A matter of perspective

But it wouldn’t have made you a fraud to change your mind. It would be sad to do it because you think you somehow have to.

It won’t hurt, though. It will be loud, and you’ll feel things, but they’ll go through you so fast that you won’t even realize you’re feeling them (which is sort of like the paradox I used to bounce off Gustafson — is it possible to be a fraud if you aren’t aware you’re a fraud?). And the very brief moment of fire you’ll feel will be almost good, like when your hands are cold and there’s a fire and you hold your hands out toward it.

The reality is that dying isn’t bad, but it takes forever. And that forever is no time at all. I know that sounds like a contradiction, or maybe just wordplay. What it really is, it turns out, is a matter of perspective. The big picture, as they say, in which the fact is that this whole seemingly endless back-and-forth between us has come and gone and come again in the very same instant that Fern stirs a boiling pot for dinner, and your stepfather packs some pipe tobacco down with his thumb, and Angela Mead uses an ingenious little catalogue tool to roll cat hair off her blouse, and Melissa Betts inhales to respond to something she thinks her husband just said, and David Wallace blinks in the midst of idly scanning class photos from his 1980 Aurora West H.S. yearbook and seeing my photo and trying, through the tiny little keyhole of himself, to imagine what all must have happened to lead up to my death in the fiery single-car accident he’d read about in 1991, like what sorts of pain or problems might have driven the guy to get in his electric-blue Corvette and try to drive with all that O.T.C. medication in his bloodstream — David Wallace happening to have a huge and totally unorganizable set of inner thoughts, feelings, memories and impressions of this little photo’s guy a year ahead of him in school with the seemingly almost neon aura around him all the time of scholastic and athletic excellence and popularity and success with the ladies, as well as of every last cutting remark or even tiny disgusted gesture or expression on this guy’s part whenever David Wallace struck out looking in Legion ball or said something dumb at a party, and of how impressive and authentically at ease in the world the guy always seemed, like an actual living person instead of the dithering, pathetically self-conscious outline or ghost of a person David Wallace knew himself back then to be. Verily a fair-haired, fast-track guy, whom in the very best human tradition David Wallace had back then imagined as happy and unreflective and wholly undaunted by voices telling him that there was something deeply wrong with him that wasn’t wrong with anybody else and that he had to spend all of his time and energy trying to figure out what to do and say in order to impersonate an even marginally normal or acceptable U.S. male, all this stuff clanging around in David Wallace ’81’s head every second and moving so fast that he never got a chance to catch hold and try to fight or argue against it or even really even feel it except as a knot in his stomach as he stood in his real parents’ kitchen ironing his uniform and thinking of all the ways he could screw up and strike out looking or drop balls out in right and reveal his true pathetic essence in front of this .418 hitter and his witchily pretty sister and everyone else in the audience in lawn chairs in the grass along the sides of the Legion field (all of whom probably already saw through the sham from the outset anyway, he was pretty sure) — in other words David Wallace trying, if only in the second his lids are down, to somehow reconcile what this luminous guy had seemed like from the outside with whatever on the interior must have driven him to kill himself in such a dramatic and doubtlessly painful way — with David Wallace also fully aware that the cliché that you can’t ever truly know what’s going on inside somebody else is hoary and insipid and yet at the same time trying very consciously to prohibit that awareness from mocking the attempt or sending the whole line of thought into the sort of inbent spiral that keeps you from ever getting anywhere (considerable time having passed since 1981, of course, and David Wallace having emerged from years of literally indescribable war against himself with quite a bit more firepower than he’d had at Aurora West), the realer, more enduring and sentimental part of him commanding that other part to be silent as if looking it levelly in the eye and saying, almost aloud, ‘Not another word.’

— David Foster Wallace, “Good Old Neon”

Life has time to flash like neon

One clue that there’s something not quite real about sequential time and the way you experience it is the various paradoxes of time supposedly passing and of a so-called ‘present’ that’s always unrolling into the future and creating more and more past behind it. As if the present were this car — nice car by the way — and the past is the road we’ve just gone over, and the future is the headlit road up ahead we haven’t yet gotten to, and time is the car’s forward movement, and the precise present is the car’s front bumper as it cuts through the fog of the future, so that it’s now and then a tiny bit later a whole different now, etc. Except if time is really passing, how fast does it go? At what rate does the present change? See? Meaning if we use time to measure motion or rate — which we do, it’s the only way you can — 95 miles per hour, 70 heartbeats a minute, etc. — how are you supposed to measure the rate at which time moves? One second per second? It makes no sense. You can’t even talk about time flowing or moving without hitting up against paradox right away. So think for a second: What if there’s really no movement at all? What if this is all unfolding in the one flash you call the present, this first, infinitely tiny split second of impact when the speeding car’s front bumper’s just starting to touch the abutment, just before the bumper crumples and displaces the front end and you go violently forward and the steering column comes back at your chest as if shot out of something enormous? Meaning that what if in fact this now is infinite and never really passes in the way your mind is supposedly wired to understand pass, so that not only your whole life but every single humanly conceivable way to describe and account for that life has time to flash like neon shaped into those connected cursive letters that businesses’ signs and windows love so much to use through your mind all at once in the literally immeasurable instant between impact and death, just as you start forward to meet the wheel at a rate no belt ever made could restrain — THE END.

