• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Infinite Jest

I know I was going to write about writing all week, but I have to share this link to the David Foster Wallace’s papers which were just acquired by the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin. I know it’s good that these papers are now part of an estimable collection, and that researchers and scholars have access to them. But if you just look at the few examples that are shown in the release, tell me if your heart doesn’t break. What can be more private, more intimate than the notes a man jots in the margins of his books, the words he circles in a dictionary? It’s strange, but I don’t have the same feeling about diaries; I think most writers hope that someday they are found and read. It’s as if they are written for an imaginary audience even if unconsciously. But there is something different about the papers — the manic marginalia, notes scrawled on every space of an inside jacket, drafts revised within an inch of their lives — this all feels too close. When a writer leaves behind a book, he has signed off on it. But the notes he leaves in the margins are a trail of brilliant crumbs. They are a living conversation. If you have moment, look through the pages the museum has displayed.  I can’t think of anything more beautiful than a writer so deeply engaged in his work. I could weep.

8 Responses

  1. Thanks for this Betsy.

    I never knew what the fuss was about David Foster Wallace, having once tried and failed to finish Infinite Jest. Then I gave it another go at another time in my life and found it one of the most enthralling things I’d ever read. As a writer, I was gob-smacked by some of the things he pulled off and his ability to tell the truth. I’m so in awe of him.

    Scanning through the papers gives me that electric shock you get when you hold something belonging to someone you admire, hopeful and a little afraid that it might rub off on you. I know it’s unlikely he expected scholars to trawl through his scribbles, but as a writer, his scope was so wide-ranging and generous, he seemed driven to get what was in his head out into the world. And he was better at it than 99% of us.

    I love that his books aren’t pristine first editions destined for antique dealers: instead, they’re messy with the ideas and questions and tangents.

    It truly makes me wonder: did anyone ever love the written word as much as David Foster Wallace?

  2. Totally agree with you. My journals – the ones I don’t burn – are fair game. But the revisions?! Really? Why the toil to reveal what I truly meant to say for all my failed attempts to convolute the meaning?!

  3. I weep with you.
    I share your feelings.

  4. I read this post last night around midnight, got onto the link and tried to read all of DFW’s scribbles inside the covers of various other authors’ books. Couldn’t make out much of it except here and there. A phone number of someone named Chris, notes on upcoming projects perhaps…
    Which then led me to reading a lot of reviews on Amazon of Infinite Jest, the Wikipedia site about Infinite Jest, etc etc. There are 395 reviews on Amazon. Lots of opinions. I’ve never read it nor any of DFW’s stuff but I did read a lot about him after he died. The New Yorker piece. All of the comments\memories on the McSweeny’s website. I thought a lot about him after he died. One thing that I thought, maybe after reading the New Yorker piece, was that he seemed tortured by writing fiction but much less tortured by writing non-fiction. I’d love to talk with someone who knew him well to ask if that was true.

  5. Thank you for this… so, so sad…

  6. What’s fascinating is that he was analyzing these books for form, content and structure and that’s work that a very smart writer does.

    It’s disconcerting the stuff that ends up archived when a writer dies. There’s the work that ended up being a book, and in these margins, there’s the working of his mind as he learned how to write them.

  7. Now I’m afraid to click on the link! But I will. Can’t help myself. Thanks for this post.

  8. Writing is endless. There’s always another word, a phrase that would clarify, a paragraph that might better bridge disparate themes. I’m surprised anything is ever finished.

    We live and improve in incomprehensible ways as writers and as people. When we change our writing changes and we want the work to reflect that. Oops too late. There it is, a book, frozen in time, ours and not.

    It is maddening and human and I am in awe of the process. And I am in awe of Mr. Wallace.

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