All posts by Corrie Baldauf

Only Only: Infinite Winter

Infinite Winter.

It worked. We worked.

Each week of Infinite Winter a frozen white snowflake went hot orange on our countdown calendar.
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Reading seven posts a week for fourteen weeks was a new experience for me (it has been awesome).

Between our countdown calendar and Jenni Baker’s diagrams and objective correlative collage portraits, I was actually able to visualize what time looks like when reading Infinite Jest with a group. Jenni also started our Reddit (a thing I’d never read before). I learned so many things from reading your Reddit posts that I never understood while reading Infinite Jest, twice, prior to Infinite Winter.
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Molly-Notkin-Bathroom-Collage-3
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I understood that it was possible for our group of guides to write a post a week, but I didn’t know that all those posts would be one of my major incentives to wake up and start each day.

Ryan Blanck candidly broke down the process of juggling Infinite Winter weeks and school weeks in his posts. Each time he did this, I kept remembering that it’d be just fine and probably a little fun to drop one of the obligations I was juggling. Turns out participants posting on Twitter were also trying to figure out how to pause and work on reading. We full-on got behind getting behind. For me this was at first disheartening and then all at once it was hilarious and communal.

It was endlessly more exciting to read what you were all writing and commenting on than taking on each week of scheduled Infinite Jest reading. The conversations surrounding the reading helped me focus in and write a post every week. At some point between every Saturday and Tuesday, I wrote something. Fortunately I was able to read my own fortune about how this writing would go if I didn’t have help. I asked Dave Laird to read my posts before I posted them.

It helped. Asking someone to read what I’d written made the process a conversation.

At the beginning of Infinite Winter, Mark Flanagan had the idea to set his copy of Infinite Jest in the snow and photograph it. I’ve been thinking about what exactly those images have symbolized for me, and I’ve realized that they represent both risk and wisdom. Turns out that I knew, but forgot, that certain types of snow are more like foam peanuts than cesspools.
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Infinite Spring
Now, at the end of Infinite Winter, Nathan Seppelt just posted an image of what it looks like to drive the car being driven on page 270 in Infinite Jest. Imagine all our views of this read piling up like his layered drawing. What I get is an active and complex stack of information. Disorienting yes, but recognizably patterned. Something like what an image rendered for 3D looks like, but viewed without 3D glasses.
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Thank you for taking the time to share your written and typed notes about Infinite Jest and how exactly moments within it connected with the goings on going on in the beginnings of your 2016.

Happy May!

Although Infinite Winter is coming to a close, all the guides and many of our participants can be found on Twitter. Hope to see you there.

#InfWin

Garbage Cans are Portraits

Its glass was green and its bottom over his head was pebbled and the light inside was...green. p 971
Its glass was green and its bottom over his head was pebbled and the light inside was…green.
p 971

The thing about seeing is that we see more than is possible to understand.

I was once asked to be a part of a conversation that involved looking at a mesh garbage can as a piece of art.

I was sitting in a semi-circle across from the artist that was sitting next to the smallish mesh garbage can. He didn’t make the garbage can, but I estimated that he crumpled up the three pieces of typing paper that I could see clearly, through the dark gray mesh, from about 15 feet away, where I was sitting and staring in disbelief.

The garbage can was his final project for our first year of undergrad. We talked about it for 15 minutes, and I almost didn’t try to understand that it was art. I didn’t say very many things aloud. I was busy thinking about all the ways it wasn’t art.

Turns out it was art, but it took me 15 years to piece the message of those three crumpled pieces of typing paper together. At the time though, I just didn’t get it. We finished talking about the garbage can, and the next day, the artist sitting next to it dropped out of school.

Art is a reflection of a particular time and place. Not understanding it may just mean that I don’t see the same reflection of that particular time and place. The awesome thing is that by looking at art that I don’t understand I might somehow see part of a place and time that I didn’t realize was there.

Beyond popular belief, next to Enfield tennis academy, there is a guy sitting in front of a garbage can in his seminary dorm room. He is launching playing cards into the can. This is the only thing he is doing. Across from him, sits his brother.

…he managed to engage the brother in some rather heated and high-level debates on spirituality and the soul’s potential…
(969)

At Enfield, at a particular time and place, Hal is also sitting in front of a garbage can attempting to launch his toenail clippings into it. Across states, his brother Orin is with him on the phone.

