2016 Poetry Slam

Blogger here. I have taught senior English for all three years that I have been at my current school, and each of those three years has concluded with a poetry slam. Seniors are given the task of writing a slam poem reflection on their senior year and performing it for the class on the day of the final. It usually turns into a giant sob-fest as students write about their friends and favorite teachers, and they realize that they have finally reached the end of their senior year.

Well, this has just been one of those years. As the week of finals approached, I began to realize I really had nothing to say. And if I did, I was too exhausted to look for the words to say it.

We’ve been reading a lot of DFW in senior English lately, excerpts from Infinite Jest in particular. So I thought I’d try my hand at found poetry for my 2016 slam poem. And after a couple of hours of combing through and arranging pieces of text, here is what I came up with:

A Piece of Spoken Word Poetry in which, Unable to Find My Own Words, I Borrow Those of One David Foster Wallace to Reflect Upon This Moment and Offer Words of Encouragement and Advice to the Albert Einstein Academy Graduating Class of 2016.

Part, the First. In Which I Reflect Upon My Own Nervousness and Anxiety at the Thought of Standing in Front of 62 Soon-to-Be Graduates in What is Supposed to Be an Important and Significant Moment; Taking Words from the Interior Monologue of One Hal Incandenza as He Sits through His Admissions Interview at the University of Arizona.

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair.

I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I’ve been coached to err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like a pleasant expression or smile.

There is something vaguely digestive about the room’s odor.

There is a silence. My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it. I compose what I project will be seen as a smile. I turn this way and that, slightly, sort of directing the expression to everyone in the room.

There is a new silence. I do the safe thing, relaxing every muscle in my face, emptying out all expression. My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of the room.

The room’s carbonated silence is now hostile.

This is not working out. It strikes me that exit signs would look to a native speaker of Latin like red-lit signs that say HE leaves. I would yield to the urge to bolt for the door ahead of them if I could know that bolting for the door is what the men in this room would see.

I have been coached for this.

I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I’m complex. ‘I read,’ I say. ‘I study and read. I bet I’ve read everything you’ve read. Don’t think I haven’t. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.” My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, I can tell, with due respect. But it transcends the mechanics. I’m not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you’d let me, talk and talk. Let’s talk about anything.’

Part, the Second. In Which I Once Again Borrow the Words of One David Foster Wallace from His Behemoth of a Novel, Infinite Jest, and Offer Those Words as Advice and Encouragement to the Albert Einstein Academy Graduating Class of 2016.

Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you. What is unfair can be a stern but invaluable teacher. You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard.

Loneliness is not a function of solitude.

You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. Certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.

Logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.

No matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that. You do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it.  Other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid. The cliche ‘I don’t know who I am’ unfortunately turns out to be more than a cliche.

It takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak.

It is simply more pleasant to be happy than to be pissed off. No single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable. That cockroaches can, up to a certain point, be lived with. That ‘acceptance’ is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.

That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.

That God — unless you’re Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both — speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings, if there is a God. God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things s/he/it’s interested in re you.

There might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.

So yo then man what’s your story?


Infinite LEGO

It’s here.

After about a year and a half of constructing and photographing the LEGO sculptures, and several months at the publisher for layout and design, it’s finally here.

Infinite LEGO.

In this picture book, I reimagined and recreated numerous scenes from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest as LEGO sculptures.

And here it is for your enjoyment.

Click here to watch the promo video on YouTube.

Click here to order from Amazon.


One more review of “The End of the Tour”


After months of waiting and anticipation, I finally got to see “The End of the Tour,” the film based on David Lipsky’s book, Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself, a transcription of his five-day interview with David Foster Wallace at the tail-end of his Infinite Jest book tour. During those months of waiting, I read far too many articles about and reviews of the film. Most of these – even the negative reviews – made me all the more excited to see it; although as I entered the theater, I hoped that all this reading and all the hype didn’t build my expectations too high. I didn’t want to end up disappointed and feeling I had wasted that free movie ticket.

I was not disappointed. On my way out of the theater, I texted my wife, “Such a great film. Loved it!” So, here I will add my thoughts to the myriad others who have already seen and written about the film.

When I first met him, my master’s thesis advisor shared with me a quote from Jean-Luc Godard that stuck with me through the process of writing my thesis and beyond. The quote goes something like this: “When you turn on the camera, the lie begins. But leave it on long enough and the truth comes out.” There could not be a truer statement about “The End of the Tour.”

posterThe film is all about artifice and facade. You have Jason Segal taking on the persona of the literary giant, David Foster Wallace (and giving a damn good performance), who is very aware of the fact that Lipsky’s tape recorder is always running. He watches his words and guards his image, wanting to come across as an “everyday guy.” All the while, he knows that the commercial success has made him anything but an “everyday guy” anymore. Dave (Wallace) is very careful to never let Dave (Lipsky) see too much of his real self.

Then there is Dave Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg, an up-and-comer hoping that this interview with Big Shot David Wallace will rocket his own career into orbit. Part fanboy, part interviewer, Lipsky tries to hide his jealousy of Wallace’s success. He’s the rookie in the big leagues who’s trying to play it cool, even though Dave W (and we) can see right through it.

And yet, the camera is left on just long enough for us to see through the facade and artifice to find something real and true. My favorite quote of Dave (Wallace)’s – and the foundation of my philosophy of literature – is “fiction is about what it means to be a fucking human being.” There are those moments in this film that allow us to see glimpses of the human condition. In all its frailty and self-consciousness and insecurity, we see these two young men for who and what they really are.

These are my favorite moments of the film. The scene when Dave is talking about his crush on Alanis Morissette. The scene when Dave goes back for more food at the convenience store when Dave Lipsky says his expense account will cover their junk food indulgences. And probably my favorite scene when the two Daves are eating McDonald’s burgers in Dave’s living room and Jeeves and Drone (Wallace’s two dogs) are begging for food. Dave tells Jeeves over and over to sit, but the dog just ignores him. There is something so simple, yet so real about that scene. Just two guys shooting the breeze over lousy burgers while trying the fend off a couple of hungry Labradors.

And then the last scene. The one of Dave dancing at the Baptist Church social. Yes, I read the article about how Dave didn’t actually like to dance and how “church” was his code word for his recovery group. But I loved that scene.

See, I wrote my thesis on “Singin’ in the Rain” and Plato’s Cave (not your normal bedfellows, I know). The gist of the paper is that the “Singin’ in the Rain,” like Plato’s Cave, is all about illusion and reality. When the viewer first meets Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), both characters lie about who they are. Don tells the glamorous story on his rise to fame while on the red carpet of his latest premiere; all the while, the viewer sees the truth of his less-than-dignified career. Kathy tells Don about her success on the dramatic stage, but we soon see that she is really just a nightclub showgirl. It is only when the two dance together on the empty soundstage that they are honest with each other.

My point is that dance is one of the few truly honest expressions. You can’t lie while you’re dancing. Which is why I loved the last scene. We finally see the real Dave. Now I know that this probably didn’t really happen, but hear me out. In “The End of the Tour,” we see Dave Wallace’s ongoing struggle with simply being himself. He is on guard every time the tape recorder is on, and when it’s off, he is too overly analytical to know who his true self even is at times. He just wants to be a regular guy, even if that goal is unattainable. But in that final moment, we see regular Dave, dancing and free.

Click here to watch the trailer.