Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace

Waiting on Life Sucks

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.

Double-Shifting (and Boredom) Sucks

It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.

-David Foster Wallace
…one of these hideous bastards. Note the stubby and goofy looking wings.

I’m currently sitting in a van on the cargo ramp at UPS. The current time is 11:17 a.m. and my crew (consisting of about 9 people) is scheduled to unload an Airbus A300 cargo airplane due to arrive at 12:09 p.m. It’s a little less than an hour away. And what will we do in the meantime? Nothing: we sit. This is what we do at UPS. The motto tossed around to new-hires is usually this: Hurry Up and Wait. I’ve been there so long that it’s basically lost its meaning to me.

The coworker in the front seat has his phone’s volume on full-blast playing some shitty mobile game. I don’t even know what game it is or if it’s even shitty, but it’s a mobile game so it probably is shitty. Also considering the certain coworker that’s playing it leads me to think it’s certainly a shitty game. I hear the cheap sound-effects of change clinking and crowds cheering feebly spewing out of the phone’s minuscule speaker which gives the sound a tinny quality. It’s like someone rubbing crumpled aluminum foil directly on your eardrums. The coworker next to me sometimes glances over in my direction and his breath is terrible. The people in the rear of the van — a Chevy passenger van that seats about 15 people fully loaded — are small-talking that everyone does when there is nothing to actually talk about. Because silence in and of itself is terrifying and scary. Two coworkers are in the back silent ripping away on their vapes. At least they’re not bothering anyone so I give them credit for that.

I’m working the UPS day-shift this year because there is no reason not to work it. UPS is a union job so it’s all-around a pretty comfy affair. Our contract with the company dictates that anything worked over five hours in a day is time-and-a-half pay: my typical $19.95 wage skyrockets to nearly $30 after the fifth hour. In a nine-hour day we’re taking some serious money here, and because I’m bored trying to kill time and math is something fun to do, this is a gross daily pay of exactly $219.45. Holy shit. Maybe double shifting isn’t too bad after all? While the money is good it’s not my primary reason for working the extra shift in a twisted sort of way if you can believe it. I’m a bum. I don’t do anything productive. I usually sleep and write during the scheduled day-shift hours. Sometimes I play video games. There is no reason not to work because making $30 an hour is hard to pass up when you literally have nothing better to do.

My typical shift at UPS is the twilight shift, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. By doubling on days I work an 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. shift with an hour-ish lunch break in between. And why can I pick up these extra shifts around this time of year? Because I work at UPS. We deliver boxes. And it’s December. Fucking think about it. We’re being swamped by packages and UPS as a company throws around money with complete disregard simply to get people like me to stick around longer than usual, take extra shifts, and get those damn packages shipped. Mostly so the stereotypical American in the fury of Christmas Holiday shopping doesn’t become pissed that their boxes showed up a day or two late. Weeks before Christmas the Holiday itself obviously, but still they will be very upset nonetheless.

Knowing the shift was going to be terribly long and boring I brought in something to read: David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. I almost feel bad complaining about taking extra shifts where I have enough downtime to read a book, write blog posts, and get paid nearly $30 an hour to do so, but the way anyone gauges anything is from their own relative personal experiences and it’s difficult for me to see anything that pisses me off in a positive light even if it is, logically, a positive thing. I hate being bored even if $30 is being thrown at me every single hour.

I started reading the book about a month ago and became bored, yes bored, about halfway through and only recently began reading it again (curious timing, looking back on it). The major complaints about the book are that it’s boring as hell, and even throughout the book the author explains (or maybe it was in the forward?) that the book is almost meant to be boring. Wallace’s most well-known novel Infinite Jest had it’s moments where it lagged a bit, but was a much more riveting story overall. Hell, The Pale King is about IRS employees and the whole IRS being central to the story almost forces it to be a boring story. So it’s not that Wallace is just a boring writer, it seems that he made the book boring on purpose. It’s the theme of the book: boredom. While I don’t know exactly what he is trying to say about boredom, I know he is trying to say something about it. And the book forces you to face the boredom directly; it doesn’t talk about boredom as much as it forces you to live through it by boring you to death. Some chapters are so full of random boring details about forms, procedures, codes, and acronyms that it had to be a conscious choice on the author’s part. And in my current bored state of double shifting, the novel seems like the universe’s way of talking directly to me (again). I find myself immensely engaged with the story that is so bland and devoid of anything obviously purposeful at all.

I realize that what I’m scared of with my extra work hours is not being burned out, or not having enough free time, but of being bored. Something about being bored is a personal affront to my very being it seems. My normal UPS shift forces me to find things to do for sometimes literal hours, and by taking on a second shift I get to double my boredom! And in some ways it’s worse than that; by working a nine or ten-hour day my phone inevitably dies. No writing. No blogging. No social media. No music. No internet. Nothing. Sometimes the work is so chaotic that the boredom comes in bursts here and there and doesn’t allow you enough time to sit down, relax, think, read, or grasp onto your fading sanity. It’s work just to stop minutes later. And then work again. And then stop. It’s Hurry Up and Wait. Let’s also not forget the one or two-hour lunch wedged in between the shifts either. Not enough time to go home and relax but long enough where you can’t sit around at work. Hence me grabbing McDonald’s, sitting in a parking lot at the end of runway 25 at KRFD and watching planes take-off and land. Like this:

And reading the book I run into this, the end of which I quoted at the top of this post:

The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breath, so to speak, without air.

The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable. I met, in the years 1984 and ’85, two such men.

It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.

-D.F.W., The Pale King

The universe compels me to listen to what it’s trying to tell me. Apparently this time the universe works through the dead author David Foster Wallace and his unfinished novel The Pale King. And if Wallace in his boring-ass book is right, and if double shifting is as torturingly boring as it is so far, well, it looks like I’m well on my way to success, maybe even enlightenment. The key to modern life! I’m going to learn to be bored. To be okay with it. To sit for hours and hours in an airplane cross-legged and perfectly at peace being the embodiment of boredom. Totally fine staring out at the twinkling runway and taxiway lights that appear as bright, vivid, twinkling stars strewn over the ground admiring them endlessly.

(Closing Note: I was trying to make this more of an “update post” but was carried away with my mindset for the day. I wrote the post while bored and just went with it and it ended quite differently than how I originally intended it to end. So I guess this is the “update part” just tacked onto the end. I’m working a bunch of hours. I probably won’t be very active on here unless I knock some stuff out on the weekends and schedule them to post on the weekdays. I can write on my phone just fine, but I can’t edit or post. This also explains the “thanks guys!” post on Sunday. December probably won’t have any record blog views because of this yearly hell I live through; posting will surely suffer. I also might not be very active commenting on other people’s blogs. So if I disappear it isn’t because I forgot about you, it’s because I’m bored and I can’t help being bored and I have no escape from the boredom.)