Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Category Archives: in memoriam

I Want This Conversation To Be Over

David Foster Wallace hanged himself Friday.

I was a great fan of his essays. I never read his fiction. Infinite Jest sounded like a wonderful, dense, monumental read, but I’m already trying to read Proust, and, y’know, one literary mountain at a time.

Throughout his work, Wallace’s genius was to get to the heart of what people are and why they do what they do. He found it perverse and often baffling (*), but never let his perspective slide too far into condescension without reminding himself that he was no better. His comments on the t-shirt booth at the Illinois State Fair remain my favorite in this vein; I don’t have the text at hand, but it boils down to “who on Earth would wear these idiotic t-shirts…and who the hell am I for judging them?”

And there was the twist: his investigations never seemed to make him happy. At times (the titular essay of “A Supposedly Fun Thing…” is one example), he spiraled into a whirlpool of self-examination that was so critical it might have been called self-loathing if it hadn’t been so funny. In “Consider The Lobster,” in an essay on the English language, he laments his occasional social paralysis and inability to choose among the myriad different ways of expressing, for example, that he’s tired of talking to someone and would like for them to leave so that he can go to bed. He ends up, he says, by blurting out, “I want this conversation to be over and for you to be out of my apartment.” That he can see the humor in it and make us laugh doesn’t make it any less awkward.

I feel like he finally figured out the way to say it. I wish he’d found another way. While I’m glad he left behind his humor, his insights, and his immense talent in writing, I’m angry because it’s all tinged with sadness now. But in the end, we all have to choose our own path in this world, and sometimes out of it, and as Wallace himself might say, who the hell am I to judge?

Thanks for all the words. So long, DFW.

MythAdventures Remembered

I met Bob Asprin while I was in college working for the science fiction magazine. We wanted to do interviews with authors, an initiative that lasted exactly two authors, but if they’d all been like Bob, we would never have stopped. He was friendly and accommodating, talked a mile a minute, and was as entertaining as his stories, if not more. We followed up and he was extremely helpful in editing the interview and allowing us to go to press with it. There are plenty of nice people in the science fiction community, but he was more than nice.

I remember picking up the Myth-Adventures series and loving the balance he struck between fun and a serious story, something I’ve never been able to quite get to my satisfaction in my own work. He slung puns with the best of them, but never lost sight of the heart of his story. His characters, larger than life, remained true to it throughout, or at least as much as you can in a fantasy world.

After the interview and perhaps during the same time as the interview, which was longer ago than I care to remember, he was dealing with other issues that took his energy away from writing. I heard through the grapevine recently that he was working on projects again and was delighted.

Today I heard that he passed away.

His MythAdventures books stay on the shelves, published and republished through Meisha Merlin and others. They’re perennial favorites and have now, I think, become firmly cemented as a part of essential fantasy reading.

They’ll always be a fondly treasured part of my own reading memories. I can still remember sitting in the room, thanking the heavens for the tape recorder that was capturing everything he said, because my pen couldn’t keep up. And I’ll remember the conversations afterwards, a young fan being treated like a professional, the way he treated his stories: with humor and respect. Thanks, Bob.

R.I.P A.C.C.

Safe travels to Sir Arthur C. Clarke, wherever the next stage of his journey takes him.

Sean Murphy over at Wyrdsmiths says it best: “He will be remembered fondly, and re-read often.”