About Letters to DFW

How it all got started, or stuff to say so that this Blog makes sense.

I can’t really remember what I was doing that summer afternoon, but it doesn’t really matter because I wasn’t invited to go to the movies with them anyway.  My wife and her mom and her 97-year-old grandmother had all gone out to see Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia as a sort of Girls’ Day Out, most likely leaving me home to watch the kids.  This trip to the Cineplex offered my wife a much-deserved break from the demands of motherhood and gave me the opportunity for some quality time with our two daughters.[1]  My wife came home saying she really enjoyed the film and that I would have enjoyed it too – we are both big Nora Ephron fans – but I would have to wait a few months until it was released on DVD before I would be able to see it for myself.[2]

Julie and Julia’s DVD release several months later coincided perfectly with my wife’s December birthday, so I figured it would make a perfect gift.  A week or so after giving it to her, on an evening likely filled with primetime reruns and really lame reality shows, we cozied up on the couch to watch the film.  Not my favorite Nora Ephron film,[3] but definitely a keeper.  The premise of the film – based on Julie Powell’s memoir of the same title – is that Julie, a struggling writer trying to reinvigorate her career, decides to cook her way cover-to-cover through Julia Child’s consummate cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and blogs daily about her successes and misadventures along the way.  Over time the blog becomes wildly popular, giving Julie’s writing career a much needed boost.

Being somewhat of a novice writer myself,[4] I found inspiration in Julie’s story as it played out on my television screen.  About halfway through the film, as I saw Julie’s writing career start to blossom, I turned to my wife and asked, “So what should my new blog project be?”  She smiled big and answered, “I knew you would ask that.”  And thus the seed was planted.

In the years prior to watching this film I had had a number of ideas for writing projects, but they had remained just that – ideas.  I lacked the focus and the time to pursue any of them seriously.  But blogging seemed like something I could get into.[5]  If I took on a project like the film’s protagonist, then it might help me develop more discipline in my writing and might pave the way for completing some of these other projects that were – at the time – mere pipe dreams.  And the timing was perfect; mid-December seemed the perfect time to start planning a “Year of _______” blogging endeavor.[6]  So I spent the remaining weeks of 2009 kicking around ideas for what that _______ might be.

My initial thought – one I was embarrassed to voice at first – was to read and blog about the works of my new favorite author, Mr. David Foster Wallace.[7]  I jokingly mentioned this to my wife a few days later; after all, how could I really spend an entire year reading and writing about one man’s bibliography?  I set the idea aside and tried to think of better, more feasible one.  But I couldn’t shake it; my mind kept going back to Mr. Wallace.  And the more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea became.[8]

So on December 22, 2009 I created an account on WordPress.com and my Letters to DFW blog project was officially underway.  My goal – and my New Year’s resolution, if you will – was to read each of David Foster Wallace’s books and write responsive blog posts in a year’s time.  I introduced the blog to the world[9] and laid the ground work for my Year of Reading and Writing about Everything Written by David Foster Wallace.  My next step – although in hindsight I probably should have done this before proclaiming my intentions to the world – was to size up the task at hand.  I looked up Mr. Wallace on Wikipedia to learn more about his life and, more importantly, to check out his bibliography, which consisted of ten books and approximately 4000 pages of reading,[10] a mere eleven pages per day.[11]

Now why Letters, you might ask.  Even though I do hold a master’s degree in English literature, I didn’t want this to be a strictly academic endeavor; I would leave that for the scholars and experts.[12]  I wanted my reading and writing to be a much more personal interaction with the text; a chance to learn from one of the greatest language artists of our time.  I wanted to dig deep into his works as I read and reread them and wanted to try to find my own written voice as I tried to mimic his.  So given this desire to find a deep, personal connection with the patron saint of this blogging venture,[13] I chose to write my entries in the form of letters.[14]

Lastly, if I was going to do this – and do it right – there was one more item to attend to: the footnote.  Anything with Wallace’s name associated with it must give proper attention to – and properly use – the footnote.  About a week into my writing efforts, I posted the following on the blog:

January 8, 2010

The highlight of my day came around 2 p.m. when I attempted to copy “Letter 2″ from a Word document into the “Add New Post” window here on WordPress.com.  Much to my excitement, the footnotes copied right along with the regular text.

I have mastered the science of the footnote.[15]  Now I must master the art.

Starting this blog has been a journey like no other.  I invite you to come and walk along side me.

