12 Feb 2010, 2:36pm
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in which i practice writing about books (dipping my toe in the water)

infinite jest:

Please learn the pragmatics of expressing fear: sometimes words that seem to express really invoke.
(page 175)

‘Well suppose’—Pemulis can just make out Lyle—’Suppose I were to give you a key ring with ten keys. With, no, a hundred keys, and I were to tell you that one of these keys will unlock it, this door we’re imagining opening in onto all you want to be, as a player. How many of the keys would you be willing to try?’

‘Well I’d try every darn one,’ Rader tells Lyle.

Lyle never whispers, but it’s just about the same. ‘Then you are willing to make mistakes, you see. You are saying you will accept 99% error. The paralyzed perfectionist you say you are would stand there before that door. Jingling the keys. Afraid to try the first key.’
(page 199)

If, by virtue of charity or the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility like Enfield MA’s state-funded Ennet House, you will acquire many exotic new facts. You will found out …

That no matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that.

That purposeful sleep deprivation can be an abusable escape too, and work, shopping, and shoplifting, and sex, and abstention, and masturbation, and food, and exercise, and meditation/prayer, and sitting so close to Ennet House’s old D.E.C. TP cartridge-viewer than the screen fills your whole vision and the screen’s static charge tickles your nose like a linty mitten.70

That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it. That loneliness is not a function of solitude.

That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack.

That most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking. That the cute Boston AA term for addictive-type thinking is: Analysis-Paralysis. That cats will in fact get violent diarrhea if you feed them milk, contrary to the popular image of cats and milk. That it is simply more pleasant to be happy than to be pissed off. That 99% of compulsive thinkers’ thinking is about themselves; that 99% of this self-directed thinking consists of imagining and then getting ready for things that are going to happen to them; and then, weirdly, that if they stop to think about it, that 100% of the things they spend 99% of their time and energy imagining and trying to prepare for all the contingencies and consequences of are never good. Then that this connects interestingly with the early-sobriety urge to pray for the literal loss of one’s mind. In short that 99% of the head’s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everloving shit out of itself.

That ‘acceptance’ is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.

That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.

That God—unless you’re Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both—speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings, if there is a God.

That God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things s/he/it’s interested in re you.


70. Not to mention, according to some hard-line schools of 12-Step thought, yoga, reading, politics, gum-chewing, crossword puzzles, solitaire, romantic intrigue, charity work, political activism, N.R.A. membership, music, art, cleaning, plastic surgery, cartridge-viewing even at normal distances, the loyalty of a fine dog, religious zeal, relentless helpfulness, relentless other-folks’-moral-inventory-taking, the development of hard-line schools of 12-Step thought, ad darn near infinitum, including 12-Step fellowships themselves, such that quiet tales sometimes go around the Boston AA community of certain incredibly advanced and hard-line recovering persons who have pared away potential escape after potential escape until finally, as the stories go, they end up sitting in a bare chair, nude, in an unfurnished room, not moving but also not sleeping or meditating or abstracting, too much advanced to stomach the thought of the potential emotional escape of doing anything whatsoever, and just end up sitting there completely motion- and escape-less until a long time later all that’s found in the empty chair is a very find dusting of off-white ashy stuff that you can wipe away completely with like one damp paper towel.
(pages 200-5, and endnote)

when i ask the internet, it says read infinite jest with a dictionary. it also says this book is so long and hard to read blah blah blah. i am not reading with a dictionary. i have googled some words, most recently scopophobic/scopophiliac (fearful of being seen, loving of looking), and i pulled up a photo of bernini’s ecstasy of saint theresa (daaang) to look at while reading a description of it that compared it to a cocaine high. i mean, i had seen photos of it before, but dang (look at that cocky bugger, sent from god indeed). this book is awesome.* i would not mind holing up with it, unwashed, unfed, until i finished it. no, i don’t know. but to binge on it would be appropriate (or maybe really inappropriate). it is making me feel a little drunk, bloated, inappropriate, illicit, et cetera.

maybe a lot of (great) fiction does this and i have forgotten ’cause i’ve been reading so much nonfiction lately. the nonfiction sometimes makes me feel full to bursting in a different way. balance.

these quotations that i’ve pulled from the book (i don’t know (yet) how to say anything about them that isn’t obvious, but there they are) maybe make it seem too something-or-other (i, unlike dfw, do not always have the right word at the tip of my tongue), but also, the book is hilarious and wonderful. just so you know, in case it wasn’t clear. that is not objective. really that is the best argument for the printed page: so that this book could wait fourteen years for me to have the time and the brain and the heart for it to be hilarious and wonderful, so that i could consume it alone in bites and binges in my apartment (and then blog about it). i am delighted and amazed to be so enthralled by teenage tennis academy students and quebecois separatists and troubled filmmakers and (wouldn’t want to spoil it for you). had some silly thought like, wow, ANYTHING can be about ANYTHING, because this book is about EVERYTHING… it’s not, really, i was just somehow surprised to find myself relating to these characters, like i’d forgotten that the human experience is never so unique as you think it is.

 
* i think because i am not reading it with a dictionary. i mean, really? i feel like reading this book with a dictionary would be a lot like reading shakespeare with a dictionary–you might get a joke or two that would otherwise go over your head, but the back-and-forth tedium will make you miserable and you’ll get a lot more out of the experience if you let yourself just fall into the language. it’s a really amazing quality of language in general, i think, that we DON’T need to know the detailed semantics of every word we read or hear to GET IT. beautiful. (this is a footnote only because it is way too long to be parenthetical, okay?)

yesterday just as i was leaving for my gardening class i found a slug inside the apartment, in an empty grocery bag in the living room. i shook it out outside near my potted plants and then i practiced squishing it under my sneakers, because if i am going to be a gardener here i can show no mercy to slimy greens-eaters. if i’d had time i would have taken some slug portraits. i would have liked to do that. i wore sneakers instead of boots. it’s almost spring. on the way home my bike’s front fender, held together and on with duct tape for the past month or so, broke irrevocably, but that’s okay, because it’s almost spring. in class we learned about weeds and incidentally learned to tell the difference between true dandelion and false dandelion. false dandelion isn’t edible (or at least is not eaten) but true dandelion is. i have never eaten it, though, because of fears i don’t understand and do not usually acknowledge, and because of inertia, i guess. this spring, i swear, i will learn to eat the wilderness that grows through the cracks in our culture. learn to take it into me.

purslane tastes really good too. that’s the succulent with red stems and small oval leaves– it grows in a lot of sidewalk cracks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portulaca_oleracea)

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