Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tennis, and a Tribute...

I saw this solitary tennis player repeating lackidasical serves as I drove past Garfield Park the other day. I had to stop and take a closer look because he reminded me so much of the late David Foster Wallace, one of San Gabriel Valley's most cherished residents and one of literature's most sparkling and multi-faceted minds. Wallace committed suicide in nearby Claremont this past September at the age of 46. He had taken the semester off from teaching at Claremont's Pomona College.

Anyone who has ever read Infinite Jest knows that brilliant is too dumb a word to define Wallace's work. Like some madcap wordsmith on laughing gas, he manipulated language in ways that Pynchon and Joyce would have appreciated -- but never at the expense of the story. Rather than obscuring his narrative, Wallace dressed it in a rococo circus costume and celebrated its trippy excess. Then he footnoted it, told a joke about it, and started off on another adventure with it. Gertrude Stein would have approved of the way he messed with language. Robin Williams probably identified with his riffs on an established form. Charlie Chaplin would have loved his hilarious, spot-on depiction of modern life. He was a post-modernist with a heart, an ironic champion of anti-irony and a self-deprecating super-genius.

I once studied with a writer who was friends with Wallace. I asked him, "So what's he like? What's he really like?"

"Shy," he said. "And funny. And kind-hearted. And even smarter than you think he is. And probably more than a little tormented."

Infinite Jest covered a lot of territory -- addiction, depression, family, computer turn-based war games, Quebec separatism, pop culture, cinematic theory ... and tennis. Always tennis. So when I saw this singular tennis player with the familiar Wallace uniform of wrinkled sweat pants and wire eyeglasses, I guess I finally felt the crushing absence that was left in this world when Wallace died. I realized it.

Then, the player in this picture left the court, walked up the hill and disappeared out of view.

If you haven't read anything by David Foster Wallace, please do.

27 comments:

Judy Williams said...

As far as the image goes, I always appreciate stop action so much. The ball in the air, the child in mid-air jump. I like how he feels all cozy and enclosed, yet his movements are free and unconstrained. I am not nearly as well read as you, so I must check out David Foster Wallace!! Happy Wednesday. :~)

Judy Williams said...

Oh poo - sorry my link didn't work yesterday. I wonder why. Sometimes Youtube stuff gets removed or something. If you go to youtube.com and enter "woody woodpecker" in the search, it's the very first thing that came up yesterday. It's a 6 minute cartoon.

San Diego Farmgirl said...

Okay, I'll be the first to say it: maybe it really was him? Maybe you're getting so accomplished at capturing magic with your camera, you're starting to defy physical reality?

Virginia said...

Stunningly beautiful text today L. The photo is the icing.
V

altadenahiker said...

Made my eyes well up. As with a few other brilliant artists, there was no layer protecting him from the world. He had no shell, no shell at all.

Yakpate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yakpate said...

Thank you for your moving tribute to DFW... I wish we could change our world so our most sensitive and beautiful minds could live in it without torment. But having read David Foster Wallace, I know he would seize upon this notion and twist it with his signature irony, probably giving me a little man to live in my neck and lecture me for my sentimentality.

An amazing shot... reaching for the freedom of the sky, from behind the constraints of a chain-link enclosure... and in gorgeous color.

Yakpate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LSaeta said...

I love the photo. Funny that your tennis player is in "street clothes". Doesn't even look like he has tennis shoes on. But his form looks good ...

Petrea said...

They say the funniest people are always tormented. I don't know if that's true, because I do know people who are funny and also happy. But much humor comes from misery.

I love your layers of color here.

Yakpate, FYI, you can delete your own comments if you choose. In the comments window, on the lower left, there's a little trash can icon. If you click on it you delete your comment. Only you and Laurie can delete yours, only Laurie and I can delete mine, etc.

Skrip said...

You've sparked my curiousity since I'm right down the street from that college. Interesting info on Wallace.

Jacob said...

I like the photo. But now, after reading your excellent and colorful description of David Foster Wallace, I'm going to have to read him, too!

Sheesh!

Yakpate said...

