses while I closed my eyes for just a minute. David Foster Wallace swept the cobwebs from my terror, my anxiety, my literary mind; now the song is like a blanket on neurotic nights.

The album’s first half sounds fine, and, as I said, I’m not a skilled enough ear to tell you if their work here is genius or artistically middling. And I don’t care. They’re entitled to be brilliant in their hard living, fast driving chapter if they want. That’s not my world. Maybe it’s because the secret fears and horrifying sights the Crows used to paint just captivated me is now composed in a angry, driving, rock and roll voice that I just don’t have the energy to hear anymore. I’m getting too old for this.

And maybe that’s why the Sunday Morning Crows feel like they’re in the same neighborhood, if not actually home. I thought morning-after laments and impulses would irritate and alienate me (way to prejudge and artist’s work), but I find (probably in the desperation that comes from hoping you still find at least something worth in an old lover, else re-foment your otherwise forgotten regret) exactly what I remember and want and need in the band’s Sunday Morning section. It helps that they began the Sunday Morning segment with a ballad that aches of homesickness and nostalgia, for I groove on those motifs, always. Duritz’s surrealism is decidedly more obvious, overexplained, and approachable on this album, which irks me. But the music itself is more intense, nuanced, and compelling than earlier Crows’ orchestration. Though there were high points in previous albums (think This Desert Life’s “High Life” and its unexpected but gorgeous instrumentation), this album is more consistently arresting musically.

For example, the music on “Washington Square” weaves a classic Crows rock with a haunting Irish fairy dance, allowing each to ride over each other and fade in a phase-shifted wave oscillation kind of way. It’s intensely beautiful. The two lines come together then dance apart to create three musical stories beneath the lyrics.

I still haven’t heard most of “On Almost Any Sunday Morning” because the harmonica leads me off to other, lovely places. The lyrics of “When I Dream of Michaelangelo” frustrates me in their references to earlier songs, even though intertextual references are part of the Crows’s appeal for me. The song could be so strong on its own, with the friendless electrifying dance on vulnerable skin, that the angels’ presence irritates me. This is the place on the album I feel most strongly that Duritz’s surrealism has departed from a stream of consciousness that I can follow. I like to wend and stumble through his mind without having my hand held. This imagistic walkway seems to have airport-like, overly obvious signs proclaiming its otherworldliness. As it grows more worn with play, tough, I forget how out of place the play-by-play seems. And I cut him a whole lotta slack because I can’t have any more brilliant but tormented artists off themselves. I need these guys.

“Anyone but You” recalls August and Everything After. I’m still not in love with it, but its complex themes and chording are still working their way into my consciousness.

“You Can’t Count on Me,” like “Sundays” feels like a track from the Hard Candy album, which is not a bad thing, but that album was also running a course tangential, rather than parallel, to mine. The two songs are lovely and tied in knots and weren’t my cup of tea. Until Wallace’s death. (This repeated reference is getting old, I know, but it’s true, and cathartic to realize how one moment on a Monday totally shook me to the core, and how this album has a been a soft, neurotic place for me to nurse mself back into combobulation). I just fell into these Sunday morning songs like I do the couch at grandma’s. I don’t see them for what they are, but for the comfort of not having to think about them.

In beckoning us to dance, “Le Ballet d’Or” strikes me as a wilted, gravelling smoker’s siren song. In it I recognize the Moulin Rouge and theatrical back alley drinkers. Doesn’t mean I won’t go to the ball. Just means it’ll take a particularly remorseful morose impulse to get me to dance my cares away. Before DFW’s suicide I resented that the Crows didn’t even notice I need a babysitter before I can drag my sad old self to the dance. Now it sounds really, really nice to just forget myself in its repetition.

Even further from my reality, “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam,” takes all the compelling old elements—the highwire, the turned back, the rider—and fades them into a repetitive whimper that allows only the piano to shine. And man, does it.  Makes me think Ben Folds.

But the newest Counting Crows album ends with “Come Around,” which closely enough resembles the Crows I know, to suggest that the little pieces of me that echo with their music will again see them come around back to a reality I can recognize.

There. You have my rambling review. My overall advice is, keep listening. They’re a different band now, but if you let them into your life, they’ll start feeling as though they belong. I’m not sure yet if this album cracks my top three Crows albums. But only the top two are thus far insurrountable, so that third spot may be theirs, if life keeps playing out the way it is this fall.

