I cried tonight because of David Foster Wallace’s suicide in 2008. Today is November 20th 2011, three years after the occurrence, but I was sincerely sad about it and how I couldn’t go back or prevent it or at least have met him before it happened. I just discovered him this year, actually. We were prompted in my romantic writers class to think of the“voice for our generation,” since 18th century poetic greats Shelley and Keats were often deemed as such. A student in the back right corner proudly proclaimed “David Foster Wallace.”
Days later I stayed up all night in an earnest attempt to try and decode Hamlet and came across this line: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!”
I shuddered in the bathtub (where I liked to read). I dorkishly take these things as “signs” and so after Shakespeare class the next morning, I literally (literally) ran to the bookstore and instantly bought Infinite Jest, considering it serendipity, some unknown force urging me to take some serious DFW action.
And I’m sad now. In 2008, during the time of his death, I had no idea of his existence. I was shuffling along late night drunken streets, fighting feelings about boys, being all “college.” Yes, I was reading, but Dave and I were never introduced. There is a creeping, almost haunting feeling inside me which honestly believes I can somehow bring him back, that now’s my chance to meet him. I’m sad because we all think we’re so small and maybe lack purpose. We don’t get to see the newly inspired, extremely excited, fluffy-headed girl making a mad dramatic dash for the bookstore, because she finds it so imperative she read our work and connect with us—somehow–beyond some realm we cannot quite fathom.
It batters at me that such a sublimely self-aware human being felt no option but to succumb to the monsters of the mind. It is a passage which is read in context to be darkly humorous, understanding, etc., but when I read it I was scared:
“We want to jump overboard.”
And this is one of many, many instances, stories, short moments in which DFW discusses those demons so clearly, so efficiently. Shorts like “The Depressed Person” from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or “Good Old Neon” in Oblivion wherein our characters show bouts of depression and hopelessness so palpable you leave the story with the grey morning upon you and not enough energy to finish an ice cream cone.
And the worst part is, you know the words and characters spilled right out of him because they were so close to home. This painful inner biting away he described to Rolling Stone‘s David Lipsky during the marketing period for Infinite Jest: “there’s good self-consciousness. And then there’s this toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.”
Despair is so divinely described by DFW. I ask myself why I cannot fall as deep, why I have never reached the point of actually—willingly–wanting to end it all. I understand the inkling, the feelings of hopelessness, of confusion, the sensation of falling. But for whatever reason I never allow myself to truly fall. And this is not to be regarded as some sort of prideful self-presentation—I don’t quite understand it, really. I somehow always pick myself up or want to think that “it’s actually all fine.” I could understand the fall. I would lay for what seemed like hours on my couch just staring at nothing, wondering why I wasn’t able. I could see this descent, I could view it, I could understand, and yet it was so incomprehensible, how someone would actually take the next step—how this would all then lead someone into further action. My next step of giving up is moving back to my childhood bedroom and staving away glares from my mother about why I would choose to watch some creepy foreign film alone in my bedroom versus tonight’s Dancing with the Stars. I would eat popcorn and then look out the window before descending into sleep as I asked the disparaging question Why? Even though I had a comfortable bed, popcorn to eat, movies to watch, it really doesn’t matter to the mind as it chips away at your existence. It doesn’t see material things. It cannot be grateful. All it knows is that right now, you’re not enough. You don’t have anything. This is hopeless.
But then I’d probably order some Shaun T work out DVDs and watch some inspirational youtube video by a progressive thinker and lift myself up by the cute leather bootstraps from 365 Coventry Court and back at ’em. For some reason this is me. My time in this town is trivial.
Not all my fellow human beings possess this same kind of willingness, and I feel for them in a way that is beyond explanation, like “fellow man down,” on a kind of cheesy, humanistic battle field.
I was actually doing quite horribly on my non-fiction thesis when I began to read DFW. Firstly, I greatly adored my professor (who reminded me of Dave, and, coincidentally, was named Dave) and had a lot of trouble focusing on his red marks and edits when all I could think about was if I was doing well enough for him. I would turn in my edits late, not have any edits at all, daze off in the bathtub while reading Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being in some kind of existential inquisitive state. Professor Dave said he admired my wonder, that in some ways I was “a dream student,” always so interested, however I seemed to lack the follow through that would enable the work to actually get done—to truly reach a certain point of success.
David Foster Wallace was my solace. He seemed to understand me and I seemed to understand him. All I wanted was for him to read my essays and give me a lot of tough love and say that I could do better. In addition to his essays automatically inspiring me and prompting me to write, his “Authority and American Usage” sort of did the “tough love” job, urging me to really focus, to really try. All the information was sometimes beyond me, but made me incredibly aware of the intricacies of language and the long journey I now wished to trek in order to become a better writer. Of course he kept making me laugh out loud (and I began crushing as I do) but he also made me feel loved, able; like I could really do this thing if I wanted to—if I was serious enough about it. His writing has a way of making you feel like you’re right there with him, as if he turns his head to you and says “you know what I mean?”
And because of my sudden intense intrigue, he made an appearance in my critical introduction as an inspiration and teacher. He was also included in my final essay, entitled “Consider the Lobster Moment,” where I connected the “lobster scene” in Annie Hall to my affinity for Dave’s voice to my recent adoration who mentioned Infinite Jest one night when we had our first, dare I say it, courtship conversation. The “lobster moment,” as I saw it, is that moment you experience when you just know that everything is right and significant, yet so subtle; you just feel it in your bones. It is Dave’s writing and work and our sudden introduction to one another that embodies this emotion for me; it was seemingly right on queue as my interest in writing had markedly increased, my post-graduate adventure about to begin.
As my New Catch read a section of Infinite Jest one night in bed, my eyes became heavy before he could finish and I fell asleep. Implanted was some strange connection to a writer and human being about whom I am morosely uneasy to be denied the chance to meet.
I’ll continue to read your work, Dave, and will be ardent about continuing to write; it would be impossible to ignore the sparks I feel after I read your writing, a heartfelt and longing energy which pushes me to go forth. I wish I could have told you about my Infinite Jest-bookstore-dash, and that night of fury when I closed the final page, my first triumphant finish of a piece of work beyond 1000 pages. But maybe you already know. Somehow.