The Infinite Jest Challenge: Week 4

Four weeks are now behind me. For newcomers to the blog, this post is the fourth in a series documenting the process of completing a challenge of reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest while losing the approximate weight of a cinder block. My intentions are to read the entire book while on a stationary bike, and then continue with a full workout after each ride, with my eyes set on reading 1085 pages and losing 31.4 pounds in 100 days. (Well, that AND the 500 or so pages of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity, “A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest“.)

This week’s numbers:
  • This week I read 77 pages of main text, for an average of 11 pages per day. (Last week’s average was 13.57.) 
  • This week I biked an average of 19.53 miles per day while reading (up from 17.29 last week), for a total of 136.71 miles, and 501.37 miles overall thus far. 
  • Last Sunday morning I weighed in at 206, and yesterday morning I weighed in at 204.6, for a loss of 1.4 pounds this week. Total weight loss thus far is 11.8 pounds. 
  • Last week I started on page 311, and this week I’m kicking things off on 388. (Also, I’m on page 226 of Elegant Complexity.) 

Stray observations from the week’s reading:
  • On Monday I read both the most and the least of the book thus far: I read literally one word of main body text, while also reading an endnote that ran from page 1004 to 1022, itself having a dozen built-in mini-notes. This week I read a total of 24 pages of endnotes, the most of any week to this point by far. 
  • The unraveling of Mario Incandenza’s physical abnormalities was great. I particularly enjoyed how Wallace included how his face was “two to three times the size of your more average elf-to-jockey-sized person.” (1022) Greg Carlisle’s summary really brings it all together:
"Mario’s ‘incomplete gestation and arachnoidal birth left the kid with some lifelong character-building physical challenges.’ Mario has a small body and a large head, ‘perfectly square’ feet, and ‘withered-looking’ arms that curl ‘out in front of his thorax in magiscule S’s and [are] usable for rudimentary knifeless eating’; some parts of his body do not grow as fast as others; his movements are of an exaggerated slowness; and he ‘uses four pillows minimum’ due to ‘dangerously slow breathing during sleep.’ Mario is resistant to pain, a condition that was frequently exploited by Orin in their youth. Mario’s skin is ‘an off dead gray-green’ that looks ‘reptilian.’ His fingers are ‘talonesque,’ and he is homodontic: ‘all his teeth are biscupids and identical, front to back.’ He has an ‘involuntary constant smile.’ Although Mario is ‘technically, Stanford-Binet wise, slow,’ he is not ‘retarded or cognitively damaged.’" (EC, 191/192) 
  • The thoroughly detailed description of Eschaton, the “atavistic global-nuclear-conflict game” that E.T.A. students play (including the run-on acronyms and another couple pages of endnotes for the math behind it), was tough… complicated. 
  • “Evan Ingersoll is positively strip-mining his right nostril.” (332) A friend of mine has a t-shirt that reads “I pick, therefore I grin.” This is different, of course, but Evan’s picking left me grinning. 
  • “John L. has a huge hanging gut and just no ass at all, the way some big older guys’ asses seem to get sucked into their body and reappear out front as gut.” (345) Without these men, I doubt the world’s suspender industry would still exist. 
  • “It’s optional; do it or die.” (357) The passages about Boston’s A.A. community were solid. Throughout, Wallace walked a fine line between humorous satire and reality, balancing the “miserable, brainwash-and-exploit-me-if-that’s-what-it-takes-type desperation” (349) that brings new faces in with the presence of the old-timers: “limp smug moronic self-satisfied shit-eating pricks with their lobotomized smiles and goopy sentiment” (353). All, however, are ultimately united under “the shocking discovery that the thing actually does seem to work” (349). 

Pages Read: Monday 0, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 14, Friday 16, Saturday 8, Sunday 12.

Miles on Bike: Monday 25.05, Tuesday 19.65, Wednesday 19.02, Thursday 19.38, Friday 19.81, Saturday 12.85, Sunday 20.95.

Calories Burned (Reading on Bike/Other Cardio): Monday 766/701, Tuesday 595/910, Wednesday 599/604, Thursday 619/1025, Friday 619/1149, Saturday 413/650, Sunday 662/1117.

Weight: Monday 209.4, Tuesday 204.4, Wednesday 206.6, Thursday 207.4, Friday 205, Saturday 203, Sunday 204.6.

The Infinite Jest Challenge: Week 3

Three weeks down! For newcomers to the blog, this post is the fourth in a series documenting the process of completing a challenge of reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest while losing the approximate weight of a cinder block. My intentions are to read the entire book while on a stationary bike, and then continue with a full workout after each ride, with my eyes set on reading 1085 pages and losing 31.4 pounds in 100 days. (Well, that AND the 500 or so pages of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity, “A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest“.)

This week’s numbers:
  • This week I read 95 pages of main text, for an average of 13.57 pages per day. (Last week’s average was 13.7.) 
  • This week I biked an average of 17.97 miles per day while reading (up from 17.29 last week), for a total of 125.82 miles, and 364.66 miles overall thus far. 
  • Last Sunday morning I weighed in at 208.2, and yesterday morning I weighed in at 206, for a loss of 2.2 pounds this week. Total weight loss thus far is 10.4 pounds. 
  • Last week I started on page 216, and this week I’m kicking things off on 311. (Also, I’m on page 184 of Elegant Complexity.) 

Stray observations from the week’s reading:
  • “The compulsion and regression inherent in O.N.A.N.ite society can be traced through the sponsors of Subsidized Time.” (EC, 146) While the formal timeline on page 223 has come and gone, I stopped paying attention to it early, not unlike the compulsion to constantly hit the dictionary over definition confusion. When I first started reading it seemed important to keep tabs on where everything was plotted on the timeline of events, but doing so quickly got in the way of actually reading the book. Now, scenes just flow. It’s more enjoyable that way. 
  • “The theaters always ended in -plex, she reflected. The Thisoplex and Thatoplex.” (237) This reminds me of Cineplex Odeon, a Canadian movie theatre chain, and also Cineplex Odeon Films (visual film trailer), a production company which was eventually absorbed by Alliance Atlantis. I have a lot of fond memories of time spent at various Cineplex Odeons, primarily revolving around stories that are only funny and interesting to me. 
  • “Life is essentially one long search for an ashtray.” (238) When I read this the first time, I just liked the quote. When I read it a second time, I was reminded of the Tragically Hip’s “Looking for a Place to Happen.” Both ideas sound about the same to me. 
  • “‘I think I’m being followed.’ ‘Some men are born to lead, O.’” (244) Little bits like this crack me up at the least expected times. 
  • “I actually said ‘The nearest library with a cutting-edge professional grief-and-trauma-therapy section, and step on it.’” (255) If a cabbie ever took that order and peeled away with an absurd sense urgency that matched the tone of the request, the passenger only half secured in the back-seat, and the door still hanging open while the driver yelled “8th St. Library closes in 25 minutes—we don’t have much time!”… Well, I think I’d pay good money to see that. 
  • “Courts 13 to 24 are Girls’ 18′s A and B, all bobbing ponytails and two-handed backhands and high-pitched grunts that if girls could only hear what their own grunts sounded like they’d cut it out.” (265/266) Two days this past week I found myself peddling in the muck of a crowded gym, surrounded on one side by pre-pre-retirement aged women casually spinning their peddles at somewhere between 6-10RPM if only for an excuse to sit down next to each other and talk, and grunting meat-heads on the other. I’ve lifted heavy shit before. I know what it’s like and I recognize how hard it can be. But there is no way that the wildly inappropriate volume of the ape-like grunts I heard this week serves any other purpose but to help mask the daintiness of the shriveled sacks that hang somewhere in a pit of sadness above the disproportionately miniature chop-sticks that these guys call legs. The gym is not a library and there is no expectation of peace and quiet, but there is an expectation of civility, you mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging evolutionary anomalies. 
  • Another note following last week’s summation of personal connection to the book: a character with the last name DeLint. DeLint, DeLine… It’s unusual, is all I’m trying to say. 
  • When reading through Orin’s awkward introduction to his inexplicable punting prowess, I was reminded of the scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where the Gang is trying out for the Philadelphia Eagles and Sweet Dee, dressed in drag as a man, exhibits a similar unexpected display. “Maybe it was a lucky kick?” “No. No, those stork-like legs, they act like pendulums, and on the bottoms of those pendulums, feet like wrecking balls.” That has to be one of my favorite episodes. 
  • “He’d naively assumed that going mad meant you were not aware of going mad; he’d naively pictured madmen as forever laughing.” (303) That seems like the definition of going mad: seeing your sanity slip away before you, fully realizing what’s happening while it’s happening, and not being able to do anything about it. 

