I have to admit, I had doubts that I would reach the point where I’d have the privilege of telling you that I have finally, really started loving this book.
Speaking as a somewhat emotionally stunted adult, a lot of the ETA scenes are my favorites, how the gravely serious roots of an Eschaton scenario go ass over teacup when Air Marshal Kittenplan (Kittenplan!) takes a nuclear warhead tennis ball in the neck and the whole event devolves chaotically, balletically, and in super slo-mo, into rubble. That scene is a golden piece of deadly serious yet juvenile tit-for-tat the likes of which I haven’t seen since the last time I watched The Bad News Bears. And how Pemulis may be some sort of elegant, raw math genius but he also gives in to the happy impulse to label his Eschaton diagram of available combatant megatonnage HALSADICK. My inner thirteen-year-old boy is delighted and relieved when this kind of stuff goes down. I’d make a terrible politician.
Gately helped my romance with IJ to blossom, as well as Hal and Pemulis,49 and I want to think about the AA stuff some more, and the theme of repetition and recovery that winds such a heartfelt50 thread through Infinite Jest.
I was really affected by infinitedetox’s post about his own dependencies and how he was viewing his recovery through the lens of IJ. The section where Gately is lying on the couch at Ennet House listening to a newly admitted addict argue against the daily drill of meetings required by AA struck a chord with me. (I’m not an addict, though I’ve lived with addicts — they tended to disappear my books, and I wonder if they might have rationalized the thefts by arguing that since at the time I worked in a bookstore, I could therefore more readily steal51 replacement copies of whatever had gone missing52 So I’m not an addict, no, but I do understand the need to come to terms with small losses, and to try to learn not to be so defensive in the face of the world’s most ordinary demands.)
I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this, but reading this book has been like a yoga for me, in the sense that it’s become an almost-daily practice for which it’s necessary to find a quiet space to focus my mind on an object outside itself. I’ve been practicing ashtanga yoga for more than ten years and I’ve found that over time there’s a cumulative and deeply grounding effect gained after regularly, dutifully, and unquestioningly attempting those weirdly liberating knots yoga ask you to tie yourself into. Much like this book.
So when a newly sober fellow demands that an old timer explain to him why AA wants him to keep going to these goddamn MEETINGS all the time, why can’t they just tell you the answer right from the get-go? my first non-AA-going thought was that maybe the point of AA meetings is just to keep going to the meetings. It’s a practice like any other, like going to yoga and listening and stretching until hey, you can touch your toes, or create more space around your heart just by using your breath; or if you don’t like that analogy, like slowly working a piece of wood until over time it becomes shapely and smooth. There are things that are only revealed over time, after doing the work, and those things are sort of the point, yes, but the process of showing up every day is also the point, showing up to your life, to your work, to your family, to your meetings, to the book you’re reading — just doing the work is also sort of the point.
Ninety per cent of life is just showing up, I’ve heard it said, and I’ve always kind of hated that saying because it implies that you can just shamble into class in your sweats without having done the reading. But I also love that saying because if you show up you’re allowing for one of at least two possibilities: that you may be called on and exposed as unprepared, or that you may go uncalled-on and retain your facade of preparedness, but either way you’re still in the position to learn something new about the subject at hand that you wouldn’t have, had you stayed in bed. This weekend my friend Danielle told me that she once had a frustrated professor who stood up in front of her half-empty Friday morning lecture and rewarded everyone who’d come instead of sleeping in or skipping off to Stowe for another in a series of three-day weekends.53 The professor rewarded the students in attendance by saying, “Everyone who showed up today gets an A in this class.”
So I’m glad I keep showing up for Infinite Jest, ready or not. Hey, you showed up, too! So what if you’re behind, or lost, or didn’t look up the word “eschatology” until ten minutes ago. Keep going. We get an A just for being here today.