[1] If my poor memory serves me correctly, and I was in fact spending the afternoon with my girls while the ladies went to the movies, then chances are we were either at the mall enjoying an overpriced scoop of ice cream after convincing my daughters that the children’s play area was too crowded and noisy,* or perhaps we were at home watching some nearly intolerable children’s music video and playing with Legos.  But since my whereabouts and the particulars of my activities on said afternoon are not really relevant to my story, I’ll let you – my reader – decide for yourself where I was and what I was doing.

*My kids don’t really like noisy, crowded places so I can usually convince them from afar that the play area is too noisy and too crowded.  If they are not convinced from thirty yards out, I can usually sway them with Plan B: bribery with ice cream.[top]

[2] The steady increase in the price of movie theater tickets has coincided with the growth in my family and the increase in my monthly expenses, thereby resulting in a significant decrease in the number of movies I now see on the big screen.  However, my brother- and sister-in-law started getting me gift subscriptions to Netflix as birthday and Christmas presents each year, so I don’t feel like I am missing out on too much.  Knowing I can watch the same film a meager six months after everyone else on my low-def 27-inch screen TV for next to no cost makes it totally worth missing it on the big screen.[top]

[3] Seriously, can it get any better than When Harry Met Sally…?[top]

[4] I’ve been a writer all my life.  When I finished my work early in elementary school, my teachers would often tell me to go back to my desk and write a story (they were probably tired of my variations on the “I’m bored” complaint).  But it wasn’t until about eight years ago that I was first published; I wrote a handful of essays for an up-and-coming online magazine.  Around the same time, I self-published a book titled Engaging the Media, which is a guide for teens dealing with the topics of entertainment and media consumption.  But in the years since then, my attempts at a writing career have been stagnant at best as my time and attention were drawn to starting a family and to furthering my career as a high school English teacher.  One of the bitter ironies of being an English teacher is that we spend our 9-to-5 teaching young people to appreciate literature and to be better writers, yet we have so little time to appreciate literature or become better writers ourselves.[top]

[5] I had attempted to start a blog several years ago when it was hip and trendy to start a blog.  It had very little real direction; it was more of an outlet for those bursts of creative energy that were becoming fewer and farther between.[top]

[6] Plus there was the added incentive of knowing that a number of these types of blogs – a year of living according to Old Testament Law, or a year of living according to Oprah’s advice, or a year of celibacy – had gained the attention of legitimate publishers who offered the authors of said projects a publishing contract.  This was probably the biggest pipe dream of them all, but I figured what the hell.  It’s worth a shot.[top]

[7] I think it was the scene in the film when Julie runs out of the kitchen after dropping a live lobster into a pot of boiling water and the lobster tries to claw its way out, which reminded me of DFW’s “Consider the Lobster,” that first put the idea in my head.[top]

[8] I was, however, also kicking around the idea of a truly Julie-and-Julia-inspired blogging endeavor and, like Julie Powell, cook and blog my way through some famous cookbook.  But I didn’t think my waistline could handle such an undertaking.[top]

[9] Even though it was accessible to anyone with an internet connection, the only people really introduced to it were my 200 or so Facebook friends.  And then, only a handful actually visited the blog in its first few days.[top]

[10] These numbers would increase very early in my reading and writing endeavors.  I would discover about eight weeks in that David Lipsky had transcribed the five-day interview he conducted with DFW during his 1996 Infinite Jest book tour, which would be published in book form under the title Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself.  Further research would also uncover seemingly countless uncollected articles, essays, and short stories archived online.[top]

[11] Oh, how naïve I was to think I could actually keep that pace.[top]

[12] I’ve “met”* and read the works of some of these scholars and experts.  They are very nice people and have written some wonderful critical analyses of his works.[top]

*When I say “met,” I mean I have interacted with them online through emails, discussion boards, and Facebook wall posts.  I do hope to meet them in person someday, perhaps at a Wallace-studies convention or perhaps I will one day make the proverbial trip to Mecca and visit the DFW archives at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas; a trip that is now on my bucket list.[top]

[13] From everything I have read, Wallace sought to create this connection with his readers through his writing.  As he explored the human condition through both his fiction and nonfiction, he invited a personal response from his readers.[top]

[14] Plus Letters to DFW has sort of a nice ring to it.[top]

[15] The footnotes did copy into the “New Post” window on WordPress.com, but – and I didn’t realize this until about six months later – the hyperlinks had to be set up manually.  So my statement on January 8 was perhaps a bit premature.[top]

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