Pages Read: Monday 9, Tuesday 15, Wednesday 16, Thursday 17, Friday 10, Saturday 16, Sunday 15.

Miles on Bike: Monday 13.96, Tuesday 20.28, Wednesday 16.51, Thursday 18.15, Friday 16.03, Saturday 21.64, Sunday 19.25.

Calories Burned (Reading on Bike/Other Cardio): Monday 423/0, Tuesday 570/573, Wednesday 483/759, Thursday 518/638, Friday 443/306, Saturday 616/1101, Sunday 560/1043.

Weight: Monday 206.8, Tuesday 208.8, Wednesday 208, Thursday 207.6, Friday 208.4, Saturday 207, Sunday 206.

Amerigo Gazaway "Gummy Soul Forces"

Following a meeting of the minds at Atlanta’s recent A3C Festival, Gummy Soul‘s Amerigo Gazaway has linked up with Detroit’s Clear Soul Forces crew, blending styles and summoning hip hop godfathers with a new collaborative track titled “Gummy Soul Forces.” Exuding a sound very much in line with Gazaway’s much-celebrated Bizarre Tribe mashup album, “Gummy Soul Forces” retains a comfortable early-’90s feel, with the MC working loosely over the jazz-oriented beat. Considering that the verse was “whipped up” while the Gummy Soul guys were driving back to Nashville, it’d be a silly to critique it as a fully-fleshed out piece. Instead, have fun with it and just accept it for what it is: a fun, playful, and so-very-fitting verse that meshes nicely with the tight Clear Soul Forces beat, “All this time I spent obsessin’ over rhymes / Just tryin’ to find some kind of purpose in life / Murderin’ mics, makin’ sure these verses is tight.” To keep things going, you’d be wise to (re)introduce Bizarre Tribe to your ears.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Evan Blocker "Reign Dance (Eyes Open)"

When I was first introduced to Evan Blocker‘s debut, Life’s in a Blur, I subconsciously slipped up and confused the young Nashville MC’s name with that of a pro-wrestler (Evan Bourne). Make no mistake though: his debut was memorable, and Blur stands as one of the better hip hop releases to come from the city last year.

Now the MC is back, intent on solidifying his name within the greater Nashville scene with his largely self-produced sophomore release, Its All Life. With the first taste from the forthcoming album, the teaser for “Reign Dance (Eyes Open)” continues the trend that Blocker started with Blur, tightly focusing his sharp-tongued style and representing the P.U.S.H. Productions crew nicely. Keep an ear to Blocker’s Soundcloud page as the countdown to Its All Life continues.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Olivier de Sagazan

For over two decades the Congo-born French-based artist Olivier de Sagazan has “developed a hybrid practice that integrates painting, photography, sculpture, and performance,” explains his website. “In his existential performative series Transfiguration, which he began in 2001, de Sagazan builds layers of clay and paint onto his own face and body to transform, disfigure and take apart his own figure, revealing an animalistic human who is seeking to break away from the physical world. At once disquieting and deeply moving, this new body of work collapses the boundaries between the physical, intellectual, spiritual and animalistic senses.”

The “Transfiguration” video itself is unlike anything I’ve seen before: It is primitive, dark, intense, and disturbing. “This is pretty much my two-year-old eating yogurt,” joked one Metafilter commenter, putting the clay and paint meld into humorous perspective. “In my Transfiguration performance, where I transform my face,” revealed de Sagazan in an interview with Loving Mixed Media, “my purpose is to descend into the depths of my being, to bring out what is buried deep inside me. The masks or images that emerge are not merely seen, but felt in a visceral way, and so they create emotion.”

While a variety of press clippings and interviews are available on the artist’s website, little exists in English, leaving much to the imagination for non-French speaking onlookers in terms of intent and motivation. Yet each individual medium seems to bear its own direction while simultaneously conforming to a broader ideal. Taking inspiration from Rembrandt and Francis Bacon, his paintings replicate the grotesque nature of his performance work, vividly speaking to de Sagazan’s ability to manipulate his materials. His sculptures are fitting for this Halloween season, invoking hellish images while simultaneously breathing humanity (and reminding me of Adam Jones’ groundbreaking music videos for Tool). “My work is essentially a hymn to life,” he said to LMM. “[A]n attempt to understand what it means to be alive.”

But the way in which de Sagazan speaks with his performance work is unlike his use of traditional mediums. A rough translation of his 1994 piece “Bandages” reflects his longstanding relationship with the urge to reveal the human within, “Arrive the bandaged face, undo slowly his mask / Open its veins and mark with his blood: ‘This is my body, this is art.’” “I dreamed of being a dancer,” he continued with LMM, “using my own body as an essential element to express my anguish and my fascination with being alive. My performances are another way of channeling this urge. My main inspiration is in looking at nature with the eyes of the biologist I was and the philosopher I am trying to be.”

I don’t have a particularly well-grounded position to place Olivier de Sagazan’s work within the broader artistic landscape. I’m ill-informed when it comes to modern art, let alone the performance niche, and am oblivious as to whether his work is either derivative or groundbreaking within the field. To pretend to know is beyond me. But when I watch him I am moved, my pulse increases, and I’m left in a state of wonder, curious about what it is I’ve just seen and what it might be saying. “We must remain alert and lucid, aware of this amazing thing happening to us.” Transfiguration is just that: a vibrant announcement, awakening dulled emotions and desensitized nerves.

Alcoholic Musings, Part 3

One of the upsides of writing online is that it helps me work ideas through in a forum where friends can pop in as they please and check up on me. One of the downsides is that you never know who else might find you, what they might think, and furthermore how they might react. I dealt with negative criticism quite a bit during my Culture Bully days — it would seem that few things in this world get people more worked up than the suggestion that their favorite band sucks — but over time my skin grew thick(er): Haters gonna hate, especially on the Internet.

That said, there’s a particular breed of people who won’t comment in public (not even anonymously), who instead take it upon themselves to send emails to the author addressing them personally in private before systematically breaking down every conceivable point of their argument (regarding whatever it is they’ve taken offense to), typically injecting vile personal attacks along the way to keep the pace of their message spirited and flowing. Since I’ve escaped to my own sheltered pocket of the web with this blog — where very few even visit, let alone comment — the threat of receiving a harsh email regarding ideas I post hasn’t crossed my mind. That was until late last night I received a message simply titled, “Alcoholic musings.”

But what followed wasn’t soul-crushing I’m-right-you’re-wrong hate rant, but a cool email from someone who found my blog through this Infinite Jest challenge I’m attempting, and could relate to where I was coming from, offering some constructive recovery feedback. During our still-ongoing discussion I asked if I could post some of what was said (anonymously, of course) as it touches on something at the crux of where I’m at right now.

The only thing you HAVE to do in AA is admit that you cannot control your substance use. You really have to ‘surrender’ and admit you need some help. If you’re not there, cool. But after that AA is just a) a pretty decent program to actually put the substance down so you can get to the real part of AA which is b) becoming a better human being. Having a community of people who understand the horrific place you’ve been, who understand what people who can have one and a half drinks in a night do not understand. A community of people who have lots and lots of experience of how they got their shit together. Who actually go to work every day on time, who have normal relationships with people, who have rejoined the human race. A community that wants to help you be a better person, and needs your help in being a better person. Learning that you are not the center of the universe and that you need people and they need you. Be kinder to yourself and other people and try to help someone who is also struggling. The End.

If someone wants help, there’s a group of people that are willing to help. Some suggestions will be wacky, but most will really work. All the saying[s] are corny, but you’ll read in IJ something to the effect that the most banal saying[s] contain the deepest truths. DFW has amazing things to say about recovery. … It’s so unfortunate that he’s no longer around, because he really got AA. It’s not about God or The Big Book. It’s about getting your shit together so you can be a productive member of the human race. Getting sober is hard and living life sober is harder. AA is just a bunch of tools and experienced people to help you navigate. Don’t sweat the fanatics, almost all of them are just trying to help.

