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Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

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Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace Cover

ISBN13: 9780307592439
ISBN10: 030759243x
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Review-A-Day

"Looking back over Wallace's corpus, you notice plenty of heartbreaking observations and nods to the depression that would ultimately claim his life. We owe it to ourselves not to ignore those — Wallace's writing illuminates the painful truth that life can be unbearable." Michael O'Donnell, Washington Monthly (Read the entire Washington Monthly review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

"If you can think of times in your life that you've treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it's probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we're here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious." David Foster Wallace

An indelible portrait of David Foster Wallace, by turns funny and inspiring, based on a five-day trip with award-winning writer David Lipsky during Wallace's Infinite Jest tour.

In David Lipsky's view, David Foster Wallace was the best young writer in America. Wallace's pieces for Harper's magazine in the '90s were, according to Lipsky, "like hearing for the first time the brain voice of everybody I knew: Here was how we all talked, experienced, thought. It was like smelling the damp in the air, seeing the first flash from a storm a mile away. You knew something gigantic was coming."

Then Rolling Stone sent Lipsky to join Wallace on the last leg of his book tour for Infinite Jest, the novel that made him internationally famous. They lose to each other at chess. They get iced-in at an airport. They dash to Chicago to catch a make-up flight. They endure a terrible reader's escort in Minneapolis. Wallace does a reading, a signing, an NPR appearance. Wallace gives in and imbibes titanic amounts of hotel television (what he calls an"orgy of spectation"). They fly back to Illinois, drive home, walk Wallace's dogs. Amid these everyday events, Wallace tells Lipsky remarkable things — everything he can about his life, how he feels, what he thinks, what terrifies and fascinates and confounds him — in the writing voice Lipsky had come to love. Lipsky took notes, stopped envying him, and came to feel about him — that grateful, awake feeling — the same way he felt about Infinite Jest. Then Lipsky heads to the airport, and Wallace goes to a dance at a Baptist church.

A biography in five days, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is David Foster Wallace as few experienced this great American writer. Told in his own words, here is Wallace's own story, and his astonishing, humane, alert way of looking at the world; here are stories of being a young writer — of being young generally — trying to knit together your ideas of who you should be and who other people expect you to be, and of being young in March of 1996. And of what it was like to be with and — as he tells it — what it was like to become David Foster Wallace.

Review:

"Lipsky (Absolutely American, 2003) vividly and incisively sets the before-and-after scenes for this revelatory oral history...Wallace is radiantly present in this intimate portrait, a generous and refined work that will sustain Wallace's masterful and innovative books long into the future." Booklist

Review:

"It's a road picture, a love story, a contest: two talented, brilliant young men with literary ambitions, and their struggle to understand one another." Maria Bustillos, www.theawl.com

Review:

"Exhilarating...All that's left now are the words on the page — and on the pages of Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, too, with the voices they conjure of two writers talking, talking, talking as they drive through the night." Laura Miller, Salon

Synopsis:

An indelible portrait of David Foster Wallace, by turns funny and inspiring, based on a five-day trip with award-winning writer Lipsky during Wallace's Infinite Jest tour.

Synopsis:

US

Synopsis:

first day

david’s house

tuesday before class

in the living room, playing chess

his dogs slinking back and forth over carpet

3/5/96

 

You were saying about the tour that while we travel, “I need to know that

anything that I ask you fi ve minutes later to not put in, you won’t put in.”

 

Given my level of fatigue and fuck- up quotient lately, it’s the only

way I can see doin’ it and not going crazy.

 

[Drone—he’s got two dogs—is chewing on the chair David sits in.

He now has an unlisted phone number, because of fans.]

 

I don’t know if “fan” would be the right word . . .

 

[Looking at bookcases . . . He had a board out, and is eager to play.

So we are playing chess.]

 

I think when I was twenty- five this was what I wanted. But . . . I

don’t mind it now. I mean, I’m proud of the book, I’m glad the

book is getting attention. Stuff about me is (a) makes me uncomfortable

and (b) is bad for me, because it makes me self- conscious

when I write. And I do not need to be more self- conscious. Oh,

fuck me! It takes a while for me to get in a groove. I honestly don’t

know what’s gonna sort of eventuate here. Well, fuck! (Looking at

the board)

Little, Brown bought both the hardcover and the softcover rights

at the same time. I think I could make a lot if I took an advance for

the next thing, but I can’t do that, so . . .

