Not perfection (and Jonathan Franzen on David Foster Wallace)

Friday, April 22, 2011

This is not my yard.  This is the perfect lawn of Chanticleer Gardens, where two of my books take place and many of my other books have been considered.  This is the lawn children tumble down, the lawn my own Chanticleer students once traversed as they made their way from prose poems to villanelles.

This is also not my life—this quiet, green perfection.  My life is more like last night—those 45 minutes of sleep that I finally got—or more like this morning, when, after deciding that further sleep was not an option, I turned on my computer only to experience a three-hour computer crash.  My email files have now been restored, thank you very much.  But it's 11:20 AM, and I have not dressed for the day.

What I have done, while wading through no sleep and no connectivity is to read and blurb a book, to talk to my father, and to read Jonathan Franzen's essay, "Farther Away," in last week's The New Yorker.  This is the piece my dear student brought to me on Tuesday.  This is the quality of work she finds inspiring.  And no wonder.  I share with you now the passage my student read aloud to me, on that gray day, in that dark and too-cold room, her voice the warmth, her presence the light.  It's Franzen reflecting on David Foster Wallace:

People who had never read his fiction, or had never even heard of him, read his Kenyon College commencement address in the Wall Street Journal and mourned the loss of a great and gentle soul.  A literary establishment that had never so much as short-listed one of his books for a national prize now united to declare him a lost national treasure.  Of course, he was a national treasure, and, being a writer, he didn't "belong" to his readers any less than to me. But if you happened to know that his actual character was more complex and dubious than he was getting credit for, and if you also knew that he was more lovable—funnier, sillier, needier, more poignantly at war with his demons, more lost, more childishly transparent in his lies and inconsistencies—than the benignant and morally clairvoyant artist/saint that had been made of him, it was still hard not to feel wounded by the part of him that had chosen the adulation of strangers over the love of people closest to him.
What we learn from our students.  What they yield.

2 comments:

Beth F said...

Lovely connection with your student.

And I'm so sorry about the computer fiasco -- ugh.

Lilian Nattel said...

You are amazingly productive on no sleep, Beth! And an intriguing and moving excerpt.

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