(Side note, YouTube is a conflicting place for me. I was all excited, in an unrelated Google search, to find a clip of the band playing Washington Square on lower Sproul. Talk about surreal. It never occurred to me, as a music lover not a star f*cker, to ever research the singers, songwriters, or bands that make the music I love. I don’t know about personal lives, I don’t listen to interviews, and I don’t visit fan sites. I like the music I like, and that’s it. I don’t even go to concerts. So it was unsettling to see Duritz on Sproul , only because I always thought that hearing his music and thinking of Berkeley, of successes and failures under the broad-reaching halo of theCapanile , was coincidence. Thinking now that I might have heard Berkeley in his music because there IS Berkeley in his music, that an iota ofDuritz and a particle of me link through Oski’s bloodline is more than strange. And I don’t have time to rethink all my Counting Crows associations, the bulk of which are either from Boston missing California or from California missing a me I was trying to be. So I’m kind of mad to have found those videos. And I’m not linking to them, ‘cuz I’m still a little discombobulated about it all. It feels like a one-night stand you only barely remember, having formed all your stories and meanings about it in a vacuum, then hearing the real story from the real person rather than the idealization.)

My third and final DFW post

[I just can’t leave this post as I originally wrote it. But I can’t delete it entirely because the comments from blueeyedsoul are lovely. Rather than leave this angry, name-calling post as is, I’ll repost here my original reaction at DFW’s death. I feel, first and foremost, for his parents and his wife at the stomach-turning loss. And I feel deeply for the reading community. See also my first post about his death.]

posted sept. 16 here:

In grad school, the professors wouldn’t let me write my thesis on Infinite Jest because none of them had read it, and when they saw that it topped 1300 pages (I don’t have my copy to give you precise numbers, I just moved and don’t have anything in the fridge and need to go shopping and am not in the best mood, so bear with me on estimates) of densely packed text and endnotes sheer rambling genius, they balked at the workload reading both his novel and my thesis would bring to their carefully balanced lives.

I resented their laziness. Then I changed topics and vowed one day to write an erudite lit-crit analysis of the text. Especially because Wallace excelled at but distrusted literary criticism. But shite happened and I haven’t gotten around to it.

I blogged about a month ago that I felt disconnected from the world when I realized Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had been dead for three days before I knew. It was as though my sadness didn’t count any more because I had missed the window.

This time, the world rotated twice before I knew DFW died. The announcement rocked me to the core but didn’t change my day. And that, itself, saddens me because it means my life is so shifted off its base that the shockingly early death of one of my top ten creative inspirations doesn’t even rate a schedule change. The rest of my week, though, shuddered and sputtered as the implications of his death sunk in.

And I don’t know what to say. I’ve known for two days and I don’t know what to say. (Updating this weeks later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) [Updating this almost a year later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) His writing changed me. I saw him speak once (thanks MPB and SBB) and his speaking did not change me. The creepy cult curiously smarmy cadre of followers did not change me. I was rarely tempted to quit my job and run off to Pomona to be his student, because I didn’t feel any need to be connected with him personally. I didn’t want to be taught by him or to talk with him or to write for him.

I wanted to read his work.

And now there won’t be more.

I may be silly to feel his death as a weighty presence in my life. The man himself had no presence in my life. His characters, their actions, their idiosyncrasies, their seismically surreal lives had a transient presence in my life. But all I have to do is recall the cover of his weighty novel and I can again touch the intellectual dance of reading it, tender humanity of the characters, and its mind-bending importance on post-postmodern literature. I can, remembering, feel my hunger for more as I read myself bleary-eyed for the entire summer of 1997 (I was busy in the summer of 1996. I didn’t pick up IJ because of the grant. I picked it up because I wanted a book that would ensure nobody would talk to me on BART, a la The Accidental Tourist. But I loved it intensely then, and would love to reread it now.) [I am rereading it now, thanks to infinite summer.] I can feel my connection and revulsion and confusion at Wallace’s characters every time someone says his name.

And I want more. I’m angry and disappointed that there won’t be more.

I loved his lobster piece for Gourmet magazine. I love that he took the job, puzzled at the pop cultural status that brought him such tangential work, and I loved his rambling thoroughness. I loved that he came to the conclusion that it’s just not okay to boil creatures alive.

I haven’t read the obits. I don’t even know how he died. (I found out later and wrote a horrible post on this blog, of which I am embarrassed but which I will not erase.) I don’t care how he died. This is not a Jeff Buckley story or a Kurt Cobain story or a River Phoenix story. I wish I knew what kind of story this is. All I know is that the woot from Sept. 16 made me feel all too keenly that nobody will take DFW’s place.

And now all I can think is, I hope all you bastard literary canon snobs will read his work, because you missed the boat the first time. When I write my PhD dissertation on his work and one of you lazy self preserving pricks says you haven’t read it, I will produce all the contemporary fiction on the shelves and say, “well, it’s better than and worse than and different than this….And it’s all we have left.”

The Macarthur grant bit always forces the genius label. I don’t know that he was genius. I just know I really love reading his writing. I don’t even know that I love his writing itself. I love the experience of reading it. And that is the ultimate compliment for an author. I may not love your work, man. I just love what it does to my head. Your writing makes me want to work harder and smarter and be a better and more empathetic person.

