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There was a moment when I was reading last night when I felt inextricably linked to the author.  These are moments I live for: that moment during reading when you know for sure it is the author coming through, and not a fictional voice.

I was reading an essay titled “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s” in David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays Consider the Lobster.  Though he skirts around it at first, the essay is about 9/11 and the reaction of his particular town at the time, Bloomington Indiana.  The event is referred to as the Horror, maybe in an attempt to give it an alternate or different meaning.

As DFW has no TV to watch the Horror, as soon as he hears what’s going on via radio, he jumps straight from the shower and heads to a fellow churchgoer’s home to watch. (I never thought of him as a church-going person, another revelation from this essay.)  But before this, before Tuesday, we learn what happened on Wednesday, the dreadful day after.

Wednesday was the day of the flags; American flags everywhere, planted in lawns “as if they’d somehow all just sprouted overnight.”   Showing your flag was somehow supportive not having a flag was, well,  bad.  DFW doesn’t have a flag and goes off in search of one, ending up in a convenience market, having a small breakdown.

DFW’s struggle with depression is well known at this point, though I’m not sure how well known it was at this time.  But there’s this moment in the essay, this one striking moment, when he is completely vulnerable, in a public place, in front of others:

“All those dead people, and I’m sent to the edge by a plastic flag.” 

His panic worsens as others ask if he is alright, and he ends up in the store’s storage area trying to calm himself.

This is so dead-on what it’s like to have depression, to feel panic, to be overwhelmed by something so small and so damn inconsequential.  It’s completely maddening.  And to be in public during an episode is the worst.

This single moment was a gut-punch to me.  I felt simultaneously tender towards the author, and as if I were looking in a mirror.  It feels so stupid to get worked up over something that seems so small, and yet… This is what emotional problems look like.  This is what they are.  Thousands of these kinds of moments make up what we know as depression.


The title of my blog “searching for an afflated orgasm of the heart” comes from the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest. It has taken me many, many months to finish this novel, but it was worth it. There is genius on every single page.

There is comedy; there is tragedy. There is knowledge, precision. Not only can DFW craft a perfect sentence, his wealth of knowledge on multiple subjects is amazing. And as much as I enjoyed reading about tennis and wheelchair assassins, it is his writing on depression and isolation that really floors me.

The first chapter of Infinite Jest is actually the last. “Year of Glad” is, to me, by far the most brilliant and telling chapter.  This is the one chapter in the book which I have read & reread.  “Year of Glad” introduces us to Hal as he is at the end of the novel:  inside he believes he is perfectly normal and sane; on the outside, those around him cannot understand his words, nor can they decipher his behavior.  “I am in here”  he keeps saying to them; they only react with horror.  Hal is very much isolated in his own mind.  His ability to communicate has all but disappeared.

I am in here. I can’t say how many times I’ve thought that to myself.  Trying to communicate what’s in your head to someone who can’t understand you is frustrating, and a bit scary.  We never really know what has happened to Hal;  the only clue is a clump of mold he ate as a child.

Every character in Infinite Jest has some sort of flaw, be it visible or of the character type.  But it’s the fun that DFW makes of us as humans that’s the real joke:  our addictions and our shallowness.  Our love of acronyms and of money.  The absolute ridiculousness of the things we deem as “entertainment.”

DFW’s powers of description came through best when describing certain emotional states; he was able to describe depression and anxiety in a way that only those who have suffered through them can.  He knows, among a gazillion other things, what these things feel and look like and how they are treated.  There are at least 4 suicides in the novel, one being a main character that we never see, as he has already suicided before the novel begins.  He knows all about AA and related programs.  He even added a few groups for those with deformities, U.H.I.D. for example.  We do love a good exclusive group, don’t we?

This is not a short read, nor is it always an easy one.  There are multiple story lines, all meeting at some point; there are extensive footnotes, totaling nearly 100 pages.  There are words you will have to look up; there are tennis facts you will have to take at his word.  But you will read every sentence with joy, and wish to god DFW was still around and still writing.



PS:  here is my review on Powell’s Daily Dose:

Came across a quite few things on the net this week that piqued my interest. I love it when literature and pop culture mash up. I love the psychological perspective too. I just read a blog that lists the Top 20 (unfortunate) lessons girls learn from the Twilight series, and I’ve gotta say, it is dead on. There is a distinction between attraction to the ‘bad boy’ and the boy who wants to kill you. The psychology of attraction is evident in this post, just as it is evident that a teenage girl’s idea of what is romance (or love, for that matter) is heavily skewed.  This link will link you to the blog post:

I’ve not read the Twilight series, nor have I seen the films.  The reviews and previews I’ve read/seen have given me all the indication I need to avoid them both.  Obviously, this series is fantasy, but when it comes to love/romance, are teens emotionally mature enough to realize that when someone threatens your life it is not actually romantic and does not mean the boy will love you forever?  I can hear it now: “He treats me badly but I know he loves me.”  Ugh.

Someone told me that the writing was poor in the Twilight series, and that someone else they knew conducted an interesting experiment:  a page of Twilight was compared to a page from Harry Potter.  The result of this was that the reader claimed that HP was written so much better.  I have my doubts.  I read the first HP book and was done.  I’m thinking of conducting this experiment myself, just to see if the writing is comparable.

Also found this article on The New Yorker, thought it was a nice mix of canon lit and current affairs:  Blake’s Tyger Tyger used to comment on the Tiger affair.  What I really liked is the idea of Tiger as both lion and lamb.

Also saw this blog on Twitter, depicting Sarah Palin as Superhero “Blunder Woman”:

Finally, my favorite internet/twitter find of the week:  A grammar worksheet from a David Foster Wallace class.  Yes I took the quiz.  And it was fucking hard.  DFW was a brilliant writer, and I’m bloody jealous of those who attended classes he taught.  DFW and Nabokov are two writers that I would put first and foremost on my fantasy ‘dinner party’ list.  The conversation that this post generated was fantastic, if you’re a grammar nerd like me:

And–a word about what I’m reading this week.  Still trying to finish “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,”  which, while I find it highly entertaining, could use a better editor.  Seems there wouldn’t be so many errors, as the book was pretty much perfect to start with!  And I’ve heard the book is being made into a movie/mini series.  Not sure what to make of that.

Also ordered “The Original of Laura” by Nabokov this week.  Have read just a few pages so far, so not much to comment on.  I do love the idea of having a peek inside his writing process, though I feel a modicum of shame as I know he wanted the notes destroyed.  But it’s Nabokov!  I could not resist.

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