the empty armchair

Matisse1My story, “The Empty Armchair,” which is loosely based on my first novel, The Painting Story, appears in the fall issue of Contrary Magazine. Here’s the beginning:

Being sick has taken away the busy surface of my life.  Gone are the errands and the superficial, the insubstantial, the time-wasting.  Being still is forcing me to reflect on what remains.

Boil a life down to its essence.  Freeze it, and see what rises.

Tucked into bed, my body is at rest, but my eyes search the room, settling on the blue armchair.  Exhausted for weeks, I had been leaving my clothes on this chair instead of hanging them in the closet.  The night before the surgery, seeking order and control as I contemplated having neither, I sorted through the layers of discarded clothing—returning shirts and jeans to the closet, socks to the hamper.  Now as I look at the space instead of the pile, I remember keeping the chair clear because Mark liked to sit there.  With sudden clarity I see myself as Matisse’s Invalid, without a face and with only heavy, somber colors to define my existence, lying in a room where an empty armchair reminds me of the choices I’ve made.

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yellow letters from a shoebox on a rainy pm

IMG_2254So many things left unmentioned:

  • David Foster Wallace’s skilled use of the French language: “Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rolants” (719) and hilarious translations from English to French:  demi-maison (730) and from French to English: see Marathe below.
  • The way Tavis is described: “His smallness resembles the smallness of something that’s farther away from you than it wants to be, plus is receding.” And Stice “shielding his eyes with his hand and assuming a horizon-scan expression whenever Tavis heaves into view, seeming to recede even as he bears down.” (519)
  • That “…the key to the successful administration of a top-level junior tennis academy lies in cultivating a kind of reverse-Buddhism, a state of Total Worry.” (451)
  • Infinite Jestisms: to eliminate someone’s map, to give someone the fantods (also used by MT in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (thanks to Steven!)), “many wonders”
  • Scenes we’ll never forget: Erdedy waiting for the pot (17-27), Orin in the shower with the roaches, the videophone situation (144-151), Poutrincourt on achieving goals (680-681)

H o w e v e r, what I would like to do in this last post of the series is to say a la prochaine to some of the lovable, quirky, and flawed-as-we-all-are characters of Infinite Jest, in their own words, in the words of other characters or in the words of the narrator.

IMG_2089Steeply:

“…our whole system is founded on your individual’s freedom to pursue his own individual desires…Sunsets over the Pacific. Shoes that don’t cut off circulation. Frozen yogurt. A tall lemonade on a squeak-free porch swing.” (423)

IMG_2088Marathe:

“…should he exit and roll like no person’s business…” (752)

IMG_2092Lyle:

“An oiled guru sits in yogic full lotus in Spandex and tank top. He’s maybe forty. He’s in full lotus on top of the towel dispenser just above the shoulder-pull station in the weight room…” (127)

IMG_2090Erdedy:

“…at this precise time his telephone and his intercom to the front door’s buzzer sounded at the same time, both loud and tortured and so abrupt they sounded yanked through a very small hole into the great balloon of colored silence he sat in, waiting…” (27)

IMG_2089Kate Gompert:

“I don’t hate myself. I just wanted out. I didn’t want to play anymore.” (72)

“…and then it’s happening, too, the whole horrible time, it’s about to happen and also it’s happening, all at the same time.” (73)

IMG_2088Orin the punter:

“I miss commercials that were louder than the programs.” (599)

And referring to watching entertainment on disks, “But it’s not the same. The choice, see. It ruins it somehow. With television you were subjected to repetition.” (600)

IMG_2092the Moms:

“Avril made it clear that the very last thing she wanted was to have any of her children feel they had to justify or explain to her any sort of abruptly or even bizarrely sudden major decision they might happen to make…” (288)

And from Mario: “The Moms hangs up stuff like shirts and blazers neater and more wrinkle-free than anyone alive.” (768)

IMG_2089Himself:

“I drink this, sometimes, when I’m not actively working, to help me accept the same painful things it’s now time for me to tell you, son.” (160)

IMG_2090Mario:

“…cheerfully declining even to try to learn to really read, explaining he’d way rather listen and watch.” (188/189)

“Mario’d fallen in love with the first Madame Psychosis programs because he felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she’d taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real. It is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way.” (592)

IMG_2088Gately:

“He took zero in the way of shit and was a cheery but implacable exponent of the Don’t-Get-Mad-Get-Even school.” (55)

IMG_2088

Hal:

“I am not just a boy who plays tennis. I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I’m complex….” (11)

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

[final in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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The library, and step on it

David Foster Wallace in Infinite Jest

IMG_2089On Humor: This book is often laugh-out-loud funny.

