Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace is dead- or why I'm Really F*cking Pissed

Several months ago a very good friend insisted I begin reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace--a true tome at 981 pages with 388 minuscule-font end notes. At that length, it's the kind of book that becomes a part of your life, a part of you, like an appendage. If you're a person who believes in the absurdity of the world, this book starts to feel like a security blanket of sorts. A world created by someone who sees the same absurdity you do, but turns it into art that lifts your mind and imagination to places it's never been before. David Foster Wallace has been called a genius. He won the MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" (whatever that is), so the claim seems to be validated somewhat. When I try to come up with words to describe his writing I want to say "genius", but that's too easy. A cop out almost. You'll just have to read it. Or try at least.

I have been reading IJ a lot today. Chip sat down next to me about 40 minutes ago to check on my page status and end note status. Then he got up, went to the computer in the kitchen and said these words:
"David Foster Wallace is dead."
"Excuse me? What?" I set IJ on the couch next to me and got up.
"It says here: David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008."
"No way. Oh my..." I had to see the headline with my own eyes to really believe it.

It seems strange to feel so affected by a "celebrity" death(I bet most of you never heard of him though, David Foster Wallace). Embarrassing almost, juvenile perhaps. I've felt it before, when Kurt Vonnegut died in April of 2007. A strange emptiness appeared. It's strange because I wasn't aware that a person I didn't even "know" occupied territory in my inner world, in my heart, at all. Maybe it's that with an author, I feel as though he's let me inside his world, inside his head, into his dark and pounding heart for a little peak around.

David Foster Wallace hung himself on Friday. His wife found him.

I still have 420 pages and 130 end notes to go in IJ. I am so f*cking pissed that for every single page, every beautiful turn of phrase, every minutely observant detail, every dizzying performance of linguistic gymnastics I read, I will be forced to think of this: that the man, David Foster Wallace, found so much pain, so much futility and so little relief in his life that instead of coming to some sort of an absurdist acceptance or making some last-ditch, desperate leap of faith, he took the suicide train right on outta here.

When someone who's writing makes you want to stand up and shout, "I'm with ya, man! I get it! I feel it too!" decides that his existential or maybe even pleasantly humanistic viewpoint has downgraded to absurdism and then to absurdism where no trace of comic or artistic relief remains and then finally to dark, hopeless nihilism ending in suicide...well, let's just say it makes me feel a little queasy in the pit of my stomach that I can see his point.

I'm pissed that for some reason I am able to see past that point and accept the absurdity but he couldn't. Why??? As a result, an amazing mind is gone forever, a human being suffered mortally intense psychic pain and no one has any better answers about how to help someone out of such pain. So far, articles about his death emphasize the loss to the literary world, to his students; the loss of a true genius. Is suicide genius?

I'm inclined to answer no, but then again, I'm no genius.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Incongruity

The couple sitting below the non-functioning A/C unit looks thin, athletic, intense. Both of them long distance runners perhaps. I sit down and begin to write in my journal not purposefully eavesdropping but I can't help but notice the awkward tension between them. It rises and falls over the course of a half hour or so.

I hear snippets of financial talk. Snippets of "I don't think we're ready to talk about that yet" talk. I hear bits of defensive talk about where the kids should be staying and the man says how Natalie will obviously be spending the night on occasion. He's young, maybe early 30s. He wears a long sleeved button down shirt and khakis. He wipes the sweat from his neck with the back of his hand. He looks at it and wipes the moisture on the seat of his pants just above where they meet the chair. I don't imagine the stagnant air helps them feel more at ease with the situation. The mood of the conversation moves smoothly from calm discussion to angry accusal to defensive back-pedaling.

The soundtrack to the end of their conversation as it falls apart and they get up to leave? Crosby, Stills and Nash:

Our house is a very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy
'Cause of you
And our la,la,la, la,la, la, la, la, la, la, la.....

I kind of hope they were too absorbed in their own pain to notice the song. I don't think they would have found humor in the incongruity.

Grocery store rant #2

Me and the local Shaw's have a history. See earlier rant But lately it's more than just my local chain grocery store, it's all stores. Even the Ace Hardware store in town is doing it. The idea of the "reusable bag"? Out-of-freaking control, people! At first, when the bandwagon just started rolling it seemed like a positive idea. Reduce waste from plastic: buy a heavy duty bag you can bring back to use over and over! Aren't we good planet savers. Pat ourselves on the materialist back(not philosophic Materialism, I'm talking the good old fashioned American Consumerism kind).

