10 Mar 2010, 3:50pm

end notes

well, it took me just over a month, but i’ve finished infinite jest. i read the last 300+ pages in two days. partly because i wanted to be done with the book so i could move on and read something (frankly) more cheerful (the book remains funny throughout, but cheerful, no), and partly because i wanted to know what was gonna happen. i still don’t know what was gonna happen. i guess it’s not that kind of book. i don’t know why i thought it would be.

when i was reading it i was sort of vaguely seeking out discussions of the book online (there is a truly mind-boggling amount of discussion of infinite jest on the internet), and every once in awhile i would run across some mention of “the last line” of the book and i would quickly click away because if it was some sort of epiphanic moment i didn’t want to ruin it for myself. but last night at the end of my 300-page reading binge the ending did not feel epiphanic. maybe it will kick in later. it didn’t feel like a bad ending, and the questions it left unanswered didn’t make me want to throw it across a room, but.

so, some things about the book:

dfw has this way of conveying character through (mostly third person) narration that i really admire. like, the narration itself takes on the qualities of the central-to-that-section character’s voice or thought patterns. little details like using señorio for scenario if the character’s not super well-educated but thinks he’s hot shit, and so on. he even adds occasional endnotes like, “Marathe’s malentendu of live-in” i guess when he thinks we won’t get it otherwise, or when he feels like reminding us that there’s a presiding author writing all of it. or sometimes he doesn’t do this and then there’ll be endnotes like, “She didn’t literally say shitstorm” or “Actual term employed is downer-type” or “The speaker doesn’t actually use the terms thereon, most assuredly, or operant limbic system, though she really had, before, said chordate phylum.”

oh, here’s another one, wrapped up in a (long!) section i dogeared, which i will use this excuse to share with you (incidentally it also illustrates the funny-but-hardly-cheerful thing quite well):

And the wraith on the heart monitor looks pensively down at Gately from upside-down and asks does Gately remember the myriad thespian extras on for example his beloved ‘Cheers!,’ not the center-stage Sam and Carla and Nom, but the nameless patrons always at tables, filling out the bar’s crowd, concessions to realism, always relegated to back- and foreground; and always having utterly silent conversations: their faces would animate and mouths move realistically, but without sound; only the name-stars at the bar itself could audibilize. The wraith says these fractional actors, human scenery, could be seen (but not heard) in most pieces of filmed entertainment. And Gately remembers them, the extras in all public scenes, especially like bar and restaurant scenes, or rather remembers how he doesn’t quite remember them, how it never struck his addled mind as in fact surreal that their mouths moved but nothing emerged, and what a miserable fucking bottom-rung job that must be for an actor, to be sort of human furniture, figurants the wraith says they’re called, these surreally mute background presences whose presence really revealed that the character, like any eye, has a perceptual corner, a triage of who’s important enough to be seen and heard v. just seen. A term from ballet originally, figurant, the wraith explains. The wraith pushes his glasses up in the vaguely snivelling way of a kid that’s just got slapped around on the playground and says he personally spent the vast bulk of his own former animate life as pretty much a figurant, furniture at the periphery of the very eyes closest to him, it turned out, and that it’s one heck of a crummy way to try to live. Gately, whose increasing self-pity leaves little room or patience for anyone else’s self-pity, tries to list his left hand and wiggle his pinkie to indicate the world’s smallest viola playing the theme from The Sorrow and the Pity, but even moving his left arm makes him almost faint. And either the wraith is saying or Gately is realizing that you can’t appreciate the dramatic pathos of a figurant until you realize how completely trapped and encaged he is in his mute peripheral status, because like say for example if one of ‘Cheers!’’s bar’s figurants suddenly decided he couldn’t take it any more and stood up and started shouting and gesturing around wildly in a bid for attention and nonperipheral status on the show, Gately realizes, all that would happen is that one of the audibilizing ‘name’ stars of the show would bolt over from stage-center and apply restraints or the Heineken Maneuver or CPR, figuring the silent gesturing figurant was choking on a beer-nut or something, and then the whole rest of that episode of ‘Cheers!’ would be jokes about the name star’s life-saving heroics, or else his fuck-up in applying the Heineken Maneuver to somebody who wasn’t choking on a nut. No way for the figurant to win. No possible voice or focus for the encaged figurant. Gately speculates briefly about the suicide statistics for bottom-rung actors. The wraith disappears and then reappears in the chair by the bed’s railing, leaning forward with its chin on its hands on the railing in what Gately’s coming to regard as the classic tell-your-troubles-to-the-trauma-patient-that-can’t-interrupt-or-get-away position. The wraith says that he himself, the wraith, when animate, had dabbled in filmed entertainments, as in making them, cartridges, for Gately’s info to either believe or not, and but in the entertainments the wraith made himself, he says he goddamn bloody well made sure that you could bloody well hear every single performer’s voice, no matter how far out on the cinematographic or narrative periphery they were; and that it wasn’t just the self-conscious overlapping dialogue of a poseur like Schwulst or Altman, i.e. it wasn’t just the crafted imitation of aural chaos: it was real life’s real egalitarian babble of figurantless crowds, of the animate world’s real agora, the babble342 of crowds every member of which was the central and articulate protagonist of his own entertainment. It occurs to Gately that he’s never had any sort of dream where somebody says something like vast bulk, much less agora, which Gately interprets as a kind of expensive sweater. Which was why, the wraith was continuing, the complete unfiguranted egalitarian aural realism was why party-line entertainment critics always complained that the wraith’s entertainments’ public-area scenes were always incredibly dull and self-conscious and irritating, that they could never hear the really meaningful central narrative conversations for all the unfiltered babble of the surrounding crowd, which they assumed the babble(/babel) was some self-conscious viewer-hostile heavy-art directorial pose, instead of radical realism.

