Friday, May 1, 2009

David Foster Wallace

Dear The Ghost of David Foster Wallace,

Seriously? Suicide? Do you know how much of a colossal bummer it is to find a writer whose work makes me laugh, and cry, and feel smart, and then to find out that he went and offed himself? Sir, I have, in fact, considered the lobster. Furthermore, as a girl with curious hair, I am sad.

Wallace's death isn't news, per se; he died in September of 2008, which is neither ancient history or bleeding edge. I first encounted his writing in the Atlantic, through a feature he wrote called "Host," which was about right-wing talk radio. It employed the semi-irritating trope of highlighting various words in order the examine them in more detail - "words" being kind of a stretch, since most of the arrows led back to the space after the end of a sentence. Still, it was memorable. I hung onto that issue ( full disclosure: I hang onto every magazine I buy) and have gone back a few times to re-read the article. The highlighted boxes remain irritating. The story itself is very, very interesting.

I feel like this sort of sums up the DFW pantheon: vaguely annoying tricks - his use of footnotes can drive priests to guzzle gin - embedded in really great writing. He's smart. He's really smart, but not in a way that makes me feel bad. Wallace's prose reads like a precocious child, or a very well-read alien: smart (at times incredibly so) but also operating just outside the usual scope. It feels refreshing and not at all contrived. I'm not wild about his short stories - again, with footnotes, some of which are longer than the body of the "main" story - but his essays are things of beauty.

For example: "Up, Simba," written in 2000, is Wallace's profile of GOP hopeful and future wackadoo John McCain. Originally intended for Rolling Stone, The McCain piece cobbles together every conceivable emotion: I was impressed with one of the campaign assistants and his ability to sleep standing up; I was disgusted with the whole politics-as-personality-war that has infected every election since Nixon resigned; I cried at Wallace's description of a seemingly ordinary man who shows up at one of McCain's Town Hall Meetings and turns out to be clinically insane and worried (a lethal combination, and one that resonates ever more when one remembers that Wallace suffered from depression for more than 20 years). Wallace had a real gift for making the mundane seem unusual: when he mentions, in passing and in a different essay, that he is a church member, it comes as a shock. Surely this gifted and highly po-mo writer wouldn't be involved in something as pedestrian as Christianity...right? Right?

Which is the other reason the suicide is just sad. Wallace left behind a wife, a church, a bunch of students (he was a teacher at Pomona), his parents (and that's just upsetting on a moral-fibre, gut-clench sort of way), and his readers. David Foster Wallace could think and write circles around 99% of the population, including the people with whom he's concurrent in the publishing world. I'm not saying there's no reason - I have literally no way of understanding what 20 years of clinical depression would do to a person's soul (and Goddamn, I'm lucky), but I am saying it's sad.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

iPod, Therefore I Am

My iPod just totally crapped out on me, which was directly inspired by my computer's self-inflicted death only seconds preceding it. Sigh. Whoever claimed technology was going to make my life easier clearly has never weighed the pros and cons of flinging a 7-year-old Dell out the window.

Pro: The fucker, which has recently developed HAL9000-like symptoms of doing the opposite of what I'd like it to do, will be dead.
Con: In the course of throwing it out my window, I may crush a jogger.
Actually, on second thought...
: In the course of throwing it out my window, I may crush a jogger.

Looks like everything's coming up daisies over at Casa Del Muerto Computerico.

I know I've railed against the alleged awesomeness of living in a post-digital world before. That was more of a general rant against things like Twitter (for the soulless), and failed to mention amazing advancements in humanity, like the drive-thru or the 3D movie. these "advancements" progress, I have to wonder if we're not going to advance ourselves right into 1957. Seriously...3D movies? What, Smell-O-Vision was too revolutionary? I feel like we're living in Back To The Future Part II, where everyone has a talking wristwatch and a digital beanie.

In any case, the sudden illness of my iPod is a total bummer. It's not broken - I didn't, like some people I know, put it through the washing machine. But as my computer was figuring out a way to ruin my day by dying, it decided to clean out the contents of my MP3 player. Sort of one last "Fuck you!" before whirring busily into the black death screen. A 21st century murder-suicide.