— David Foster Wallace, “Good Old Neon”

Pointing at shadows

For no, if the therapist really wanted the truth, the actual “gut”-level truth underneath all her childishly defensive anger and shame, the depressed person had shared from a hunched and near-fetal position beneath the sunburst clock, sobbing but making a conscious choice not to bother wiping her eyes or even her nose, the depressed person really felt that what was really unfair was that she felt able — even here in therapy with the trusted and compassionate therapist — that she felt able to share only painful circumstances and historical insights about her depression and its etiology and texture and numerous symptoms instead of feeling truly able to communicate and articulate and express the depression’s terrible unceasing agony itself, an agony that was the overriding and unendurable reality of her every black minute on earth — i.e., not being able to share the way it truly felt, what the depression made her feel like inside on a daily basis, she had wailed hysterically, striking repeatedly at her recliner’s suede armrests — or to reach out and communicate and express it to someone who could not only listen and understand and care but could or would actually feel it with her (i.e., feel what the depressed person felt). The depressed person confessed to the therapist that what she felt truly starved for and really truly fantasized about was having the ability to somehow really truly literally “share” it (i.e., the chronic depression’s ceaseless torment). She said that the depression felt as if it was so central and inescapable to her identity and who she was as a person that not being able to share the depression’s inner feeling or even really describe what it felt like felt to her for example like feeling a desperate, life-or-death need to describe the sun in the sky and yet being able or permitted only to point to shadows on the ground. She was so very tired of pointing at shadows, she had sobbed. She (i.e., the depressed person) had then immediately broken off and laughed hollowly at herself and apologized to the therapist for employing such a floridly melodramatic and self-pitying analogy.

— David Foster Wallace, “The Depressed Person”

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (V)

Eurydice was no longer the fair beauty
celebrated in Orpheus’ singing,
no longer the fragrance and landscape of the bed,
no more the property of any man.

She was already unbound, like loosened hair,
surrendered like falling rain,
and generously offered to all creation.
She was already root.

And when, suddenly,
the god held her back and with anguish
spoke the words: he has turned around,
she was puzzled and softly answered, Who?

Up ahead, dark against the brightness of a gateway,
stood someone whose features she did not recognize.
He stood and saw how on the pale ribbon of the meadow path
the messenger god had silently turned
to watch the form of one retracing her steps,
constricted by the winding sheets,
uncertain, meek, without impatience.

— Rilke, New Poems

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (IV)

Now Eurydice walked at the hand of a god,
her steps, constricted by the winding sheets,
uncertain, meek, without impatience.
She was deep within herself like a woman full with child,
and gave no thought now to the man who walked ahead
or the path that rose toward life.
She was deep within herself, and her having died
was a fullness she carried.
Like a fruit, she was filled with the sweetness
and darkness of her huge death,
still so new she could hardly grasp it.

She had entered a new virginity,
had become untouchable; her sex had closed
like a wildflower toward evening,
and her hands were so estranged from marriage
that even the god’s touch, infinitely light,
disturbed her as too familiar.

— Rilke, New Poems

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (III)

He told himself they must be coming.
He said the words aloud and heard them fade away.
They must be coming, it was just
that they were moving so quietly.
If he might turn a single time
(if to look back were not the ruin
of his whole venture now near completion),
surely he would see those two
following him so noiselessly.
The little god of journeys and messages,
winged cap above observant eyes,
wings at the ankles too, slender staff held out before him,
and entrusted to his left hand: her.

The one so loved, that from a single lyre
more lament came forth than from centuries of sorrows.
So loved that a world took form from that lament
where everything came to be once more:
path and village, forest and valley, field, river, animal.

And round this lamenting world, as if
it were a second earth, moved a sun and star-strewn heavens,
a grieving heaven with grief-stricken stars.
That’s how loved she was.

— Rilke, New Poems