About a week and a half ago I met with my “sponsor” for breakfast and we discussed working past the first step (which I begrudgingly accepted) and into the second and third.

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Going in I felt that this would be the end of the line as far as step-work was concerned. I knew what I wanted to ask, and I knew I could trust the response as my friend seems to be someone who has a healthy relationship with honesty (which is part of why I reached out to him in the first place). I had questions, he had answers, and they didn’t ultimately line up for me — we had a solid conversation, but our time working together was ending.

One of the things that I didn’t expect though was his immediate reaction. Though brief, he muttered something about how if I wasn’t ready I was more than welcome to try drinking again to see if it would work out for me this time. That was kind of a snarky comment, I thought, and I told him that drinking was the last thing on my mind (which is funny in retrospect, considering our entire relationship revolves around the subject). His was kind of an odd statement, but understandable — a little defensive, maybe, but still just words from someone trying to help.

It’s been about ten days or so since I last went to a meeting, but I’ll be back. I’m starting to enjoy the community of it all, and I like the fact that regardless of how fanatical or downright crazy some people might be about their beliefs, they’re no more fanatical or crazy than people are outside of those A.A. meetings. (Especially in the South!) But for the time being I’m working on getting my shit together so I can be a productive member of the human race again (as if I ever really was one). I’m also learning how to be kinder to myself and other people and am trying my damndest to finish a project that I think could really help others who are also struggling. After all, that’s what it’s all about, right?

The Infinite Jest Challenge: Week 2

Two weeks down and there’s no turning back now! For first time readers, this post is the third in a series documenting the process of completing a challenge of reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest while losing the approximate weight of a cinder block. My intentions are to read the entire book while on a stationary bike, and then continue with a full workout after each ride, with my eyes set on reading 1085 pages and losing 31.4 pounds in 100 days. (Well, that AND the 500 or so pages of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity, “A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest“.)

It’s kind of awkward, walking around the gym with this brick of text, a highlighter, and a pen. I have a friend who works at the YMCA and on a couple of occasions last week he asked me what the book was about. I told him the truth: I don’t really know yet. Last Thursday a few guys were sitting in the locker room watching TV and conversation flowed from Lance Armstrong to Muhammad Ali to the Vice Presidential debate. One guy said he’d like to see the Joe Biden and Paul Ryan pair off in a boxing ring, and I joked that it might actually tell us something about their true character if they had to fight for the position (I was pretty happy with myself about that one). I got changed, and sat back down with my book to put on my shoes. My friend asked again if I’d figured the book out yet, and I said nope. Another guy asked what I was reading and I told him… “infinite jest: I know what jest means, and I know what infinite means,” he said, opening up the window for others to chime in. I said that I think it’s about life… life’s always funny — an eternal joke. No matter what you do, this guy replied, you can’t avoid turning into dirt. The eternal joke is right.

This week I read an average of 13.7 pages per day. (Last week’s average was 13.1.) This week I biked an average of 17.29 miles per day (up from 16.83 last week), for a total of 121.04 miles, and 238.84 miles overall thus far. Last Sunday morning I weighed in at 213.2, and yesterday morning I weighed in at 208.2, for a loss of 5 pounds this week. Total weight loss thus far is 8.2 pounds. Last week I started on page 120, and this week I’m kicking things off on 216.

Stray observations from the week’s reading:
  • “She referred to her father as her Old Man, which you can just tell she capitalizes.” (123) 
  • “His tank top says TRANSCEND in silkscreen” … “[he] lives off others’ perspiration,” “his name is supposedly Lyle” and he’s an “oiled guru.” What a strange person, but, is he really all that different from me? I’ve already got a tattoo that says “RISE ABOVE” on my forearm, and if I started going by “Christopher” instead of “Chris,” and lived in a camper van down by the river, I might well be on the same plane as good ol’ Lyle. (128) 
  • “E.T.A. students are encouraged to transcend their limits as players in order to reach higher plateaus of achievement.” (EC, 97) This is a carry-over from last week where Carlisle added “People become obsessed by their desires (substances, entertainment) and do not have the necessary discipline to wage ‘a war against the self’ to transcend those desires.” When in doubt, I tend to think of myself, and even with something small like challenging myself to read this book, I’d like to think that there’s a little bit of transcendence goin’ on here. I’m a writer, but not really much of a reader. I’m not a stranger to exercise, but am still bordering on “Obese” as far as my BMI calculation is concerned. More and more this is making sense to me: “What could your future be if you didn’t shut the door to possibility? What could happen if you worked harder than you’ve ever worked, expanding your aim to areas you previously never even considered? What could happen if you risked becoming a success?“ 
  • “This section is narrated in first person by ‘yrstruly’, whose narration features colloquial slang, slurs, misspelled words, and the misplacement of apostrophes.” (EC, 99) I couldn’t wait for this to be over and in reading the recap it appears that my mind absorbed none of the story, glossing over the whole excruciating section. Carlisle asserts that the shift in dialect and structure in this section is meant to draw the reader in further (making us “more active” participants) and help find meaning in the characters, but it had the opposite effect on me. 
  • “He sometimes, the founder, in the House’s early days, required incoming residents to attempt to eat rocks — as in like rocks from the ground — to demonstrate their willingness to go to any lengths for the gift of sobriety.” … “The rock thing… was probably not as whacko as it seemed to Division of S.A.S., since many of the things veteran AA’s ask newcomers to do and believe seem not much less whacko than trying to chew feldspar.” (138) When I was reading the first part, I literally thought to myself “I guess eating rocks is no more crazy than being asked to accept a doorknob as your higher power. Then, there it followed. 
  • In addressing the themes of this section, Carlisle adds, “Total surrender to addiction is via compulsion, whereas total surrender to sobriety is via an active choice.” (EC, 106) This might seem a simplistic statement, but it’s one that is well in line with the research I’m doing right now about alcoholism as a “disease-concept.” 
  • The article about the woman who had the heart-replacement surgery could have gone on for a few pages longer and I think it would have still held my attention. It was compelling, how her artificial heart laid outside her body, pumping life in and out of her, living in this designer purse. Then, her life was literally stolen from her, as a purse-snatcher grabbed it away from her, mistaking it for exactly what it appeared to be. Then, as the female thief runs away the now heartless woman yells “Stop her! She stole my heart!” leaving onlookers (including police) to misinterpret the situation as “yet another alternative lifestyle’s relationship gone sour.” That was awesome. (142-144) 
  • “Calgarian Pro-Canadian Phalanx.” This is listed as a “violent” “environmental” group designated by the R.C.M.P. as “terrorist / extortionist in character.” (144) Certain aspects of this book have a very personal flavor to them: I was born in Calgary, living there 18 years the first time around, and six months on the second go, for instance. There are certain phrases about the French-speaking Quebecois that still resonate with me: a distaste for their tone of superiority, and such. So, to see little instances like this (not to mention the addiction thread, which is clearly something I’m dealing with) brushed over as if they’re no more random than writing a story set in New York City or some other American metropolis, is really enjoyable. 
  • “If that sort of thing rattled your saber.” (147) 
  • On the “chic integrity” or “retrograde transcendence of sci-fi high-tech for its own sake, a transcendence of the vanity and the slavery to high-tech fashion that people view as so attractive in one another,” regarding the quick abandonment of videophony: This reminds me a lot of late-twenties to mid-thirties people living just-outside-downtown in recently gentrified neighborhoods who drool over locally brewed craft beers and hand-pressed imported free-trade organic coffees. This turn toward paying a premium for quote-unquote superior quality is a strange thing. Look at Etsy, for crying out loud: $40 for a pair of hand-knit mittens. At what point do you look at $8 pints of beer, $5 cups of coffee, and $50 t-shirts and say “Enough is enough, already! I’m going to Target.” I continue to survive not because I make much money, but because I live within my means. The same can likely be said of those who blow extravagant amounts of money on “retrograde transcendence of sci-fi high-tech for its own sake,” but I’m past the point of keeping up for the sake of doing so. Value is value, but unless that thick pour of Autumn-Blend Oatmeal and Pumpkin Stout comes with a voucher for 10% off next month’s rent it hardly seems worth it. (150) 
  • In the event that Canada, the U.S., and Mexico all become the United Nations of North America (or some such name) in the future, I really really hope that the collective nation’s emblem is of “a snarling full-front eagle with a broom and can of disinfectant in one claw and a Maple Leaf in the other and wearing a sombrero and appearing to have about half-eaten a swatch of star-studded cloth.” That’s a symbol I can believe in. (153) 
  • Note to future self: If ever in the position where you’re frequently committing crimes to survive financially, please implement the routine of having “clients” demand that you commit a crime over the phone, adding the threat of violence when meeting in person, in order to help avoid any conflicts with the law. “Gracious me and mine, a crime you say?” And you’ll do what to me if I don’t comply? Well, in that case… (156) 
  • “I’m not saying something cliche like you take us for granted so much as I’m saying you cannot… imagine our absence. We’re so present it’s ceased to mean.” (168) So true about so many things. 
  • “The turd emergeth.” (171) 
  • “If you’re an adolescent, here is the trick to being neither quite a nerd nor quite a jock: be no one. It is easier than you think.” (175) 
  • “Be a student of the Game. Like most cliches of sport this is profound. You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard. Peers who fizzle or blow up or fall down, run away, disappear from the monthly rankings, drop off the circuit.” (176) 
  • “The chilling Hispanic term for whatever interior disorder drives the addict back again and again to the enslaving Substance is tecato gusano, which apparently connotes some kind of interior psychic work that cannot be sated or killed.” (200) Ah yes, “the worm that cannot be sated.” 
  • “That a little-mentioned paradox of Substance addiction in: that once you are sufficiently enslaved by a Substance to need to quit the Substance in order to save your life, the enslaving Substance has become so deeply important to you that you will all but lose your mind when it is taken away from you.” (201) Reminds me of the recovery adage: You can’t replace something with nothing. 
  • “No single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.” (204) This speaks to adaptation. Yesterday, I was at the grocery store on my way home from the gym, and I was struggling. A pizza, would go great with Sunday Night Football, I thought. The minimum I was looking at was 1500 calories though (I’m eating the whole thing if I buy it). Maybe some pasta — even worse. There was some meat on special, and I thought I’d make a huge sandwich — the calories quickly became too much. A can of Pringles is only 900 calories… I picked one up and put it in my cart. I walked half way down the aisle, stopped my cart, picked the can back up, and walked back down the aisle and returned it to its shelf. I felt miserable. I walked home with what I could only imagine was a look of an odd combination between disdain and self-pity. But today I feel pretty good about that decision. Maybe tonight I’ll crumble, but maybe I wont: the more times you break a pattern of habit the less likely it is that you’ll continue down that particular path. No single moment is unendurable. 
  • “There might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.” (205) Amen. 
  • Endnote 61: “‘Cinema of Chaotic Stasis’, characterized by a stubborn and possibly intentionally irritating refusal of different narrative lines to merge into any kind of meaningful confluence.” (996) Sounds familiar. 

