This Is Water

I’ve just discovered this essay (adapted from a speech) by David Foster Wallace [linked below]. He’s spot on about the way I see everything as the little princess of my own imaginary kingdom. The center of the universe, the only one in the world who has ever felt this way. Everyone else in line is “stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman” — yes, yes and yes. How does he know.

His response to this sort of intellectual solipsism is to make up elaborate stories about the harsh circumstances in everyone else’s lives. Rather than being annoyed with the guy in an SUV who cuts you off, he says he imagines he has a sick child and therefore a good reason to be in a hurry. Though the author admits these imagined stories are very unlikely to be true, he uses them to try to see the world around him.

My problem with this is that I can only suspend my knowledge of which things are probably true (or not true) for the most delightful fantasies. I can fantasize about dashing through my commute atop a Jotunheim creature because the idea of it delights me. I find nearly no delight in making excuses for others behaving badly. I don’t see the point in expending the mental energy to imagine that some gaudy over-made woman who slaps her child in the supermarket is sleep deprived because her husband has osteosarcoma. Why on earth should I try to excuse awful behavior?

Reading his speech, I realized that I take the opposite approach. I imagine that these people do not exist. They’re loud furniture. They’re unruly decorations. I’m mildly schizophrenic, I tell myself. I can’t help it. But for the rest of polite society, I should just pretend that the dead-eyed, bovine zombies with too much perfume aren’t really there. Because they aren’t — not in any way that should be relevant.

As for worship, I think he’s right. I found my case:

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up
feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

Now that I have outed myself and let go of that, I have had to find other things to worship. That was simple. The Bohemians have it right. For me it will always be truth, beauty, freedom and love — and yes, in that order.

This Is Water

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