Like the guy in my freshman class, Wallace has a lot to say about brothers sitting with garbage cans between them.

Dorm garbage cans are sometimes cylindrical like glasses or…

Lenses.

The last room we are in in Infinite Jest transforms into both an enormous garbage can of humans, entertainment, and one explosively colorful lens centered around Gately’s changing point of view.

Orin is elsewhere surrounded by a cylindrical green glass, magnified to his scale, not unlike the small suffocating scale of the clear drinking glasses that he uses to trap and discard the cockroaches in his bathroom. Green being solipsism. Like Green (the person) being the sounding board for…Lenz.

Lenz’s Lens.

And we are back with Gately.

The A.M. sun hung in the window, up and past the tree, yellowing.
Days go by.
or
Everything came at too many frames per second.

it was dawn outside, a glowing gray

If colors themselves could catch fire.
The air in the room got overclear, a glycerine shine, colors brightening terribly.
(980)

Seeing colors, as the most readily available form of coping.

Thoughts Capitalized

Having a person speak on your behalf is a powerful thing. A real potential game changer. A big scoot in a new direction.

Gately is in the hospital and he is getting vivid visits from Joelle. Some of the visits are so vivid they are revealed as imagined or hallucinated. Note that I am not labeling these visits as unreal.

After one particular visit from Joelle, Gately gets a chance to get his voice back. Well, not exactly. He gets a chance to create a new voice.

A written voice.

The feeding tube is still full on lodged in his throat, something he is at first extremely aware of and then basically almost always in disbelief about.

The visitor said you’d requested this, because of the tube.
p 884

Confirmation! Both Joelle and the tube have physically visited Gately’s body in the hospital (post a real big night of pavement and guns).

And Lo. Gately is handed a stenographer’s notepad and a blue pen.

Track back some hundred pages to another voice desperately trying to re-establish itself, with a blue pen, over at the Enfield cafeteria.

The sign used to say MILK IS FILLING, DRINK WHAT YOU TAKE until the comma was semicolonized by the insertion of a blue dot by a fairly obvious person.

Track back again to last week’s read and Hal is clutching the walls of the Enfield hallway imagining all the food he is going to live through eating, or a room full, chalked, stacked with fried, frozen chicken patties. I’m trying to figure out if it would be possible to squeeze in several thousand blue pens, you know in momentary pen-sized openings across and along the meat earth layers only appearing to 100% filling the room.

A cross section would look like a sequence of textured orange-tan line segments interspersed with the blue dots of the bic cap heads.

Maybe with the pens included, Hal has a chance.

AND things are manifesting into tangible space for Gately. At first, in trying to form his thoughts in the hospital, he has to imagine his thoughts as printed words.

He probably didn’t have permanent voice damage. Thank God. He made his thoughts capitalized.
p 859

Now, he is fumbling forward as well as a bed-ridden Gately armed with a pain (auto-correct selects “pain” and I’m trying to say, “pen”) – Armed with a pen.

Gately struggles with one hand to flip the notebook open and write ‘YO!’
in block caps.

p 884

Bonified legible, outside of the imagination, block caps. Hands are the machines that make ideas into words.

Except there’s nothing to really hold the notebook up against and write; he has to sort of balance it flat on his thigh…
p 884

And he really tries to manifest a new form of communicating.

more like drawing than writing
p 885

And wow, do I follow. I’m like leaning in to imagine see what he will write.

you feel…gratitude at your abstract distance from anything that doesn’t sit inside concentric circles.
p 891

Reroute.

This sounds like some sort of sense of calm?! In Infinite Jest?

Yes. Think back:

The easy squeak of your head’s blood is like bedsprings in the friendly distance.
p 890

Think back a little more and we get Ferocious Francis ringing with existential truth, or like some sort of really relevant quote to live by, there in the hospital:

He’s the one that’s feeling it. He’s the only one can decide.
p 889

Forwards.
Backwards.
Forwards.

Now. The idea of proceeding…

…right to the very finish.
p 892

Soak it up.