Now I have to go back, somehow cajole the Dell into behaving for more than 25 minutes while I reload the digital doodad, and then, and only then, can I toss the bastard out the window. This saves me time how? Yeah, okay, Walkmans are for chumps and Discmans are the most awkwardly designed product on the planet. On the other hand, aside from the mountains of batteries they consume, at least they fucking work. There's no "Oh, let me boot this up and plug this in and pray that these things will be compatible and oh, SHIT, I have a crappy Dell that can't handle a goddamn Word document, what's it going to do with iTunes, oh, phew, okay, let's just install this update and drag this icon over here and sync these things up and then eject - always eject! - it and"

Couldn't be simpler.

I like my MP3 player. It's easy to use, infinitely portable, possesses the strange ability to fuck with a plane's takeoff, and has Solitaire. But to use it, I need to work with my computer, and I hate my computer. It's like having two boyfriends: one who is sweet and makes me great mixtapes, and one who maliciously destroys my major essay the night before its due. But they're best friends, and I can't have the great mixtapes without hanging out with the essay-eater...and hating myself for it.

"So get a new computer," I can hear you saying. In the words of Randy Jackson: yo dawg, that's money. And seeing how my ass is un-em-ployed, there's precious little scrilla to be had for fun adventures in New Computerville. (Hell, some days, even Grocery Junction is a little too far down the tracks.) No, I'll wait it out, maybe spend some money to get the Evil Dell fixed, and pray that the next time it decides to wipe out of of my favourite tech-toys, it leaves my toaster oven alone.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

After School Special

On Friday night, I went to Guelph. Rode the bus and everything. You may ask why, on a Friday night in late April, when the trees are budding and the sky is blue, would I choose to spend time on a Greyhound bus stuffed with businessmen and students. You would be right to ask, but the answer is simple: my brother was in a play.

It was awesome. He played the King of Hearts in a student-directed adaptation of Alice Through the Looking Glass (which is a nifty bit of casting, seeing as how, in the last couple years, my brother has morphed into something of a babe magnet), the loopy and hallucinatory Lewis Carroll tale. If you've only seen the Disney flick, do yourself a favour: grab a copy of the story, smoke a fat joint, and trip your shit out. This is maybe the single weirdest kids story ever told.

This play was less flowers-and-singing and more leather pants-and-goth makeup. Alice looked like she had been styled by Avril Lavigne, all tutus and striped stocking. The Queen of Hearts, who shrieked "Off with his head!" every 15 seconds, was wearing leather leggings, spike heels, and blood-red lipstick. There was a hookah and a breakdancer. All this in a high school production. Like I said: awesome.

What was even cooler was that their play was for the Sears Festival, a province-wide drama competition for high school students. This festival, which culminates with an Ontario showcase, draws from a pool of more than 300 schools, eventually winnowing the competition down to 12 schools from across the province. This is sort of like the Tony Awards for adolescents. For schools with even a semi-coherent drama program, this is the Big Deal. There's an unfortunate propensity for these shows to deal with Teen Issues in heavy-handed ways (I've seen multiple productions that force young actresses to play bulimic by simulating self-induced vomiting onstage), but the quality is usually exceptional. In addition to performances, the festival also offers workshops in various subjects, and the chance to make out with people from other schools.

I did a little student theatre in my day - we also went to Sears, but we never made it past the district competition. I blame myself; while I am hella dramatic, that doesn't necessarily translate into any sort of aptitude for the limelight. I would turn in the sort of shouty, self-conscious performances that make audiences grit their teeth. I had a blast, of course, being part of the troupe, and I also dug feeling like we had made something. Unfortunately, yeah: talentless motherfucker that I am, Sears wins were always well outside my grasp.

Theatre programs are important for high schools. I always feel a little bad for people who went to rah-rah sports schools, because that was totally outside of my sphere. In my school, cool kids performed in school shows. There were the requisite dramatic girls and the guys who persued them, but there were also people who loved the technical side, or costuming, or stage combat, or writing plays. It's seriously one of the most versatile media in terms of finding a creative voice: actors, singers, dancers, painters, tech nerds, organizational obsessives, fashion wannabes, and hangers-on all have a home.

I'm so proud of my brother and the rest of the cast for doing so well. There are some really talented actors and actresses in the show. These people who will be involved with theatre for a long time to come. But it's not really about the future; it's about following Alice down the rabbit hole one more time.