This isn’t the first time that I’ve learned about someone famous only after he died.

Living under a rock, as I often feel I do, I meet many creative people in their own obituaries.


Alas, Another
David Foster Wallace died in recent days.

As the New York arts critic, Richard B. Woodward, writes this weekend in The Wall Street Journal:

The news that Mr. Wallace’s obvious brilliance could not save him from
himself — he committed suicide last weekend at the age of 46 — has
stunned the legions of readers he awed and entertained. If wealth of
talent, steady productivity (eight books of fiction and nonfiction), a
MacArthur grant, and adulation from fans, critics and peers are not
enough to make life’s isolation bearable, what hope is there for the
rest of us scribblers?

Here’s the obituary from The New York Times.

I’m all too new to Wallace’s writings.
Today I heard his writing aloud from my friends and from my own mouth as Available Light [Theatre] offered a memorial reading of his work at Independents’ Day. (What a joy to work alongside such talent in a public reading.)

At the closing of today’s memorial reading, Matt Slaybaugh read these words, excerpted from Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College:

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such
thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody
worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an
outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type
thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan
mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of
ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship
will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are
where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough.
Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and
beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time
and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they
finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s
been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams,
parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the
truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel
weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep
the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you
will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found
out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They
are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually
slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what
you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that
that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from
operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money
and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and
frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present
culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded
extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to
be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of
all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of
course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is
most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside
world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important
kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and
effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to
sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways,
every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness,
the default-setting, the "rat race" — the constant gnawing sense of
having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or
grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth
with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can
think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some
finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or
religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The
capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about
making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the
head. It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and
essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep
reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.

His Words Ring So Clearly
As I enter the traditional Days of Awe, I am struck by Wallace’s words: "Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you
will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found

What a loss. Onward, we must scribble.