Five Years and Counting

A couple of months ago, I downloaded the Time Hop app, which provides a daily trip down memory lane. I get to relive so many good days, as well as some bad ones. It’s so interesting to see where life has taken me through the past five years.

Perhaps some of my fondest memories are of this blog and the many incredible opportunities it has opened up for me. Since first being introduced to the writings of David Foster Wallace and beginning this blog, I have experienced the following:

I have published over 100 posts in response to DFW’s stories and essays.

This blog has been visited over 47,000 times.

I was introduced to the Wallace-l community, finding friends and collaborators within the group.

I travelled over 7000 miles to present a paper at the Work in Process conference hosted by the University of Antwerp.

I got my first tattoo while on that trip to Belgium.

I published a collection of footnote-laden essays inspired the creative nonfiction of DFW.

I presented two works at the first annual DFW Conference at Illinois State University.

One of those works, “Reimagining Wallace” was selected as a Featured Presentation.

Both of those works will be featured in an anthology of presentations to be published by ISU.

After my “Reimagining Wallace” presentation, I started my “Infinite Legos” project, creating scenes from IJ in Lego.

I am in awe of all that has taken place over these five years, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Thanks, Dave, for opening my eyes and for opening up so many doors. I owe you one.

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Five-Word Weekend: a reflection on the ISU DFW Conference

The morning radio show I listen to on the way to work has a segment every Monday morning called “Three-Word Weekend.” Callers describe their weekend using only three words, and the radio hosts try to guess the details based on the terse, often monosyllabic descriptors the receive. Example: A caller might say, “Rain. Cupcakes. Flat tire.” And the hosts might concoct a story like, “You were driving in the rain to deliver cupcakes to a party when you got a flat tire on the highway. Not only did you have to change the tire in the pouring rain, but you had to eat all the cupcakes for fear of them spoiling because of the delay in your trip.” A bit trite and cheesy, sure, but it is an amusing way to fill the gaps between songs.

Well, I thought I would take a similar approach to describing my experience at the First Annual David Foster Wallace Conference hosted by Illinois State University at Normal. But I don’t know that only three words will do justice to the experience, so I will give it to you in five[1]:

Connections. Creativity. Questions. Confirmation. and Coffee.

Connections. Thursday and Friday felt very much like a college reunion of sorts, except that we had all taken online college classes together and had never actually met in person. I knew many of the presenters by name and by their Facebook profile picture, but had never been in the same room with them. I’d never heard their voice or shook their hand. While I tend to be pretty introverted and socially awkward when meeting new people,[2] I didn’t experience that at all. No sweaty palms or nervous heart palpitations. Just a smile and a handshake and a “it’s so good to finally meet you.”

Casual conversations with Matt Bucher, Jenni Baker, Mike Miley, Bill Lattanzi, even Daniel Max were great, but not nearly long enough. I would have loved an extra day in Normal to just sit around, drink coffee (or perhaps stronger libations), and talk about Wallace,[3] literature, writing, sports, politics… whatever. Doesn’t matter. Just would have loved more time with my friends.

Perhaps the greatest connection I made was in sharing a room with JT Jackson: a mathematical genius, former Marine, poet, friend of Dave, and now a friend of mine. He shared stories and poems and clues to questions we all have about Wallace. Being the generous man that he is, he gave me a signed copy of “Marbles” for my girls and a photocopy of his manuscript of the text with Wallace’s remarks and annotations. I have a feeling I’ve got a new lifelong friend.

Creativity. Unlike previous academic conferences I’ve attended, this one was open to creative submissions as well. Good call, ISU. Good call. I personally appreciated the opportunity to share my creative connections to Dave: his inspiration for my own writing; and the marriage of two of my greatest passions, Wallace’s writing and Legos.[4] But it also allowed me to hear some wonderful presentations by others. Jenni Baker’s “Erasing Infinite” project. Bill Lattanzi’s Infinite Jest tour of Boston. Mike Miley’s personal quest at the HRC, the home of the world’s largest air conditioner. All incredibly moving. It was so great to see others interacting with Dave not just on an intellectual or theoretical level, but also on a very personal one.