Going Green Goes Mainstream. Hoo-freakin'-rah. Whatever.

Shaw's gave out a "free" bag if you participated in a survey. I wonder how many people who love anything free got themselves a free bag that now sits in the corner with other bags they've recently been enticed to impulse buy. Every time they go to the store they get to the register and realize they've once again left the handy reusable bags at home. So they see the Shaw's re-use bags are only a buck and, what the heck, I can always use another bag, right? Or they just keep on doing what they've always done--use the plastic bags. So now not only are they still using the throw-away bags, but they've also accumulated the reusable ones at home. By attempting to reduce they've actually increased their consumption. Why would marketers want it any other way? They don't. I also see displays by the freezer section of "high-tech" silver hot/cold insulator bags for when your regular heavy duty bag isn't enough to get your groceries home safely. Gotta buy a few of those, too.

It's like the whole point is being lost here. This is not supposed to be an opportunity to fill our trunks, closets, entryways with marketing-covered crap. It's supposed to be about reducing waste, reusing what we already have, maybe even looking around home to see what bags you already own and could use for groceries if you wanted to (like say--backpacks, schoolbags, other plastic grocery bags). And then, this is the critical piece, remember to bring them with you next time. But the consumer vision of America has turned it into another thing to have, to buy, to accumulate. Another bandwagon that stores don't want to miss out on. Another opportunity to plaster a surface with marketing material. Another way for people "to feel like they're doing something for the planet" while still accumulating ever more stuff. And where will all these newfangled "reusable" bags that aren't getting used end up? In the trash, of course.

I'm not saying I'm necessarily for or against either the plastic bag or reusable bag paradigms. I mean, without plastic grocery bags, my job of cleaning out the cat box would be more problematic. When I remember, I'll take a backpack or an old hearing aid company "swag" bag with me to the store. It's a fine balance between enough and too many plastic bags in our house.

I'm just pointing out what I perceive as an absurd, and therefore entertaining or deeply depressing(your choice), situation.

On a lighter note: also at the grocery store today I saw a woman probably in her mid 70s wearing a black t-shirt with very simple lettering on the front that said:

"I got my people"

and on the back it said:

"and my people got my back."

I have no idea what it was referencing and I was about to ask but decided against it. More fun just to think she's a wicked cool granny with a weird sense of humor. And honestly, I can't even tell you what I thought was so funny about it. Incongruity, I suppose.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

F.I.G.'s--Food Induced Goosebumps

If you have only ever tasted a cantaloupe from the grocery store I offer you my deepest condolences and if I could I would jet you to my house right this second so you could partake in a life changing cantaloupe experience.

I stopped at Walker Farm in Dummerston, VT on the way home from my wanderings today. For sixteen dollars and seven cents I brought home: four ears of picked-this-morning organic corn, eight beautiful carrots, six still dirty beets of varying colors, ten fuzzily perfect, ripe and ready-to-drip-juice-down-your-chin-or-be-turned-into-a-heavenly-pie organic peaches and one dirt still on it's bottom cantaloupe that I could smell from the backseat of the car all the way home.

I sliced it open, scooped out the seeds and began cutting it into pieces. I ate one piece and then another and then three pieces all at once--the flavor and sweetness almost too much to bear. The heady aroma and yielding texture of the fruit could not have been more perfect. After several more mouthfuls I realized two things in quick succession: 1) I could easily keep eating until I got sick so I'd better show some restraint and 2) that it would be impossible to duplicate or preserve this cantaloupe experience. Fleeting deliciousness. My arms were covered with goosebumps. The kind you get when you hear a song so poignant it makes you ache or gaze upon artwork that touches something deep in your heart. Goosebumps like that...from a freshly picked, locally raised cantaloupe.

Until today I had no idea that Food Induced Goosebumps existed.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Foraging For Fun

It's amazing what you can notice when you care enough and are interested enough to slow down and study something. I have yet another cold (that makes three this summer, but I think these colds are related to entire days spent sanding paint off the windows. So, maybe they're not colds, but some kind of respiratory irritation.) This weekend I felt pretty low energy and didn't join Chip on either of his fun walks in the woods. But Sunday, after a long morning of napping, I armed myself with two guide books, my little backpack, a camera and left the house for an adventure.