342. Or possibly Babel.

(pages 834-6, & endnote)

that looks like a long paragraph, but actually it’s just a chunk out of the middle of an even longer paragraph.

(and there is one endnote referencing a “Coatlicue Complex” that just reads “No clue.” the internet’s done the a lot of work for me w/r/t to that: here. but i’d be pretty interested in exploring why the heck the “no clue” endnote, when, obviously, yes clue, dfw…)

and so now i am sharing quotations:

Then the number of times I would have to repeat the same processes, day after day, in all kinds of light until I graduated and moved away and then began the same exhausting process of exit and return in some dormitory at some tennis-power university somewhere. Maybe the worst part of the cognitions involved the incredible volume of food I was going to have to consume over the rest of my life. Meal after meal, plus snacks. Day after day after day. Just the thought of the meat alone. One megagram? Two megagrams? I experienced, vividly, the image of a broad cool well-lit room piled floor to ceiling with nothing but the lightly-breaded chicken fillets I was going to consume over the next sixty years. The number of fowl vivisected for a lifetime’s meat. The amount of hydrochloric acid and bilirubin and glucose and glycogen and gloconol produced and absorbed and produced in my body. And another, dimmer room, filled with the rising mass of the excrement I’d produced, the room’s double-locked steel door gradually bowing outward with the mounting pressure…. I had to put my hand out against the wall and stand there hunched until the worst of it passed. . . .

It now lately seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately—the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into. Flight from exactly what? These rooms blandly filled with excrement and meat? To what purpose? This was why they started us here so young: to give ourselves away before the age when the questions why and to what grow real beaks and claws. It was kind, in a way. Modern German is better equipped for combining gerundives and prepositions than is its mongrel cousin. The original sense of addiction involved being bound over, dedicated, either legally or spiritually. To devote one’s life, plunge in. Stice had asked me whether I believed in ghosts. It’s always seemed a little preposterous that Hamlet, for all his paralyzing doubt about everything, never once doubts the reality of the ghost. Never questions whether his own madness might not in fact be unfeigned. Stice had promised something boggling to look it. That is, whether Hamlet might be only feigning feigning. . . .

(pages 897 & 900)

oh here is another thing about the book: every time i tried to read it while eating something, i sort of regretted it.

infinite jest college paper topics (heh):
*infant imagery and wildness, humanness, naïveté
*the concavity/convexity w/r/t to the above
*maps: map v. territory, “demapping,” one’s “own personal map”/face/life
*something about narration (’cause, dang)
*something about annulation and all of that (which i need to reread the whole darn book if i want to figure out)
*endnotes (their purpose in the narrative, etc)
*human-as-machine? (the whir in mike pemulis’s head v. the lack-of-whir—according to one of the ennet house residents; i can’t remember who—in marathe’s?)