Questions. As with previous conferences I have attended, I think I walked away with more questions than I got answers. A few of those questions[5] are:

  • I know it’s been brought up a gazillion times, but who’s next? Wallace was one of the great trailblazers of his generation, who will take up the mantle?
  • During one panel, the analogy came to me: Is Wallace the Moses leading Western literature out of the Egypt of Postmodernism? If so (along the same lines as the previous question), who will be the Joshua to lead us into the Promised Land? What is the Promised Land?
  • Another analogy came to me during the day: I see a bit of a connection between Wallace’s response to Postmodern literature and U2’s response to 1990’s decadence. Both seemed to immerse themselves into their respective… whatevers only to expose their flaws and shortcomings. Thoughts?
  • After the one of the panels focusing on Dave’s nonfiction, I was left wondering what sort of impact he has had on nonfiction writing, particularly on literary journalism?
  • And finally the question that has stuck with me for several years now: where did Dave stand on issues of faith and religion? I have received more and more clues over those years, but I feel there are still more clues to be unearthed.
  • After hearing Matt Bucher’s presentation, I’m still not entirely clear: what exactly is a “turdnagel”?[6]

Confirmation. About two presentations into the “Work in Process” conference two years ago, I felt like a minor leaguer in his first major league game. I hadn’t read the entirety of Wallace’s canon.[7] I only had a master’s degree.[8] And I really only understood about half of what was said in that conference room. I think I presented a pretty damn good paper, but I busted my ass to write it. I honestly think I put more time and effort into that paper than I did my master’s thesis. I certainly consider myself an academic, but I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a scholar.

Since Antwerp, I’ve done a lot of writing. A lot of writing. I finished Supposedly Fun Things and am working on a number of other projects. The point is that I’m a writer, not a scholar. So to have my writing and other creative work validated and appreciated at the ISU conference was a simple, but profound confirmation that I am doing the right thing. I’ll save the theory for the scholars, and I’ll stick to the creative writing.

Coffee.[9] One final note: for mass-produced hotel-conference-room coffee, it was actually quite tasty. I went back for a second cup, not because I needed that extra jolt of 3% caffeine, but because I liked how it tasted.[10]

 

[1] And don’t worry; I won’t make you try to come up with some cockamamie story based on my words. See, it’s a narrative technique that I am using to make my account more relatable and to draw you in as a reader (I hope it worked).

[2] A common symptom of anxiety disorders; I “came out” as an anxiety disorder sufferer during one of my presentations at the conference. I am expecting calls from all the major late-night talk shows anytime now.

[3] After this conference and many conversations with those who knew him well, I am beginning to feel comfortable calling him, “just Dave.”

[4] I was overwhelmed by the positive response to the pictures of my Lego sculptures. I was nervous to share; worried others might see them as silly or juvenile, having no place at a conference like this. But to have such a large crowd to see the presentation and to see people snapping pictures of the slides and to get so many gracious compliments washed my fears away and made me so glad I made the ballsy move of sending in a seemingly ridiculous presentation proposal.

[5] If you have answers, insights, or “clues” (to use JT’s word), please feel free to share in the comments below.

[6] According to the email records that Matt showed, “turdnagel” was one of Dave’s email handles.

[7] Truth be told, I still haven’t made it all the way through.

[8] From an online (but regionally accredited) program.

[9] I wasn’t going to mention it at first, but I needed a fifth item for my list. A four-word description of the conference just didn’t seem complete.

[10] It tasted good enough to write 64 words about it, plus this 15-word footnote.

Is this the end?

Several months ago, I decided to take a hiatus from this blog to focus on several other projects: I had a book to finish writing. I had to wrap up the school year and prepare my students for their AP exams. I had a brand new online creative writing class to maintain. And I had to look for a new full-time job. The last seven months have been incredibly busy, so I simply have not had the time to devote to this blog.

Well, that was January and now it is August. I finished my book and will be publishing it very soon. The school year is over, AP scores are in, and I have enjoyed a wonderful summer vacation with my family. The creative writing class finished well and I am looking forward to teaching it again in the fall. And I am very excited about starting my new teaching job in a little over a week.

