The number of days on which I miss David Foster Wallace continues to grow. Some things seem to leave flowers on the private involuntary intellectual shrine inside my head. Sleepless nights I rip petals like pages from this place, and they crumple into some painful repository where failing writers mourn and envy their heroes. I don’t like envy. In a generous artistic utopia, there is only inspiration and joy. The muse has no favorites, no competitions or prizes, certainly no leagues or playoff games, no MVPs.
I think it is the Foster in his name that rings some archetypal bell for me. It made him soft and beautiful. Maybe for him it was the noose. He loved his mother. I can’t imagine her pain—this boy who loved dogs. She couldn’t save him.
I met a young painter today who is trying already, at the age of 27, to repaint. Don’t waste the muse, I wanted to say. Save repainting for your old age, when you are out of ideas and swimming in paint and hindsight. But he is young, and it’s pretentious and immature to give advice, especially when you are a loser, as my own son claims. You see, you can be a loser even when you don’t play, even when you don’t know what winning is, nor do you ask for it, nor do you want it. But as DFW taught me, losing can be winning. What’s the difference, really? And once the noise of the crowd dies down, then what? Who’s in your bed when you get home? Someone who understands why you rip petals from the literary flower and chant silent syllables like Foster, Saramago, Fernando? How could he leave his dogs, with their neuroses and problems? I, too, consider the lobster. I was born this way, too.
Instead, I sympathized with the painter for his difficult choice of profession. After all, a pretty girl can buy some great new dress, put it on, go straight to a bar and get all kinds of complimentary feedback. She can get her drinks paid for, entice a future husband or even a psychotic stalker. The painter will spend years learning to paint, and months trying to finish a canvas which he will then have to beg people to see. And even then, he lacks the distance and depth to separate his egotistical need for beauty from what is good. In six more months, he will realize, if he is good, that it sucks. My young painter today who is so young ventured to assure me that it’s lonely at the top.
My writer friend spent most of our coffee time today talking about her hair. She’s had this Brazilian treatment which turned her unappealing mop of frizz into a sleek, appealing silhouette. $1,200. Try it, she urged. I had to promise I’d consult her stylist. Apparently there is a scholarship or hair university which allows students to experiment on the less privileged, at a huge discount. I filled out an online form, describing with scrupulous accuracy my hair texture on a humid day at the end of a week without washing or conditioning, including several outdoor rock and roll performances, a few unprotected hours in Manhattan rain, a 98-degree day and maybe some stray beer spray from a rowdy late-night. I got the email today informing me I was unqualified. The ivy league, Harvard-accepted head of hair was unsuitable for their trainee-transformations. Kind of the way the drug companies reject really sick people for their clinical trials because it makes their results look bad.
So what I did tell the painter, at the end of his soliloquy, was that I so admired his life choice, even if he might spend an entire career to arrive at the threshold of failure. Not even get to go through the door. Because who are the winners and losers here, now that art is a business, music is a sport, writing...well, writing is maybe for losers. Who reads anyway... and as my neighbor the editor warned me last week, why would anyone want to be published in this environment? I choose not to answer rhetorical questions these days, even though or maybe because I heard my son explaining –'Mom, L— doesn’t know what a rhetorical question is...'
And when the painter and I said goodbye, me promising to come to his studio...I corrected him... Actually, it’s lonely at the bottom.
Wherever you are, I hope you are not lonely, David Foster Wallace. I hope you never know about the death of your dogs or anyone else. I hope you are not missing winning or anyone the way I miss things—maybe everything, in a way—even losing.