Pages Read: Monday 14, Tuesday 14, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15, Friday 11, Saturday 14, Sunday 14.

Miles on Bike: Monday 17.6, Tuesday 14.82, Wednesday 19.17, Thursday 18.43, Friday 14.72, Saturday 18.69, Sunday 17.61.

Calories Burned (Reading on Bike/Other Cardio): Monday 498/1115, Tuesday 422/460, Wednesday 577/1129, Thursday 529/901, Friday 441/1059, Saturday 552/1172, Sunday 512/600.

Weight: Monday 213, Tuesday 210.4, Wednesday 211.6, Thursday 210.8, Friday 210.8, Saturday 210.4, Sunday 208.2.

Damien Echols

Damien Echols and Jack Silverman at Nashville Southern Festival of Books

In 1994 Damien Echols was sentenced to death, while Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin were given life in prison, after all were convicted for the savage murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The thing was… they didn’t do it. “Police investigators believed the teens had formed a satanic cult and used the victims as part of a ritualistic slaughter,” writes Sarah Norris of the Nashville Scene. “The prosecution based its case on the fact that the ‘West Memphis Three’ — Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — were widely perceived as ‘weird’. They were known to be fans of Metallica, and Echols tended to wear black clothing and a long trench coat. The only thing connecting them to the murders was a coerced confession from Misskelley, who tested low enough on an IQ test to qualify as borderline cognitively impaired. After confessing, he almost immediately recanted. A high school dropout who’d struggled with depression, Echols was depicted as the threesome’s ringleader, a devil-worshipping killer.” If ever there were a kangaroo court, the boys found themselves at the mercy of such a proceeding — the crime scene was significantly tampered with, police records were grossly mishandled… the entire process was a farce.

About 14 months ago the three were given a deal, setting them free while, as Echols explains, absolving Arkansas of any potential wrong-doing, forcing the waiver of any case the three might have in a lawsuit against the state. “On August 19, 2011, they entered Alford pleas, which allow them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them.”

It’s been at least seven years since I first learned of the case of the West Memphis Three: Like many before and after me, I watched the Paradise Lostdocumentaries (The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Revelations), and found myself disgusted by the thread of injustice that flowed throughout the entire story. I bought a shirt to help support the defense, I told friends, and I felt sick about the whole thing.

I haven’t been a close onlooker of the aftermath following the WM3′s release, but in preparation for Echols’ appearance at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books I was reintroduced to the powerful feelings that I remember struggling with when I was first turned on to the case. I cried. The anger, the sadness, the grief, the sympathy, the confusion, the fear… all of it surfaced at once and my body, not knowing how to react, funneled everything into tears. As Echols sat in the War Memorial Auditorium Sunday afternoon, speaking to the beatings he received from guards, the absent health care measures that he received during his decade of solitary confinement, and the extreme anxiety that followed his release, those feelings returned, and on a few occasions I had to divert my attention to avoid a minor public breakdown.

Throughout his appearance Echols remained calm, well-spoken, thoughtful, and articulate as conversation bounced between he and the session’s host, Jack Silverman. As questions began flowing from the event’s attendees, Echols gently floated a few jokes out to the crowd as discussion touched on items including his affinity for Stephen King and his ongoing work with organizations such as Amnesty International. Sitting there however, the words that struck an especially sensitive nerve with me were those offered when asked if he was interested in changing “The System”? His response was shockingly rational and objective despite the pain that The System had caused in his life. Think of the money, he replied, and the celebrity endorsements, the media’s interest in the case, his wife’s dedicated pursuit of justice, and the enduring efforts of those who offered their help along the way… think of all of that, he repeated, and recognize that even with all of that in place, it took nearly two decades before one case found a result that remotely reflected “justice.” Even for someone with his profile, changing “The System” is entirely out of reach.

As the event closed and the audience scurried to get a place in line for the book signing which followed (it should probably be noted that Echols’ appearance was in support of his recently released book, Life After Death) my friend and I remained in our chairs for a few minutes before slowly exiting the venue. As we walked away she asked what I felt, and all I could muster was “angry” and “sad,” a frog quickly took to my throat preventing me from saying anything further, as if the words were even there in the first place. I’m happy that Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin are free men, but how free are they? What sort of justice can be had to repair two decades of misery, let alone the pain that will remain in the lives that follow? What if he were put to death? What then?

I couldn’t hear the question but during the event Echols was asked something to do with the prevalence of innocents on death row, and without missing a beat he shot off two names of people he had met who were, in his eyes, innocent. Yet, unlike his case, they didn’t have the media push to bring their cases into the public eye, nor the outpouring of donations necessary to challenge their convictions beyond a bare-minimum defense. Such cases are generally easier to sweep under the rug, he said, than they are to investigate further. And what’s more, Echols added, much like his own case, the state would rather send an innocent to die than admit a mistake.

When writing this and reading back over it, no tears came to me. The anger, however… The anger, the sadness, the grief, the sympathy, the confusion, and the fear: all of that remains. We live in a broken world — each of us potentially at the mercy of a broken system. And I don’t have slightest clue as to what can really be done about it.