 

[He’s not interested in money for next novels, which friends have

said is the wisest course. I talk about my own friends—people

he knows too—who arranged deals while touring for successful

books.]

 

That’s incredible. I’ve got this thing where I just can’t take money

for something till it’s done. So I’m sort of screwed about that stuff.

(Slow, Southernish voice) I’ve been burnt on this before, I just can’t

do it.

I had no choice on this book, it was sort of under way. There was

so much research I had to do, that I literally could not teach and do

it at the same time. So I decided to eat it, and do it. But it would have

been a lot more fun if I hadn’t taken any money for it.

 

[He’s playing pop radio, the local college station. I haven’t heard this

song in so much time: INXS, “It’s the One Thing.” David nods, says

he loves their song “Don’t Change.”]

 

You know, I went through such a bad time in my twenties. Thinking

like, Oh no, I’m this genius writer, everything I do’s gotta be ingenious,

blah blah blah blah, and bein’ so shut down and miserable for

three or four years. That it’s worth any amount of money to me, not

to go there again. And I’m aware that that sounds maybe Pollyannaish

or sound- bitish. But it’s actually just the truth.

I was twenty- eight years old, and that means not taking an ad-

vance for stuff before it’s done. And it’s money well spent as far as

I’m concerned.

 

Aware of your fame here?

 

The grad students are vaguely aware I think.

 

They must follow it?

 

I think kids in the Midwest are different than kids on the East Coast.

I think Time and Newsweek are fairly inescapable. So I think they

kinda know. I’m sort of so nasty when they start talking about that

stuff in class that I think I’ve scared them into just leaving it alone.

 

Why?

 

Because it’s toxic to them and it’s toxic to me. That class is my

uh—I’m there to learn, not to talk about my own stuff. And I’m

there . . . when I’m teaching, I’m there as a reader, not a writer. And

the more—it’s extremely unpleasant, the more, uh, the more I’m

there in a kind of writerly persona . . .

There’s this weird scam in creative writing workshops that

somehow the teacher’s gonna teach you how—they’re gonna be

able to teach you how to do exactly what it is they do. Which is why

these programs try to pack themselves with the best- known and

most- respected writers. (“Wraters”) As if how good a writer you

are and how good a teacher you are have anything to do with each

other. I don’t think so. I know too many really good writers who are

shitty teachers, and vice versa, to think that. I think that the teaching

. . . well, the teaching has helped my own writing a lot . . . So

maybe I don’t think that anymore. But the writers are often interested

in preserving as much of their own time as they can.

 

[Hums while he plays chess: not tremendously good at chess; strong,

however, at humming.]

 

Well, that really didn’t do a whole heck of a lot for me, did it?

Shit. All right, we’ve got time for one more move each and then

we have to leave. I’ve got to brush my teeth.

I took the job for the health insurance. [Illinois State University]

 

[Bathroom cabinet: lots of tubes of Topol. (He’s a smoker.)

 

Dogs: Drone is “A provisional dog, he just showed up once while

we were jogging,” they took him on.]

 

Some kind of weird, “I’ve made a terrible mistake with my life, I

need to be selling insurance in Oshkosh” sort of feeling. [We’re talking

about John Barth, and other writers who’ve gotten in trouble. A

sudden in- the- wrong- place sense. An anxiety he felt before Infi nite

Jest.] I think that happens to a lot of writers.

 

[Went to Arizona State University. Edward Abbey was there . . . Robert

Boswell helped him more than anybody . . . ]

 

I was so in thrall to Barth I just knew it would be sort of a grotesque

thing. [Why he couldn’t and didn’t go to Hopkins. He patterned the

longest part of his second book after Barth.]

 

• • •

 

in car, my rented grand am

en route to class

 

This is the thing—you’re gonna have to sit around, you can’t even be

in the office, because I’m gonna have to yell at a lot of people. I have

to cut it short: just because we’ve gotta get up at five in the morning.

This is what’s fucked: it’s that, these poor kids, I haven’t been

around for two weeks. And they all are gonna have various deals to

discuss. [So sensitive about all performance] I’m usually a much

better teacher than this. I swear to God.

 

Like doing readings?

 

No.

 

You were good.

 

Thanks. Tower Books—that’s not one I was particularly pleased with.

