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Posts Tagged ‘David Foster Wallace’

Touched with FireThe fiery aspects of thought and feeling that initially compel the artistic voyage—fierce energy, high mood, and quick intelligence; a sense of the visionary and the grand; a restless and feverish temperament—commonly carry with them the capacity for vastly darker moods, grimmer energies, and occasionally, bouts of “madness.”  “Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” by Kay Redfield Jamison

I received another in a seemingly endless series of “not for us” letters in the mail yesterday.  One of those impersonal form rejection letters sent out by students and volunteers at literary magazines when they find a free moment to shove an 8 ½’ x 11 guillotine into a number 9 envelope and send it off to me using the stamp that I supplied.  The cut is quick, but it is not painless.

It does however leave me headless for a few days.  Especially when those successive mornings are spent in front of the television watching Nancy (Dis)Grace hawking her novel on Good Morning America and the Today Show.

Is her writing that good?  Is mine that bad?  You be the judge:

He couldn’t just leave the body lying there like that. There was something missing. It was biting at him. He’d tried to go, walking back to his car in the dark twice now, but the nagging in his brain wouldn’t let him leave until she was absolutely perfect.  He looked at her lying there in the moonlight. Her dead body was absolutely stunning. Before, when she had been alive, sitting in the passenger seat of his car, talking and talking about her life and herself and her journey from Anniston, Alabama, to Atlanta to break into acting, he thought his head would blow up like a bomb. She just wouldn’t shut up.”  “The Eleventh Victim,” by Nancy Grace.

It makes me wonder, and I don’t say this lightly, if a world in which Nancy Grace is a published author, a “novelist,” merely because she has “a platform,” is a world worth living in?  This being the same world that offers Levi Johnston movie roles, John and Kate Plus 8 their own TV series, and rewards talentless singers like William Hung with recording contracts.

Now, to cleanse your literary palate and to inspire you, for whatever creative outlet you might have, here are the words of some true artists who died long before they should have.  By their own hands.

A Confederacy of Dunces by J K TooleAs I was wearing the soles of my desert boots down to a mere sliver of crepe rubber on the old flagstone banquettes of the French Quarter in my fevered attempt to wrest a living from an unthinking and uncaring society, I was hailed by a cherished old acquaintance (deviate).  After a few minutes of conversation in which I established most easily my moral superiority over this degenerate, I found myself pondering once more the crises of our times.  My mentality, uncontrollable and wanton as always, whispered to me a scheme so magnificent and daring that I shrank from the very thought of what I was hearing.  “Stop!”  I cried imploringly to my god-like mind.  “This is madness.”  But still I listened to the counsel of my brain.  It was offering me the opportunity to Save the World Through Degeneracy.”  “A Confederacy of Dunces,” by John Kennedy Toole.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia WoolfFirst, the pulse of colour flooded the bay with blue, and the heart expanded with it and the body swam, only the next instant to be checked and chilled by the prickly blackness on the ruffled waves.  Then, up behind the great black rock, almost every evening spurted irregularly, so that one had to watch for it and it was a delight when it came, a fountain of white water; and then while one waited for that, one watched, on the pale semicircular beach, wave after wave shedding again and again smoothly, a film of mother of pearl.”  “To the Lighthouse,” by Virginia Woolf

Brief Interviews with Hideous MenAnd dreams.  For months there have been dreams like nothing before: moist and busy and distant, full of yielding curves, frantic pistons, warmth and a great falling; and you have awakened through fluttering lids to a rush and a gush and a toe-curling scalp-snapping jolt of feeling from an inside deeper than you knew you had, spasms of a deep sweet hurt, the streetlights through your window blinds cracking into sharp stars against the black bedroom ceiling, and on you a dense white jam that lisps between legs, trickles and sticks, cools on you, hardens and clears until there is nothing but gnarled knots of pale solid animal hair in the morning shower, and in the wet tangle a clean sweet smell you can’t believe comes from anything you made inside you.”  “Forever Overhead,” from “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” by David Foster Wallace.

True genius often finds reality unbearable.  But the likes of Nancy Grace would never consider suicide.  They are too pleased by the sound of their own voice, however shrill.  Too enamored of their own reflection in the mirror, in the toaster, in the window at Bloomingdale’s.  While I don’t wish Ms. Grace any harm (although I can’t stop smiling at the thought of her being the twelfth victim) I do wish she would just go away.  She is not the type to put rocks in her pocket and wade into a lake.  Her ilk just makes the rest of us want to.  So in effect, she is spared, as WE are the twelfth victim.

