David Foster Wallace
Happy Birthday. Your thirteenth is important. Maybe your first really public day. Your thirteenth is the chance for people to recognize that important things are happening to you.
Things have been happening to you for the past half year. You have seven hairs in your left armpit now. Twelve in your right. Hard dangerous spirals of brittle black hair. Crunchy, animal hair. There are now more of the hard curled hairs around your privates than you can count without losing track. Other things. Your voice is rich and scratchy and moves between octaves without any warning. Your face has begun to get shiny when you don’t wash it. And two weeks of a deep and frightening ache this past spring left you with something dropped down from inside: your sack is now full and vulnerable, a commodity to be protected. Hefted and strapped in tight supporters that stripe your buttocks red. You have grown into a new fragility.
And dreams. For months there have been dreams like nothing before: moist and busy and distant, full of yielding curves, frantic pistons, warmth and a great falling; and you have awakened through fluttering lids to a rush and a gush and a toe-curling scalp-snapping jolt of a feeling from an inside deeper than you knew you had, spasms of a deep sweet hurt, the streetlights though your window blinds cracking into sharp stars against the black bedroom ceiling, and on you a dense white jam that lisps between legs, trickles and sticks, cools on you, hardens and clears until there is nothing but gnarled knots of pale solid animal hair in the morning shower, and in the wet tangle a clean sweet smell you can’t believe comes from anything you made inside you.
The smell is, more than anything like this swimming pool: a bleached sweet salt, a flower with chemical petals. The pool has a strong clear blue smell, though you know the smell is never as strong when you are actually in the blue water, as you are now, all swum out, resting back along the shallow end, the hip-high water lapping at where it’s all changed.
Around the deck of this old public pool on the western edge of Tucson is a Cyclone fence the color of pewter, decorated with a bright tangle of locked bicycles. Beyond this a hot black parking lot full of white lines and glittering cars. A dull field of dry grass and hard weeds, old dandelions’ downy heads exploding and snowing up in a rising wind. And past all this, reddened by a round slow September sun, are mountains, jagged, their tops’ sharp angles darkening into definition against a deep red tired light. Against the red their sharp connected tops form a spiked line, an EKG of the dying day.
Thursday, September 1st.–Mr. Thoreau dined with us yesterday. . . . He is a keen and delicate observer of nature,–a genuine observer,–which, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as even an original poet; and Nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness. He is familiar with beast, fish, fowl, and reptile, and has strange stories to tell of adventures and friendly passages with these lower brethren of mortality. Herb and flower, likewise, wherever they grow, whether in garden or wildwood, are his familiar friends. He is also on intimate terms with the clouds, and can tell the portents of storms. It is a characteristic trait, that he has a great regard for the memory of the Indian tribes, whose wild life would have suited him so well; and, strange to say, he seldom walks over a ploughed field without picking up an arrow-point, spear-head, or other relic of the red man, as if their spirits willed him to be the inheritor of their simple wealth.
With all this he has more than a tincture of literature,–a deep and true taste for poetry, especially for the elder poets, and he is a good writer,–at least he has written a good article, a rambling disquisition on Natural History, in the last “Dial,” which, he says, was chiefly made up from journals of his own observations. Methinks this article gives a very fair image of his mind and character,–so true, innate, and literal in observation, yet giving the spirit as well as letter of what he sees, even as a lake reflects its wooded banks, showing every leaf, yet giving the wild beauty of the whole scene. Then there are in the article passages of cloudy and dreamy metaphysics, and also passages where his thoughts seem to measure and attune themselves into spontaneous verse, as they rightfully may, since there is real poetry in them. There is a basis of good sense and of moral truth, too, throughout the article, which also is a reflection of his character; for he is not unwise to think and feel, and I find him a healthy and wholesome man to know.
