Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Few Words about the Words of David Foster Wallace

My cousin gave me a copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest as a Christmas present sometime during college. Intimidated by the sheer size of the book (weighing in at over 1000 pages) it sat unread on various dorm room shelves for several years while serving to impress other undergraduates whose literary aspirations, like mine, exceeded our resources of time and attention span.

Finally, the summer after graduation, I cracked the book open. I don't know what stream of frenzied superlatives could truly do that experience justice. For anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable in their skin, who has wished they could turn off the constant stream of metanarrative generated within their skulls, yearned to reach out and find companionship and kinship, found themselves with too many words and no easy way to express themselves... let's just say it might resonate. The characters are deep and real and likeable--a truly bold and experimental move for postmodern fiction. Not only that, it's fun to read. The language, the humor, the familiar-yet-strange future world in which the novel takes place all kept me eagerly turning pages. I was dismayed when the novel abruptly came to the end--it was sort of like when you get given a giant bag of candy for a holiday, and you munch and you think it will last forever and then there is no more.

I learned of David Foster Wallace's passing on cable television, of all places, through one of the text bumpers on Adult Swim. (This was during the week when I had no Internet.) He seems to have battled depression as well as anybody could--years of medication, ECT treatments, and enlisting the aid of close family members. See Salon's respectful, detailed account of the weeks leading up to his suicide.

Even casual acquaintances speak of somebody who was courteous, kind, and thoughtful to an unusual degree.We sort of expect artistic geniuses to be volatile, difficult, and egotistical, but Wallace appeared the exception to the rule. Being a global literary superstar never went to his head.

Harper's Magazine has posted a free online archive containing many of David Foster Wallace's best essays in memory of his recent passing. If you're not familiar with the author, this is a good place to start.

This is a writer whose words and ideas stay with you. When I visited the Franklin County Fair a few weeks ago, Wallace's essay on the Illinois State Fair kept popping into my mind. A friend and I impulsively discussed taking a cruise for the first time in our lives, and I knew immediately that I would be riffing on "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" throughout the entire excursion. Footnotes are his signature stylistic device, but they are really there just to contain an overflow of tangential brilliance. I have read entire novels with less substance than some of those pagelong footnotes.

Wallace's death is a tragedy, but he leaves one hell of a legacy. Give it a read.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gasping for Air

Today is the first time in a week when I've been able to wake up to the comfortable certainty of checking my email and the news from a working Internet connection in my own home. A few days ago, I got the computer virus infection equivalent of spinal meningitis--completely disabling, but if you're lucky, you live through it. (Helpful hint: if you suspect that a piece of malware has silently disabled your antivirus software, run don't walk to a skilled technician, because once the gates are down, all sorts of other spyware and malicious software will come flooding through). That same week, I had to send back the work laptop I had been using due to the end of a business engagement. Not only did I not have a way of accessing the Net, while my PC was in the shop I didn't even have a computer in my own home--or any way of working productively or accessing all the data I had stored on my hard drive, or on backups.

So, I'm through that week. I got my PC restored to health--thank you Beneficent Providence! : ) and I got a sexy new Macbook Pro to replace my client's loaner laptop. Still, all in all, it was a rather surreal experience. I don't consider myself any great technogeek, and I am far from the most wired person I know, but when I stopped to think about it, this was probably the longest time since my freshman year of college that I was without a regular way to connect to the Net from my own living space. During the times when I have been away from things electronic (on backpacking trips, etc.) I have typically been surrounded by people--this week made me realize how much of my community is virtual, and brought to my attention that I still need to work on forming more flesh-and-blood relationships here in my new hometown.

It also made me realize how much of what we know, and our confidence in the shape that the world takes, comes from our ability to Google, Wiki, or look up the latest story on CNN. I had no idea how bad last week's Wall Street crash was until many days later. I still couldn't tell you who's ahead or behind in the presidential race... a set of stories I had been following closely. It gives me new insight into the lives of folks on the other side of the Digital Divide--and it reminds me how much our experience of reality is shaped by access to a continuous supply of information (much as we access air, light, power, water, and the contents of our bank accounts).

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Right Place at the Right Time

Ok, so one of the things I am most hesitant to do on this forum is to name or categorize my beliefs. Partly that's because they're a bit of a moving target, but the main reason is because the whole point of Southern Cross is to share conversations with people holding radically opposing views.

I'd rather leave readers free to draw their own conclusions. Bias is inevitable, but I try to fight against it.

I will say this. I believe in belief. This year has put me through some incredible ups and downs. And I don't think that's going to stop, as much as I feel at home and at rest here in Greenfield. This past week was a rough one, though I won't go into details here.

I have found that having faith that some protective force is looking out for me is incredibly liberating. I've had some spectacularly bad luck, and some spectacularly good luck. Me finding this house, for instance, was a classic instance of being in the right place at the right time.

Does that prove that a Higher Power was looking out for me? Of course not. But it certainly doesn't disprove it. So, faced with two equal and opposing alternatives, I choose to tip the balance toward optimism and against fear.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Amy Goodman Jailed at RNC

Amy Goodman was one of the few national journalists to follow the Saint Augustine Catholic Church takeover by students and local residents in New Orleans, spring 2006. I never met her, but we interviewed a lot of the same people.

I guess it's not too surprising that she and three other journalists would get arrested and roughed up at the Republican National Convention, but it's still more than a bit chilling. Essentially, they were arrested for covering the protests.