Attachments and Agreements

Infinite Jest Project (Phase 3) photography by PD Rearick
Infinite Jest Project (Phase 3) photography by PD Rearick

Last week we confirmed that there are at least five Infinite Jests. I’m talking about films by Incandenza, but I’m thinking, why and how exactly I have more than five copies of Infinite Jest. Three of them are thoroughly devoured by color tabs. If one of the films kill you, what about the books? Or, how about all of us folks knee deep in our second, third, fourth, fifth reads? I’m just happy that I am in fact still able to do other things.

Mostly.

I would like to point out that photo that I posted last week…Well; the problem is that scene wasn’t staged. It concerns me. I was standing looking at my bed, thinking about the fact that there were two genuine color tabbed copies of Infinite Jest on one pillow. “Choose your attachments wisely,” and I did. The oversight, or blatant sign of blindness, is that I never mindfully agreed to share my bed with two copies of Infinite Jest.

So here is my question, those attachments you’ve chosen…have you thought much about where you bring them, leave them, who exactly gets subjected to them?

The attachment is a thing to consider, but so is the context. And the frequency.

Shit.

It doesn’t help that I figured this out while I was making my bed. Before bed. This would be a good time to point out that this timing, between when I make my bed and when I get into it, lets me know if I have it together or not. Mainly because there was a point when I decided that making my bed was a thing worth doing. It was a way to prepare a comfortable place for my night self to sleep. It was a way of reminding myself how important sleep was, is. And based on that photograph, I’ve a little bit lost track of that agreement.

Do you have any type of large or small barometer for checking in on how you are doing, and what exactly is up with you? This type of thing may seem subtle or insignificant to an outsider, but it is one absolute way to keep track of your track.

The Entertainment of Now (More or Less Misplaced)

More or Less Misplaced
More or Less Misplaced

Consider your vices. Might you still agree to partake in any particular vice if it resulted in death? At some recent point, recent enough that I am still semi-baffled, I realized that partaking in particular vices is a type of contract or agreement—an understanding that the action may end in death. I have this vague memory of a couple that chased volcano eruptions. Almost like dodging the water coming in on a shoreline, but with lava. Both of them had this understanding that they would die doing this. One died. I’ve lost the piece of the story that comes after one person died. Did the person that lived longer stop?

Did I lose this part of the story or did I misplace it? Pardon me, I’m—We’re going to have to backtrack for this!

There is a bold margin of nearly empty space at the top of page 648. (6) words are bound and suspended on the left side of this space. It looks something like this:

‘Misplaced.’
‘Lost’
‘Misplaced’
‘As you wish.’

Steeply and Marathe are trying to come up with the word to describe dead eyes fixated on the ‘…Entertainment of now.’

The eye-factor
Petrified
Ossified
Inanimate
Stuck
Glued
Stuck
Fixed
Held
Trapped

As in trapped in some sort of middle.
Between two things.
Pulled apart in different directions.

All of this until Steeply brings up “Misplaced. Lost.”

Marathe sticks to “Misplaced.” Steeply holds to “Lost” until he closes the conversation with “As you wish.”

Being “Lost” or “misplaced” in that “Entertainment of now” leaves everything else in the margin.

The most important step between a useful experience and not—when captivated by the “Entertainment of now” is a big sense of:

How long.

Use the Whole Whale

Whales Recording Rotations: Optimism Filters photography by Tim Thayer
Green lost his sense of self worth. photography by Tim Thayer

Green.

Pranks are extremely confusing. The only thing that isn’t confusing about pranks is how dark they are. This is exactly why it is understandable that pranks exist.

I know this isn’t quite a ‘use the whole whale’ situation, but I think it might help explain what happens when I decide to tap into one subject line of referencing throughout Infinite Jest.

Eventually, enough references add up, and I see that I am ‘catching whales’ more readily than I am able to use them. For me, ‘a whole usable whale’ would be emptying an entire book of the color tabs I use to tab all the references to color in Infinite Jest.

I’m going to call this process of recording ‘collecting’. Mainly because collecting sounds a lot more fun than researching. Collect anything! Pick a thing, because it will be better than just thinking about any example I’d pick.

I just want to point out that this thing you are collecting doesn’t need to be in Infinite Jest. Pick a thing, in your head or aloud, that you imagine you might enjoy collecting for the rest of Infinite Winter.

Ok, have you picked a thing?

I’m going to talk about collecting colors and the things they describe, but go ahead and fill in the term for whatever you are collecting every time I say a color.

