nice character descriptions (fiction, memoir, journalism)
Eyes the broad-shouldered faceless character that symbolizes Men's Room, does Sternberg, and struggles with himself. He's needed a bowel movement for hours, and since the LordAloft 7:10 lifted things have gotten critical. He tried, back at O'Hare. But he was unable to, because he was afraid to, afraid that Mark, who has the look of someone who never just has to, might enter the rest room and see Sternberg's shoes under a stall door and know that he, Sternberg, was having a bowel movement in the stall, infer that Sternberg had bowels, and thus organs, and thus a body. Like many Americans of his generation in this awkwardest of post-Imperial decades, an age suspended between exhaustion and replenishment, between input too ordinary to process and input too intense to bear, Sternberg is deeply ambivalent about being embodied; an informing fear that, were he really just an organism, he'd be nothing more than an ism of his organs.
typical DFW passage, esp the first sentence (idea for story)
[...] Ironically, a good part of his anticorporeal stance (it was his idea to call having a body Corporeal Punishment) derives from his non_fatal flaw, the skin trouble, the skin trouble itself deriving from a weekend years past, just before a cattle call for a Wisk spot he didn't get, a weekend of solo camping and getting-into-collar-soiled-character, with a tent, in the Berkshires, West of Boston, during which he'd contracted a mild spatter of poison sumac, and had purchased a discount generic brand of poison-sumac medicine he curses now and forever (like most terse-labeled generics the product was untrustworthy, turned out in fact to be medicine for the _sumac, not the sufferer therefrom, but if the label says MEDICINE FOR POISON SUMAC what the fuck are you going to think, standing there?) that had set his face, neck, chest and back aflame: pulsing, cystic, volcanic, allergic, clotted, almost sacredly scarred. The sumac is so bad it hurts--which of course is a constant reminder that it's there, on his body--and it won't go away, no sooner healed by brand-name antitoxin than reinfected. The whole thing's just pretty loathsome, and you can bet Sternberg loathes it. He's unhappy, but in that comparatively neat and easy way of those who are at least pretty sure they know why they're unhappy, and what to curse, now and forever.
typical long-winded DFW passage but also hilarious (honestly the characterisation of Sternberg is amazing)
Cause it's only dark, generally, back there in his eye's guts. Sometimes a spidery system of synaptic color, if he tries to move the bad eye too quickly. But usually nothing. But it'll heal, anyway. It'll come around. It's all in his head, he knows. Youthful-rebellion injury. Mrs. Sternberg warned from day one that the boy that does a forbidden thing, such as like for example crosses his eyes just to hurt a mother: that boy finds they stay like that. Well-known fact. Look it up in whatever resources orthodox mothers with lapsed sons access. Like early to bed: it's the sleep before dark that's most important. Like don't cry: you're better than whoever laughs at you. Like try this lotion, for sumac.
Here's the fresh sumac cyst, though, here, boy, between his eyes. It's darkened richly since the last cyst-check in O'Hare, matured from that tomato pink to the same plum shade as the airport lounge. The mirror does not lie.
Your average deformity sufferer has a love-hate thing with mirrors: you need to see how things are progressing, but you also hate it that they're progressing. Sternberg's not at all sure he likes the idea of sharing a mirror with a whole lot of actors. He's not sure he wants to rent a bureaucratic car and head West without sleep or soap for a Funhouse the brochure says is carefully designed utilizing mostly systems of mirrors. A crowded, mirrored place ... Sternberg ponders the idea as the automatic sink fills gurgling to his slit of the emergency drain at its rim. This sumac cyst between is eyes feels fucking alive, man. Pulses painfully with the squeak of his head's blood. The cyst is beginning to show a little bit of white at the acme. Not good. Clear evidence of white blood cells, which implies blood cells, and so a bloodstream. From there it doesn't take genius to figure out that you've got a body. A bit of white at an infected cyst's cap is pretty much embodiedness embodied. No way he's messing with the fucker, though. It would just love to be messed with. Would feed on it. And the stage after plum is eggplant, big and dusky and curved, like a new organ in itself, to be an ism of.