Three O'Clock

I woke up this morning at three o’clock a.m. to the sound of rain on the tin roof that lines the outer shell of the apartment building I live in. I’m on the top floor and that puts little room between me and the sound. Normally I enjoy the echo of the rain pounding down in sheets, the wind drawing it to and from the building such that when the sky exhales it sounds like a wet towel slapping the back-side of the building. But not last night. Last night I laid in my bed, angry that I couldn’t sleep, bitter about the lack of control I had in the moment to re-escape consciousness, and the reality of the day that had put me in such a foul mood in the first place. I wasn’t angry at anything or anyone in particular — not at the rain, not even at myself — just generally unhappy with the feelings that kept returning in sporadic intervals, bookending laughter, endorphin highs, and brief moments of everyday zen.

I woke up this morning at seven o’clock a.m. to the sound of my alarm but all was not forgotten. I remembered the rain that I hated, and the inexplicable feeling that soiled my otherwise “fine” day prior to the night’s unwelcomed interruption. I cracked an eye, read a text on my phone, replied, and returned my head, face down on the pillow. Another buzz on my phone, another half-conscious effort, another pillow flop, the mind unwilling to return fully from the departure. When I awoke again, whatever it was that was in my head was gone.

Three o’clock a.m.s don’t happen that often, but when they come I’m told to ride out the emotional storm, recognizing that the mental tides are constantly shifting, sometimes unpredictably so. Weeks can pass without issue, then at once, without reason, a volatile mood strikes and life is stripped of its flavor.

Depression is just a word, but the uncontrollable feelings that suck me in and inexplicably warp everything around me go well beyond the power that ten simple letters wield.

Mister Rogers Goes to Washington

I don’t know where to find PBS on my digital cable subscription, or if I even get the network (I have to, somewhere, right?). And aside from NOVA, I can’t really think of a show that might land on the channel that I’d enjoy watching from time to time. I don’t have kids, nor do I have any idea about how beneficial the current state of children’s educational programming is on PBS, or whether or not a budget cut would retard a generation of preventative learning — that’s a fancy little term I’ve come up with to describe the benefits of edutainment that might help prevent an outpouring of later-life subsidies to cover a nation of under-educated, under-skilled, over-stuffed citizens who have no choice but to turn to the government for aid after two decades of freely roaming the land as a small army of dimwitted Honey Boo Boos. (For the record, cable programming makes me very nervous about the future of this planet.) I don’t know enough about the upsides or the downsides of Mitt Romney’s bold statements at last week’s Presidential debate to accurately invest myself in that conversation (besides, that’s what political blogs are for).

I will say this, however: I love this video. In response to the proposed budget cuts by President Nixon, Fred Rogers took the floor to deliver what remains one of the most rational and thoughtful arguments for the continuance of funding for developmental programming that might ever exist: Mere reference to the statement that Mr. Rogers made in 1969 in front of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications should be more than enough justification to keep backing this “liberal propaganda machine.”
"What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead — and think this song — I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime… And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man."
Enough about making a non-argument an argument though, because the point of bringing this up is to reflect on the compassion that Rogers spoke to while explaining himself. This isn’t just about funding some TV station that you don’t enjoy watching, this argument is about developing a national community with an understanding that our well-being and self-esteem are worth caring about. This is about nurturing the growth of young minds so that they know that they have meaning in this world, despite the overwhelming sentiment that drowns out the idea in daily life. This is about empowering young minds with the understanding that they are not some weak loser despite not meeting the cultural quota for cool, and it’s about showing children that the world is every bit as beautiful as you make it to be. I’m almost 30 and I wish that this message was pounded into my head every day NOW, let alone when I was young — this message of maintaining an honest regard for the care and well-being of self to better the larger society as a whole.

Would Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood even resonate with kids today if he were alive? Hell, did it even make sense when I was a kid? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. But without a nurturing system that encourages preventative learning we’re going to find out with increasingly speedy results just how distinct the disparity between the classes will become in our country… I’m not talking about the poverty line, necessarily, as much as the knowledge line — but in recognizing the illiteracy, ignorance, and uneducated population that exists even within my own community, the correlation between the two seems undeniable. Is there a direct link in avoiding this future and the shelling out of PBS’ $430 million annual budget? I don’t know. But to parallel the sentiment of Senator Pastore, a bet on the future of our children (let alone the children of those poor unfortunate families who only have basic network TV channels, and not some multi-tiered Comcast entertainment-explosion at their disposal like I do) seems like one that we should be willing to make.

The Infinite Jest Challenge: Week 1

The first week has come and gone, and it feels good to get a little momentum behind me. For those just tuning in, this post is the second in a series documenting the process of completing a challenge of reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest while losing a whole buncha weight. My intentions are to read the entire book while on a stationary bike, and then continue with a full workout after each ride, with my eyes set on reading 1085 pages and losing 31.4 pounds in 100 days. (Well, that AND the 500 or so pages of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity, “A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest“.)

Originally I’d figured that I’d have to read 11 pages to meet my goal of finishing the book in 100 days, but since I’m only really counting the pages of main text (of which there are 981), the average number needed per day is 10. No worries either way though, as this week’s average was just over 13 pages read per day (today I begin on page 120). As far as weight goes, I’m also on target. I experienced a big drop off early in the week and weighed in at 213.2 yesterday morning (this morning was 213.0, for what it’s worth). That’s a total weight loss of 3.2 pounds this week, well ahead of the 2.2 average needed to meet my goal. Also, I biked an average 16.83 miles per day this week, for a total of 117.8 miles.

The incorporation of Elegant Complexity has been invaluable thus far in keeping up with the story. For example, merely regarding James Incandenza’s lengthy filmography there are some references which are explained that I would have never otherwise understood. “Early in Y.T.M.P. Jim renamed his production company Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited. Poor Yorick was to Hamlet, ‘a fellow of infinite jest’ (Hamlet, V.i. 178-9).” “Like Molly’s ‘Met him pike hoses’ in Ulysses, Infinite Jest‘s Madame Psychosis is a play upon the word ‘metempsychosis,’ defined as the transmigration of souls (cf. Blamires, p. 26).” I currently stand at page 93 of EC.