. . . younger athletes who can’t help gauging their whole worth by their place in an ordinal ranking use the idea that achieving their goals and finding the gnawing sense of worthlessness still there in their own gut as a kind of psychic bogey, something that they can use to justify stopping on their way down to dawn drills to smell flowers along the E.T.A. paths. The idea that achievement doesn’t automatically confer interior wealth is, to them, still, at this age, an abstraction, rather like the prospect of their own death—’Caius Is Moral’ and so on. Deep down, they all still view the competitive carrot as the grail. They’re mostly going through the motions when they invoke anhedonia[*]. . . .

Deluded or not, it’s a lucky way to live. Even though it’s temporary. It may well be that the lower-ranked little kids at E.T.A. are proportionally happier than the higher-ranked kids, since we (who are mostly not small children) know it’s more invigorating to want than to have, it seems. Though maybe this is just the inverse of the same delusion. . . .

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip—and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïveté. Sentiment equals naïveté on this continent (at least since the Reconfiguration). . . . Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically round the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.281

[*defined earlier as "a kind of spiritual torpor in which one loses the ability to feel pleasure or attachment to things formerly important. . . . It's a kind of emotional novacaine, this form of depression, and while it's not overly painful its deadness is disconcerting and... well, depressing."]

281. This has been one of Hal’s deepest and most pregnant abstractions, one he’d come up with while getting secretly high in the Pump Room. That we’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that he goes around feeling like he misses somebody he’s never even met? Without the universalizing abstraction, the feeling would make no sense.

(pages 693-5, & endnote)

but, ok, so, the ending. if you haven’t read the book and you’re planning on someday reading it and you think you might remember this ultimately insignificant little blog post of mine, you might want to skip the rest of this entry, because you may need the promise of the ending of this book (like, that it’s actually gonna be an ending) to act as your carrot on a stick to get you through the reading of it, though here too it is true that the wanting beats the having, maybe.

i don’t know how much my experience of the ending was influenced by my mood when i read it (more Hal than hale, if you catch my drift). i put it down and was like, oh. well, goddamn. and then i turned over and went to sleep, with way more questions that answers. namely: what happened to hal? what happened to gately? what happened to joelle, orin, mike pemulis, ortho stice, kate gompert, marathe? for that matter, what happened to lyle (is he dead? or has he always been a really-good-at-holding-still wraith?), Himself-the-wraith himself, steeply? (at least i know what happened to randy lenz, or at least i have a pretty good idea, and good riddance: i was so angry at dfw for making me feel even a moment’s compassion for that piece of crap. it’s a good thing the rest of the book was so good; i think i can forgive him, whereas i have yet to forgive haruki murakami for that one chapter in kafka on the shore.)

mostly: what happened? and damnit, dfw, why did you do this to me?

the internet (like my very own book club independent of time and space) wonders too (and parts of it are just as irate and annoyed), and has some possible answers, ranging from partial and resonant to complete and improbable. some partial and improbable and some complete and maybe not so improbable, too (one such fascinating explanation can be found here), but i hesitate to commit. what’s interesting (and a little frustrating) to me is that all this figuring out and whodunit-type-thinking is just to connect the end of the book back to its beginning, which events takes place a year after the events of the ending. the year-later section doesn’t offer any kind of resolution of its own, either… that is to say, things are far from okay. though neither has any kind of apocalyptic future (w/r/t to the lethal Entertainment, O.N.A.N., etc—the big things seem to be more or less as they always were) come to pass. but, i mean, poor hal!