Hal: “I do things like get in a taxi and say, ‘The library, and step on it.’” (12)

Hal: “I’m an O.E.D. man, Doctor.” (29)

The Narrator on Hal: “His way of answering the phone sounded like ‘Mmmyellow.’” (32)

Hal: “We’re all on each other’s food chain. All of us. It’s an individual sport. Welcome to the meaning of individual.” (112)

Hal: “This induced a spell of involuted marijuana-type thinking that led quickly, again, to Hal’s questioning whether or not he was really all that intelligent.” (136)

Hal: “I’m trying to cut down on patronizing places with ”N’ in their name.” (908)

On Humor and Sadness: In the sense of co-existing in a moment, of humor being an attempt to deal with sadness, a layer over the sadness, and finally melting into sadness.

Hal: “…I have administrative bones to pick with God, Boo. I’ll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue, he and I, Boo.” (40)

Still writing beautiful sentences: Again, this is what kept my eyes on the page–page after page after page.

Narrator: “the cold-penny tang of the autumn air” (539)

Narrator: “The sun has the attenuated autumn quality of seeming to be behind several panes of glass.” (623)

On Eschaton (the game): Or on reading IJ.

“Its elegant complexity, combined with a dismissive-reenactment frisson and a complete disassociation from the realities of the present, composes most of its puerile appeal. Plus it’s almost addictively compelling…” (322)

On suicide: Yes, it’s all over the place–the fact of it, the attempt to understand it, and the understanding of it.

Geoffrey Day: “As the two vibrations [exhaust fan and violin] combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.” (649) and “From that day, whether I could articulate it satisfactorily or not…I understood on an intuitive level why people killed themselves.” (651)

Kate Gompert: “Time in the shadow of the wing of the thing too big to see, rising.” (651)

Describing: I am astonished, over and over again, at DFW’s ability to nail a description.

Marathe: “Also the living room evening resembled an anthill which had been stirred with a stick; it was too full of persons, all of the restless and loud.” (730)

Marathe about someone else: “…she laughed in the manner of an automatic weapon.” (748)

Mario about his mother’s desk: “…what looks like a skyline of file folders and books…” (760)

Hal about Keith Freer: “He was still wearing the weird unitard he slept in, which made him look like someone who tore phone books in half at a sideshow.” (908)

On story-telling: Remember the “use less words” from the previous post? Add these:

Marathe: “‘Because it is necessary that I leave soon, a central point must be soon emerging,’ Marathe worked in as gracefully as possible.”

Kate to Marathe: “Is the madly-in-love part coming up?” (779)

IMG_2254I’m realizing as of the end of the 700′s that more and more lines I would like to include might be spoilers so I have left them out.

On living in the moment: A recurrent theme.

Gately: “An endless Now stretching its gull-wings out on either side of his heartbeat…Living in the Present between pulses…living completely In The Moment.” (860)

On addiction: Everywhere to every possible thing, and I include “to this book.”

Gately: “Feeling the edge of every second that went by. Taking it a second at a time. Drawing the time in around him real tight.” (859)

Gately: “…everything unendurable was in the head, was the head not Abiding in the Present but hopping the wall and doing a recon and then returning with unendurable news you somehow believed.” (861)

Gately: “the psychic emergency-brake was off…” (906)

Gately: “…he found himself starting to cry like a babe. It came out of emotional nowheres…” (916)

OMG, I’m at the end again…

[4th in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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the germ of everything

IMG_2092Following from yesterday’s Shakespeare quote, it’s interesting to note that the first two words of Hamlet are “Who’s there?” and the first two words of Infinite Jest are “I am”. I didn’t catch this. I read it on the Infinite Summer website. If you’re planning an Infinite Autumn, or Winter for that matter, here’s the link to the schedule, where you would just need to change the dates. It translates to 11 pages a day for a season (92 days). Doable. And some non-spoiler reasons to do it:

David Foster Wallace‘s ability to describe:

“Troeltsch comes over and sits down and saws at the back of his neck with the towel…”(199)

“…this isn’t like a normal adult place where everybody coolly pretends a fart didn’t happen; here everybody had to make their little comment.” (279)

“…the no-sound of falling snow.” (342)

“post-storm sad” (389)

“My mother made a mustache of her finger to hold back a sneeze.” (499)

His use of metaphor:

“Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.” (291)

How he can extend a moment:

At the top of p. 335: “…Hal’s leaned way over to spit but has gotten lost in a paralytic thought-helix and hasn’t yet spit, even though he’s right in bombing-position over the NASA glass.” Then two pages later, “Hal finally spits.”

IMG_2254Random great lines:

Hal: “It’s funny what you don’t recall.” (10)

Marathe: “Choose your attachments carefully.” (107)

Hal: “Nothing brings you together like a common enemy.” (113)

Hal: “It’ll help your attitude to look for evidence of design.” (113)

Ortho Stice: “…it’s about how to reach down into parts of yourself you didn’t know were there and get down in there and live inside these parts.” (119)

Hal: “I want to be like that [Lyle]. Able to just sit all quiet and pull life toward me, one forehead at a time.” (128)

Himself: “…that books aren’t just dropped with a crash like bottles in the trashcan they’re placed, guided, with senses on Full, feeling the edges…” (161)

Hal: “…the Game is about managed fear.” (176)

Patricia Montesian: “But then so how come I can’t stop, if I want to stop, is the thing.”

Narrator (?): “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.” (204)

Narrator (?): “That other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid.” (204)

Did anyone else like at any time while you were reading want to tear the book apart and put it in the right order just to read it through once that way, just to get it straight, so then you could go back and just enjoy the beauty coming from the juxtaposition of the moments?

Lyle: “Do not underestimate objects!” (394)

Steeply: “The kid has to learn by his own experience how to learn to balance the short- and long-term pursuit of what he wants.” (429)

Gately: “Gately can’t even start to guess what it would be like to be a sober and drug-free biker. It’s like what would be the point.” (444)

I’m beginning to think that the germ of everything that can be written can be found in Infinite Jest.

Gately: “Use less words.” (535)

From page 535, until tomorrow…

[3rd in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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infinite autumn

IMG_2087So for those of you who are still reading–and not that there’s anything wrong with that–Infinite Summer has crossed infinite boundaries to become Infinite Autumn…(thanks for the title to Kim in a comment to yesterday’s post). And for those of you who have not yet started, please consider Infinite Autumn: 11 pages a day and you’ll be finished before the click of the clock that signals winter. Infinite Jest is a read for all seasons.

And speaking of titles:

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? [Hamlet, V.i]

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, it feels weird not to be reading IJ anymore. I sense hesitation in moving forward to a new book. I don’t want to remove IJ from “What I’m reading now” on my Reading List page or from my “Read with me now” box on my sidebar.

Hence my taking 5 posts to process being finished and letting go. As far as an overall design, I have none, I must admit, which feels a little reckless. This week I’m rereading what I have underlined and trying to get “a hold of” it.

I have read IJ only once and some parts more closely than others. I am qualified only to give my impressions of one reading with only a few instances of reference to outside sources and but I am telling you even if I missed a few days, always when I picked it back up, I was back in the story in one second and I think it’s because of the sentences.

Yesterday was an example of lyrical. Today, it’s an example of honest:

IMG_2254…when he realized that the various Substances he didn’t used to be able to go a day without absorbing hadn’t even like occurred to him in almost a week, Gately hadn’t felt so much grateful or joyful as just plain shocked. (p.349)

More tomorrow…

[2nd in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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finished

IMG_2090Well, today, Monday, September 21, 2009, is the official date on which page 981, the last page, of Infinite Jest is to be read. And I have finished. It is the end of Infinite Summer.

I am shocked at how much I loved Infinite Jest. I’d thought it would be impossible to read, and I found it the opposite of that. I had assumed (for what reason I don’t know) that it would have no plot, which is false. The plot threads are intriguing and actually do push all those pages forward. Wallace’s sentences are amazing. His tone, as he exposes all the good and bad of the way we live, is not superior, but right in there with us. His characters are revealed through their flaws and quirks, and they are real and lovable.