I get so nervous beforehand, and the nervousness is so unpleasant,

that that’s what I dislike. And I don’t think my stuff reads out loud

very well. And I think I come off looking like a maniac. Mainly I’m

doing what they blew up to larger type size. I give like one or two

readings in colleges a year. I gave ’em ten things and they blew up

five of them.

I read something (“sumpin’ ”) different at Tower just because

this unbelievably cute girl from Spin magazine was there, and she

didn’t want to hear the same thing twice, so I totally trashed the

plan. (He laughs.) And I never saw her again.

 

[The writer Elizabeth Wurtzel was at David’s KGB reading—a kind

of Brezhnev- and- Pravda- themed bar in Lower Manhattan. She was

standing right up front. We turn out to both know Elizabeth.]

 

I don’t know how Elizabeth—Liz got like the best seat in the house,

using skills I think only Elizabeth has. Ah, she’s real nice. She’s a

good egg. Good egg.

When you’re eighteen, you realize that—there’s also a part of us

that wants to be the president. And there’s also a part that wants to

fuck every attractive person of the gender of our choice. I mean, you

know . . . Just, I think she’s gotta be more—it’s not an accident that

she’s depressed all the time. I don’t know. Maybe I just project all

kinds of weird stuff onto her . . .

 

• • •

 

david’s class

class: “advanced prose”

 

[Doesn’t want a tape. Is comfortable with note- taking.]

 

Fluorescents, desks, steel wastepaper cans, boot smell, sweater

smell, clock on wall, big table that David doesn’t sit much behind.

Fifteen students. Women sit, as at an old- line synagogue, slightly

apart from men. David wearing Fryes, blue bandanna. Carrying Diet

Pepsi.

 

Dave has noticed some surprising student errors this week.

 

Dave: Before we start, let’s do a moment of Grammar Rock.

 

They laugh. He’s the ideal, the professor you hope for: lightning

writer, modern references, charming and funny and firm.

The students know another thing: he’s become, their

bandanna- wearing teacher, during these past three weeks a suddenly

celebrated man. And they want somehow to acknowledge it.

 

Student 1: Done being famous yet?

 

Dave: (Blush smile) Two more minutes.

 

Kid from back, suddenly: I knew him well, Horatio—a man of

Infinite Jest . . .

 

Dave: OK, you’re allowed one reference.

 

Quick chatter about his media appearances. It’s exciting; a piece of

their private life—this room and class—has gone suddenly public.

 

Student 2, female: I love the way the Trib described your office.

 

Student 3, female: Did you wind up, like, next to Dick Vitale and

Hillary Clinton?

 

Dave says he got real nervous on the fl ights, kept picturing grave

etc., from tour.

 

Student 4: Just put pepperoni and mushrooms on my Tombstone.

 

(A take- out, grocery pizza sort of joke.)

 

Dave: The words “pop quiz” is what’s good about that.

They talk about his magazine photos. Dave blushes more.

 

Dave: I didn’t think, I didn’t think—you can see my smiling maw. I

thought, “Really? Is that me?”

 

Dave fishes out a Styrofoam cup after pawing through two wastebaskets,

for someplace to put his chewing tobacco. Is also drinking

a Diet Pepsi.

Class begins with a jump from celebrity into the supernormal,

the administrative.

 

Dave: Office hours next week. Bring light reading material, if you

have to wait in the hallway.

 

Begins work on student stories.

 

Dave: (Offering Very Sensible advice. Lots of jobs for fiction, you

have to keep track of twelve different things—characters, plot,

sound, speed.) But the job of the first eight pages is not to have

the reader want to throw the book at the wall, during the first

eight pages.

 

He paces around the classroom. Happy, energetic. At one point,

thinking, he even drops into a quick knee bend. Class laughs; they

really like him.

 

Dave: I know—I get real excited, and now I’m squatting.

 

First story: by pretty student with a Rosanna Arquette mouth. Dave

on story, always using TV: “I submit, it’s kinda like a Sam and Diane

thing. Or When Harry Met Sally.

 

Classroom fluorescents flicker on and off, quiet fl ashes. Dave

glances up.

 

Another story he likes: it’s very open, but needs to be controlled.

“This is just a head kinda vomiting at us . . .”

Less likable story: “This is just a campus romance story.