So, in the midst of taking care of these time-consuming yet very fruitful endeavors, I have had the time to reflect on things. I have thought about what to do with this blog. I began this blog three years ago to give me some much-needed discipline in my writing and to try to find my voice. And to read and learn from one of the most incredible writers I have ever encountered, Mr. David Foster Wallace.

Over these years, I have grown so much as a writer. I have learned the discipline of setting goals and working toward those goals even when it isn’t fun or exciting or sexy. I have found my voice and learned the glorious art of footnotes. And I have enjoyed reading some of the most wonderfully beautiful and difficult literature I’ve ever read.

So, I guess you could say that even though I have not completed the task of reading and blogging my way through DFW’s entire canon, I have gained so much from this experience. It has opened up worlds to me that I never knew existed. It has introduced me to amazing people that I would have never met otherwise. Hell, it got me all the way to Antwerp and back. In-freakin’-credible.

But I also feel it is time to move on to other things. I will finish reading the rest of Wallace’s books and uncollected works. I will continue to participate in the discussion on Wallace-l and in other places. I will keep teaching Wallace’s works in my classes. But I think I need to do other things with my writing. I have ideas for three or four books simmering, one of them being the “Gospel according to DFW” that I have wanted to write ever since returning from Antwerp. So for the foreseeable future I will be devoting my time to those projects and put this one on hold indefinitely.

So thanks, Dave, for all that you’ve taught me and for all the opportunities your writing has given me. It’s been great.

On finally finishing Infinite Jest

A lot has taken place in the approximately 230 days that it has taken me to finish reading the nearly 1100 pages of Infinite Jest:

  • LeBron James finally won an NBA championship.
  • Barack Obama won a second term as President.
  • A tragedy of unimaginable proportions occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
  • Kanye West and Kim Kardashian announced that they are expecting a child together.
  • The world did not come to an end on December 21.

Not only has it been an eventful seven-and-a-half months in the world of sports, entertainment, and politics, but an eventful time in my own little corner of the world. While reading David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, I also:

  • Travelled to Louisville, Kentucky to participate in the AP English Language Exam Reading.
  • Set new personal bests in my AP Exam pass rates.
  • Began my thirteenth year as a high school English teacher.
  • Endured two weeks of pure hell as I weaned myself off of a prescribed medication.
  • Congratulated my oldest daughter for earning Gold Honor Roll.

Infinite Jest is the longest novel I’ve ever read and the most difficult novel I’ve ever read. As such, it took me longer to get through than any other book I’ve read. When I reached that final line on page 981 and closed the back cover, I felt a sense of relief and of accomplishment. I had done it. I had actually finished it.

And yet, despite my feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment, I was left with a number of questions. I’ve read enough of Wallace’s stories to know not to expect closure or to expect a story to be wrapped up with a big pretty bow. But I feel compelled to ask my questions, even if they have no answers.

  • Did CT kill James Incandenza? It sorta makes sense, given the whole Hamlet motif. Is blowing up a guy’s head in a modified microwave the Subsidized Time’s equivalent of poison in the ear?
  • What’s with Don Gately’s dream of digging up JOI’s grave with Hal (presumably)? What prompts this dream? Is it an allusion to the grave-digging scene in Hamlet, which would kinda make sense given that JOI’s movie production company is called Poor Yorick Entertainment?
  • Who or what exactly is Lyle, the forehead licker in the ETA boys’ locker room?
  • Is the wraith that visits Don Gately the ghost of James Incandenza?
  • Do the Wheelchair Assassins get their hands on a master copy of “The Entertainment”?
  • I understand that the first chapter takes place after the end of the book, but how does Hal get to the state he is in in that opening chapter? At the end of the book, he is considering injuring himself to avoid playing tennis, but how does he go from that to the mute, convulsing young man who is wrestled to the ground and hauled away on a gurney?

I know there are probably answers to some of these questions can likely be found in a variety of commentaries, academic dissertations, and in the recent IJRR on Wallace-l. And I know some of these questions will go unanswered forever. But if you’d like to add your two cents, feel free.