[...] precious time was lost before he could even think about how to set up a workable schedule for maximally efficient reviewing for the exam, even mentally, which he did every day. His great weakness was strategic organization and apportionment of time, as Reynolds pointed out at every opportunity, enjoining Claude to for Christ's sake just take a book off the stack and study instead of sitting there noodling impotently about how best to study. [...]
inspiration for someone, maybe a nameless character, who spends so much time planning out his coding process as opposed to actually coding, starts delegating the actual coding to other people (the dangers of solipsism. like me planning out harvest moon)
(think about the point of this more)
also i like the way DFW puts in "for Christ's sake" (inserting the character's own verbal tics into the narration of the character's speech)
Justin reciprocated Superking Son’s snubs. He ignored Superking Son’s directions and went through practice entirely on his own agenda. That first week, Superking Son and Justin interacted only through overriding each other’s instructions to Ken, Justin’s hitting partner. Every practice, Superking Son told Ken to practice drop shots, Justin said smashes, Superking Son yelled at Ken for not doing drop shots, Justin still refused to change drills, Superking Son made Ken do laps around the court for undermining his authority, and so on until Ken bailed on practice, hid in the locker room, and smoked a cigarette for his anxiety. (He stole packs from his dad, who bought them wholesale from Costco. His dad gave them out to relatives in Cambodia like candy, in an effort to pretend he was some hotshot American business tycoon.)
i love this. you really feel for this kid
I feel like shit lately, she said. All this stuff at home, I don't know. You think you're the kind of person who can deal with something and then it happens and you realize you can't.
inspo for neil, he maybe admits that to himself later once startup issues get out of control (maybe on his late night walk?)
I know. I could have told you and I didn't. But at some level I still see you as the person who broke my heart and left me unfit for normal relationships.
You underestimate your own power so you don't have to blame yourself for treating other people badly. You tell yourself stories about it. Oh well, Bobbi's rich, Nick's a man, I can't hurt these people. If anything they're out to hurt me and I'm defending myself.
Bobbi and Frances
Recently I met a man on a bike outside a produce shop, around the same age as my husband and visibly fatigued, sweat dripping down his ashen face. He asked the owner of the shop for a glass of water, and she acted as if she hadn’t understood, though it’s the same word in Portuguese as it is in Spanish: água. I bought a bottle from the fridge and asked him his name. He looked up when he heard me speak. Jesús was his name, he had been in Boa Vista for six days, and the only money he’d made was twenty reais (around $5) for mowing someone’s lawn. Another migrant had lent him a bike so he could look for work. I told him it was dangerous to be out at midday. It was over 100 degrees, and the streets were deserted. He would do any kind of job, he went on, he only wanted to send his mother food for her to eat. That’s how he said it, comida para ella comer. I went to the car to get some groceries. His face tightened as he looked into the plastic bag, not from disappointment but because he clearly despised himself; his need for water, his need to eat. He took my hand, squeezed it gently, and got back on the bike.
I teach a creative writing class at the immigrant aid center inside the university. In a recent class I asked my students to write down a memory, any memory, using all five senses. A 15-year-old girl stood up to share hers.
“My happiest memory,” she began, “is waking up in my bed . . .”
Then she was crying too hard to continue.
fuck this writing is so good
My mother died at eighty-three, of cancer, in pain, her spleen enlarged so that her body was misshapen. Is that the person I see when I think of her? Sometimes. I wish it were not. It is a true image, yet it blurs, it clouds, a truer image. It is one memory among fifty years of memories of my mother. It is the last in time. Beneath it, behind it is a deeper, complex, ever-changing image, made from imagination, hearsay, photographs, memories. I see a little red-haired child in the mountains of Colorado, a sad-faced, delicate college girl, a kind, smiling young mother, a brilliantly intellectual woman, a peerless flirt, a serious artist, a splendid cook - I see her rocking, weeding, writing, laughing - I see the turquoise bracelets on her delicate, freckled arm - I see, for a moment, all that at once, I glimpse what no mirror can reflect, the spirit flashing out across the years, beautiful.
That must be what the great artists see and paint. [...]
Considering how versatile Lenski appeared to be, how thoroughly he could explain anything related to our school studies, his constant tribulations at the university came as something of a surprise. Their cause, it transpired eventually, was his complete lack of aptitude for the financial and political problems he so stubbornly tackled. I recall the jitters he was in when he had to take one of his most important final examinations. I was as worried as he and, just before the pending event, could not resist eavesdropping at the door of the room where my father, upon Lenski’s urgent request, gave him a private rehearsal by testing his knowledge of Charles Gide’s Principles of Political Economy. Thumbing the leaves of the book, my father might inquire, for instance: “What is the cause of value?” or: “What are the differences between the banknote and paper money?” and Lenski would eagerly clear his throat—and then remain perfectly silent, as if he had expired. After a while, he ceased to produce even that brisk little cough of his, and the intervals of silence were punctuated only by my father’s drumming upon the table, except that once, in a spurt of rapid and hopeful remonstration, the sufferer suddenly exclaimed: “This question is not in the book, sir!”—but it was. Finally my father sighed, closed the textbook, gently but audibly, and remarked: “Golubchik [my dear fellow], you cannot but fail—you simply don’t know a thing.” “I disagree with you there,” retorted Lenski, not without dignity. Sitting as stiffly as if he were stuffed, he was driven in our car to the university, remained there till dusk, came back in a sleigh, in a heap, in a snowstorm, and in silent despair went up to his room.