Petrea: Thanks for the trash lesson... now I know!

You are right about comics... I have some friends in the standup biz and they are way more tormented than most.

Mister Earl said...

Petrea: Your husband's funny. What do you think? ;-)

Petrea said...

Don't you worry Earl, I'm funnier.

Babooshka said...

Well you got me to go google more and try and get this book. Lovely analogy with the image form an excellent wordsmith herself madame -you.

Mister Earl said...

Petrea: So I guess you're more tormented thant he is? Next time, I'll sit near you!

dbdubya said...

Be careful where you sit, Mr. Earl. What if they're both tormented?

BTW, what's with the JFK pin? I kinda miss the photo with the long hair.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

You know I love the fella but my argument is that the use of irony doesn't separate you from being kind hearted. Wallace had the ability to recognize sentimentality without being personally caught in the "gush". He showed sympathy while maintaining a certain distance. For me, thats where his story telling takes place. Hell, maybe I don't know what irony means. I'm not a hugger but you won't find a better friend.

Blognote said...

An excellent text in support of the photo you posted today, Laurie!! Thanks.

Laurie said...

So many wonderful comments today... and here it is the middle of the night and my brain is addled. I will come back and properly respond after I've gotten some shut-eye. Until tomorrow...

Laurie said...

Hey gang,

I wanted to come back and respond to all of your thoughtful comments. DFW is such a favorite, and I still well up with tears when I think that he's not off in a cluttered office somewhere cranking out another masterpiece. He wrote so few books, and each is so different and so wonderful. I was always so excited that a writer of my generation -- Gen Jones to those of you who weren't sure if we were late boomers or early X-ers -- had already come so far at such a young age. I was looking forward to a life as prolific as Updike. Instead, like so many other great artists, the world was too much with him.

I wish I could remember who wrote the poem that has those lines.

Anyway, if you haven't read him... do it.

Judy, I think you'd really like his weirdness. He truly was the strangest writer I'd ever read. Take John Irving's early work and slip it some LSD. You get the idea.

Farmgirl, I would love it if South Pas were haunted by such a spirit. If the picture had been an empty tennis court, I would have known...

Altadena, that's such a good way of summing it up.

Yakpate, I so agree. WHen I read that Wallace had gone off his medication and actually gone through shock treatment, I was saddened even more.

Leslie, you're right. This player had amazing form! But he really was the most mellow person serving I've ever seen.

Petrea, isn't it interesting how so many funny people are so sad? It's almost as if the capacity to see the absurdity of life as funny is the same one that can sense its alternate mask of tragedy.

Welcome Skrip! Claremont is an interesting place. I love that it's called the town of trees and Phds.

ANd welcome Jacob! If I can introduce another person to one of my favorite authors, I'm happy. I still remember when a friend told me about Wallace and I sat down with Infinite Jest. After a few pages I was calling other friends asking if they'd read this guy.

Mister Earl I like the long-haired picture too! I'm still waiting to see what DbDubya's avatar might be...

Pasadena Adjacent, I think you're right. Someone doesn't have to hug everyone and gush to be warm. (Although I'm from Texas and that's just what we do.) But what I find interesting DFW was considered in the anti-irony camp. WHich I always thought was ironic.

Blognote, thank you so much.

ANd thank you to everyone for sharing this with me.

altadenahiker said...

One of my favorite writers, Martin Amis, is also a huge tennis nut and has written some hysterically funny articles about the professional game. Never found a collection, though. Isolated essays were only published in that horrible little magazine called the New Yorker.

Laurie said...

I'd love to read those, AH. Back in college I used to lifeguard at the pool of a big tennis club. The game of tennis serves (hardy har har) as a bit of an archetype for me, so I love to read what other people say.

Incidentally -- I am a terrible player.

altadenahiker said...

I'll see if I can find one before Friday and run off a copy.

altadenahiker said...

I'll see if I can find one before Friday and run off a copy.

Andrew said...

Great to see all these...

Thank you so much for giving..

I like this blog..

Thanks for sharing...
___________________
Andrew
The Best PRICE for the BEST ENTERTAINMENT