After dinner (at which we cut the first watermelon and muskmelon that our garden has grown), Mr. Thoreau and I walked up the bank of the river, and at a certain point he shouted for his boat. Forthwith a young man paddled it across, and Mr. Thoreau and I voyaged farther up the stream, which soon became more beautiful than any picture, with its dark and quiet sheet of water, half shaded, half sunny, between high and wooded banks. The late rains have swollen the stream so much that many trees are standing up to their knees, as it were, in the water, and boughs, which lately swung high in air, now dip and drink deep of the passing wave. As to the poor cardinals which glowed upon the bank a few days since, I could see only a few of their scarlet hats, peeping above the tide. Mr. Thoreau managed the boat so perfectly, either with two paddles or with one, that it seemed instinct with his own will, and to require no physical effort to guide it. He said that, when some Indians visited Concord a few years ago, he found that he had acquired, without a teacher, their precise method of propelling and steering a canoe. Nevertheless he was desirous of selling the boat of which he was so fit a pilot, and which was built by his own hands; so I agreed to take it, and accordingly became possessor of the Musketaquid. I wish I could acquire the aquatic skill of the original owner.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.
House to house.
Cunning very cunning and cheap, at that rate a sale is a place to use type writing. Shall we go home.
Cunning, cunning, quite cunning, a block a strange block is filled with choking.
Not too cunning, not cunning enough for wit and a stroke and careless laughter, not cunning enough.
A pet, a winter pet and a summer pet and any kind of a pet, a whole waste of pets and no more hardly more than ever.
A touching spoon a real touching spoon is golden and show in that color. A really touching spoon is splendid, is splendid, and dark and is so nearly just right that there is no excuse.
The best way is to wave an arm, the best way is to show more used to it than could be expected.
Comfort a sudden way to go home, comfort that and the best way is known.
Hold hard in a decision about eyes. Hold the tongue in a sober value as to bunches. See the indication in all kinds of rigorous landscapes. Spell out what is to be expected.
Show much blame in order and all in there, show much blame when there is a breath in a flannel. Show the tongue strongly in eating. Puzzle anybody.
Violet and the ink and the old ulster, shut in trembling and a whole departure, flood the sunshine, terrorize the grown didy, mingle sweetness with communion.
Change the sucking with a little sucking.
Modify the brave gallant pin wheel. Show the shout, worry with wounds, love out what is a pendant and a choke and a dress in together.
Punish the grasshopper with needles and pins are plenty. Show the old chink.
Put the putty in before the door put the oil glass in with what is green. Put the mellow choice with all the test, rust with night and language in the waist. Praise the cat and show the twine the door, mention every scrap of linen carpet, see the eagle and behold the west, win the day light with the hat unpressed, show it in a shudder and a limp, make a best container with no speed, and a jacket and a choice and beets, beets are what there are when bets are less. Bets are less in summer.
(I). A spread out case is so personal it is a mountain of change and any little piece is personal, any one of them is an exchange. No forethought is removed. Nothing, hindrances, butter, a safe smooth, a safe why is a tongue a season, why is a loin large by way of spoiling. There is no cake in front. A choking is an example.
It is true, it certainly is true and a coat any coat, any dress, all dress, a hat, many hats, all colors, every kind of coloring, all this makes shadows longer and birds, makes birds, just makes birds.
Not much limping is in the back, not much limping is in the front, not much limping is circular, a bosom, a candle, an elegant foot fall, all this makes daylight.
(2). A blunder in a charger is blue. A high pocket not higher than the wrist and the elbow, the pocket is not added.
A clutch, a real clutch is merry and a joke and a baby, a real clutch is such a happy way. A real clutch is so soon worried so easily made the same, so soon made so.
A real white and blue, blue and blue, blue is raised by being so and more much more is ready. At last a person is safe.
Pile in the windows, freeze with the doors, paint with the ceiling, shut in the floors, paint with the ceiling, paint with the doors, shut in the ceiling, shut out the doors, shut in the doors, shut in the floors, shut in the floors, shut in the doors.
Put the patient goat away, put the patient boat away, put away the boat and put it, the boat, put it, put away that boat. Put away the boat.
