Thursday, April 22, 2010


While procrastination is something I struggle to avoid, I cannot help but enjoy the fact that I’ve procrastinated phenomenally well the past two days. Not that I’ve done a good job procrastinating (though that is true), but that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve spent procrastinating because I’ve spent it so well. I’ve been devouring the works of the best essayist I’ve ever read: David Foster Wallace, a man whose wit and insight meld to form explications that both make me ache and rejoice in the gross capacity of the human person to digest truths about the world. The most recent essay, “Authority and American Usage (or, ‘Politics and the English Language’ Is Redundant)” makes the-Shelley-who-publicized-The-Chicago-Manual-of-Style-on-Facebook-as-“Favorite-Books” side of me verifiably glow. I woke up at 6:45 today with the goal of writing. Instead, I’ve been reading from this 62 page essay for the past two hours, and I cannot find an ounce of remorse. Foster Wallace’s humility, humor, and sheer brilliance bite and tickle and make me want to be a better woman. There. I’ve said it. It’s plain and simple love.

I don’t expound on DFW’s mind-boggling talent because it delights me (though it does) but rather because it presents a good introduction for the rest of my point. I must begin with an apology. Yes, I’ve been away. And though I flatter myself to think that you have missed my endless self-indulgences (“too long,” I believe was the term I recently heard), I do want to explain. I’ve been spending the past few weeks weighing some very serious options. As many of you know, I have been examining my potential futures. Having applied for graduate school, I’ve been touring the programs that decided to send me a large envelope instead of a small one. This process, though not as extensive as it could have been, has been a relatively exhausting. Planes, trains, and automobiles as well as couch surfing and map gazing have all been employed. With a singular result.

I’ve been writing since I was seven. The first novel—an illustrated tale of love set against the hyperbolic drama of a Disneyland inferno—was the hit of acid that recurs on me and drives me back to the keyboard. There was the story of the alien disguised as a king/coral snake with wicked intentions for planet Earth, the hopelessly romantic translation of Sleeping Beauty, the tale of what happened to the countryside after Cinderella and Prince Charming married, the unfinished collection of letters written to a non-existent granddaughter. Fictions, all of them, and written with varying degrees of plot/character development/voice/description. Basing my self-evaluation upon those imaginings, I always assumed that I was a fiction writer.

It’s only recently been brought to my attention that I’m actually a non-fiction addict. Yes, I sat down to create those fancies, but the preambles and post-scripts to those dalliances with my imagination were letters, journal entries, running internal notations of life. We all do these kinds of things, and for this reason I posit that there’s a non-fiction writer in each of us. Mine just puts thought to page.

Armed with collections of these rambles about reality (pun not intended but embraced), I finally put my head on the chopping block and sent applications out for a Master’s in Fine Arts degree for creative non-fiction. See, I’ve been trying to pursue an MFA in creative writing for over a decade—since I first learned of its existence. Many trials and tribulations have interrupted this course (tales of which I’ll spare you as this essay is already getting too long), but it has finally progressed, and has finally culminated in some success.

Decision in hand, I have slowly begun to realize the full ramifications of acceptance: expectation of success. Who do these programs think I am? I mean, this blog notwithstanding, I don’t have the best track record of delivering on writing projects. (In fact, I actually started this blog out of a desperate need for a shame factor to force me to sit down to write.) Beyond the blessed terror of producing something on demand, I’m also now facing the queasy realization that they’ve accepted me with the assumption that I’ll actually create something good. I’ve just returned from a professional writers’ conference which has only further demonstrated how ill-prepared I am to accomplish that task. And while the Two Antagonists are not (at present) gnawing furiously, I’m all-too-aware that I am torn between a great longing to write and a great dread of the prospect. Every other project imaginable (woodworking!) has come to mind, but hope for actually achieving something deserving an MFA has flitted away. I have become a twat.

Which is what makes the beloved DFW so outraging. He, perhaps single-handedly, brought the essay back into fashion simply by being SO GOOD. Literally. He’s been dead (at the age of 46) for two years, but his legacy is enough to get an entire panel’s discussion at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual conference (no small feat). Because of his exquisite ability to ply humor and rhetoric and concision and style so effortlessly—and because he’s bred stream-of-consciousness with occasional graphical explication—he bars identification. Is he a humorist? A realist? A philosopher? Avant-garde? Classical? Cynic? Optimist? David Foster Wallace’s lens shows the breadth and depth of an entire genre. And we, the readers, are left with wonder and excitement at being human (I dare you to prove me wrong).

Who am I to follow where he tread?

I’m sorry if my digressions today have left you with anger at your procrastination. Leave me off and read DFW instead. Consider the Lobster is an objectively fine introduction. And if you’re wondering where I determined to go next fall, I’ll say it was an obvious choice (though not for the obvious reason): David Foster Wallace’s alma mater: the University of Arizona.