And to the average civilian, I’ve gotta tell you, this is not that

interesting . . .”

 

Now at desk. Craning up and down when discussion and story

get him excited.

The student being workshopped is a punkish guy: mohawk,

silver- and- yellow collar.

 

Dave: It’s really hard to create a narrator who’s alive. Take it from me.

 

Students: How?

 

Dave’s advice is a kind of comedy, and makes them laugh.

 

Dave: To have the narrator be funny and smart, have him say funny,

smart things some of the time.

 

He makes a flub, says quickly, “Brain fart.”

He stops for a second. Holds steady. “Excuse me, I’m about to

burp.”

His delivery is darting and graceful: the Astaire quality of good

teaching.

 

On the campus romance story. “The great dread of creative writing

professors: ‘Their eyes met over the keg . . . ’ ”

The key to writing is learning to differentiate private interest

from public entertainment. One aid is, you’re supposed to get less

self- interested as you age. But, “I think I am more self- absorbed

at thirty- four than twenty- three. Because if it’s interesting to me, I

automatically imagine it’s interesting to you. I could spend a half

hour telling you about my trip to the store, but that might not be as

interesting to you as it is to me.”

Reminds the class, as it breaks. Notebooks closing, bookbags rising

from floor to desktop. Ruckle noises, kids standing. The week’s

two lessons.

 

Dave: Never—don’t go there: “Their eyes met across the keg . . . ”

And “What’s interesting to me may not be to you.”

 

Still in good, buzzed- up mood after. Brings me a water to drink.

 

Dave: Where would you be without me?

I hope it’s not that same tobacco- Styrofoam cup.

 

• • •

 

isu hallway

talking to colleagues after class

 

“Was it a success?” [Colleagues ask about Infinite Jest tour.]

No vegetables were thrown, so I consider it a success.

I just made enough money to live off it for a couple of years, so

that’s good.

About the Author

David Lipsky is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper'sMagazine, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Magazine Writing, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. He contributes as an essayist to NPR's All Things Considered, and is the recipient of a Lambert Fellowship, a Media Award from GLAAD, and a National Magazine Award. He's the author of the novel The Art Fair, a collection of stories, Three Thousand Dollars, and the bestselling nonfiction book Absolutely American, which was a Time magazine Best Book of the Year.

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

Dennis Miller, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Dennis Miller)
Further insight into David Foster Wallace is never a bad thing. The road trip takes place back in the mid-90's, at the height of DFW's non-fiction buzz, and, I believe, shortly before the epic Infinite Jest came out. Reading "Although of Course" reminds me to make sure to read all of DFW's works.
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meanprofessor, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by meanprofessor)
It's great to hear Wallace's voice, usually lost in footnotes in his own texts, in Lipsky's book.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
stepwolfgang, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by stepwolfgang)
David Foster Wallace hung himself after a long battle with depression and the medication he hated to take for the illness. I wanted to read an interview that was off the cuff so to speak and this book seemed to fit this criterion. The book is interesting for what is not said than what is said. The book store readings, the plane trips, the car journeys and the conversations between the authors, David Lipsky with Wallace at his home in Bloomington, Illinois. Lipsky writing the piece for rolling stone magazine is wrapped by Wallace in this mantel of interloper with a tape recorder so conversation spills out, fills the over three hundred page book but what does one learn about Wallace? He has an obsession with TV, he chews tobacco and spits in plastic cups, he sweats a lot, he discovered the on/off switch on Lipsky’s recorder, he loves a pair of large dogs and I found all this interesting but the problem here is that the words does not arrive spontaneously but re-digested through Lipsky the reporter. He so wants the reader to know just how much he worships Wallace (or it seems so to me) and so at times he allows Wallace to stop the recorder at moments where there seemed to be some new thought or disturbing summation near the precipice of chaos. Perhaps Wallace knowing the chaotic thoughts of his mental illness wants needs to block the demons of helter-skelter before they take over his delicate writing instrument which allowed the creation of his oeuvre. On September 12, 2008 the repressed demons (by will or medication) make life unbearable for Wallace but as Lipsky illuminates there were delicate moments of both irony and joy as they traveled together and in the end becoming themselves.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307592439
Author:
Lipsky, David
Publisher:
Broadway Books
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Biography-Literary
Subject:
non-fiction;biography;memoir;writing;interviews;road trip;literature;1990s;journalism
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20100431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
9.36x6.16x1.10 in. 1.10 lbs.