Stray observations from the week’s reading:
  • “Byzantine erotica.” Is there any other kind? (29) 
  • I’ve no idea what a “pan-Canadian Resistance” might entail, but count me in. (30) 
  • In the history of mankind, I wonder if there will ever be a “bisexual bassoonist in the Albertan Secret Guard’s tactical-bands unit”? Despite having lived in Alberta until I was 18, I still have no idea where the smart money is on that bet. (30) 
  • Not entirely sure what “high-modulus-graphite-reinforced polycarbonate polybutylene resin” is, but if I ever need a replacement hip, I hope there’s some of that stuff in it. (31) 
  • What a life it must be, living as the “Minister of Home Entertainment.” (33) 
  • I’m not sure if Toblerone is my favorite candy, but I have no doubt it’s in my time five. (33) 
  • “She say she kill herself if me or Reginald tell our mommas.” Great, now there are multiple confusing narrators. (38) 
  • “God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about.” Ha! (40) 
  • “Remember the flag only halfway up the pole? Booboo, there are two ways to lower a flag to half-mast. … One way to lower the flag to half-mast is just to lower the flag. There’s another way though. You can also just raise the pole. You can raise the pole to twice its original height. You get me?” Perhaps the best description of how workaholics deal with grief I’ve ever read. (42) 
  • “Orin reads the note while he eats toast that’s mainly an excuse for the honey.” If there’s a better excuse for eating toast than simply “it lets me put honey in my mouth,” I’m unaware of it. (43) 
  • “Orin has them out monthly; he’s on like a subscription plan over at Terminex.” Because Orkin would have been too obvious. (45) 
  • “Wanting to twitter.” An idea ahead of its time. (46) 
  • “Co-designed by James Cameron and Fritz Lang.” A visual reference I get! (48) 
  • “Reopen that whole Pandora’s box of worms.” (49) 
  • “Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves.” Lines like this one have me interested in seeing where the addiction thread of this story goes. (54) 
  • “Carpal neuralgia, phosphenic migraine, gluteal hyperadiposity, lumbar stressae.” All I read there was “skip to next line.” (60) 
  • “You lie there, awake and almost twelve, believing with all your might.” I don’t know when I started over-thinking things, but when I was young I remember numerous times twisting the world so tight within my mind that I didn’t want to open my eyes for fear of seeing what the next day might bring. It’s better now, most days. (63) 
  • “Kate Gompert was on Specials, which meant Suicide-Watch, which meant that the girl had at some point betrayed both Ideation and Intent, which meant she had to be watched right up close by a staffer twenty-four hours a day until the supervising M.D. called off the Specials.” That’s probably the lowest I’ve ever felt, when I was in that situation myself. The only thing I could think of is that if one of the people sitting next to my bed would just leave for a minute I could pull the I.V. out of my arm and maybe, somehow, use the minuscule needle to cut my wrists or something. Even more depressing than being in that situation, defeated by your own inability to take your life, is the realization that you don’t have it in you to be crazy enough to try again. (69) 
  • “When people call it that I always get pissed off because I always think depression sounds like you just get really sad, you get quiet and melancholy and just sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around.” I’ve never really thought of it like that, but I’ve had similar thoughts surrounding what the word depression means to different people. Not too long ago someone, who I only really know in passing, tried to give me a shotgun diagnosis of why she feels I suffer from depression. She said something to the effect of “Why do you think you feel that way?” Immediately I wanted to walk away — depression doesn’t mean to her what it means to me. In that moment it was like depression was no more than a single I lost my puppy at age six and that’s when I started feeling down moment that’s stuck with me my entire life. Sure, you might sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around, but when it hits me hard I absolutely hate myself. The voice of negative reasoning takes over in my head and nothing I can say or do is good enough, and at once the world becomes no larger than the narrow plane of existence that my mind allows. Depression… (73) 
  • “TE OCCIDERE POSSUNT SED TE EDERE NON POSSUNT NEFAS EST (Endnote: Roughly, ‘They Can Kill You, But the Legalities of Eating You Are Quite a Bit Dicier.’).” I love that. (81) 
  • “He is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance” … “Life’s endless war against the self you cannot live without.” These two lines are separated by a paragraph, but they join together with precision in my mind. There are two very distinct people inside of me. There is a version of me who is very much open to the world, caring, giving, and considerate of both himself and others around him. There is another who suffocates friends and strangers alike, imposing a self-centered agenda with complete disregard for what consequence doing so might have on other people. Depending on the day — or more accurately what I’ve been drinking on that day — the latter can come out at some pretty unfortunate times. But the former, the version that I’d like to think more resembles who I really am, has been slowly starving the self-centered me, watching whatever that might have been lose more and more power. What I’d not thought of before writing this, though, is what happens when the angel on your shoulder murders the devil? While they are in constant battle, don’t they need each other? What is a hero without an evil nemesis to keep him in check? (84) Carlisle adds, “People become obsessed by their desires (substances, entertainment) and do not have the necessary discipline to wage ‘a war against the self’ to transcend those desires,” which adds a different meaning altogether to this section than what I first imagined. 
  • “Steeply, who had made his early career with Unspecified Services conducting technical interviews (Endnote: ‘Professional euphemism for involuntary interrogation, either w/ or w/o physical inducement.’).” I love things up like this. (108) 
  • Endnote 15: “The United States Office of Unspecified Services.” How long before that becomes the biggest office in the nation? (985) 
  • Endnote 24: “James O. Incandenza: A Filmography.” What I was initially dreading (a single note which spans eight and one-thirds pages) actually turned into the most enjoyable section of the book to this point… Or, at least, the most humorous section of the book to this point.
    • Cage II, in which “Sadistic penal authorities place a blind convict and a deaf-mute together in ‘solitary confinement,’ and the two men attempt to devise ways of communicating with each other.”
    • Fun with Teeth, “black and white; silent w/ non-human screams and howls,” in which “a dentist performs sixteen unanesthetized root-canal procedures on an academic he suspects of involvement with his wife.”
    • Homo Duplex, “Parody of Woititz and Shuglin’s ‘poststructural antidocumentaries,’ interviews with fourteen Americans who are named John Wayne but are not the legendary 20th-century film actor John Wayne.”
    • Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell, “God and Satan play poker with Tarot cards for the soul of an alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman obsessed with Bernini’s ‘The Ecstacy of St. Teresa.’”
    • Found Drama VI: “Conceptual, conceptually unfilmable. UNRELEASED.”
    • As of Yore, “A middle-aged tennis instructor, preparing to instruct his son in tennis, becomes intoxicated in the family’s garage and subjects his son to a rambling monologue while the song weeps and perspires.” (181 minutes)
    • Infinite Jest (I) “Incandenza’s unfinished and unseen first attempt at commercial entertainment,” Infinite Jest (II) “Unfinished unseen attempt at remake of Infinite Jest (I),” Infinite Jest (III) “Unfinished unseen remake of Infinite Jest (I), (II),” Infinite Jest (IV) “Unfinished, unseen attempt at completion of Infinite Jest (III),” and Infinite Jest (V) which is unclear as to whether it was attempted or completed, with “two short essays” actually being printed despite no report of anyone ever actually seeing the film, championing it as “extraordinary,” and “far and away [James O. Incandenza's] most entertaining and compelling work.” (985) 
  • Endnote 35: The discussion of Cantor is something I’ve had before, or maybe reflects something I watched on The History Channel. Either way I got a feeling of déjà vu when reading “the man who proved some infinities were bigger than other infinities.” (994) 
  • Endnote 39: “Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents, a.k.a. Wheelchair Assassins.” Comically menacing. (994) 
  • Monday’s unfamiliar words: “Etymology,” “anaplastic,” “prostatectomy,” “phalluctomy,” “Mondragonoid,” “oral-lyrologist,” “legation,” “maxillofacial,” “monilial sinusitis,” “ad valorem,” “sufism promulgated,” “kif,” “detritus,” “nystatin,” “stiptics,” “dyspeptic,” “febrile thrushive pique,” “actinomycete-class antibiotics,” “unlibidinous,” “portcullis,” and “Convocation.” 
  • Tuesday’s unfamiliar words: “Blattaria implacblus,” “phylacteryish bind,” “commensurately,” “spherocubular,” and “dendriurethane.” 
  • Wednesday’s unfamiliar words: “Lividity,” “comme-il-faut,” “expectorants,” “megaspansules,” “protectorates,” and “homolosine-cartography.” 
  • Thursday’s unfamiliar words: “Mordantly,” “Annular hyperfloration,” “hypocapnia,” and that’s about where I called it quits. The terminology homework was beginning to get in the way of just reading through and enjoying the words. I looked back on the first two days, where I’d gone through and defined terms I was unfamiliar with, and looked forward to this week’s, and I recognized that I was unlikely to remember their meanings mere moments after reading their definitions, anyways. So why put myself through all that? Joe, one of my reading partners, is looking the words up on his phone as he goes. Maybe I’ll try that. 

Pages Read: Monday 16, Tuesday 12, Wednesday 8, Thursday 12, Friday 14, Saturday 14, Sunday 16.

Miles on Bike: Monday 15.98, Tuesday 16.57, Wednesday 16.85, Thursday 17.17, Friday 16.16, Saturday 16.45, Sunday 18.62.

Calories Burned (Reading on Bike/Other Cardio): Monday 426/1057, Tuesday 450/1123, Wednesday 454/1131, Thursday 461/1162, Friday 427/1185, Saturday 457/551, Sunday 501/1246.

Weight: Monday 216.4, Tuesday 214, Wednesday 213.6, Thursday 214, Friday 213.6, Saturday 213.8, Sunday 213.2.

Alcoholic Musings, Part 2

The fact of the matter is…

“The Program works.”

Unless you look at Alcoholics Anonymous’ 1989 Triennial Membership survey, which explained that only 5% of newcomers continue past the first year, and 50% drop out within 30 days.

The fact of the matter is, though, that there are times when facts don’t matter that much. If “The Program works” for you, then you should pursue that avenue with all your power.

It’s arrogant to look at statistics alone and say that the path that someone else is taking to find wellness in their life is bullshit, but it’s difficult to step back and bite your tongue when A.A. is explained as the only plan that works. “I’ve never heard of someone who has gotten sober without it.”

The fact of the matter is that the percentage of people who actually suffer with some sort of alcohol dependency or “drinking problem” is huge compared to the percentage of people who actually seek recovery through rehab, in-patient programs, or even A.A. How huge?

