David Foster Wallace's death has had a profound effect on me. I don't know why, precisely. I tried to put it into words here:
I’ve been trying to figure out for the last two days why David Foster Wallace’s death has hit me so hard. Though I met him on a couple of occasions through the years, I can’t say I knew him in the least. And though I’ve never considered myself a huge fan of his work, I’ve nonetheless read all of his books, have taught his stories and essays and always admired the fearlessness in his prose, his willingness to take whatever chance he wanted on the page. But I think there is something more at work here in my sadness for a man I never knew and wouldn’t presume to know simply by reading his work. Maybe it’s that he’s the first from what I consider my generation of writers to die and that it wasn’t by virtue of fate, but by his own hand, which makes it all the more tragic. Here was a man who wrote lucidly both about the glory and absurdity of life but also the crushing weight of depression, who had the ability to distil both hope and disconsolate sadness often in the same (very long) sentence. There is no question that David Foster Wallace was a writer of immense intellect with a gift unlike few who came before him and few who will come after him and attempt to parrot his style, though I can’t help but wonder where that style would have taken him in his later years, when the absurdity of the world he created in fiction finally caught up to real life. Or maybe that’s where he found himself already. Though it’s folly to try to make sense of chaos — he’s dead, finally, and the greatest sadness shouldn’t belong to our — my — selfish desire for more of his stories, but for his wife and his family and friends who knew him and not merely his words.
But even still, it's not quite what I feel. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's a kind of kinship -- I think anyone who ruminates on the mysteries of life and death and obsession and puts them down onto the page has entertained the thoughts David Foster Wallace conveyed in his own work. Or maybe it's the amount of time I've spent pondering, in print and in mind, the things that make people see only the dead end of things. Or maybe it's more simple than that: He was so young! He had a wife! A family! David Gates, one of my professors at Bennington, wrote a lovely essay in Newsweek, and his final paragraph elucidates much that I am unable to:
We'll never get that third novel now—had he even started one?—so we'll have to take Wallace's achievement as it is, not as we might have wanted it to be. Is it enough? No. But would it ever have been enough? He sought to empty out the infinite within himself—a heroically hopeless enterprise. "What if all the infinitely dense and shifting worlds of stuff inside you every moment of your life turned out now to be somehow fully open and expressible afterward, after what you think of as you has died," the narrator of "Good Old Neon" speculates in his last moments, "because what if afterward now each moment itself is an infinite sea or passage of time in which to express it or convey it . . . ?" It's the writer's version of the Beatific Vision—and it sounds like a lot of work. "The rest is silence," says the dying Hamlet—these are his last words to us. But Wallace was no quietist: in his writing, at least, he never stopped wrestling with the "terrible master" in his own skull. Even beyond this life, he seems to have found silence unimaginable.
Finally, I think about my dear friend Barbara Seranella who died last year after three liver transplants, but whose email address I can't seem to erase from my address book and who I still think I see in Target every other time I'm there, and the essay she wrote in the LA Times just weeks before she died, when she knew well that she likely would. Her hope in the face of a near certain future is one I wish I had, that I wish all who choose to leave early could find:
So I am the lucky one. Odd as this might sound, I wouldn't change a thing. I earned my suffering and the wisdom attached.
That said, I am ready to carry those lessons forward into the future. Please Mr. Wizard, I want to go home. I am ready to be healthy again. I am having another transplant soon. It will restore my health. I will no longer have yellow eyeballs, or hippopotamus legs. I will have the stamina to stay awake all day and play with my friends and my dog. I will travel and not need a wheelchair. I will be a sightseer in my own town and take walking tours of Los Angeles. I have never seen the Watts Tower or Disney Hall. I will go treasure hunting at the beach and maybe try to learn salsa dancing.
Oh, the places I'll go and the things I'll do. I can't wait. Bring on the new year.