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Related Subjects

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Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace Used Trade Paper
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$11.95 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Broadway Books - English 9780307592439 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "Looking back over Wallace's corpus, you notice plenty of heartbreaking observations and nods to the depression that would ultimately claim his life. We owe it to ourselves not to ignore those — Wallace's writing illuminates the painful truth that life can be unbearable." (Read the entire Washington Monthly review)
"Review" by , "Lipsky (Absolutely American, 2003) vividly and incisively sets the before-and-after scenes for this revelatory oral history...Wallace is radiantly present in this intimate portrait, a generous and refined work that will sustain Wallace's masterful and innovative books long into the future."
"Review" by , "It's a road picture, a love story, a contest: two talented, brilliant young men with literary ambitions, and their struggle to understand one another."
"Review" by , "Exhilarating...All that's left now are the words on the page — and on the pages of Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, too, with the voices they conjure of two writers talking, talking, talking as they drive through the night."
"Synopsis" by , An indelible portrait of David Foster Wallace, by turns funny and inspiring, based on a five-day trip with award-winning writer Lipsky during Wallace's Infinite Jest tour.
"Synopsis" by , US
"Synopsis" by , first day

david’s house

tuesday before class

in the living room, playing chess

his dogs slinking back and forth over carpet

3/5/96

 

You were saying about the tour that while we travel, “I need to know that

anything that I ask you fi ve minutes later to not put in, you won’t put in.”

 

Given my level of fatigue and fuck- up quotient lately, it’s the only

way I can see doin’ it and not going crazy.

 

[Drone—he’s got two dogs—is chewing on the chair David sits in.

He now has an unlisted phone number, because of fans.]

 

I don’t know if “fan” would be the right word . . .

 

[Looking at bookcases . . . He had a board out, and is eager to play.

So we are playing chess.]

 

I think when I was twenty- five this was what I wanted. But . . . I

don’t mind it now. I mean, I’m proud of the book, I’m glad the

book is getting attention. Stuff about me is (a) makes me uncomfortable

and (b) is bad for me, because it makes me self- conscious

when I write. And I do not need to be more self- conscious. Oh,

fuck me! It takes a while for me to get in a groove. I honestly don’t

know what’s gonna sort of eventuate here. Well, fuck! (Looking at

the board)

Little, Brown bought both the hardcover and the softcover rights

at the same time. I think I could make a lot if I took an advance for

the next thing, but I can’t do that, so . . .

 

[He’s not interested in money for next novels, which friends have

said is the wisest course. I talk about my own friends—people

he knows too—who arranged deals while touring for successful

books.]

 

That’s incredible. I’ve got this thing where I just can’t take money

for something till it’s done. So I’m sort of screwed about that stuff.

(Slow, Southernish voice) I’ve been burnt on this before, I just can’t

do it.

I had no choice on this book, it was sort of under way. There was

so much research I had to do, that I literally could not teach and do

it at the same time. So I decided to eat it, and do it. But it would have

been a lot more fun if I hadn’t taken any money for it.

 

[He’s playing pop radio, the local college station. I haven’t heard this

song in so much time: INXS, “It’s the One Thing.” David nods, says

he loves their song “Don’t Change.”]

 

You know, I went through such a bad time in my twenties. Thinking

like, Oh no, I’m this genius writer, everything I do’s gotta be ingenious,

blah blah blah blah, and bein’ so shut down and miserable for

three or four years. That it’s worth any amount of money to me, not

to go there again. And I’m aware that that sounds maybe Pollyannaish

or sound- bitish. But it’s actually just the truth.

I was twenty- eight years old, and that means not taking an ad-

vance for stuff before it’s done. And it’s money well spent as far as

I’m concerned.

 

Aware of your fame here?

 

The grad students are vaguely aware I think.

 

They must follow it?

 

I think kids in the Midwest are different than kids on the East Coast.

I think Time and Newsweek are fairly inescapable. So I think they

kinda know. I’m sort of so nasty when they start talking about that

stuff in class that I think I’ve scared them into just leaving it alone.

 

Why?