(3). An army of invincible and ever ready mustaches and all the same mind and a way of winding and no more repertoire, not any more noise, this did increase every day.
A moon, a moon, a darkness and the stars and little bits of eels and a special sauce, not a very special sauce, not only that.
A wide pair that are not slippers, not a wide pair of slippers, not pressed to be any of that in that particular but surely, surely, surely a loan, surely every kind of a capital.
A splendid little charles louis philip, a splendid spout of little cups and colds, a splendid big stir, a splendid glass, a splendid little splinter, a splendid cluster.
(4). Why should wet be that and cut, cut with the grass, why should wet be that and clut with the purse, why should wet be wet and the wet that wet. Why should wet be the time to class. Why should there be solemn cuppings.
The lean bark, that is the round and intense and common stop and in shouting, the left bark and the right bark and a belt, in that belt, in no belt and a corset, in a belt and chores, in a belt and single stitches, in more boys than enough, in all thin beer and in all such eggs, in all the pile and in all the bread, in the bread, in the bread, in the condition of pretty nearly saying that yesterday is today, and tomorrow, tomorrow is yesterday. The whole swindle is in short cake and choice cake is white cake and white cake is sponge cake and sponge cake is butter.
House to house.
(1). A habit that is not left by always screaming, a habit that is similar to the one that made quiet quite quiet and made the whole plain show dust and white birds and little plaintive drops of water, a habit which brightened the returning butter fly and the yellow weed and even tumbling, the habit which made a well choose the bottom and refuses all chances to change, the habit that cut in two whatever was for the use of the same number, the habit which credited a long touch with raising the table and the hour glass and even eye glasses and plenty of milk, the habit which made a little piece of cheese wholesome and darkness bitter and clanging a simple way to be solemn, a habit which has the best situation and nearly all the day break and the darkness a habit that is cautious and serious and strange and violent and even a little disturbed, a habit which is better than almost anything, a habit that is so little irritating, so wondering and so unlikely is not more difficult than every other.
(2). A change a real change is made by a piece, by any piece by a whole mixture of words and likenesses and whole outlines and ranges, a change is a butt and a wagon and an institution, a change is a sweetness and a leaning and a bundle, a change is no touch and buzzing and cruelty, a change is no darkness and swinging and highness, a change is no season and winter and leaving, a change is no stage and blister and column, a change is no black and silver and copper, a change is no jelly and anything proper, a change is not place, a change is not church, a change is not more clad, a change is not more in between when there is that and the change is the kind and the king is the king and the king is the king and the king is the king.
(3). Could there be the best almost could there be almost the most, could there be almost almost, could there be the most almost. Could there be the most almost, could there be the most almost, could there be almost almost. Could there be almost, almost.
Can the stretch have any choice, can the choice have every chunk, can the choice have all the choice, can the stretch have in the choice. Can there be water, can there be water and water. Can there be water. Can there be.
(4). A cousin to cooning, a cousin to that and mixed labor and a strange orange and a height and a piece of holy phone and a catching hat glass and a bit of undertaking. All this makes willows and even then there is no use in dusting not in really redusting, not in really taking everything away. The best excuse for shadows is in the time when white is starched and hair is released and all the old clothes are in the best bag.
House to house.
A wet hurt and a yellow stain and a high wind and a color stone, a place in and the whole real set all this and each one has a chin. This is not a claim it is a reorganization and a balance and a return.
Yet I should like to suggest (despite the undeniable sappiness of it) that the center of the self is this secret, obsessive, often silly, nearly continuous voice – the voice that is the surest sign that we are alive; and that one fundamental function of language is the communication with this self which makes it feasible; that, in fact, without someone speaking, someone hearing, someone overhearing both, no full self can exist; that if society – its families and factories and congresses and schools – has done its work, then every day every one of us is a bit nearer than we were before to being one of the fortunates who have made rich and beautiful the great conversation which constitutes our life.
From William H. Gass’s essay “On Talking to Oneself” (collected in Habitations of the Word).