Since sunday's can be a day to think about stuff, so i thought i would post a couple different things to read on subjects I have been thinking and struggling with a lot.
An essay, well, really a commencement address by David Foster Wallace. I had never heard of him before and since I read this I have run across him a couple times just the last couple weeks.
And an excerpt from Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.
The night was sweet with the dust of autumn leaves that smelled as if the fine sands of ancient Egypt were drifting to dunes beyond the town. How come, thought Will, at a time like this, I can even think of four thousand years of dust of ancient people sliding around the world, and me sad because no one notices except me and Dad here maybe, and even us not telling each other.
It was indeed a time between, one second their thoughts all brambled airedale, the next all silken slumbering cat. It was a time to go to bed, yet still they lingered reluctant as boys to give over and wander in wide circles to pillow and night thoughts. It was a time to say much but not all. It was a time after first discoveries but not last ones. It was wanting to know everything and wanting to know nothing. It was the new sweetness of men starting to talk as they must talk. It was the possible bitterness of revelation.
So while they should have gone upstairs, they could not depart this moment that promised others on not so distant nights when man and boy-becoming-man might almost sing. So Will at last said, carefully:
“Dad? Am I a good person?”
“I think so. I know so, yes.”
“Will — will that help when things get really rough?”
“Will it save me if I need saving? I mean, if I’m around bad people and there’s no one else good around for miles, what then?”
“That’s not good enough, Dad!”
“Good is no guarantee for your body. It’s mainly for peace of mind — “
“But sometimes, Dad, aren’t you so scared that even — “
“ — the mind isn’t peaceful?” His father nodded, his face uneasy.
“Dad,” said Will, his voice very faint. “Are you a good person?”
“To you and your mother, yes, I try. But no man’s a hero to himself. I’ve lived with me a lifetime, Will. I know everything worth knowing about myself — “
“And, adding it all up...?”
“The sum? As they come and go, and I mostly sit very still and tight, yes, I’m all right.”
“Then, Dad,” asked Will, “why aren’t you happy?”
“The front lawn at let’s see...one-thirty in the morning...is no place to start a philosophical...”
“I just wanted to know is all.”
There was a long moment of silence. Dad sighed.
Dad took his arm, walked him over and sat him down on the porch steps, relit his pipe. Puffing, he said, “All right. Your mother’s asleep. She doesn’t know we’re out here with our tomcat talk. We can go on. Now, look, since when did you think being good meant being happy?”
“Since now learn otherwise. Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter half the time he’s covering up. He’s had his fun and he’s guilty. And men do love sin. Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colours, and smells. Times come when troughs, not tables, suit our appetites. Hear a man too loudly praising others, and look to wonder if he didn’t just get up from the sty. On the other hand, that unhappy, pale, put-upon man walking by, who looks all guilt and sin, why, often that’s your good man with a capital G, Will. For being good is a fearful occupation; men strain at it and sometimes break in two. I’ve known a few. You work twice as hard to be a farmer as to be his hog. I suppose it’s thinking about trying to be good makes the crack run up the wall one night. A man with high standards, too, the least hair falls on him sometimes wilts his spine. He can’t let himself alone, won’t lift himself off the hook if he falls just a breath from grace.
“Oh, it would be lovely if you could just be fine, act fine, not think of it all the time. But it’s hard, right? with the last piece of lemon cake waiting in the icebox, middle of the night, not yours, but you he awake in a hot sweat for it, eh? Do I need tell you? Or, a hot spring day, noon, and there you are chained to your school desk and away off there goes the river, cool and fresh over the rock-fall. Boys can hear clear water like that miles away. So, minute by minute, hour by hour, a lifetime, it never ends, never stops, you got the choice this second, now this next, and the next after that, be good, be bad, that’s what the dock ticks, that’s what it says in the ticks. Run swim, or stay hot, run eat or lie hungry. So you stay but once stayed, Will, you know the secret, don’t you? don’t think of the river again. Or the cake. Because if you do, you’ll go crazy. Add up all the rivers never swum in, cakes never eaten, and by the time you get my age, Will, it’s a lot missed out on. But then you console yourself, thinking, the more times in, the more times possibly drowned, or choken on lemon frosting. But then, through plain dumb cowardice, I guess, maybe you hold off from too much, wait, play it safe.
“Look at me: married at thirty-nine, Will thirty-nine! But I was so busy wrestling myself two falls out of three, I figured I couldn’t marry until I had licked myself good and forever. Too late, I found you can’t wait to become perfect, you got to go out and fall down and get up with everybody else. So at last I looked up from my great self-wrestling match one night when your mother came to the library for a book, and got me, instead. And I saw then and there you take a man half-bad and a women half-bad and put their two good halves together and you got one human all good to share between. That’s you, Will, for my money. And the strange thing is, son, and sad, too, though you’re always racing out there on the rim of the lawn, and me on the roof using books for shingles, comparing life to libraries, I soon saw you were wiser, sooner and better, than I will ever be...”
Dad’s pipe was dead. He paused to tap it out and reload it.
“No, sir,” Will said.
“Yes,” said his father, “I”d be a fool not to know I’m a fool. My one wisdom is: you’re wise.”
“Funny” Will said, after a long pause. “You’ve told me more, tonight, than I’ve told you. I’ll think some more. Maybe I’ll tell you everything, at breakfast. Okay?”
“I’ll be ready, if you are.”
“Because...I want you to be happy, Dad.”
He hated the tears that sprang to his eyes.
“I’ll be all right, Will.”
“Anything I could say or do to make you happy, I would.”
“Willy, William.” Dad lit his pipe again and watched the smoke blow away in sweet dissolvings. “Just tell me I’ll live forever. That would do nicely.”
His voice, Will thought, I never noticed. It’s the same colour as his hair.
“Pa,” he said, “don’t sound so sad.”
“Me? I’m the original sad man. I read a book and it makes me sad. See a film: sad. Plays? they really work me over.”
“Is there anything,” said Will, “doesn’t make you sad?”
“One thing. Death.”
“Boy!” Will started. “I should think that would!”
“No” said the man with the voice to match his hair. “Death makes everything else sad. But death itself only scares. If there wasn’t death, all the other things wouldn’t get tainted.”
And, Will thought, here comes the carnival, Death like a rattle in one hand, Life like candy in the other; shake one to scare you, offer one to make your mouth water. Here comes the side-show, both hands full!
He jumped to his feet.
“Dad oh, listen! You’ll live forever! Believe me, or you’re sunk! Sure, you were sick a few years ago — but that’s over. Sure, you’re fifty-four, but that’s young! And another thing — “
His father waited for him. He swayed. He bit his lips, then blurted out:
“Don’t go near the carnival.”
“Strange,” his father said, “that’s what I was going to tell you.”
“I wouldn’t go back to that place for a billion dollars!”
But, Will thought, that won’t stop the carnival searching through town to visit me.
“Why don’t you want me to go there, Will?”
“That’s one of the things I’ll tell tomorrow or next week or next year. You just got to trust me, Dad.”
“I do, son.” Dad took his hand. “It’s a promise.”
I've been listening to the audio version. The language in the book is truly beautiful. I highly recommend it. Especially, I realize now, if you read it as a teenager. I suspect it is one of those books that you pick up very different things from depending on how old you are.
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