 

Because it’s toxic to them and it’s toxic to me. That class is my

uh—I’m there to learn, not to talk about my own stuff. And I’m

there . . . when I’m teaching, I’m there as a reader, not a writer. And

the more—it’s extremely unpleasant, the more, uh, the more I’m

there in a kind of writerly persona . . .

There’s this weird scam in creative writing workshops that

somehow the teacher’s gonna teach you how—they’re gonna be

able to teach you how to do exactly what it is they do. Which is why

these programs try to pack themselves with the best- known and

most- respected writers. (“Wraters”) As if how good a writer you

are and how good a teacher you are have anything to do with each

other. I don’t think so. I know too many really good writers who are

shitty teachers, and vice versa, to think that. I think that the teaching

. . . well, the teaching has helped my own writing a lot . . . So

maybe I don’t think that anymore. But the writers are often interested

in preserving as much of their own time as they can.

 

[Hums while he plays chess: not tremendously good at chess; strong,

however, at humming.]

 

Well, that really didn’t do a whole heck of a lot for me, did it?

Shit. All right, we’ve got time for one more move each and then

we have to leave. I’ve got to brush my teeth.

I took the job for the health insurance. [Illinois State University]

 

[Bathroom cabinet: lots of tubes of Topol. (He’s a smoker.)

 

Dogs: Drone is “A provisional dog, he just showed up once while

we were jogging,” they took him on.]

 

Some kind of weird, “I’ve made a terrible mistake with my life, I

need to be selling insurance in Oshkosh” sort of feeling. [We’re talking

about John Barth, and other writers who’ve gotten in trouble. A

sudden in- the- wrong- place sense. An anxiety he felt before Infi nite

Jest.] I think that happens to a lot of writers.

 

[Went to Arizona State University. Edward Abbey was there . . . Robert

Boswell helped him more than anybody . . . ]

 

I was so in thrall to Barth I just knew it would be sort of a grotesque

thing. [Why he couldn’t and didn’t go to Hopkins. He patterned the

longest part of his second book after Barth.]

 

• • •

 

in car, my rented grand am

en route to class

 

This is the thing—you’re gonna have to sit around, you can’t even be

in the office, because I’m gonna have to yell at a lot of people. I have

to cut it short: just because we’ve gotta get up at five in the morning.

This is what’s fucked: it’s that, these poor kids, I haven’t been

around for two weeks. And they all are gonna have various deals to

discuss. [So sensitive about all performance] I’m usually a much

better teacher than this. I swear to God.

 

Like doing readings?

 

No.

 

You were good.

 

Thanks. Tower Books—that’s not one I was particularly pleased with.

I get so nervous beforehand, and the nervousness is so unpleasant,

that that’s what I dislike. And I don’t think my stuff reads out loud

very well. And I think I come off looking like a maniac. Mainly I’m

doing what they blew up to larger type size. I give like one or two

readings in colleges a year. I gave ’em ten things and they blew up

five of them.

I read something (“sumpin’ ”) different at Tower just because

this unbelievably cute girl from Spin magazine was there, and she

didn’t want to hear the same thing twice, so I totally trashed the

plan. (He laughs.) And I never saw her again.

 

[The writer Elizabeth Wurtzel was at David’s KGB reading—a kind

of Brezhnev- and- Pravda- themed bar in Lower Manhattan. She was

standing right up front. We turn out to both know Elizabeth.]

 

I don’t know how Elizabeth—Liz got like the best seat in the house,

using skills I think only Elizabeth has. Ah, she’s real nice. She’s a

good egg. Good egg.

When you’re eighteen, you realize that—there’s also a part of us

that wants to be the president. And there’s also a part that wants to

fuck every attractive person of the gender of our choice. I mean, you

know . . . Just, I think she’s gotta be more—it’s not an accident that

she’s depressed all the time. I don’t know. Maybe I just project all

kinds of weird stuff onto her . . .

 

• • •

 

david’s class

class: “advanced prose”

 

[Doesn’t want a tape. Is comfortable with note- taking.]

 

Fluorescents, desks, steel wastepaper cans, boot smell, sweater

smell, clock on wall, big table that David doesn’t sit much behind.

Fifteen students. Women sit, as at an old- line synagogue, slightly

apart from men. David wearing Fryes, blue bandanna. Carrying Diet

Pepsi.

 

Dave has noticed some surprising student errors this week.

 

Dave: Before we start, let’s do a moment of Grammar Rock.