We’re all going to miss you, and our minds are poorer now that yours is silent. I hope, at least, that the pain is gone.

Gentle David Foster Wallace for college grads

Because so many of my posts about parenting resonnate with exactly this theme, here’s a bit of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon commencement address.

“…there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and display. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”  –DFW 2005 Kenyon commencement

(Go read the rest of the speech. It’s really quite compelling as a way of thinking and living as aware and sentient beings rather autopilot automatons).

If you say so, dude. Sacrifice might be the reality and the gift of our nasty, brutish, and short, but the pretense and facade of pretending such things aren’t the reality of our lives makes those sorts of attentive, aware, and disciplined sacrifices feel like chores. Would that I had time to erode the pretense and facade, because being self-aware and present in my day would really rock. But focusing on caring for others in those myriad unsexy ways takes all the time I used to use on self analysis and awareness.

Un-Buddhist of me, i acknowledge. Sorry you’re not here to argue with.

David Foster Wallace

In grad school, the professors wouldn’t let me write my thesis on Infinite Jest because none of them had read it, and when they saw that it topped 1100 pages (I don’t have my copy to give you precise numbers, I just moved and don’t have anything in the fridge and need to go shopping but can’t get past a long day of running around after a toddler with a heart heavy from the pain of DFW’s death thudding around in my stomach, and am not in the best mood, so bear with me on estimates) of densely packed text and endnotes sheer rambling genius, they balked at the workload reading both his novel and my thesis would bring to their carefully balanced lives.

I resented their laziness. Then I changed topics and vowed one day to write an erudite lit-crit analysis of the text. Especially because Wallace excelled at but distrusted literary criticism. But shite happened and I haven’t gotten around to it.

I blogged about a month ago that I felt disconnected from the world when I realized Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had been dead for three days before I knew. It was as though my sadness didn’t count any more because I had missed the window.

This time, the world rotated twice before I knew DFW died. The announcement rocked me to the core but didn’t change my day. And that, itself, saddens me because it means my life is so shifted off its base that the shockingly early death of one of my top five creative inspirations doesn’t even rate a schedule change. The rest of my week, though, shuddered and sputtered as the implications of his death sunk in.

And I don’t know what to say. I’ve known for two days and I don’t know what to say. (Updating this weeks later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) His writing changed me. I saw him speak once (thanks MPB and SBB) and his speaking did not change me. The creepy cult curiously smarmy cadre of followers did not change me. I was rarely tempted to quit my job and run off to Pomona to be his student, because I didn’t feel any need to be connected with him personally. I didn’t want to be taught by him or to talk with him or to write for him. I wanted to read his work.

And now there won’t be more.

I may be silly to feel his death as a weighty presence in my life. The man himself had no presence in my life. His characters, their actions, their idiosyncrasies, their seismically surreal lives had a transient presence in my life. But all I have to do is recall the cover of his weighty novel and I can again touch the intellectual dance of reading it. I can feel my hunger for more as I read myself bleary-eyed for the entire summer of 1997 (I was busy in the summer of 1996. I didn’t pick up IJ because of the grant. I picked it up because I wanted a book that would ensure nobody would talk to me on BART, a la The Accidental Tourist. But I loved it intensely then, and would love to reread it now.) I can feel my connection and revulsion and confusion at Wallace’s characters every time someone says his name.

And I want more. I’m angry and disappointed that there won’t be more.

I loved his lobster piece for Gourmet magazine. I love that he took the job, puzzled at the pop cultural status that brought him such tangential work, and I loved his rambling thoroughness. I loved that he came to the conclusion that it’s just not okay to boil creatures alive.

I haven’t read the obits. I don’t even know how he died. (I found out later and wrote a horrible post on this blog, of which I am embarrassed but which I will not erase.) I don’t care how he died. This is not a Jeff Buckley story or a Kurt Cobain story or a River Phoenix story. I wish I knew what kind of story this is. All I know is that the woot from Sept. 16 made me feel all too keenly that nobody will take DFW’s place.

And now all I can think is, I hope all you bastard literary canon snobs will read his work, because you missed the boat the first time. When I write my PhD dissertation on his work and one of you lazy self preserving pricks says you haven’t read it, I will produce all the contemporary fiction on the shelves and say, “well, it’s better than and worse than and different than this….And it’s all we have left.”

The Macarthur grant bit always forces the genius label. I don’t know that he was genius. I just know I really love reading his writing. I don’t even know that I love his writing itself. I love the experience of reading it. And that is the ultimate compliment for an author. I don’t even love your work, man. I just love what it does to my head.

We’re all going to miss you, and our minds are poorer now that yours is silent. I hope, at least, that the pain is gone.