And So But Also

Have I mentioned Infinite Summer? It’s the biggest thing – besides those three kids of mine, and also the fact that Hulu just posted the series run of Dead Like Me – that’s been keeping me away from here lately. Infinite Summer is a giant internet book-club with the goal of reading David Foster Wallace’s epic 1,079-page opus Infinite Jest over the summer, from June 21 to September 22.

Of course, I’m already about a hundred pages behind schedule – see above re. three kids, Dead Like Me – but the time I’ve spent in the book so far has been vastly enjoyable, albeit strenuous. DFW doesn’t pull any punches, and the book has been a mental and emotional challenge. This is the second time I’ve been through Infinite Jest; the first was during my pregnancy with David, back when I could get home from work and read without any interruptions, assuming I ignored the dishes and the laundry (I usually did); I remember getting odd looks in the waiting room at my obstetrician’s office, with this gigantic tome propped on my belly while all the other moms-t0-be leafed through copies of Sexy Pregnancy Today or whatever. I discovered early in the book that I’d have to set my sights low, that success would be merely making it through all 1,079 pages with a vague grasp of the plot. And when I did make it to the final page, I let out a huge breath and said HOLY CRAP WHAT WAS THAT and patted myself down to see if I’d lost any parts.

This time through, however – now that I know where the story goes – I’m trying to dig much deeper, taking notes and using post-its, trying to find the clues he’s planted along the way, to really UNDERSTAND what the heck is going on. Having the online guides along the way has been immeasurably helpful, but I’m having a very difficult time finding time to read; it’s taking all of my focus.

I’m finding glimmers of myself in the reading, too. Dave Eggers wrote of the book in its introduction,

It’s long, but there are pleasures everywhere. There is humor everywhere. There is also a very quiet but very sturdy and constant tragic undercurrent that concerns a people who are completely lost, who are lost within their families and lost within their nation, and lost within their time, and who only want some sort of direction or purpose or sense of community or love.

Which is of course how I feel very much of the time too, humor and pleasure but also sadness and lostness, a feeling I’m slowly learning to push through with therapy, the slow sort of finding-myself that comes with maturing, I guess, and with laying to rest old issues, old demons. Which is what many of the characters in the book are doing, also, I suppose, with varying degrees of success.

I also liked this David Foster Wallace bit from his commencement speech at Kenyon College, which Eden quoted today in the Infinite Summer blog:

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. … The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

This fits well for my treks through both the book and therapy – picking up the pieces, examining them, deciding what to do with them. Learning how to think about myself, my parents, my life; watching as these characters make the same choices.

Even if you’re not interested in plowing through Infinite Jest, I’d suggest you go read Eden’s post, maybe poke around the Infinite Summer site a little. Now, I’m going to go see if I can make some headway (or, let’s be honest, watch more Dead Like Me.)


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