 

They laugh. He’s the ideal, the professor you hope for: lightning

writer, modern references, charming and funny and firm.

The students know another thing: he’s become, their

bandanna- wearing teacher, during these past three weeks a suddenly

celebrated man. And they want somehow to acknowledge it.

 

Student 1: Done being famous yet?

 

Dave: (Blush smile) Two more minutes.

 

Kid from back, suddenly: I knew him well, Horatio—a man of

Infinite Jest . . .

 

Dave: OK, you’re allowed one reference.

 

Quick chatter about his media appearances. It’s exciting; a piece of

their private life—this room and class—has gone suddenly public.

 

Student 2, female: I love the way the Trib described your office.

 

Student 3, female: Did you wind up, like, next to Dick Vitale and

Hillary Clinton?

 

Dave says he got real nervous on the fl ights, kept picturing grave

etc., from tour.

 

Student 4: Just put pepperoni and mushrooms on my Tombstone.

 

(A take- out, grocery pizza sort of joke.)

 

Dave: The words “pop quiz” is what’s good about that.

They talk about his magazine photos. Dave blushes more.

 

Dave: I didn’t think, I didn’t think—you can see my smiling maw. I

thought, “Really? Is that me?”

 

Dave fishes out a Styrofoam cup after pawing through two wastebaskets,

for someplace to put his chewing tobacco. Is also drinking

a Diet Pepsi.

Class begins with a jump from celebrity into the supernormal,

the administrative.

 

Dave: Office hours next week. Bring light reading material, if you

have to wait in the hallway.

 

Begins work on student stories.

 

Dave: (Offering Very Sensible advice. Lots of jobs for fiction, you

have to keep track of twelve different things—characters, plot,

sound, speed.) But the job of the first eight pages is not to have

the reader want to throw the book at the wall, during the first

eight pages.

 

He paces around the classroom. Happy, energetic. At one point,

thinking, he even drops into a quick knee bend. Class laughs; they

really like him.

 

Dave: I know—I get real excited, and now I’m squatting.

 

First story: by pretty student with a Rosanna Arquette mouth. Dave

on story, always using TV: “I submit, it’s kinda like a Sam and Diane

thing. Or When Harry Met Sally.

 

Classroom fluorescents flicker on and off, quiet fl ashes. Dave

glances up.

 

Another story he likes: it’s very open, but needs to be controlled.

“This is just a head kinda vomiting at us . . .”

Less likable story: “This is just a campus romance story.

And to the average civilian, I’ve gotta tell you, this is not that

interesting . . .”

 

Now at desk. Craning up and down when discussion and story

get him excited.

The student being workshopped is a punkish guy: mohawk,

silver- and- yellow collar.

 

Dave: It’s really hard to create a narrator who’s alive. Take it from me.

 

Students: How?

 

Dave’s advice is a kind of comedy, and makes them laugh.

 

Dave: To have the narrator be funny and smart, have him say funny,

smart things some of the time.

 

He makes a flub, says quickly, “Brain fart.”

He stops for a second. Holds steady. “Excuse me, I’m about to

burp.”

His delivery is darting and graceful: the Astaire quality of good

teaching.

 

On the campus romance story. “The great dread of creative writing

professors: ‘Their eyes met over the keg . . . ’ ”

The key to writing is learning to differentiate private interest

from public entertainment. One aid is, you’re supposed to get less

self- interested as you age. But, “I think I am more self- absorbed

at thirty- four than twenty- three. Because if it’s interesting to me, I

automatically imagine it’s interesting to you. I could spend a half

hour telling you about my trip to the store, but that might not be as

interesting to you as it is to me.”

Reminds the class, as it breaks. Notebooks closing, bookbags rising

from floor to desktop. Ruckle noises, kids standing. The week’s

two lessons.

 

Dave: Never—don’t go there: “Their eyes met across the keg . . . ”

And “What’s interesting to me may not be to you.”

 

Still in good, buzzed- up mood after. Brings me a water to drink.

 

Dave: Where would you be without me?

I hope it’s not that same tobacco- Styrofoam cup.

 

• • •

 

isu hallway

talking to colleagues after class

 

“Was it a success?” [Colleagues ask about Infinite Jest tour.]

No vegetables were thrown, so I consider it a success.

I just made enough money to live off it for a couple of years, so

that’s good.

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