For the whole summer, I happily floated along on a little bit of IJ a day. It’s a little weird to be finished. As Wendy Macleod wrote in The Rumpus:

Finishing a book is like ending a love affair; the longer it’s been a part of your life, the harder it is to close the covers and walk away. You regret the parts that you read too quickly. In your eagerness to tick off pages and find out what happened next you didn’t always appreciate the elegance of the prose. You envy the next reader, the one who gets to discover the book for the first time.

How to write about a book with that many pages? Greg Carlisle did it in 500 pages in his book, Elegant Complexity. And this week, in 5 posts rather than 500 pages, I will share with you a few of my favorite things about IJ, starting with this sentence from page 5:

IMG_2254My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of the room, the bits of dust and sportcoat-lint stirred around by the AC’s vents dancing jaggedly in the slanted plane of windowlight, the air over the table like the sparkling space just above a fresh-poured seltzer.

A sentence as lyrical and lovely as it is true. We have all been in exactly that moment before, watching the bits of dust dance in the sunlight.

[1st in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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from creede

IMG_2701It’s writing group week. At this time of the year, we’re at Pam Houston‘s ranch in Creede, Colorado. There are nine of us here, two who couldn’t make it. Saturday night we arrived to a dinner of salmon, fresh corn on the cob and green beans, and tomato and basil salad. For a bunch of writers, we could not stop talking.

IMG_2622Sunday was the first workshop day–three stories. No talking by the writer; it’s just what’s on the page. Possibilities emerge that the writer often is not even able to see herself. We did interrupt a critique to watch the hail storm that lasted so long it turned the world white.

The weatheIMG_2686r doesn’t seem to want to cooperate–it’s a relentless parade of afternoon thunderstorms. We move our afternoon pasture walks to the morning.

IMG_2639IMG_2640

Horses, Irish wolfhounds, yellow

IMG_2683

aspens, bluebirds, storm clouds…

IMG_2727Moments to remember: a conversation at the table sends Pam to find a poem by Heather McHugh from Hinge & Sign, which she reads to us; a poetry talk Monday afternoon by Greg Glazner; hanging laundry on the line on Tuesday; a reading Wednesday night by Summer Wood from her just finished novel, Wrecker, breakfasts of blueberry scones, howling initiated by Liam, but joined in by almost all of us.

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the splitting sound

scarboro-house-fading_edited-1

“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.” Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

My story, “The Splitting Sound,” appears in the fall issue of Clapboard House. Here’s the first paragraph:

Across the street, I leaned against the yellow rental car. The house was smaller than I remembered, but that’s what everyone always said.  The roof needed redoing.  The gray paint was peeling.  The red door was some sort of dark color, not black exactly.  I took a breath and looked around the horseshoe street on which I’d ridden my bike every summer for eleven years.  The house was the U of the horseshoe, the inside of the U.  It was one story and took up two lots.  There was a large lawn.  A picture window in front.  It had all seemed nicer then, but I wondered if at thirteen, niceness was something I would have noticed.

wage peace

In remembrance of September 11th, 2001, this poem by Judyth Hill:

iStock_000003341160Small

WAGE PEACE

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,

imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

***

wagepeaceperfect

poster calligraphed by Mary Teichman

Judyth Hill’s six books of poetry include Men Need Space, Black Hollyhock, First Light, and A Presence of Angels. Her newest collection of poems, Dazzling Wobble is forthcoming from a TBA press in Fall, 2010, and her newest book, The Sensual Chocolatier, is forthcoming from Gibbs Smith Publishing, in Fall, 2010. “Wage Peace” is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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those were the days

It’s been a year. Yes, it has.

To celebrate–we’re going to have music.

Enjoy listening to the 10, 000 Maniacs as you read, and I’d like to thank Natalie for her congratulations at the end of the song!

I’d been thinking about starting a blog for a while, but on Wednesday, September 3, 2008, around lunchtime, I decided to just do it. By the evening of the 4th, it was up and running.

Over the last few days, I’ve been looking back at all 156 posts, and just for fun, in case I might at some point discover a “big picture” to it, I’ve listed the titles of the posts below. If there’s one theme already apparent, it’s that one thing, in so many cases, does lead to another.

