Eat: A chocolate-glazed doughnut. Treat yourself.
Drink: A single-origin from Colombia, brewed with a Chemex.
Read: I’ve read this story twice this weekend, and I’m about to read it a third time. David Foster Wallce really nails the depressed mentality, the way you can convince yourself of believing things that you know to be irrational or unlikely, but which your ability to rationalize anything allows you to construe as real.
I used to think that the worst thing you could tell a Troubled Person (e.g. me in a depressed and/or anxious state, or the main character of DFW’s story) was that “[whatever you’re feeling] is totally normal!” If someone is already feeling anxious about existence, why add the insult of being totally ordinary to his or her worries? One of my greatest fears is that I’m ordinary, that there’s nothing interesting or noteworthy about me. Like the woman in DFW’s story, depression makes me extremely self-centered, thereby enabling my fear of commonplaceness, and twisting the depression into a false signifier of my exceptional nature, because what other than an extraordinary intellect could trap someone into such a malformed outlook on life.
This, of course, isn’t true. I’m not exceptional, and my intellect (such as it is, which is to say, not particularly extraordinary) is not the obstacle standing between my current state and Happiness. The obstacle is the belief that it’s better to be alone and extraordinary than to be common and unremarkable, or more accurately, the belief that the path to exceptional accomplishments is an isolated one. The thing that DFW discovered is that being regular is precisely the way to literary enlightenment. In a 1996 conversation with David Lipsky, he said, “I treasure my regular-guyness. I’ve started to think it’s my biggest asset as a writer. Is that I’m pretty much just like everybody else.”
When I first read this part of their conversation, I thought, “Yes! There is hope for me yet. DFW and I* have gone through the same cycle of thinking that we’re better and smarter than most people, and then realizing that we’re not, and that we should really be focusing on the so-called ‘regular-guyness’ of everything, and that is the only way we are ever going to connect with anyone and especially the readers.” But then I realized that that reaction wasn’t really the correct one, because it’s still elevating me above most other people, and also because what it describes is basically everyone’s adolescence and early adulthood. We all start off as teenagers, even the most self-aware of whom are pretty self-centered, and then over time we realize that there are other people out there who have just as strange, complex, and contradictory inner monologues as we do, and that if we are ever going to get on with living life and perhaps finding this elusive Happiness concept, we had better accept or, better yet, embrace how everyone’s common denominator is this “regular-guyness,” and that that is a pretty good common denominator to have.
The thing about replacing the usual, “What you are feeling is totally normal,” with something like, “What you are feeling is just as strange as what everyone else feels,” is that it doesn’t reduce the Troubled Person to the terrible level on which he or she has unfairly and inaccurately assumed everyone else is existing, and instead elevates everyone else to the level on which the Troubled Person believes him- or her-self to be operating. It’s depressing to think, “You aren’t alone because we all suck,” but it’s uplifting to think, “You aren’t alone because we are all complex and interesting,” which is, I think, something that DFW probably believed in.
*Needless to say, it’s a bit absurd that I’m putting DFW and me in the same boat here. I’m not a troubled, mutli-degreed, literarily ground-breaking, nearly-immediately-canonical snoot. However, due to the aforementioned recognized but as yet unrectified egocentrism, I can’t help feeling a bit of affinity.