Up until page (546), I really have had only one thing provoking me to move away from a ‘using the whole whale’ mentality.

It is the word “white.”

The books of color tabs I use come in packs of (12) colors. There are (50) tabs of each of the (12) colors. Nearly whole packs of tabs still remain after I plow through (50) white tabs in any given set.

White Flaggers. And a multitude of really terrible white things.

So what happens at page 546? It is one thing to tag a group with a color, but check out what happens when a character like Lenz likes someone named “Green.”

Bruce Green.

Bruce Green and his “lime gummy bear” that makes a “green hiss” when it projects from his mouth into the fireplace.

Without fail, every time I read Infinite Jest, I happily make it to page 546 with a decent range of colors to work with, in each and every set. Then I start getting frustrated. I’m using all my green tabs, and for what? A name. This might sound ridiculous, but I made up this rule. I have to tab the words that are associated with color. But I don’t want to follow my own rule every time Lenz or Wallace says “Green,” as in “Bruce Green.” “Lime gummy” or “green hiss,” no problem, I’ll tab it with enthusiasm. But “Green,” referenced (164) times in (43) pages?!

Stop playing with me, Wallace.

I get confused. Like what is the point of continuing?

The perfection in confusion is that all clear things associated with it, for the right amount of time, are destroyed.

Ever heard that the things that irk us are just the things we may have a problem with ourselves?

Recently, at a dinner party, I learned that I was eating béchamel sauce. I believe that I proceeded to say “béchamel” a real plethora of times. To the extent that you may be relieved that you weren’t there to hear it.

“Béchamel.” I have a terrible habit of learning a new word that I am fascinated by, and I just go full robot-machine, saying it as often as I am able.

I was once locked out of my Twitter account because my activity was too machine like. I’m not bragging; I was nearly ashamed. The only reason I wasn’t ashamed was because this wasn’t the first time, just the first time with Twitter. I sought council from Sam Potts and Nick Maniatis and Matt Bucher.

I wondered, how might I continue caring about this (Wallace’s writing) just as much as I have been, without being thought of as a machine?

As you might guess, neither Sam nor Nick nor Matt thought I was a machine. This was reassuring.

So what is the deal with this slice of green tabs, repeating in every copy I take on?

Well, I’ll put it this way. Every time I read “Bruce Green,” I remember the “green hiss” moment that he lost his sense of self– or really, sense of self worth.

It feels irritatingly terrible every time.

Death Prerequisite

"Eternal Themes" Improvisation with Craig Signs
“Eternal Themes” Improvisation with Craig Signs

“That would be a terrible death.”

I’m sitting eating a tray of oysters, hearing this. I don’t know who said it. I realize that the statement is strangely reassuring at about the same moment I notice that I am accidentally centered in the window frame across from me.

The only thing here, that might not fit in with what is happening in Infinite Jest, would—might be the oyster bit, but I’m not letting that part go (and well then, now it fits so well).

Infinite Jest gives us multiple forms of terrible deaths to consider. And now, a couple of cities away from my copy of Infinite Jest, I’m seeing what is possibly relieving about this.

Being an Infinite Winter participant that is, on most occasions, still uncomfortable with the idea that death is part of the deal (the deal with living)—I become a little more comfortable just after the moments that I hear anyone casually bring up death.

Hearing is the thing, see?! You’ve got to hear it to start to get it. And thank your good shit luck if you get to hear about death a few hundred times before you actually hear death or see death. And it shouldn’t be good shit luck; I’d like everyone to really think of it as a prerequisite obligation. One that each of us is teaching, regularly.

Try it. Like, in a no big deal, brief and real way. And if it is someone else doing the talking, hear it, and move on.

And this somehow adds up to making the moving better. Because there is a realizing that the moving can only happen while it can, or until it can no longer.

Which then, this gives me reason to break from this spot, centered in the window frame.

Blue…Blue…Blue is for Blind Addiction

I knew none of this back when I was writing about robin’s egg blue.

Infinite Winter participants, I think I am finding a way to track time and addiction’s phases by tracking references to the color blue in Infinite Jest.

Can I get your eyes on tracking this through the second half of the book? I’m figuring something out that may help make sense of how time is progressing in Infinite Jest. It is really starting to look like blue is the color of addiction, specifically when the gaining and holding on of an addiction isn’t being acknowledged and/or when it is too late (think about all the references to blue faces).