there is so freakin’ MUCH in the book beyond the crazy whodunit plot-type-stuff, and i’m sure a reread is warranted… eventually. that this book will enter the literary canon (if it can’t already be said to be there) is a given, for sure. it is mind-bogglingly well-written, but i suspect that it’s not flawless. like, anybody got an explanation for the wardine section towards the beginning? hmmmm? (or, like, what was the point of the matty-pemulis-the-prostitute section? and so on.) did i miss something? i mean, i know i missed a lot of things. hopefully the quotations i have shared have betrayed some of the depth that is in there. family, communication (”interfacing”), addiction, highs, purpose, happiness, competition, entertainment, choice, patriotism (sort of), politics, beauty, deformity, concealance (if i were dfw i wouldn’t have to use a made-up word to say what i mean), maybe kindness and/or love and/or duty, a little bit… lots of big abstract nouns. anything can be about anything. i say a reread is warranted but i also think dfw warns against obsessing over the details à la steeply’s father and his destructive and ultimately meaningless m*a*s*h addiction—obsession over details would reveal more about the reader than about the book, i think, in dfw’s view. and there’s also the quotation i shared a few weeks ago, about how everything has potential to be abused (but also that letting oneself be crippled into inaction by that potential is itself crippling).

so, the ending. the last, i dunno, few dozen pages of the book are really pretty horrendous. violent and cringe-y (kept thinking about un chien andalou during that one part; you know the image i’m talking about). and then in one final sentence the scenery changes completely:
“And when he came to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”
this scene as described so briefly is (to me) all of the following: melancholy, peaceful, lonely, cleansing, foreboding… the sea represents something dark and threatening, but also represents something that returns, over and over, predictably, that never abandons forever. the tide was way out = the tide will come back in. and then go out again. and then come back in. second chances? or we never learn/we make the same mistakes over again? or what? i dunno.

a few infinite jest resources and links:
infinite summer
infinite jest wiki
a blog entry i particularly like about the ending
“techno-curmudgeonly solutions for life in a wallacian dystopia,” i.e. the world we live in, from another blog

there are tons of thoughtful and sometimes beautiful reflections on the book out there in the blogosphere if you look for ‘em. me, i’m still practicing this writing-about-books thing. getting back in the habit (hah! the habit!).

3 Mar 2010, 11:52am
1 comment

people are people

so in the past year or so since i have broken open (that is what it felt like, a little bit) w/r/t everything in the whole entire world being totally fucked (y’know more or less, but as derrick jensen says, “we are SO fucked. life is SO good”) i have had this belief that eventually things will get SO BAD that everyone else will break open too and there will be a critical mass of awake, alert, and angrily optimistic people ready to fix things. i mean, that’s, like, the worst case scenario i have imagined. maybe it would be too little too late, but at least people would GET IT.

(ideally we as a species figure shit out before it gets “SO BAD,” and/or i and every climate scientist and environmentally-concerned citizen are wrong, in which case:


but infinite jest is disabusing me of that notion. it was written in the mid-1990’s and dfw was remarkably prescient w/r/t to culture, the rhetoric of consumerism and corporatism, etc… i would have to reread the whole book (i’m on page 620!) to properly digest and summarize some supporting details for you all, so you’ll have to take my word for it. there’s this ad for some cable company that sometimes plays while a. and i are watching the daily show on hulu, and every time i see it i tell a. “this is just STRAIGHT OUT OF infinite jest!” and he sort of rolls his eyes at me.

anyway, in infinite jest, things get worse and worse and tons of hydrocephalic babies are born in the region of vermont, new hampshire, quebec, and there’s growing waste problems elsewhere, etc etc etc, but no one wakes up and tries to fix things… instead, a bunch of weird imperialist (”experialist”) shit goes down and the u.s. evacuates the whole region and creates this insane waste-land and the status quo continues its fucked up march through time. and i feel like i have not been creative enough, in my silly belief that at some point as environmental and community destruction continues, destructive corporations’ lies will cease to be believable by anyone.

now i am thinking of the proverbial frog in the pot. you know, the story of how if you put a frog in a pot full of room temperature water and then slowly, slowly heat the water, the frog will lay back and let itself be boiled to death?

the good news is that wikipedia says that according to contemporary biologists, and contrary to the 19th century experiments that birthed the parable to begin with, the frog will wise up and jump out eventually. so let’s wise up! THE WATER IS GETTING AWFULLY HOT, PEOPLE.

from abraham lincoln’s inaugural address:

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse.

(notwithstanding the fact that lincoln went on to fight the civil war—i don’t know enough of that history to comment on it—) can you imagine a president saying that stuff today?

let me tell you about corporate personhood. it’s been in the news more than usual recently because of the supreme court decision on january 21st re: citizens united vs. the federal election commission, but corporate personhood is much older than that. the january decision basically declared that limits on campaign spending by corporations are unconstitutional, because of two assumptions for which, apparently, there is ample precedent (at least for the first; i’m not sure about the second):
1. corporations have first amendment rights, and
2. money is speech (and therefore protected).

