Thanks to the returning and new members of our Friday session. The prose text today, an excerpt from the novel Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (pg 175-176, posted below), generated broad then deep discussion beginning with the voice/tone/identity of the speaker. On one hand, the imperative voice sounded like a metaphorical primer for living, but beneath the words we identified a resigned, disillusioned, weary, and conflicted voice that reflected oppositional forces at work (playing The Game while not being played by the players of The Game). This notion of “aware but fated” seemed relevant to current events: the Olympics, amateur athletes seeking fair compensation, and professional athletes seeking a balance between performance and mental health.
Although one clear narratorial identity did not emerge, the discussion did evoke for us the platitudes of Max Ehrmann’s poem Desiderata and the authoritarian voice in Jamaica Kincaid’s story, Girl. We recognized the inherent conflict of individuality vs. group dynamics, and how within The Game participants may be made to feel interchangeable or even dehumanized.
After an insightful discussion of the text, we moved on to our writing prompt: This can be tricky… Participants shared their writing on topics as wide ranging as growing up in the 21st century, caring for a dying loved one, and finding a kind and thorough doctor. Some of these meditations focused on “figuring out who you are” throughout childhood and adolescence, which we cited as an incredibly formative time in our lives as we navigate the world “without life experience to act as a sign post.” One participant wrote the encouragement “Let’s all give it our best shot.” The collective effort of this sentiment felt like a welcome relief from the trickiness of going it alone.
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.
Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!
Excerpt from Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Here is how to schnell.
Here is how to go through your normal adolescent growth spurt and have every limb in your body ache like a migraine because selected groups of muscles have been worked until thick and intensile, and they resist as the sudden growth of bone tries to stretch them, and they ache all the time. There is medication for this condition.
If you are an adolescent, here is the trick to being neither quite a nerd nor quite a jock: be no one.
It is easier than you think.
Here is how to read the monthly E.T.A. and U.S.T.A. and O.N.A.N.T.A. rankings the way Himself read scholars’ reviews of his multiple-exposure melodramas. Learn to care and not to care. They mean the rankings to help you determine where you are, not who you are. Memorize your monthly rankings, and forget them. Here is how: never tell anyone where you are.
This is also how not to fear sleep or dreams. Never tell anyone where you are. Please learn the pragmatics of expressing fear: sometimes words that seem to express really invoke.
This can be tricky.
Here is how to get free sticks and strings and clothes and gear from Dunlop, Inc. as long as you let them spraypaint the distinctive Dunlop logo on your sticks’ strings and sew logos on your shoulder and the left pocket of your shorts and use a Dunlop gear-bag, and you become a walking lunging sweating advertisement for Dunlop, Inc.; this is all as long as you keep justifying your seed and preserving your rank; the Dunlop, Inc. New New England Regional Athletic Rep will address you as ‘Our gray swan’; he wears designer slacks and choking cologne and about twice a year wants to help you dress and has to be slapped like a gnat.
Be a Student of the Game. Like most clichés of sport, this is profound. You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard. Peers who fizzle or blow up or fall down, run away, disappear from the monthly rankings, drop off the circuit. E.T.A. peers waiting for deLint to knock quietly at their door and ask to chat. Opponents. It’s all educational. How promising you are as a Student of the Game is a function of what you can pay attention to without running away. Nets and fences can be mirrors. And between the nets and fences, opponents are also mirrors. This is why the whole thing is scary. This is why all opponents are scary and weaker opponents are especially scary.
See yourself in your opponents. They will bring you to understand the Game. To accept the fact that the Game is about managed fear. That its object is to send from yourself what you hope will not return.
This is your body. They want you to know. You will have it with you always.
On this issue there is no counsel; you must make your best guess. For myself, I do not expect ever really to know.
But in the interval, if it is an interval: here is Motrin for your joints, Noxzema for your burn, Lemon Pledge if you prefer nausea to burn, Contracol for your back, benzoin for your hands, Epsom salt and anti-inflammatories for your ankle, and extracurriculars for your folks, who just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss anything they got.