The area of a square

We are sitting on a swing on the porch of an airbnb in the town where Lily goes to school, Cedar City, Utah. It’s a fine town, though not much of a town. There’s a university which gives it a youthful feel but we’re still in the desert. She doesn’t get to the see the town much because the school keeps its students under 24/7 watch since they all come from RTCs or wilderness interventions. It doesn’t appear they’ve legalized weed here but there are CBD shops popping up with a similar vibe, neon green signs and names like American Shaman or Pure Mystics suggesting an untapped landscape best attained by CBD. The landscape feels expansive, even wholesome, in a distinctly American way. Somewhere you’re not supposed to be but you should go there because it’s better.

I am reading David Foster Wallace again, the great American writer of the 90s who wrote Infinite Jest and took his life some time after that. The book is aptly named, it’s so long it does feel like infinity, the kind that makes your head hurt the more time you spend with it. Or the kind of infinity only known by those with unspeakable pain. It is a book I bragged about reading, then bragged about reading again, but not a book I really liked. Along with maybe one or two titles by Stephen King, it’s one of the few books that’s given me nightmares. It got under my skin, and not in a good way. And I think hearing that would make David smile.

I’m reading a collection of his essays (“as funny and brilliant as any nonfiction book in recent memory”) and reminded of his lovely, playful voice. The back cover has a photo of him that’s one square inch left justified against his bio. DAVID FOSTER WALLACE is the author of the novels Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System, as well as the story collection Girl with Curious Hair. The photo looks like he could be wearing makeup, which seems funny for this gruff kid from Illinois. He’s showing teeth in his smile even. Nowhere is it clear he will go on to kill himself. Here there is only joy.

Another photo I have is of a later DFW, full page bleed, in Newsweek or Time. Something about the Great American Novel. He is wearing his hair out with a white bandanna looking serious, almost troubled. It is the look of a serious writer. Perhaps him copping that look or unable to do anything about it. Like I guess I need to pose for the camera so I’m going to purse my lips because I’m not happy about it. I don’t know how he killed himself or why, and I don’t want to. Right now I’m just happy knowing him the way he would have wanted to be known. It is the real him in fact, not the guy in the camera.

All the essays are much, much longer than you’d expect. It seems normal at first but then it keeps on going and soon you realize this is part of the gag, his thing, it defies logic. He creates his own. I finish a 50-page piece on the Illinois State Fair he wrote for Harper’s that makes me laugh so loud in the airport other people look up. It feels so good to laugh at a book like that in public, it makes me feel like I’m in the 90s again.

I dog ear pages imagining I’ll read them aloud to Lily later in hopes I’ll pique her interest. He is the kind of literary wanker who would appeal most to teenaged intellectuals wanting to make a statement about what they’re reading and broadcast it ad nauseum so they can tell the backstory of who he is and what he did which is more about them as the reader than it is about him as the writer, or his book. To which I can totally relate. I was once part of a club where we read the book together and talked vaguely about it, but talked more about the club we formed (and wasn’t that cool) than we did the book. Which I think would also make him smile, David Foster Wallace fan clubs.

Lily doesn’t even realize she’s hit her six month sober anniversary and I make a big deal of it. She still has those dreams where she’s confronted with a choice to do something she knows she shouldn’t, but most times her sober self prevails. It’s funny because I used to have those dreams too. It’s like we’re watching a version of ourselves on stage when we dream and another part of us is feeding the lines to our dream actor when we forget. Or changing the script.

I am not sure the house husband role is good for me. There’s a barricade that keeps preventing me from settling in. And sometimes I think I keep putting the barricade back up, because I don’t really want to settle into it, I worry it will be too hard for me to get back to work again. Or there’s a gender thing at play where I feel like it’s unfair for me to be at home fiddling around when Dawn is under so much stress at work.

Yesterday I replaced the gasket in our wood stove, kind of important but not the kind of thing anyone would notice. I didn’t even know the stove had a gasket, there was just this piece of rope around the door that had flopped off and the chimney sweep told me I should replace it. And so I made that my Thing To Do for the day. And then I picked out a recipe for dinner but it called for dried limes, something I didn’t know about either, and something I couldn’t find at any local store, but then I got fixated on it and started researching like, what are dried limes anyway and why do people use them in cooking?

I went to a concert for the first time in maybe five years and beforehand read the whole history of the band on Wikipedia so I could sound knowledgeable if my friend asked me about them. And when he later did I tried to sound natural and not like I was reciting dates and details a normal person wouldn’t know. In one interview the guitarist had said “it’s better to be unique than good.” And I really liked that. Because many artists are good but so few of them are really unique. You can be both and that’s even better.

When it’s time to leave it sucks because Lily and I have been imagining saying goodbye all day and I realize I’ve broken one of my rules, which is to always leave in the morning so you don’t have the whole day to think about it. We try to make it normal but it doesn’t feel normal to part with your loved ones, ever.

Lily says she heard recently that pain is really just love when you squeeze too tight and I say I like that, I’m going to use it. And then I make a playlist for her and listen to it in the small Cedar City airport where the sun’s going down and no one’s here yet. Imagining her listening to it, that’s good enough.

Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: ,

18 replies

  1. There is so much in this, Bill.
    I’m moved to comment on one theme: love and pain. I’m not convinced that they are in the same dimension*. Perhaps like originality and quality of execution, they create four basic quadrants. I’ll think about that, and no doubt other things that you’ve written here.
    Kind regards,
    * Eros V’s Thanatos.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Watched The End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace, that was a pretty good movie. Tried getting into Infinite Jest at one point, but don’t think it was the right time, think I did do a binge on his Nonfiction at that time. Infinite Jest seems sort like Joyce’s Ulysses, or Tolkien’s Silmarillion, got to be in the right mood for that sort of thing. I loved that about a book getting under your skin. Had that happen with one I read recently, The Cabin At the End of the World, not the sort of thing I’m into but struck my fancy, had me weirded for a day or two. Gonna talk about that on my channel here soon. Really is an amazing thing how Art can make us feel different things like that, magical when you really think about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is amazing Austin and maybe that’s one of the things that differentiates art from “crafts” or non-art, which sounds like a dick thing to say but I think maybe you get it. Will look forward to hearing you talk about that book on your channel. IJ does have a Ulysses aspect. Feels like you need a personal guide or you’ll get lost or knifed, maybe both.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, another intriguing post. I’m waaaay behind in reading posts, catching up a bit at a time. And yet about to travel again, which’ll stack up the unreads.
    I like your comment “better to be unique than good” – applies to blogging as well. Your posts manage to be unique and good. Enjoying these.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome back from the retreat (if I’m accurate on your travels Jazz). Saw a post about meditating I think and was glad to see that. Enjoy your next journey! Appreciate you and the kind words here, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The response got so long I posted it at Lonely Keyboards.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember when IJ came out and I railed against it for being so long. I was trying to place a novel that was a quarter its length at the time. Later I read DeLillo’s Underworld as a substitute. Take that, DFW!

    Literature serves all kinds of purposes, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved Underworld and the premise, and hearing DeLillo describe his inspiration for that story, all from the parallel stories that appeared on the newspaper that one day. About the game and about the bomb. Kind of amazing. DFW gives DD extreme praise in one of these essays, though it’s so heady and above me I couldn’t really gag it down. I just heard they’re making a film version of White Noise! The great band LCD sound system recorded their first song in 5 years as part of the soundtrack. Won’t that be curious? Long books kind of vex me. I actually think I’m going to go back to IJ though and attempt to complete the last reread I aborted. Just Because.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, this: “pain is really just love when you squeeze too tight.” Poignant.

    Liked by 1 person

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