(on monday night at the bar i got into a conversation with some friends about this stuff, and their reaction of course was “no way! that’s insane!” and i don’t think my friends are much more out of this particular loop than anyone else, which is why i’m writing about this despite my ever-present feeling that i don’t know enough to argue these points well and blah blah blah… i will never know “enough” to stop feeling self-conscious about standing up for shit, but i know enough to know i need to do it anyway. so. i want to write about the things i care about even when i’m not sure what i still have to learn. blogging is a little scary because the words seem permanent and sometimes i feel pretty foolish when i read back on stuff i’ve written a year or several years ago. but it also feels really valuable to me to do. oh there’s something from always coming home that’s sort of about this—i quoted it here—about letting words die and leaving silence for new words. i like blogs because new information and feelings constantly supplant the old but are buoyed by them; the old stuff is always there to learn from or reference. whatever, i am overthinking this.)

also, one reason genetically-modified foods are not labeled in the united states is because of corporations’ “negative free speech rights”—i.e. the right to NOT say something if they don’t want to. (a couple sources: see here or footnote 8 here.) what!? (and for the best argument i have read w/r/t why you should be really fucking suspicious of g.m. crops, read michael pollan’s the botany of desire, which i really cannot recommend strongly enough. i should really read some of his other books as well.)

y’all, corporations are not people. and a nation in which corporations with billion-dollar budgets have free speech rights is not a democracy. paul cienfuegos, who i have now seen speak twice (first at the village building convergence last summer, and more recently just last friday), talks a lot about how insane it is that instead of prohibiting corporations from doing harm, we have varyingly impotent regulatory institutions to sort of attempt to lessen or limit the harm they do.

so what can we do? paul talked on friday about communities all over the country, including a bunch of townships in pennsylvania who have recently joined forces and written a manifesto of sorts calling for a state constitutional convention, who are establishing local initiatives to forbid corporations from perpetrating environmental harm and outlaw corporate personhood. you can read the pennsylvania declaration here.

i am hoping to learn more about this. in the meantime, here are some resources:
the community environmental legal defense fund
reclaim democracy
and some background info, written in 2003

and here is a petition you can sign: campaign to legalize democracy.

re: infinite jest, btw: i love this book, holy crap.

23 Feb 2010, 12:00pm
1 comment

mapping happiness

i had a dream about dfw on sunday night. i can’t remember the details, but we were roommates. i wish i could remember! maybe it will come to me. i remember thinking in the dream, “this sure is interesting, to be dreaming about dfw.” later, after the thing happened that i made a dream-mental-note to remember and proceeded to forget, i got drunk outside the house on the big porch with some of my friends while dfw had a dinner party inside with his. i spilled beer in the hall.

the book is still rocking my world. i like the little mysteries the reader gets to solve and connections she gets to make. it makes me feel totally on the ball to read. you know?

right now i am wondering if i can draw some sort of connection between the Eschaton map–”Players themselves can’t be valid targets. Players aren’t inside the goddamn game. Players are part of the apparatus of the game. They’re part of the map. It’s snowing on the players but not on the territory. They’re part of the map, not the cluster-fucking territory. You can only launch against the territory. Not against the map… You do not get points for hitting anybody real. Only the gear that maps what’s real” (page 338) and so on–and the recurring use of “eliminating one’s personal map” in the book to mean death or self-destruction.

this weekend was the last weekend of my permaculture course. we all presented our design projects and got to hear everyone else’s. my group’s presentation went very well. one of the groups did a design for psu’s art building. a little bit less straightforward than my group’s… they called their proposal “permartculture” (grin!) and talked about how art reinforces culture, wraps a culture up into itself and so on, and if we want to change culture we need to make sure the art we make reflects the culture we want. one of the group’s members said, “i realized this when i was watching terminator, ‘you desire to destroy yourselves,’ and i said to myself, no, we don’t.” or, at least, that desire is not fundamental to our humanity. maybe it is fundamental to our culture, a little bit. who of us has not encountered it?

