I started reading “Quack This Way,” by Bryan A. Garner (BAG). He interviewed David Foster Wallace (DFW) in 2006 and published their conversation, in this book, in 2013. I picked it up off my bookshelf because on the cover it says, “BAG and DFW Talk Language and Writing.”
And I really need some inspiration and direction in my writing right now….
I don’t recall buying the book, which leads me to believe someone gave it to me. I can’t remember who, but thank you to whomever did. It’s a great read.
I’ve often heard the magic of a book hits you when you are fortunate enough to pick-up the right book at just the right time in your life. I have felt this many times myself. The Poisonwood Bible, West with the Night, Travels with Charley are just a few of my favorites. They spoke straight to my heart and opened my mind.
Sometimes reading a certain book feels like serendipity. Maybe it is. As DFW said in his interview, “You find certain writers who when they write, it makes your own brain like a tuning fork, and you just resonate with them…It’s like eating candy for the soul” (p. 61).
He is so right.
David Foster Wallace needs no introduction. He is one of the best writers of our time. It was after his unfortunate suicide in 2008, his achievements came even more to the forefront of public awareness. I started reading his Consider the Lobster quite a while ago, but still haven’t managed to finish it yet. I also started Infinite Jest, but thus far, I’ve been even more unsuccessful with it. (Infinite Jest is infinitely longer…Sorry, couldn’t resist). Maybe it’s just the wrong books at the wrong time. More than likely, the limits of my mental dexterity have prevented me from persevering. The prose is beautiful, yet I found it equally thick and heavy to read at the same time.
So now they sit on my shelves, waiting to be rediscovered…when the time is right.
My sister introduced me to DFW. She is always “in the know” when it comes to art and literature. Early on, she shared his commencement speech with me, “This is Water.” That’s how I got hooked on DFW.
Reading the interview in Quack This Way, I learned DFW and I shared something. (It’s silly how excited I became over this little nugget of information, but it’s true). We both loved the same book and author. I have always revered Cormac McCarthy as my favorite author, and specifically, his novel “Blood Meridian.” It is a complex work with its own unique style. For me, reading “Blood Meridian” was like walking through “The Manifesto” installation at the Hirshhorn Museum this past autumn. Both are stunning, thought provoking works of art, bordering on overwhelming at times, yet, I couldn’t pry my eyes away from either when confronting them.
Picking up Quack This Way the other day, felt serendipitous, which hasn’t happened in a while. It’s chock full of good information, writing and otherwise. Then DFW said, “I think the hard thing to distinguish among my friends is who…who’s the 45-year old who doesn’t know what she likes or what she wants to do? Is she immature? Or is she somebody getting reborn over and over and over again? In a way that’s rather cool” (p. 64).
I put the book down.
I thought to myself, well shit. This hits a little close to home.
Which is it?
I’m straddling the fence. I kind of know, but I kind of don’t know; I’m mature, but I can be a little immature too. (I like to refer to this as being playful, by the way. It sounds a lot better.) Or am I just being reborn over and over? A temporary, superficial replica of something else, someone else, changing all of the time? This offends something at my very core, which I don’t necessarily want to acknowledge either.
That’s never a good sign.
But I’m not the only one. I know several others standing on this precipice, facing the abyss into the unknown. They’re not yet watching “Food Over 50” on PBS, but they are suddenly looking up, wondering, “What the fuck happened? How did I end up here?”
An old riding student of mine, who teaches at the high school level, tells her students every year on the first day of class: “Don’t wait for someone to do something for you. It is easier to ask forgiveness rather than permission.” This was her way of putting the onus on them, to give them permission to take charge, take chances, and have an instrumental part in creating their future, even if they make mistakes in the process.
Age is irrelevant. We all have to go about creating our life, every single day. When you’re young, having permission feels like the first door of opportunity opened. In midlife, when you’re changing direction, or directions, the doors of opportunity look more foreboding.
You have so much more to lose.
But believe it or not, this moment in your midlife is the consolation prize to an otherwise uncomfortable position. The alternative, of keeping your head buried and continuing to bobble along, has all the trappings that come with a tiny, football-shaped pill.
In This is Water, speaking to the budding graduates, DFW said, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life….there is no such thing as not worshipping. The only choice we get is what to worship….If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”
What do you worship? What takes up too much time and space in your head?
I have many things. It’s why I exercise relentlessly, write relentlessly, ruminate relentlessly. I’m devoted alright. Missing a day of exercise or writing sends me into a tailspin. I only wish I could take a day off from ruminating, but she is the queen of the castle, wielding her royal scepter, without pause.
To use a colloquial, trade acronym—I’m a WIP (work in progress).
That’s fine by me. I accept my “as is” condition, even as I struggle to sometimes put a leash on it, or at other times, push it kicking and screaming out the door.
“Like any kind of infinitely rich art, or any infinitely rich medium, like language, the possibilities for improvement are infinite and so are the possibilities for screwing up and ceasing to be good in the ways you want to be good” (David Foster Wallace, p. 59).
Regardless of whether you’re immature or you’re reborn, a fuck-up or a raging success, it’s all possible.