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My Suicide

My Suicide

For some, suicide is a sudden act.  For others, it is a long-considered decision based on cumulative despair or dire circumstances.  And for many, it is both: a brash moment of action taken during a span of settled and suicidal hopelessness.”  Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide,” by Kay Redfield Jamison. 

A few weeks ago some friends invited me to watch a movie at the San Francisco Film Festival.  These are good friends that I don’t get to see very often, so I took them up on their offer.  I went even though the title of the movie, “My Suicide,” sounded like a rather unappealing way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night.  But it had a good cast and friends of said friends had been involved in the making of the movie.  

Having recently been troubled with (drug induced) suicidal thoughts myself, I was both curious and reticent as I approached the box office.  The day had been cold and rainy, so when I sat down next to my friends in the balcony of the Kabuki Theater I was already damp and gloomy.  But I have to say that the movie engaged me right away, and even though the subject matter was depressing, the film wasn’t.  Perhaps it’s that “misery loves company” thing?  Perhaps it’s that seeing other people’s pain puts our own in perspective? 

The overall premise of the film is that a high school student enrolled in a film/video class has decided that for his major project (60% of his grade) he intends to commit suicide on camera.  Part homage to cult films (Matrix, Deer Hunter,) part MTV video, part Infomercial spoof, part animated comic novel, the movie was (is) interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking.  Even more so now, several weeks later with news of the death (assumed by some to be suicide) of actor David Carradine, who played a small, but important role in the film. 

I can’t speculate on why Mr. Carradine chose to take his own life, if it does in fact turn out to be suicide.  But I can speculate on suicide in general.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, where you are or where you’re going, life sometimes just doesn’t seem worth living.   For those of us who suffer with mood disorders, every day we have to choose NOT to kill ourselves.  For others, it’s situational: the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a major illness.  It really doesn’t seem to take much.  One seemingly insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) incident can push you over the edge. 

For some reason it seems that creative people (David Foster Wallace, Spalding Gray, John Kennedy Toole, Freddie Prinze, Margaux Hemmingway) are particularly at risk.  

It occurs to me that the downside to burning brightly is the risk of burning out. 

My condolences go out to Mr. Carradine’s family and friends.  I hope they take some small comfort in the role that he played in “My Suicide.”  It’s an important film and I encourage everyone to see it, especially if someone you know and love is at risk.  It’s important for anyone who may be suicidal to see it as it might give them a new perspective.  For all the others, it’s a powerful and accurate look into a state of mind you might not otherwise get to see or comprehend.

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This is WaterIf you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. David Foster Wallace 

I’m a bit confused today.  Befuddled.  Perplexed. 

I settled down on the living room sofa this morning, dog on my right, coffee cup on my left, New York Times on my lap.  I read the Arts & Leisure section first, then Style, then Travel, and so on, as always, saving the Book Review for last. 

The scenario is the same every Sunday.  I read about Broadway openings I wish weren’t three thousand miles away.  I learn how to get by in Madrid on $1,000 a day.  And I discover another book or two that I want to, but never will have time to read. 

But today the Book Review ended with an essay by Tom Bissell, “Great and Terrible Truths,” about the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address by David Foster Wallace.

This led me to the full transcript on Marginalia, which included the above quote. 

It seems strange to think that someone so gifted, so (relatively) young, and so capable of understanding the power of the mind, could take his own life. 

David Foster Wallace hanged himself on September 12, 2008.  And, if only to prove his point, “There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of,” the day that I read the report of his death I remember thinking, if Wallace, a successful and admired writer can succumb, what hope is there for me? 

I hate to admit that I had a similar thought this morning as I read his words about being able to train your mind to experience the world differently.  How could he speak with such conviction about the ability of the mind to rise above the circumstances and still put a noose around his neck?  How can I? 

But in fact, I do understand.  I do experience the dichotomy.  I do believe that I have the power to overcome my demons, but only during those moments when my demons have taken a brief respite. 

They’ll be back.  Both are real, the belief that I can be “master of my own domain,” and the fact that I am at the mercy of a mind compromised by genetics and further damaged by parents unable to nurture. 

The scariest thing is the conviction with which my mind can hold both thoughts.  I can conquer the world.  All is hopeless. 

Normally a quote like Mr. Wallace’s would refresh me, remind me of my strength, lift me up, if only momentarily—just long enough.  But today they are an eerie reminder that we are all standing on shaky ground.

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