from infinite jest:

‘That: forget it. There is the villain he saw you needed, all of you, to delay this splitting apart. To keep you together, the hating some other. Gentle is crazy in his head, but in this “fault of someone” he was correct in saying it. Un ennemi commun. But not someone outside you, this enemy. Someone or some people among your own history sometime killed your U.S.A. nation already, Hugh. Someone who had authority, or should have had authority and did not exercise authority, I do not know. But someone sometime let you forget how to choose, and what. Someone let your peoples forget it was the only thing of importance, choosing. So completely forgetting that when I say choose to you you make expressions with your face such as “Herrrrre we are going.” Someone taught that temples are for fanatics only and took away the temples and promised there was no need for temples. And now there is no shelter. And no map[!] for finding the shelter of a temple. And you all stumble about in the dark, this confusion of permissions. The without-end pursuit of a happiness of which someone let you forget the old things which made happiness possible.’
(pages 319-20)


dichotomies are so hard to resist. like the figs in esther greenwood’s tree. let’s make jam instead.



kid: the pizzeria isn’t good…
teacher: is that so?
kid: for your butt!
teacher: (laughing)
another kid: rocket poop!
every other kid: rocket poop!
me & the teacher: (laughing hysterically)

kid: we’re aliens, ‘member?
kid 2: i’m batman! i hunt bats!
a third kid: i’m robin! i, uh, i hunt birds!

kid 2, later: i’m a chocolate chip!

some kids, later, holding volleyballs on top of their heads: i’m an ice cream cone!

i love the kids. i like this job. i have a lot of faith that if i just keep on keepin’ on doing what feels good and right, i will figure out what to do with my life and how to do it with what is here. i am still thinking a lot about this bit from always coming home: I took what was given, since I wanted to give.

dirt, kids, books, drama, we’ll see.

here’s a lesson the kids taught me: a few weeks ago i was playing with play-doh with some of them, and while they rolled it into blue pizzas and pancakes for me and the teacher,* i made little animals and lined them up in a row: a bird, a cat, a dog (by request), an octopus. eventually it was time to clean up and move on to the next thing, and a little boy repeated: “il faut ranger!” and squished all my tiny creations under his palm, just like that. only fair: we make them take apart their lego spaceships before they eat lunch or go outside to play. i enjoyed the creation of the little creatures, and the kid enjoyed their destruction.

* the law says there’s gotta be an adult for every ten kids, so the preschool classes all have assistants; when i sub, i am the assistant and if the teacher is absent, the regular assistant is the teacher. i’m learning a lot this way, and observing lots of different teaching and discipline styles and so on.



i picked some dandelion greens last night; not bad!

12 Feb 2010, 2:36pm
1 comment

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.

8 Feb 2010, 3:16pm

infinite jest

i am reading infinite jest, which i bought sometime in high school when i got it into my head that the kind of person i wanted to be was the kind of person who read david foster wallace. i was very much involved in self-creation at the time. i stayed in my boarding school dorm room alone many nights trawling the internet for things i though i should be interested in. i listened to indie bands that no one at my tiny high school had heard of and everyone at my tiny college had been listening to for years (what a relief! what an embarrassment!); i did not read infinite jest but i did read girl with curious hair, and i read a lot of garcia marquez and kundera, who i somehow put in the same category as dfw, that category pretty much being “books by authors that the person i want to be should be able to reference.” in my senior year of high school, another girl and i both read of love and other demons and the book of laughter and forgetting and we sort of briefly had a little book club thing going, the two of us, but she was more enthusiastic about it than me–i copied out passages i found meaningful into my journal, but mostly i just wanted to Have Read those books, whereas she wanted to Read them… you know? and now, i am not sure i really wanted to Be a humanities major in college, or if i just wanted to Have Been a humanities major in college. i don’t know what i mean; i’ve just been thinking a lot about my undergrad thesis lately (about the bell jar and 4.48 psychosis and about me, dramatized and exaggerated and literally schizophrenized, separated into parts) and how i can’t tell where one thing ends and the other begins when it comes to Who I Am and What I’ve Done and hello i have a bachelor’s degree in literature (or, half a bachelor’s degree in literature? the other half is theatre) and i don’t know how to talk in any kind of sensible way about Literature; i still just copy passages that feel meaningful to me into my journal. i love to read, but sometimes i think i should Have Been a scientist instead. should Be a scientist? a. described me to an old friend like: “lit-theatre major who now wants to be an ecologist.” he also told his cousin that i am going to hawaii next year to “study sustainable agriculture.” when i tell people about my plans i say “i want to go back to hawaii because i feel like there’s something left there for me to learn,” or something, because i feel like pele isn’t done with me yet. and, i guess, to study sustainable agriculture. and to learn not to fear the ocean, and to swim a little longer in the liminal space between my childhood and whatever adulthood i finally, but not irrevocably, choose.