Just to prove how hard and fast this theory isn’t, I’ll start with the way I started this figuring out.

That whole mattress scene, I was picturing an extremely detailed photograph of Avril and JOI’s bedroom, with the addition of Hal to help with the figuring and ultimately the mattress moving. See, here I am disproving that a guide needs to be anything close to all-knowing, because this scene is actually about JOI and his parents and their mattress problems.

Once I got over just being plain wrong, with the date starting the scene and all, I was able to think about some new connections. Thanks to participant DavBroChill on our Reddit for taking the time to share this Harper’s story by David Foster Wallace, point out my mistake and get me on this new track.

Both Hal and JOI look closely at their surroundings and really start to zoom in on particular details as they age. JOI starts relating the mattress’s curve, jammed in the hallway, even–as it could relate and become a piece of his research into annular lenses.

Then we have Hal, honing in on all the blue things, in the waiting room outside the offices at Enfield.

“Hal, continually checking his chin for drool.”

Well, Mmyellow to signs of addiction, right there. Imagine that Hal has also recently read and discussed Homer’s Odyssey for a class. Again, let me know if this is too far a reach, but there is not a single reference to blue in Homer’s Odyssey, and it is not unlikely that someone would have brought this up in a class discussion–maybe even Hal.

There was not a description for blue, and therefore, there was not an awareness of the color’s presence in Odyssey (see how the word color could be replaced with addiction in Infinite Jest?). Verbal descriptions for the color blue did not exist in Odyssey’s time frame, so words for other colors were used. And to my knowledge, Hal isn’t aware and ready to stop his addictive rituals at the time he is reading all the blueness in the waiting room. So really, blue could be referenced in Infinite Jest, as a clue to the reader, when there is a lack of awareness in the building up of an addiction.

Descriptions and words, for what we think of as blue, join into collective consciousness during modern times. And modern times come with enough power through knowledge to go full- blown destructive.

So what is Hal going to do with the opposite of the lack of blue in Odyssey? He is doing fine, mentally binging on blue as a tracking device and coping mechanism while he waits out waiting in the waiting room, but that isn’t going to get him through much beyond that.

What I see is a belief that enough knowledge can get us through anything, but this is unfortunately false, like stories unfolding on screens or across pages.

I’m thinking it takes a little letting go of knowledge to survive. Because Hal, all able to reference a range of blues that can’t even be described in Homer’s Odyssey, points to untethered evolution or gained knowledge that is only helping Hal become more myopic — and how is that really going to get him away from the underground ventilation system?

Blue is one of the most frequently referenced colors in Infinite Jest. References to blue may be pointing out how often Infinite Jest’s characters are existing outside of awareness and in the fog of addiction.

But don’t take my word for it; Just keep enjoying the reading!

Mario’s Prescription for Calm

BOOKS & SOLD John King Books North on Woodward
BOOKS & SOLD
John King Books North

books. This is how page 450 of Infinite Jest begins. books, All casual and lowercase and calm. As in yeah, we’re on page 450 in this book we’re reading—and, overall, it feels pretty great.

But Mario can’t be found in his bed. He’s with his headphones, trying to remove himself from the physicality of the room and perhaps his own physical self. But he isn’t finding what he’s looking for—that voice that helps him get away from the waking hours of evening.

“Hal’d told Mario that the silence was a positive sign, that if she’d left the air for good the station would have had to say something.”

Listening to Madame Psychosis’s radio broadcast is one of Mario’s favorite things. Mario physically cozies himself up to the floor speaker, ear straining to be as close to the sound as possible. One of our guides, Dave, brought up Mario’s ability to, at the same time his ear is up to the speaker, push his gaze beyond the visuals of the room—to that space that is only available through attentive listening.

I definitely felt the I’m-fully-in-this feeling while reading page 450 in Infinite Jest. I’m right there at the floor speaker with Mario, but if that is the case then there are two Marios, and I am mentally behind, craning my neck next to a memory version of Mario (no worries, turns out “behind in the reading, but STILL reading” gleans awesome results and is 100% allowed during Infinite Winter). On this particular day Mario is wearing headphones, check, I’m back with right-now page 450 Mario.