According to the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey, a national household survey, approximately 7.5 percent of the U.S. population (about 14 million Americans) abuse and/or are dependent on alcohol (Grant et al. 1994). Furthermore, according to the 1993 National Drug and Alcoholism Treatment Unit Survey, more than 700,000 people receive alcoholism treatment on any given day (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA] 1997).

About 20:1, huge.

From this point on is where statistics become a little hazy in identifying what “the fact of the matter is.” How many of those 14 million Americans stop drinking? How many are able to moderate their drinking? How many continue abusing alcohol? It’s impossible to know.

To say that The Program of A.A. is the only method that works when seeking recovery from a dependency on alcohol is downright silly, but the perspective relies heavily on which side of the equation the burden of proof is on. If you can’t provide an example of someone who’s quit drinking on their own, A.A.’s rhetoric becomes vindicated. “I’ve never heard of someone who has gotten sober without it,” becomes a valid argument.

So, here’s an example:

One recent study found that 80% of all alcoholics who recover for a year or more do so on their own, some after being unsuccessfully treated. When a group of these self-treated alcoholics was interviewed, 57% said they simply decided that alcohol was bad for them. Twenty-nine percent said health problems, frightening experiences, accidents, or blackouts persuaded them to quit.

This excerpt is from a widely-quoted section in The Harvard Mental Health Letter (Volume 12, Number 4, October 1995). In brief, this example suggests that a process of seeking sobriety through spiritual enlightenment that was created by a drunkard in the ’30s isn’t actually the only way to pursue sober living.

All of this is to say that there’s a lot of confusion that I see built into the recovery process based on simple disregard for either side of the argument. The fact of the matter is that some people do get sober through A.A., living their lives within a powerful “fellowship” of like-minded individuals. The fact of the matter is that many other people get sober on their own, without the necessity of working steps, finding a sponsor, and turning their lives over to a “Higher Power.”

The fact of the matter is that whatever tools you can pick up along the way, be it a little bit of one philosophy and a little bit of another, to help serve you in your journey toward a better life should be utilized to their fullest potential. The fact of the matter is that once you can clear away a lot of the ignorant and misleading “facts” and “truths” which litter the path toward wellness, the better off you’ll be for it.

Aesop Rock at Exit/In (Nashville, TN)

I went to a fight and an Aesop Rock show broke out…

It wasn’t without incident, but for the most part Aesop Rock’s show at Nashville’s Exit/In felt like something of a light-hearted family affair. Ace, Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz opened strong with a series from the MC’s recent album Skelethon, immediately setting the bar high with the powerful “Leisureforce,” “Crows 2,” and “Homemade Mummy” (which wound down with a “Make Mummy, Mummy, Make Mummy, Mummy, Mummy/Take Mummy…” play on the Make/Take Money hip hop standard — it was funny, it was unexpected, and it encouraged a playfulness that would remain throughout the set).

“Smock” followed as the first from the trio’s Hail Mary Mallon release which dropped late last year via Rhymesayers. While seeming a little disengaged late in the set, Rob Sonic shined early through this song and the track which followed (introduced as some “Brand new never heard before Rob Sonic shit” from his forthcoming Alice in Thunderdome release), with Ace taking a supporting role, appearing equally as enthused to be lipping Sonic’s lyrics off-mic while slipping deeper and deeper into the music.

A bit of crowd-interaction turned an intermission letter-association-game into the powerful “ZZZ Top,” lifting the energy of the room before slinking into one of the night’s most memorable moments. In recent years it’s become fashionable to mash media on stage in an attempt to create a value-added sensory-overload rock show extravaganza — many times this takes the form of a video accompaniment (as it did during this show) or something like a painter creatively slopping a brush over a canvas while their stage-brethren sail through some this-is-coming-straight-from-the-heart indie rock interpretation. (This isn’t always the case, but it’s been my experience… just sayin’.) Not so with Ace & his band of merry men though.

Enter the show’s openers for the Dark Time Sunshine Barbershop, with tonight’s V.I.P., Mandy A. The crowd huddled closer to the stage as Mandy was invited on stage and sat down on a chair, putting the fate of her well-kept mop in the hands of two questionably qualified barbers while Ace, Sonic & Wiz broke out with “Racing Stripes.” If there was a personal highlight of the night, this was it: chanting along to my favorite song from Skelethon, hollering “muthafuckin’ bzzz bzzz” while the crew on stage proceeded to leave Mandy with a surprisingly-presentable dew. The performance was great and the haircut ended up looking sharp in a sort of “I just got my hair cut on stage at an Aesop Rock show” sort of way. Satisfied by the final product himself, Ace joked with the crowd how they could have left her looking like Friar Tuck (Think they’re joking? Think again.) only to apologize moments later in the event he inadvertently insulted any Friar Tucks in the room. No harm, no foul…

Within moments of “Grubstake” opening though, things began to fall apart as a fight broke out near the front of the crowd, leaving the crew on stage shutting down the Hail Mary Mallon track to play peacekeepers. As the situation settled down someone yelled out how their Jack & Coke was spilled, and Ace threw out an order to replace the wounded soldier. Keeping that light-hearted feeling alive amid all the bull-shittery in the crowd, Ace joked about how someone else spilled a large pizza and coke, proceeding to beg for a replacement while he was in such a giving mood.

“Cycles To Gehenna” followed, with another new Sonic track (“Rock, Paper, Scissors”?), and “Zero Dark Thirty,” before (another personal favorite) “Grace” kicked in, somehow sending a universal message to those same mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers in the crowd, encouraging them to start fighting again. “Broads be goin’ hard in Nashville, yo,” joked Sonic as a petite blonde-haired trouble-maker was literally dragged out of the club. (Sidebar: It’s at this point in the night where my buddy Rob leaned over and dropped what might remain the night’s finest moment of commentary, adding “They were literally rapping about vegetables and a fight ensued.” Well played, sir.) “Anyone wanna take a swing before the next song starts?” mocked Aesop (or Sonic, I didn’t really catch which one said it — my bad) before the duo took a backseat to Wiz as he kicked in with his “Making a Beat From Scratch” mainstay. The man’s turntablism and mixing is excellent, and his ability to improvise on the spot is insane… though I can’t but feel like it was overshadowed by the surrounding nonsense.

HMM’s “Meter Feeder,” “1,000 O’Clock,”and Sonic’s “Happy Land Disco” played through before a brilliant version of “Fryerstarter” hit, and “Gopher Guts” closed out the main set. The group took a moment to gather themselves before the dozen-year-old “Big Bang” exploded, with the crowd fist pumping its way into the introduction of the “Night Light”/”Daylight” blend, which served as the final shot for the show. It was nice to end the night by hearing something so comfortable (though predictable… I mean, Van Halen’s not leaving the stage without playing “Panama,” are they?), properly book-ending the night’s wide-reaching circus of human emotion. If I have one regret about the show though, it’s only that I wish I would have been the one with the pizza-joke. It still makes me laugh… maybe you had to be there.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Penicillin Baby "Daddy Drove a Hearse"

A little over two months back, in my interview with Penicillin Baby and Favorite Face Records’ Jon Conant, the vocalist mentioned that the group was in the process of putting together a few projects including a split-release with Megajoos. The two bands have now wrapped things up and packaged everything together as MEGA/BABY, a four-track EP which features a pair of songs from both bands — the early standout being PB’s “Daddy Drove a Hearse”: the track’s smooth vocals propelling a surf-rock vibe that (rather nicely) veers from the band’s previous psych-rock leanings. Megajoos’ “Gnar Gnar” is also up for streaming right now, but to hear the whole thing you’ll have to either keep an ear to Favorite Face’s Soundlcoud page come October 13, or head out to the release party the two bands (along with Tennessee Scum) will be holding at Dino’s Bar and Grill October 14.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

S.T.A.N. feat. Sofa Brown "The Almighty Dollar "

The tone for “The Almighty Dollar” is set early in the first single from S.T.A.N.‘s forthcoming Nightmare Next Door release, as the brooding track flips between verses from the MC and the P.U.S.H. Productions mainstay Sofa Brown. Produced by Fred the Tech, the dueling verses cascade over the sounds of a haunting piano and thunderous beat. “My goal with ‘The Almighty Dollar’ was to raise the awareness of the evils people rely on just to get by,” explains S.T.A.N. “From crooked leader heads in church down to the stick up kids on the block. The track is just a sample of what’s going on Next Door.” The new album will be released on Halloween, further emphasizing the theme that the new songs will play to. “Every track has a somewhat dark undertone feel with real life situations.”

