Use the Whole Whale

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


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.

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2 thoughts on “Use the Whole Whale”

    1. Yes! That line is hilarious! Corrie, great job here as usual, and I LOVE your art piece at the top. Do you have prints of it for sale? I want to go to there.

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