I made it about a quarter mile down the road in an hour and a half. In that short distance I identified 20 different flowers and brought home two edible specimens. The language used to describe plants is like any topic specific language--intimidating and unhelpful at first. It can make you downright angry. "Why can't they just use normal words that mean something, think they're so special with their fancy words, stupid crap...grmbl grmbl, grmbl". But, despite yourself, you slowly learn how the words and descriptions match up with the features you're observing, things start to make sense and soon you know what to look for. Are the leaves toothed, smooth, hairy, downy, on a stalk, elliptical, opposite, whorled, alternate? How many petals on the flower and are they scalloped, indented, bent backwards, or tightly clustered? Words that once seemed only to obfuscate now begin to illuminate.

For example: "Smooth, purplish, frequently arching stem covered with whitish bloom and bearing scattered clusters of yellow flower heads in the leaf axils, with a large terminal cluster. Leaves: long, stalkless, elliptic, tapering at both ends, toothed, sharply pointed." (Nat'l Audubon field guide to NA flowers) To read it sitting in your living room it's just a bunch of useless words. But when you're bent over a flower, poking and studying, the description comes to life and you find yourself having that weird feeling where you think you've discovered something so important and want to shout to someone, "Well, would you look at that. That's it exactly! I've found a Blue Stemmed Goldenrod!"
Blue Stemmed Goldenrod
Before this moment you didn't even know there were multiple types of that boring old Goldenrod stuff and now in one afternoon you've identified at least four obvious varieties. And for some reason this interaction makes a ubiquitous, common roadside flower special to you. It becomes unique.

I could go on about how you can apply this to life in general, but that feels to didactic for my mood this morning. Instead, maybe you should find a guide book that's sitting on a bookshelf or around your "living" room and take it out for a walk and really, really look at something. Or I suppose, to take that idea even further, maybe we should all really, really look at something without a guide book and then create our own unique description. Now, that would be something!

Foraging results:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Welcome to the Twilight Zone

So we're going to bed last night and the light on my bedside table is still on. This is a typical conversation that occurs at this point in the night:

Jen to Chip: "Oh, I guess I have to turn the light off."
Chip to Jen: "Yeah, I guess so."

It's boring on purpose. That's what makes it funny. To us at least. Ritual, people, ritual. We do the same thing when we're driving together some place far away, yet again:

"Hey Chip."
"Hey what?"
"We're drivin'"

Followed an hour later by:

"Hey Jen."
"Hey what?"
"We're still drivin' "

Anyway, that's not the point here. The point is that last night's bedroom light conversation took an unexpected turn. You have to keep things interesting in the bedroom when you've been married for almost 8 years, right. I mean rituals only go so far.

So I say my part about needing to turn out the light and Chip suggests this:

"Or you could leave it on and let it shut itself off."
"I could." I'm intrigued by this new possibility. "How long do you think that would take. I mean I did switch to compact fluorescent bulbs not too long ago. They last, like, forever or something, right?" Chip considers my point briefly.
"No, I think the power company would shut off our power first if we did nothing but sit here and wait for the light to go out. We'd never pay our bills and they'd cut us off." Then he re-considers, "But they do give 90 days, though. I think we'd lose power from a storm or something before then and the light would go out."
We hardly ever lose our power. Maybe twice a year or three times at most, so I'm dubious.
"Nah, we'd have to wait forever for that to happen. I guess I'll just shut it off."

Click. Darkness. Okay, before going any further you have to watch this in order to set the proper mood:

I slept fitfully all night. At one point it sounded quiet, too quiet even for my ear-plugged sleep. I popped one plug out of my ear and lifted my head toward the window that holds the fan. I heard nothing. Weird that Chip would shut the fan off on a hot night, but that explained the stuffiness. Then I craned my head up over Chip's shoulder to check the time. I craned further and further. No red LEDs looking back at me. Whoa. I make a funny little noise of disbelief loud enough to wake Chip, who also wasn't sleeping well.

"We lost our power" he says.
"Yeah, clearly. That's really weird." No storm, no major wind, no loud boom nearby as if a transformer blew or something.
"Guess you didn't need to turn off the light after all."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Walking, musical notes, quotes and hopes (more boring, bloggy, blabber)

I dropped my car off, again, at the Ford in Brattleboro. Yesterday they didn't have the part. I walked the two miles into town, again. In that respect,today started out as a repeat of yesterday. The walk along Putney Road from Ford to downtown Bratt is not like a beautiful hike in the woods. But the sun was out, I got lost in the world through my headphones and let my arms, legs and thoughts move in time to the music. Just like yesterday, walking made me feel good. I wanted to keep on walking and walking--alone--listening to my music. I got to downtown and my day started to diverge from yesterday. As I strolled by a store window I did a double take to read a framed quote by an artist I'm familiar with--a guy named Brian Andreas who does this writing/art thing called Story People. The picture accompanying the quote looked like one I hadn't seen before which is why it caught my eye. It read:

I can imagine it working out perfectly, I said. I can't, she said & I said no wonder you're so stressed.

