Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace

This article about the celebrated writer David Foster Wallace, who died tragically this fall at age 46, was published in last month's Rolling Stone. I think it is one of the best pieces I've read about the mind of an artist. In particular, the description of how a highly intelligent and talented person fluctuates between high self-expectation and fear of failure is very accurate. Here are a few of the best quotes, which I think all artists should read because they can probably relate:

"Basically it was the same symptoms all along: this incredible sense of inadequacy, panic. He once said to me that he wanted to write to shut up the babble in his head. He said when you're writing well, you establish a voice in your head, and it shuts up the other voices. The ones that are saying, 'You're not good enough, you're a fraud.'"

"I think one of the true ways I've gotten smarter is that I've realized that there are ways other people are a lot smarter than me. My biggest asset as a writer is that I'm pretty much like everybody else. The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever almost made me die."

"There is, in writing, a certain blend of sincerity and manipulation, of trying always to gauge what the particular effect of something is gonna be [...] It's a very precious asset that really needs to be turned off sometimes. My guess is that writers probably make fun, skilled, satisfactory, and seemingly considerate partners for other people. But that the experience for them is often rather lonely."

This story made me so sad that it's taken me almost two weeks to finish reading it. It is such a tragedy when a person takes his or her own life, even more so when he or she has a great deal to offer the world, and especially when the reason is pharmaceutical as it so often is.

I hope that by reading about what Wallace went through, the rest of us who share a lot of his fears and anxieties about our own art and lives might be spared a little bit of pain. In return, we might push ourselves a little bit harder, like Wallace did, to make something truly original.

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