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

"It Gets Better"

I’m a little torn here. I almost feel like suicide is something that should either be talked about without reservation, or not talked about at all… Which is why I don’t really know that I should be writing anything. In this video, Ze Frank says it’s like a virus, and that it can spread from one person to the next — how true that is of a lot of destructive behavior.

When I was in college I knew a girl who was dealing with tremendous night terrors, where she’d start thrashing around at night, still asleep, yelling and kicking until she woke herself up, only to then think she was still trapped in the world which her mind had created for her. I can’t imagine what that’d be like, fearing sleep. She took medication, but that didn’t help much. She sought therapy, but in the small college town we lived in the options were very limited. She told me one day that she had been using another coping mechanism in her life: To help manage the pressure, and take control of her emotions, she would cut herself. This was a new concept for me, and I didn’t really understand it at first. It didn’t take long before it made complete sense though.

For some reason I have a harder time talking about cutting than I do suicide, but both are destructive outlets for release that I’ve used to try and get through, or escape, living. Part of the reason that I started attending meetings at a local sober house in August wasn’t because I was strung out (to be fair, I sort of was), but because I could see my mind drifting, opening up possibility for that dark cloud of self-destruction to return. I was confused, about a lot of things, and after finding no help from local outlets that are supposed to be able to at least point me in the right direction, I decided that just being in a room with people was better than being in a room by myself. I was right.

Talking about suicide is a hard thing to do, and I still don’t know the right way to even approach discussion of it. Whether or not this is ever true, it seems easy for those who haven’t struggled with crippling depression to offer catch-all, broad-stroke advice to those in need of support, or to say, “seek help,” or “you’re not alone,” or “it will get better.” And that pisses me off. What pisses me off more is that even coming from someone who continues to struggle through suicidal ideations years after a failed attempt at ending my own life, that’s about all the advice even I can offer.

I don’t know what good there is that can come from putting this out there, but maybe in some universal-positive-lifeforce-energy kind of way, it’s just my way of taking the aluminum foil down that has been covering my windows, and setting a tone within the tiny, little community that I live in. And if by some odd chance someone reads this who feels like a miserable sack of shit, who’s working a soul-crushing job to pay for a house that they purchased because that’s what grown-ups do, who’s getting shuttled to and from that dreadful job by friends they don’t even like because they lost their driver’s license, who’s as depressed when medicated as they are normally, who doesn’t get any reprieve from therapy, who feels like their family would be better off without the burden of dealing with an emotional train-wreck on a daily basis… just know that I felt that very same way, too, and it actually does get better. And if you can’t believe that and things continue to appear their most bleak, you’d be surprised who will show up on your doorstep in order to talk you off of that ledge. People care. You’re not alone.

The Infinite Jest Workout Challenge

I can almost guarantee that David Foster Wallace didn’t write his mammoth masterwork Infinite Jest with a looming notion that, “I hope someone uses this book to lose weight.” But, by god, that’s what I’m going to try to do here.

One of my friends from college (hi Joe, hope you’re reading this) and I have been bouncing around the idea of a David Foster Wallace reading-list, or a discussion blog, or just something to get us motivated to dive a little deeper into the man’s work. Life got in the way of doing anything beyond reading some of his lengthy essays though. We’d toyed with the idea of reading Infinite Jest… but who has the time? Insert a second friend (Darcey, if this goes poorly, I’m blaming the whole thing on you) who randomly suggested interest in reading the book, and before you can say “1-click checkout” the books were on their way. From my angle, there’s a lot more to this idea though…

When I began this blog I did so with the intention of using it as a tool to hold myself accountable for actually trying to pursue goals that meant something to me. That idea slipped away for much of the year, but was given new life about a month ago when I was watching Louie, “What could your future be if you didn’t shut the door to possibility? What could happen if you worked harder than you’ve ever worked, expanding your aim to areas you previously never even considered? What could happen if you risked becoming a success?” Ideas started connecting and, while this might not seem like much, this past month I began trying to simply ask more of myself. I stopped taking comfort in the bare minimum of what I’m capable of doing, and started stepping outside of my habits of complacency. I have this idea that, when you’re making plans, your goals shouldn’t be predicated on everything going right in life, because things never work out like that. But likewise, why not ask something more of yourself?

So here’s my challenge to self: Not only am I going to read the 1085 pages of Infinite Jest (which includes Dave Eggars’ forward and the nearly 100 pages of end notes), but I’m going to do so while riding an exercise bike at the lovely downtown Nashville YMCA. And — the idea continues — when I’m done riding each day, since I’m already there, I might as well get a full workout in.

When I started the year I weighed about 225 pounds, and this morning I was greeted by 216.4 when I stepped on the scale… progress, sure, but a pound a month isn’t exactly getting me where I want to be. In January I said that my goal weight was 185, which may or may not be out of reach (see: predicated on everything going right), but that’s the goal: 1085 pages, 31.4 pounds, 100 days. Why 100 days? Because in exactly 100 days it will be one year since I set my goals in motion on this here blog. This isn’t Terry Fox attempting to run across Canada on one leg, or anything like that — this is simply an attempt at trying to make an effort that I know I’m capable of. And I’ve got two friends now who are going to be reading along with me, so that has to count for something, too.

Like any smart marathon runner though, I started before the sound of the pistol. (I wanted to do so, mostly, just to see that I had it in me to get started. And now that that’s out of the way, it’s all downhill from here, right?) To finish the book in 100 days, I have to read about 11 pages a day. To make my weight goal I have to lose about 2.2 pounds a week. Some days will be easier than others (considering those nasty endnotes), but overall it’s not impossible. To make things fun, I’m documenting a bunch of metrics along the way like how many miles I ride and how many calories I burn. It should make for some cool charts once all is said and done.

Saturday (18 pages read), Sunday (15 pages read).

Saturday (16.25 miles), Sunday (15.76 miles).

Saturday (421 calories while reading, 1068 during additional cardio), Sunday (417 calories while reading, 976 during additional cardio).

Aside from these charts, I’ll also be jotting down some stray observations (which I will be keeping up with each week). They might be silly, they might be pointless, but they make the ride more enjoyable… Here are some thoughts from this past weekend:
  • Introducing the “WhataBurger Southwest Junior Invitational” tennis tournament as “prestigious” is fantastic. (4)
  • An essay titled “Tertiary Symbolism in Justinean Erotica” is about 17 miles above my head. (7)
  • “This would have been bad enough, but in the end chair, right up next to the strap-secured head of my stretcher, was a T-shirt woman with barnwood skin and a trucker’s cap and a bad starboard list who began to tell me, lying there restrained and immobile, about how she had seemingly overnight suffered a sudden and anomalous gigantism in her right breast, which she referred to as a titty; she had an almost parodic Quebecois accent and described ‘titty’s’ presenting history and possible diagnosis for almost twenty minutes before I was rolled away.” I now know that hell exists, for I have seen it documented in print. (16)
  • “A counselor, Randi, with an i, with a mustache like a Mountie…” I’ve seen many a Canadian constable, and many an American police office, but I can’t think of a single Mountie with facial hair. (20)
  • “He’d cure himself by excess.” I’ve tried plenty of ways to quit drinking and eating too much, but most of them have had very little to do with “Hey, don’t go to the store and buy liquor and junk food.” Bingeing to excess, in order to sour the experience completely, seems no more insane a solution to me than many of those I’ve tried in the past. (22)
  • “He didn’t reject the idea so much as not react to it and watch as it floated away.” Choose Your Own Adventure. (26)
  • Also (from the first two days) here are the words I’ve had to look up (post-ride, of course): “effluvium,” “wen,” “mottle,” “avarian,” “matriculant,” “presbyopic,” “countenancing,” “idiogram,” “supine,” “mollify,” “enfilade,” “espadrilles,” “leonine,” “cirri,” “martinet,” “hypophalangial,” “etiology,” “Saxonic,” and “magisculed.”

So, I’ve bookmarked page 223, I’ve purchased a copy of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (which I’ll be reading on the couch), and I’ve got no excuses why this can’t be done. See you next week.