Not hearing a broadcasted voice, when one is anticipated, isn’t usually translated as a reason to relax or feel calm. I’m thinking that Mario sees Madame Psychosis as a friend, and it makes sense that Hal is helping Mario make sense of her absence. Think about Hal’s and Mario’s voices exchanging across a dark bedroom in really comforting conversation.

We are on page 450 and Mario’s seriously disappointed that Madame Psychosis’s voice isn’t coming through his headphones. Just like Mario, I’m really relieved that Hal knows and is taking the time to describe to me that the silence is a good sign that Madame Psychosis is just taking a break. Hm, didn’t think of that, and phew– Thanks Hal, it totally makes sense now. No voice meant the show wasn’t ending because someone else’s voice would have to explain the show was ending.

The gifts of making it past page 200, right here:
This means, page-wise and Madame-Psychosis-is-returning wise, we get to enjoy a lot more Infinite Jest, with less straining.

See, if I’m not getting as much voice time in with my friends, it is usually because I am working on checking in with myself. In terms of certain voices sounding soothing, I’ve learned that the more nervous I am, the lower octave my voice goes. So, in a way, my nervousness makes some people feel less anxious and more calm. Knowing this makes me feel a little bit better.

In the space where we wait for our favorite things to resurface, like Mario, we create the space and actual capacity to continue enjoying our favorite things. The process of not compulsively taking in these things at every impulse is definitely the only way we are ever able to find other things to enjoy.

Tell me what you find!

The Option to Remove Part of Your Face

Are you able to remove any part(s) of your face, and if so, are you able to put those parts back?

Ok, now—this part of your face, that you are able to remove, do you refer to it as yours? If so, think back–when and how did you determine this?

Before getting further into this, or in an attempt to go deeper before we go further (because yes, this is what Infinite Jest is all about)—I’m going to need to bring driving and gunlessness into this:

I figured out how to talk to people, in a serious but fairly relaxed way, about my lack of interest in owning a gun.

Like having the option to remove part of your face, I had the option to remove the NRA sticker off the back window of my pre-owned truck when I bought it. I didn’t, haven’t, and may never remove this sticker. To note, if you happen to call any police station in the city of Detroit, for any reason, you’ll learn that the option to obtain a police report is:

a) the first option
b) the last option
c) not an option
d) none of the above

The audio recording cues the option to learn how to obtain a firearm several options before the option to obtain a police report. It is, strangely appropriately, an order of events type of order.

So, it makes some sense that people see the NRA sticker on my truck and start a meaningful conversation about what it means to have the right to bear arms, or the choice not to. This is majorly possible because I don’t think of the sticker as my own. Think about it. There is a powerful level of objectivity in thinking and talking about something I have, without the entitlement that comes with thinking I own it. This doesn’t happen very often for me. How about you? Ever had something, in your possession, without thinking you owned it? What kind of thing was it, and how did you relate to it?

I’m not suggesting that you get out of bed and go obtain an NRA sticker as a method for pointing out your lack of interest in obtaining a gun. But I will say that the process of not removing the sticker from my window has, pretty profoundly, prompted me to try this with other things I own that I feel entitled about. AND, this process works both ways.

Try deciding to intentionally let go of, remove, omit something from your life—something you just know you are entitled to possessing.

Gunther refers to both of her eyes as her own. I think she is repeatedly letting go of her original eye each time she rotates her glass eye.

“Gunther, who has a glass eye which she usually amuses herself by usually wearing so the pupil and iris face in and tiny manufacturer’s specifications on the back of the eye face out.”

What came first, for Gunther, is it learning what her identity is—separate from her glass eye, or guiding other people around her to learn what their identity is separate from their obsessions, compulsions, and addictions?

Considering that she is most frequently revealing the back of her glass eye to people staying at Ennett House, I’m thinking this action supports people in the process of letting go of who they are and what they have identified as. She is literally showing people how to turn themselves inside out, unveil and shake out the detritus. So, ultimately, it is vital for her to be able to teach before she is able to learn.

Talking about Infinite Jest is similar to Gunther’s glass eye and the NRA sticker on my truck. All three provide a serious but relaxed, even humorous way to go deep before going further. Before taking it further and actually changing something about myself, I’m given the space to observe the experiences of other people changing.

Holy wow. This really explains why I’m on my third read of Infinite Jest!