“Tell Me a Story About How Things Will Get Better”

Davidfosterwallace0919_3 It’s been almost a month since noted writer David Foster Wallace committed suicide. Here is the reflection I wrote the night I learned of his death and another post I did with links to remembrances and my analysis of his Kenyon College speech. My delicious page has a full listing of links.

A few days ago Pomona College hosted a memorial service for Wallace. Jonathan Franzen, himself one of the great American writers working today and a close friend of Wallace, relayed a tragic dialogue. LA Times reports:

"Tell me a story about how things will get better," David Foster Wallace asked his friend Jonathan Franzen last summer. It was a particularly dark summer for Wallace, mired in a depression that ended, on Sept. 12, in suicide….

"He was in a terrible and dangerous place as a man and a writer," Franzen told the writer’s friends and family, colleagues and students. "I said I thought his best writing was ahead of him. He said, ‘Tell me another one.’ "

A month’s time has turned raw sadness into more varied emotions. I’m wondering whether, as one friend put it to me, a brilliant mind knows that suicide is actually a rational option under certain circumstances. I’m wondering why his anti-depressants stopped working and about the pharmaceutical role in dealing with depression more generally. I’m wondering whether the death of a hero of sorts (I don’t have many) has contributed to my own periodic light funks — I have always had a high set point of happiness but the past few months have also included occasional dips that come and go but regardless are new for me.

Most of all, I have a big regret. The one class of his that I attended ended almost an hour early. A few students milled around to chat with him; most of us left. I left, thinking I’d have opportunities to chat with him more in the future one-on-one. Of course, that future is gone and I should have seized the opportunity when it was in front of me.

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I’m reading McCain’s Promise — the expanded version of the DFW essay on McCain from 2000 that appeared in Rolling Stone and Consider the Lobster. Will report more once I finish. It’s obviously a pretty timely read.

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