I finally made it to the apparently spoiler-heavy and important page 223 of Infinite Jest. Only 856 more to go. That’s like, what, all three of the LOTR books?
Yes, I am doing Infinite Summer (i.e. read IJ over the summer, with a handy reading schedule and weekly plot summaries). So far I am (unsurprisingly) LOVING it. I’m sure this is a common statement when talking about IJ, but basically, this book is completely taking over my life. I take it with me everywhere. The Americorps barbecue. The plasma donation clinic (this is a great place to get lots of pages read). To the school. People always look at it, brows furrowed slightly, and ask me what it’s about. “Well, it’s sort of hard to explain…” I always say, my voice trailing off. I usually describe it as “kind of like speculative fiction,” set in a futuristic America in which years aren’t counted by numbers anymore but instead with corporate logos (i.e. Year of the Whopper, Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment). I mention the group of Quebecian terrorists and how most of the East Coast of the United States is apparently owned by Canada. I tell people that so far it’s set mainly in a tennis academy and a rehab center. Themes include entertainment (how far will we go to let ourselves be entertained?) and addiction (how do you deal with the nature of desire?). I’ve never mentioned the feral hamsters roaming Arizona, or the 9-page IMDB-style footnote of a character’s filmography that also serves as his biography of sorts, but I should probably start doing so from now on. If people still seem interested in this point, I usually mention the videography essay section, which discussies how corporations started selling attractive plastic masks for people to wear while video chatting, and then full-scale dummies, so that way they wouldn’t have to feel unattractive while being on-camera. I never mention the grandfather monologue section, not because of its Hamlet connotations, but because of its graphic, horrific description of a career-ending knee injury on the tennis court that literally made me want to finish reading the page with my eyes closed (this feeling was made particularly strong by my own history of knee injuries). If they were to ask me to read one section of the book aloud to them, I would probably choose the Erdedy waiting for pot section, which by itself would make an incredible short story (this is another quality of the book that I really appreciate: there are so many amazing individual sections that would just stand fine by themselves as individual pieces. I’m really curious to see how DFW is going to weave them altogether at this point). Who would have thought that 11 pages of someone waiting in their apartment for their dealer to arrive could be so heart-thumpingly gripping?
“Wow,” they might say at this point, “sounds interesting.” I always point out my two bookmarks as well, one for the text and the other for the footnotes.
The other great thing about reading this book is that I now always have something to do, and basically no excuse to ever be bored. If I’m ever sitting around picking my toes and gazing vacantly out the window, or the urge to (god forbid) watch yet another episode of a Food Network reality TV show, I can now calmly and cooly reorient myself to the task of reading my daily minimum 10-15 pages of IJ.
There are a LOT of themes that have DFW has touched upon in IJ, but I guess the main thing I want to say here is that I have been blown away by how how achingly and powerfully DFW writes about depression. (The short story “The Depressed Person” from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is another great example. It’s hard to read, which is exactly the point: it puts you in the head of the titular Depressed Person, and all of their circular, infinite, never-ending, raw and constant pain.) I mean, damn. I’ve been sad, but I’ve never been sad like that, and for that I am grateful. There’s one section in particular, in which one of the characters says that what she wants about her depression is for the pain to just stop, stop, stop, end, end, end: “I don’t want anything except for the feeling to go away. But it doesn’t. Part of the feeling is being like willing to do anything to make it go away. Understand that. Anything. It’s not wanting to hurt myself it’s wanting to not hurt.” (pg. 28) (In light of his death, it is really, really hard not to feel like there is a tiny voice of DFW himself in that monologue.) I mean, damn again. I don’t think (I know) that I have never been depressed like THAT, in which the idea and the need to “just stop the pain” has become the be-all and end-all of my existence. However, sometimes I feel like there is this black pit of darkness and despair, of “what’s-the-point?” creeping behind all our words and actions, Brothers K style. As in, how do people even live, walk around, talk, breath, shit, fight, fuck, with this horrible unbelievable aching black thick Sarah Kayne 4.48 psychosis pain underlying everything, deep at all of ours cores?
OK, this is maybe sounding a little dramatic, and I recognize that. I guess it’s interesting that I’ve been finding the depression sections in IJ so intriguing, because things are actually going pretty well for me. Like, better than they have all year. Maybe since like, IDK, last year? I wanna enjoy this spotlight of contentment shining on my brain while it lasts. A line from a truly wonderful book, Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries (the best book I’ve read so far this year), has really been sticking with me lately: I will not always be sad all the time, but I will always be sad sometimes. This is a message that I really want to keep close to me and to my heart. I want to be OK with hurting and with having bad days or bad weeks or even a bad month without cracking or falling apart. I want to be OK with my moods and know and accept that they will pass, that I am creative and clever enough to figure out ways to make them pass.
Basically, I just really wanted to reiterate that I have been feeling so much better about things. I was thinking that the last time I felt this calm and balanced was summer of 2009, when I was working for the Boys & Girls Club six hours a day, reading dozens of books on the Max every morning, riding my bike to yoga classes in the afternoon and enjoying the Portland summer (it involved drinking a lot of beer). I am looking forward to regaining this feeling. It’s making me rethink my values. Like… I don’t really want to be working fifty-sixty hours a week, ever again. It’s just not worth it. It was making me really unhappy, and in contrast I am now very happy that I am no longer doing so. I used to think that the reason I felt so balanced in summer 2009 was because of Corey, but now I’m thinking it’s because I just felt content and connected to what I was doing. I could directly see the fruits of my labor in working with the kids and knew I was doing work that was important to me, to society and that I enjoyed, and I also got to read and write a lot. It’s looking like (so far!) that that’s been true for this summer as well. Blessed be.
Just for kicks, here’s a sampling of some of the IJ sentences that I’ve underlined or put exclamation marks next to, so far in my chunk of read pages (I didn’t record the page numbers, sorry):
polishing the lids of all the donated canned goods
a bad hair year
his claws in his lap
one bag for the observer in case your bag falls off (I think this is from the videography section)
The show’s only rule is that you have to read your thing in the voice of some silly cartoon character.
We’re just bodies and shoulders and scarred knees and big bellies and empty wallets and flasks to you. (from the grandfather monologue)
It would be like being able to both lie and trust other people at the same time.
TOOK HIS OWN LIFE BY PUTTING HIS HEAD IN A MICROWAVE OVEN
This guru lives off the sweat of others. (Yes, literally. It’s a guru living in a gym. Oh David…)
You are what you would die for without.
I wasn’t trying to hurt myself. I was trying to kill myself. There’s a difference.
his untanned feet the color of weak tea
have I merely pretended to pretend to pretend? (This little gem comes with a truly mindfuck of a footnote.)
mathematically uncontroled but humanly contained (All these sections meditating on the nature of tennis as a versus-the-self type game feel like a parallel commentary on writing and the nature of fiction to me.)
he had once fallen in love with a tree.