Announcing the Infinite Atlas Project

Blogger Here. My friend William Beutler has expanded his Infinite Boston project into an incredible resource for any fan of Wallace’s writing. Here he is to tell you more about it:

As a few of you know well, and some of you may remember from earlier this summer, I’ve been working on a big project related to Infinite Jest. In July I started writing Infinite Boston (http://infiniteboston.com), a Tumblr blog exploring the real-life Boston-area locations from the novel.
Today I’ve expanded the scope considerably: The Infinite Atlas Project is what I’m calling it overall, but I’ll keep this short and let you click away if you think you’re interested:
Infinite Atlas is an online atlas / Google Maps mashup featuring 475 pinpointed locations out of about 650 from the novel that I found, with descriptions from the text, commentary, photos and the option for readers to upload more: http://infiniteatlas.com
Infinite Map, a limited-edition poster based on the research, focusing on 250 of the most interesting locations; it includes 4 inset maps and 5 columns of (yes) footnotes. There is other original artwork for purchase, although I don’t mean to be too crassly commercial about it: http://bit.ly/infinite-map
For background information, I’ve also written an introductory post on Infinite Boston here: http://bit.ly/infiniteatlasproject
This represents a little over 2 years’ work—myself and others—and it’s not done quite yet. Infinite Boston has a few weeks left to go, and Infinite Atlas is designed to never quite be finished, but a resource for readers that may grow and develop over time, both through my continued efforts and contributions from others.

Thanks are due to Matt B. from this list, who was the first person to point out to me that Ennet House was a real place on the corner of Commonwealth and Warren Street. Also thanks to Maria B. for assistance as I went into the final stages this week, Greg C. for pointing out an incredible oversight on my “Antitoi Entertainment” entry, and to Daryl H., Pal D., Ryan B. and Jason K. and others for giving Infinite Boston some link love early on.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any questions, I’m only too happy to answer.

Cheers,
Bill

Just Dave

I first heard about DT Max’s biography of Wallace about two years ago. There was an open call on The Howling Fantods for all things Wallace: letters, notes, stories, etc. Max was asking for fans and friends to send anything that might help him in writing what would become “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story.”

This sparked quite a discussion on Wallace-l, one filled with what could best be described as a cross between Chuck Norris jokes and Dos Equis commercials. “Dallas-Forth Worth Airport was named after Our Man,” and “David Foster Wallace knows an English word that rhymes with ‘orange.'”

Fast forward about eighteen months when a release date for “Every Love Story” was announced. I used an Amazon gift card to preorder the book. And the wait began.

Over the past several weeks and months, the internet has been a-buzzin’ with reviews and responses to reviews and discussions of responses to reviews.

Another discussion on Wallace-l arose in the last few weeks. Someone posed the question of “what do you hope for the biography?” Responses varied, but many wanted the “warts-and-all” story that we haven’t heard yet. Not that people wanted juicy, gossipy details; but rather they expressed a desire to see Our Man as just a regular guy. To knock him off his pedestal a bit.

I never chimed in, but it got me thinking. What do I hope for as I read Max’s book? I read Max’s piece in the “New Yorker” and Lipsky’s piece in “Rolling Stone,” so I know most of his story.  And with all the prerelease material that’s been circulating, I doubt there will be many surprises when I read it. But I guess, like others, I want to get to know Dave. The man. Not just the writer or public figure or the persona he created. Just Dave.

And now the release date has arrived. I received an email this afternoon that my book has finally shipped. It should be here on Saturday.

But I got this other email. A rep from Penguin Books asked me to post a promotional video commemorating the long-anticipated release.

My response: I’d be happy to.

So here you are. Penguin Books’ promotional video.

Enjoy.

An interesting article that poses lots of questions

This article was posted today on Wallace-l and really struck a chord with me. This topic of Wallace and religion has been simmering for me for quite awhile. Faith and religion, particularly Christianity, are important themes in much of Wallace’s work; although he seems to ask a lot more questions than he attempts to answer. As I continue to read my way through his canon, and as I anxiously await Max’s biography, it is a topic that I think is an important one and I hope to continue to explore it.

What are your thoughts? What role do you see faith, religion, and Christianity playing in Wallace’s writing? What do we know about the role of faith in his own life?

Follow this link, read the article, then share your thoughts.