We are what we walk between

Listening to: “Skullcrusher Mountain” – Jonathan Coulton

So I’ve been diving whole-hog into this Infinite Summer thing. Have you heard of it, blogs? Basically it’s a summer-long, communal reading of David Foster Wallace’s giant, giant book, Infinite Jest. I mean 981 huge pages, tiny lettering, plus 96 pages of endnotes, written in even tinier lettering. And it’s full of passages like this:

So on 1 April, Y.D.A.U., when the medical attache is (it is alleged) insufficiently deft with a Q-Tip on an ulcerated sinal necrosis and is subjected at just 1800h. to a fit of febrile thrusive pique from the florally imbalanced Minister of Home Entertainment, and is by high-volume fiat replaced at the royal bedside by the Prince’s personal physician, who’s summoned by beeper from the Hilton’s sauna….

I’ll stop there, because the sentence goes on for another half-page paragraph. You get the idea. It’s tough going. But in between all this jargony gobbledegook (which may be some people’s thing, but not mine) are wide swaths of real brilliance, and those are what it’s worth pressing on for. In any case, I know I’d never finish this book in my life if I wasn’t adhering to  Infinite Summer’s bi-weekly page count deadlines, with a whole interweb’s worth of blogs and tweets to bolster my reading.

And ever since ol’ D.F.W. did himself in last fall, I’ve been meaning to tackle some of his denser work. And it makes sections like the one circa page 68-78, about a suicidal depressive, all the more meaningful and painful. I mean, it’s nice to see a real honest description of depression, straight from the mouth of the beast:

Everything gets horrible. Everything you see gets ugly. Lurid is the word. Doctor Garton said lurid, one time. That’s the right word for it. And everything sounds harsh, spiny and harsh-sounding, like every sound you hear all of a sudden has teeth. And smelling like I smell bad even after I just got out of the shower. It’s like what’s the point of washing if everything smells like I need another shower.

I’ve been chugging along pretty well so far, bolstered by the fact that I was traveling for a week (Boston—>Rochester—>NYC—>Boston), and I get my best reading done in transit. And then there was last night, skulking around the emergency vet in Brookline waiting to hear about canine X-rays because a certain dog who shall remain nameless grabbed a chicken bone off the sidewalk the other night (he’s OK, by the way), with nothing but time to read on my hands.

And it helps that a lot of Infinite Jest takes place right here in Boston and environs. I can pick out exactly where D.F.W. is talking about when he brings up random street corners or satellite locales. It all takes place in this as-yet-unspecified near-future time, and Boston has become this border town in a re-mapped North America. But my favorite is how much Infinite Jest name-checks my very own Allston, which in D.F.W.-land has turned from college-and-indie-kid ghetto into actual ghetto:

Michael Pemulis… is a scholarship student from right nearby in Allston MA — a grim section of tract housing and vacant lots, low-rise Greek and Irish housing projects, gravel and haphazard sewage and indifferent municipal upkeep, a lot of depressed petrochemical light industry all along the Spur, an outlying district zoned for sprawl; an old joke in Enfield-Brighton goes ‘”Kiss me where it smells” she said so I took her to Allston.’

Hehe. I’m an indifferently fattish 158 pages through, with a coupla 10ish-page endnotes along the way, so not too shabby. I know I haven’t been a-blogging as much lately, but maybe I’ll start up again. Good for getting the writing muscle going, which is really why I started this thing in the first place.

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