I’ve added a link to some of my favorite posts, but if you see the title of another one you’d like to explore, just pop the title into the search rectangle on the sidebar or go to the archives for that month, also on the sidebar. Oh, and if you go back to any, I would love for you to leave a word or two in the comments so I’ll know you were there. Oh oh, and if you have a favorite post, I’d love to know which one it is.

IMG_1526Back in that first month, I tried to post every day to get the blog going. Doing that was useful in that it helped me determine what kind of posts I wanted to make and what kind I didn’t. For example, very quickly I determined that I didn’t enjoy just reporting facts. So that’s when I created the UPDATE section.

Over the past months, I’ve learned to loosen up a bit with my words–not think so much about them. I’ve also figured out that it’s much more fun for readers to know why I like a particular passage rather than just that I like it. So I think my posts have gotten better. Still, I think it’s in the immediate nature of blog posts that some will be better than others.

A big thank you to all my readers for reading. And a really big thank you to all those who posted the 743 comments. You have made Catching Days better than it could have been on its own. As you peruse the words below, I wish for you fond memories and new discoveries.

***

IMG_0710September 2008: catching days-the shape of things-sentences-playing with books-the day itself-that moment-two first novels-September 11th-no extra words-specious and torpid-playing with books again-twinkling leaves-until I see what I say-friday night lights-casts-sanctuary-first day of fall-like watching a house being built-the slow construction of a writing life-otherwise-like a wick-sheet rock-prosaic

IMG_0803October 2008: the doors between-life is meals-a gathering place-time going round in circles-a place for storing years-one story-all one thing-wordable awareness-collaboration and commitment-what’s in a novel-the kitten-wordsmitten-out of her head-a day in the woods-all its rich hours-circularity-family history-the last day of October

IMG_0927November 2008: the extra hour-explaining myself to myself-wordstruck-island eyes-truth in versions-who would you be-home-companion-wonder-folded-rough red brick-the yellow house-concatenate-having eaten-a mercy

IMG_1093December 2008: december 1-a good story-into the woods-something more-more than this-reading in slow motion- breathing in art-under her hand-send in the elves-maybe Christmas…-Christmas magic-the art of reading-full circle-frosting

IMG_1281January 2009: there it goes-last night-letting go of consciousness-women, why, and what-frost-frost finished-the street ran on-one book at a time?-the dawning of a new day-playing with time-the feminine mistake-beach music-dirt music

IMG_1412February 2009: word journey-row houses-russian dolls-a bent cover-February morning-a shape to view-first the facts-feeding the buzzards

IMG_1700March 2009: well…-about a marriage-it’s coming-that sinking feeling-from st. andrews-from the skies over Paris-from positano-from rome-the wash-before and after-every minute

IMG_1729April 2009: the first days of April-from seaside-from sausalito-from point reyes-four wardrobe trunks-in a lyrical way-a pattern of constant revising-Fitzgerald finale, part 1-Fitzgerald finale, part 2-out stealing horses

little red wagon-smallMay 2009: sometimes in the open-stop time-when I’m not being a mother-your little brother’s red wagon-I want something good to read-why we go back-passion and patagonia-details, details-living out loud-digging for buried treasure

IMG_2085June 2009: summer reading-summer reading II: story collections-the odd shapes of life-one thing leads to another-reading under the sky-the vagrants-how do you shelve-some people buy shoes (a prequel)-apropos-not writing books but writing in books-I’ve found a book-are we losing our senses-the story behind the post-how do you record

IMG_2254July 2009: the writer’s notebook-infinite summer-my writing room-the writer’s desk-a room with a view-how we got here from there-faces in the distemper-sixty potential first sentences-the continuous life-in real book-some days-the missing bridge

IMG_2564August 2009:A Day in the Life of Pam Houston-a kind of fugue-the space for me-a detail hunt-hot tub in a walk in closet-the music room-making order

***

As we head into year two, there’s lots more reading and writing and living to do. Also, on the first of each month we have the guest post in the “How We Spend Our Days” series to look forward to. This next twelve months, I hope that even more of you will join the conversation.

I’d like to thank the Perfectly Cursed Life for the idea for this post.

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