anyway, i am reading infinite jest and i expect it to be meaningful to me mostly because it is very meaningful to someone who is very meaningful to me, which i think is a better reason to be reading it than any reason i had to read it in high school, but there it was on my shelf, courtesy, i suppose, of the person i wanted to be in high school, and that is really why i’m reading it. i’m thankful for a lot of what that person has exposed me to over the years, though i’m not sure who or where she is. i know: there is no duality; there is no scientist OR literata; there is the ecology of me (a delicate balance of scientist, literata, baker, wild dancer, treehugger, and so on), and the understanding that understanding is many-faceted. there are a lot of sort of inane epiphanies that i have to have over and over and over and which may never sink in. i have no patience for the part of me that has no patience with the part of me that draws conclusions, like, strip clubs make me uncomfortable, and then much later has a pretty fabulous time getting drunk with beautiful women who have been my best friends and watching other women dance in their underwear. for example. it is okay to have opinions and words and then later have different opinions and words, and thank god for that, thank god for these inane epiphanies, thank god i am not stuck forever with the beliefs i held in high school and in college, thank god i am not stuck forever with the things i believe now.

in new mexico when a. and i were reacquainting ourselves with the guilty magic of highway driving, we found this great radio station that played all sorts of things, and one of the things they played–or maybe it was just npr we were listening to that day, i don’t know–was a discussion on arguments and beliefs. and the purpose arguments serve–like, let’s say you and a friend are going to a particular restaurant, and you’ve both been there before, and you know approximately but not exactly where it is. you think it’s a right at the next intersection and say so. your companion says, “no, i’m pretty sure it’s left.” you say, “no, i really think it’s right,” which tells your friend that you not only have a different opinion but hold it strongly enough that you’re willing to repeat it even after learning that your friend disagrees. if your friend then says “no way, i remember it’s left,” you’ve learned that not only do they hold that belief, they continue to hold it even though you’ve now reinforced your own belief again. you, upon learning that, might go, “oh yeah, i think maybe you’re right,” or you might repeat your opinion again and possibly sway your friend. the point of the radio item was that argumentation can solve this kind of problem! and that it works when things are really important, which is, sort of paradoxically perhaps, when your beliefs are more likely to be flexible. it’s really important that you turn the right way or you’ll never get where you’re going. it’s really important to know whether or not a plant you’re about to eat is edible, because if it’s poisonous, you’ll die. so arguing about these things is quite fruitful. this is why we are often really steadfast and inflexible in our beliefs and opinions about things like politics and religion… because these things don’t really matter! we can afford to be wrong. if heaven doesn’t exist, oh well, we’re dead anyway. if it does, isn’t that nice. if we vote for the wrong guy, oh well, one vote is a drop in the bucket anyway. i thought that was pretty interesting because politics and religion are the things we think of as So Important… i guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

i want to write here and get back in touch with the literata in me and with the People I Wanted to Be in high school and college, here amidst my permaculture notes and mandalas and love of the spring and my cat. i don’t want to make excuses about it and if you think i am oversharing i’m okay with that. i didn’t want to be a writer until i started writing on the internet and i’m okay with that, too. so, i dunno, i am starting slow, i will copy passages i find meaningful into my journal, here:

(pages 84-5)


my cat’s beautiful eyes:

(he’s yawning in the last photo. i like it better if you don’t know that, but i don’t want you to think that he’s a wild beast–he is only as wild and beastly as any of us–or that i’m pulling his tail or something. of course he’s yawning. mostly he sleeps. sometimes he’s a wild beast.)