We all know which person I am currently representing in that quote. Reading it felt like a little wake up call. Obvious, but necessary. Envisioning myself as failed and defeated will likely lead to just such an outcome. I hope to change my outlook as soon as possible. I'm shooting for about 5pm today.

I spent an hour at my favorite coffee shop in Bratt actively working on a story. Not just editing what I'd already written, but actually writing new stuff and then even outlining the next section and beginning to ask questions of how the story might end. Feeling creative success, however small, always improves my outlook.

Then, the best thing of all happened. I stopped at the public library. It's where I am as I write this. Anyone who knows me well knows that the library is my church. Today I discovered the biology/ecology/botany section. Back to my study table I brought two books that will help me identify all the crazy shells and things I've picked up at the ocean over the years. I've got a book about the natural history of trees, one about foraging in New England, a book specific to wildflowers of Vermont (that already helped me i.d. a flower I've seen a lot this summer but haven't been able to identify) and a short story collection by Raymond Carver. Knowledge and literature, learning at my fingertips, continuous paths of discovery give me a renewed sense of hope, possibility and excitement about the world I'm required to inhabit since being born into the unfortunate species--homo sapiens. Much better to feel those things than despair, defeat and futility.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Inevitable Looms Large (a boring, bloggy post which albee should just skip)

My sabbatical, retirement, vacation, whatever you want to call it has run through three months and is now into the fourth. I am not yet tired of this and still have many items on my list of things to do. This lifestyle does not agree with my bank account, as you can imagine. It is very, very tired of me over exercising the withdraw feature and ignoring the deposit feature. In the past week I've become increasingly anxious over my future employment and how much savings I'm wasting. I have a serious addiction problem that seems to be demanding all my financial resources. "Hello my name is Jennifer and I am addicted to driving." And since I don't know of any 12-step programs dedicated to excessive amounts of driving and since I wouldn't be willing to abstain from my addictive behavior I am forced to reconsider my lack of funding sources. This involves a job. Soon.

Have I mentioned yet that there is an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor just around the corner from me who has been looking for a part time audiologist for over a year? He used to send patients 45 minutes down to Brattleboro for me to test them when I worked at Austine. I have no qualifications for any other work besides Audiology(okay...I did work at a CVS in high school and college, so I guess that could qualify me for like, Rite Aid). Unfortunately, I don't want to be an audiologist. That's why I left Austine. But I need to support my driving habits and my long distance frienships and so what is the most logical path to that end? Calling the ENT Doc and talking to him about the position. Do I want to do it? No. Does it make me sad to give in so easily already? Yes. Am I going to do it anyway? Yes. Will I take the job if he's interested in hiring me? Probably. Will I hate it in 2 months? Probably. Will anything else pay me the same wage for only part time work? Nothing legal, anyway. And besides the only thing I keep thinking I'd like to do is work in a greenhouse or on a large organic farm and I've sort of missed the season for that at this point. Besides, that "career" path sure isn't going to funancially (ha! that's a great typo. I meant to type financially) support much addictive behavior. And who knows if I'd even like that kind of work anyway? Maybe it's better to just imagine I would.

The class I signed up for--River and Stream Ecology is another source of anxiety for me right now. It starts on Thursday morning. If I drop the class before tomorrow I will get a 100% refund minus the $50 registration fee. The class costs about $600. I thought I'd be able to see past the cost of such a frivolous educational diversion. But that's a lot of money for something that is not a means to an end. Quitting before I even start.

I'll tell you what, today has been the worst day I've had since before I decided to leave Audiology. I feel so defeated and disappointed in myself. And it's my own mind and my over-riding need for greater financial security that's beating me down and I'm not even putting up a fight other than some pathetic tears and mopey attitude.

Still, there are some bright spots. My car needs $320 of work to fix faulty wiring to the alternator and there's a great, gaping hole in the ceiling of our downstairs bathroom that needs some attention and I got my credit card bill today with enough gas purchases on it to personally pay for the CEO of Exxon's next tropical vacation.

Who wants to join Drive-aholics Anonymous with me? I know you're out there, and I know where you live. I've driven there! I'll stage an intervention if I have to!