"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. "
Sometime after sophomore or junior year of college, reading with any sustained concentration became a really frustrating endeavor. My eyes would wander, my mind would wander. I couldn't get comfortable.
It was around this time that I first picked up Infinite Jest. I loved David Foster Wallace. I loved every single thing of his I had read up until that point. Exasperated, vulnerable, mostly manic, seeking, seeking, seeking. I love him. And I was still in denial about whatever form of ADD that was happening with me and reading.
Man, I have almost never had such a frustrating experience. It wasn't because of the writing. It was because I could not get comfortable to settle into it. I kept trudging through, but there seemed like no spot I could get to (in the beginning, the back end weighed too much, in the middle the spine broke, etc etc) where the brick felt comfortable in my hands, even. (I have really small hands.) I kept up until the end, largely because I'm insanely stubborn and I refused to accept that I didn't love this book.
But at the time, I really really didn't. I didn't ever sit with it for long enough and any one stretch. I spread it out over months. I never felt attached to anything because I didn't give it a chance. I did finish, but I felt defeated...like a little piece of my identity was no longer true. Who was I if not the reader and lover of intense texts?
But I still loved DFW, still continued to read everything else, and was so truly upset to hear the end of his prolonged battle with depression and anti-depressants. Just another example of how so often the raw material of what's best in all of us is the same stuff as the most terrifying in us-- the only difference is how we channel it-- a process which seems unwieldy at best. Especially when the intensity of that material is as genius and frightening as DFW's was. That's his mind, of course.
When Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself came out earlier this year, I jumped-- but then went back to my recurring mantra of the year-- no more buying books! You're moving to foreign country. You can't lug all these.
And then I got my kindle, and it seemed like a cure for a painful ailment I'd had for 8 years. Reading was easy again! I was only about a third of the way into David Lipsky's DFW roadtrip book when I stopped to re-buy Infinite Jest. I started again (Dave Eggers' intro is wonderful! I didn't remember that there before... maybe it wasn't) and I'm having the time of my life, like I always wanted to.
I've never been as good at analyzing fiction as I am just appreciating it. I've never had the desire to be a critic. I don't see the seams very often (like I do with musical theatre) nor do I think of them much while I'm actually in my own writing (only later). That's why I never even considered going back to school in English lit. I knew I'd only do it if the result was my own fiction and not the analysis of someone else's.
Despite that reluctance to interpret the thinking of other writers that I admire, I have to say that, to my thinking, there's a great part of DFW that is/was/or at least was trying to be Buddhist. I mean, if this isn't the point of Buddhism, I don't know what is:
But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars -- compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: 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. You get to decide what to worship...
Finally, I am just enjoying again. Most especially, dear David Foster Wallace.
Just listen. And check out the rest of these interview clips here at The Takeaway.