The night's over; there will be no refunds.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Note From The Author

This blog is no longer refreshed with posts. However, there are 300 posts for you to read (see sidebar TOPICS & SUBJECTS & MISC. for orientation). I will continue to maintain the site; for instance, I will read and perhaps respond to any comments by readers. And spam? That shit'll be immediately deleted.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Schmidt Sting Pain Index

Two weeks ago I stuck my left forearm out the car window when I was driving to cool off using the "hand airplane" method. Either a hornet or a bee smacked into my wrist below the pinky and stung me. I shook him off and brought the arm in to see if the little bastard had left a stinger. He did not. The prick really smarted and did in a firey way for the rest of the day, the swelling becoming a angry red spot that I can still see today.

Last night I returned from my mom's desert scrub hillside in Osoyoos, a place ruled by hornets and wasps. In all the time I was there I was only stung once - and not by a courtyard-patrolling hornet or wasp. I took a bee's stinger in my left inner thigh - very close to things - while cycling back from a frozen yoghurt feast in Okanagan Falls. I flicked the bee off. The wound was a sharp stab, but the pain went away almost immediately. I thought about the difference between the two stings. The inner thigh should've hurt like crazy. And then, as always happens when given the sharp hind end, I started to think about the Schmidt Sting Pain Index.

I first heard about the Schmidt Sting Pain Index from two sources almost simultaneously in the mid-90's. CBC's "Quirks and Quarks" first alerted me to the amazing story of Justin O. Schmidt, a scientist at the Carl Hayden Bee Centre (bring the kids!) in Tuscon, Arizona. Soon after, I read a blurb on him and his trial-by-ordeal in Outside magazine back when it was a fine magazine with Tim Cahill and David Quammen's writing. Schmidt is a scientist with tremendous curiosity and balls like church bells.

For Schmidt sought to get stung by every wasp, hornet, bee, and ant he could find around the world and scale them using his own pain tolerance as an index. He was one smart son of a bitch to avoid arachnids. His scale goes from 1-4 with three adjectives and a comparison used, sometimes a metaphor, for the pain. He uses phrases like "light . . . almost fruity" and "slightly crunchy" to describe the sweat and honey bees respectively. Our usual bee is a 2, while the worst insect on his scale in the bullet ant which is a 4+ sting described as "intense, brilliant pain".

This is a man who suffered for a fairly esoteric and specialized reason. The common person knows only an index of "ow" "Ow!" and "OW! JESUS!" I'm still curious why one sting was a 2 and the other a mild, "almost fruity" sensation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What It Feels Like to Read Infinite Jest In One Week

Rolled up in Turkish-cut words in sheaves of paper and smoked
Clawed by clauses
Led by absurdity into transcendent cul-de-sacs
Tempted by tennis, at least the televised game
Narcotized by suspiciously detailed depictions of being high
Slightly smarter

Apt to call 2009 The Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment
Accosted by acronyms
Knackered from climbing ladders of monosyllabic pharmaceutical indentification
Like a man overboard in a sea of symbols, reassured that there's a shore there's a shore
Blushed from awarding the Prettiest Girl of All Time (P.G.O.A.T.) in an elaborate mind ceremony
Paranoid that a tiny hanging number will lure me into six thousand diminutive words of footnotes

Sorrowful and jubilant within the same sentence
Employed by literature
Sure that D.F.W. read P.G. Wodehouse
As if my eyeballs were made of marble that exceeded the holding strength of the sockets
Worried that no subsequent book will measure up.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Postmodern Peloton: Days Six and Seven

Mission Accomplished.

I finish the novel on a pillow on a grassy hill with a bluegrass band playing below me. I rush onto the "dancefloor" to have a jig with the book in celebration.

The last two days were always going to be the hardest days. Impossible to cloister oneself at a music festival where one is riding a bike for four hours a day on security patrol. Impossible when surrounded with friends. Thankfully the friends knew what I was doing and - aside from some nagging from a couple of them - they let me devour pages while bobbing my head and tapping my foot. One friend-of-distinction cheers me on.

By the end, Don Gately surpasses Hal as the protagonist who matters the most to me. The threads are the various stories are sewn together but not too tightly; there are still loose ends and unresolved issues. Throughout it all are Wallace's painstaking words of minutia. There's a lot of pain in this novel, pain and absurdity. There's a lot of pharmacology.

It had been an incredible week. I feel somehow like I've both gain and lost something upon the Challenge's completion. Apres ca, le deluge? . All the other volumes I have leaning about the room in stacks seem paltry by comparison, but this is only an illusion. Isn't it?

