Sometimes I’m surprised at how the puzzle pieces of life and meaning somehow come together when you least expect them to. You’ll find yourself in a period of total chaos and depression only to come out into a field of meaning where the chaos and depression somehow seem to make sense, like it was all planned out in a way, like it was something you had to go through. Like there is some masterful person or entity behind the scenes controlling everything. I don’t know if I buy into the idea of “fate,” at least a strong version of it, but sometimes I catch myself wondering. I somehow stumble into the just the right music or song, find myself reading the perfect book, or talking to just the right person I need to be talking to. And I find myself wondering if this is all due to pure chance — am I just really lucky? — or if it all means something.
I’ve heard about David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water” a long time ago. I was reading Infinite Jest years ago consuming all sorts of things about Wallace on the internet. I knew about “This is Water,” but whatever, I didn’t pay much attention to it because it was a speech, a commencement speech from 2005, and I didn’t give a damn to check it out. How impactful can a speech be even if it is sometimes noted as one of the best speeches given in recent memory? I never got around to it. Until last week that is. The universe aligns and I hear the perfect thing I need to hear as I always somehow do.
Here’s a link to it. It’s about 22 minutes long, not a quick little video, but seriously, it hits hard the entire way through. It’s a perfect mixture of being completely soul-crushingly depressing but somehow uplifting. Give it a watch; I highly recommend it. I’ve watched it three or four times in the past week; it almost has a religious importance and truthfulness to it, at least in my opinion.
It’s classic David Foster Wallace. I’m always stressing the importance of main themes in artists’ work (because you get a glimpse into their soul), and Wallace’s work is no different. I already went on quite a bit about being bored at work reading The Pale King and there certainly are themes embedded in both. Wallace is obsessed with boredom and depression. (It is notable that he talks about suicide and how “most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger”: he ended his life three years after he made this speech. Themes in his art aren’t just words or oblique ideas; he’s personally struggling with all of these topics.) The total pointlessness that is everyday life. The fact that life isn’t especially bad for most of us and boredom is seen as a nuisance instead of the Real Problem; surviving the boredom is maybe the primary challenge in life. Learning to live with boredom, uselessness, and pointlessness day in and day out for most of your life. Sitting through the hours and days of nothingness somehow keeping your soul intact despite the banality of everyday life.
Wallace does pull himself back from the brink of making the speech utterly depressing by noting that we all have the option to control what we think about. Even if life is soul-crushingly terrifyingly boring and pointless, we can control our thoughts. We can learn to deal with it. I think that’s what made this so profound to me: it’s not me being bored and too lazy to do anything — countless other people feel the same way — it’s up to me (and everyone) to control how I view and process the boring meaningless world I find myself in. It almost has an underlying current of Buddhism to it, this focus on the problem maybe being in your head and not with everyone else. The world is fucked up, but you can’t do much to change that fact. You get stuck in traffic and what do you do? Get pissed at everyone else or learn to process this totally stupid problem to where it doesn’t bother you so much? The choice is clear. You are the only one in control of you.
I didn’t want to go on endlessly about the speech and only wanted it as an introduction to this post, but it’s a really long introduction apparently. As I said, everything links together in some utterly complex puzzle where one idea bleeds into the other. I’m bored right now, I feel like I’m waiting on life itself, and I couldn’t help but link my mood to the speech I listened to last week.
I’m always amazed at how life, when you look back at the past, you only see a tiny handful of notable events to define the years. I remember graduating college, high school, and getting a my pilot’s licenses. I think of a handful of notable times with friends that seem to define everything even if they are just memories of a few hours. This is how it is with everything. I remember starting my job, and transferring to a new shift, and a few other “big memories” but other than that it’s all I have memory-wise to account for 14 years working UPS. It seems my entire 33-year-long life is defined by a tiny amount of memories. What happened to everything else? Was it all so pointless as to not be remembered?
The natural question to ask is “why?” And I don’t know the answer to it. Life is lived moment by moment but we don’t remember a damn thing about the day-to-day struggles we all go through. I won’t remember typing this. I won’t remember the hours I’ve slaved away trying to write my books. If one of them does somehow “make it” by selling thousands and millions of copies, I’ll only remember that one final event with everything else being a blur. I’ll remember “the success” part. This already happened with my Options Trading Book even if it isn’t successful at all. I don’t remember writing a damn bit of it; all I have are vague and miserable memories of trying to edit the damn thing. But I do clearly remember hitting the “Publish” button (or whatever it’s officially called on Amazon) and knowing that I finally finished it.
It always feels like I’m waiting around for one of these singular, life-defining moments to happen, being trapped in a banal purgatory in the meantime until something does occur. Thursday seems to be especially bad for this. Trying to have patience with the process that is life. Forcing out another blog post like it’s one boring stride in a long marathon. Pissing away the next three hours until I have to go to work. Pissing time away at work trying desperately to pass time until the next notable thing happens. Waiting for a paycheck. Waiting for the next therapy appointment. Always waiting.
I was complaining to a friend about how much I FUCKING HATE WRITING and she said something like “appreciate the process.” It’s hard to do though, but I have been trying to do just that, not only in regards to writing but with life in general. Trying to think that every day isn’t really pointless because it all leads somewhere. You need to take the thousands of boring, unanalyzed, mindless steps in a marathon to actually get somewhere. This blog post is just like that, a step in a process, and I’m really trying to love the process that I’m in. This is life. I’m sitting here typing, listening to music, and after that’s done I’ll wander off and do the next thing I need to do. This is the power that David Foster Wallace found so integral to surviving life in our current age in “This is Water.” The power to choose what you think and how you think. Is life just passing time until the next “big thing” happens? No. Is everyday life boring and stupid and torturous most of the time? Yes. But here I am, typing because there really is no choice. Learn to love the process. Learn to love and appreciate the day-to-day struggles everyone goes through chasing their goals or simply living their lives to the best of the their abilities.