*gives self high five*

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Postmodern Peloton: Day Five

723 pages, 72 pages of footnotes

My copy of Infinite Jest is stained with the following: bugs (a whole mosquito preserved on the first page of blurbs), coffee, strawberries, huckleberries and good ol' soil.

One thing about plunging so deeply into such an incredible long work is that one gets to know the characters very well and care about them deeply, even if they are merely clowns or mouthpieces for Wallace's reflexive philosophizing. I don't know exactly where IJ is going in Act III, but I have a feeling someone I like is going to die.

The tennis match between Hal and Ortho Stice "The Darkness" goes on much too long but the tense scene where Don Gately gets shot is fantastic and reads like Charlie Huston channeling Thomas Pynchon. Someone from the Ennet House scene I rather want to die.

All I know is this: David Foster Wallace was a genius and I'm far from being one. This is actually calming.

I read by the river, in the gazebo at Allen Park and at home, of course. I find myself trying to explain the value of this Challenge to a couple of people and lost the thin veneer of internal logic that this mad word gluttony had five days ago. However, there's no stopping it. Not even the Kispiox Music Festival can stop me from completing this book by midnight on Saturday, so I can write about it here for very few people to read.

As Kurt Vonnegut used to say, "So it goes."

He also once wrote, "Hi ho!" all through a novel for good measure.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Postmodern Peloton: Day Four

567 pages, 61 pages of footnotes

I've learned a lot from Infinite Jest, mostly regarding tennis - tennis academies in particular - and the working of Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous. On the one hand, this reading experience has made me want to be play tennis, even though it's been exactly 13 years since I've picked up a racket. On the other hand, Infinite Jest has made me want even less to be a drug addict or drunk.

Today I read by the river and in the cafe, but mostly at home. There are less footnotes, but I still can't plow through 200 pages to give myself the buffer I need to make it through the busy weekend. At this point, I wish I had to sleep less, so I can read and do everything else that's "necessary": that which doesn't make me feel like a cloistered, obsessive hermit.

In today's pages one of the residents of the drug-rehab halfway house begins to kill pets to scratch some horrible psychological itch. Also today we finally get to see the handiwork of the Wheelchair Assassins, les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents. They kill with a railroad spike to the eye. Somehow these incidents aren't any more horrific than yesterday's stories from the halfway house.

I find that I'm making notes and underlining less, though I'm still circling words that I don't know but am willing to look up. Because there are a lot of words I don't know. Wallace's knowledge is incredibly vast, and one doesn't always know if the vocabulary is perspicacity or functionless, obfuscating jargon (ha! two can play at that game).

I was amazed to find the main joke/koan from "This Is Water" used in a passage about AA. I guess when you've thrown out as many words into the universe as DFW, you're bound to repeat yourself now and again.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Postmodern Peloton: Day Three

418 pages, 48 pages of footnotes

Today is the most difficult and in some ways most "rewarding" of the Challenge. Today, the plot - the plot involving the Entertainment also known as Infinite Jest and how it relates to the setting - begins to coalesce. There are two horrible life stories from the female inhabitants of the drug rehab half balanced by the funniest scene in the book so far.

The biggest obstacle of the day was reading through two very long sections, or scenes. And they were back to back. Twenty one pages are dedicated to an introduction to the game of Eschaton in a match that gets completely out of hand for symbolic purposes. That's followed by a tedious and dense scene from the halfway house that unfolds for twenty three pages. Also today sees the longest footnote yet: footnote 110 is sixteen pages long of 6 point print, most of it involving a telephone conversation between Hal, the nearest thing we have to a protagonist, and his brother Orin. It advances the Entertainment plot, however.

In this future (technically now) world, the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico exist as O.N.A.N. (yeah, I know), the Organization of North American Nations. The U.S. has conceded a large part of its far Northeast, a place already toxically polluted, to Canada. The U.S. calls it the Great Concavity and Canada the Great Convexity. Garbage and waste is hurled into this barren, deathly landscape by enormous catapults. Quebecois separatists are battling the U.S. over this and that's where the Entertainment comes in . . .

I start the day with a half hour pedal before I settle down by the river and then, of course, Mercedes Beans and Model Teas. At the coffee shop I read a passage about football that is so much like early John Irving that I laugh and gasp at the same time. I bike up to New Town to read at Allen Park. There the weather is perfect for outside reading. That's where I tangle with the Gigantic Footnote.

I'm going to have to really have a couple of enormous days if I want to finish on Saturday. I'm reading about eight hours a day. I'm beginning to wish that there were really big illustrations distributed amongst these 1079 pages.