How Time Narrows Life’s Sumptuous Branching Complexity

David Foster Wallace with bare lamp

Read on it’s own, the following passage from David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” may sound pessimistic, fatalistic, oppressive. Read in context, I laughed so long and so hard that my face began to hurt. It is, nonetheless, a painful truth:

I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable — If I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.

For a sense of how funny this essay is, Mr. Wallace reads an excerpt here starting at 10:00 minutes in (the preceding story about the baton twirlers at the Illinois State Fair is better read here at the Harper’s Magazine 150th Anniversary on 25 May 2000).

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Okay, Okay, I’ll Say Something Nice About D.C., Pt. I

The Washington Monument peeking out from behind the Export-Import Bank and Dana buildings, L Street NW, looking south on 15th Street, Washington, D.C., 21 August 2009

Washington, D.C. is a miserable town and I am known to go on and on over the how and why (If D.C. is so miserable, why have you persisted in living here for six years? I plead complacency). But let me set that aside and say something nice about D.C. for once.

Something that I love about Washington, D.C. is how occasionally, when I don’t expect it, if maybe I get a little turned around in a neighborhood that I know less than others, or where I don’t have its relations to the adjacent areas down quite right — and I’m not saying that it happens all that often — but occasionally, all of a sudden the Washington Monument will pop into view where it’s totally unexpected. I don’t mean something like the view down 16th Street toward the White House, with the Washington Monument slightly off center, monumental kludge, throwing off the meridians of the district. That’s too obvious. I’m not saying that it happens all the time and that you can see the thing everyplace you go in town. If fact, it’s strange for all the height limitation and surrounding hills and all, for how much of the territory of D.C. the Washington Monument is not a presence at all.

I’m thinking of the obscure, peek-a-boo moments. The picture above is one of my favorite examples. This is the view from L Street NW, south on 15th, between the Export-Import Bank building (large blank facade on the left) and the Dana building (barely showing to the right). It’s such a narrow gap through which the Washington Monument appears that walking east, you come out from behind the corner of the building, cross the south-bound monumental sidewalk, step out into the street and have cleared the parallel-parked cars and taken your first step into the first lane of traffic before it pops into view. By the time you have traversed that first automobile lane, it’s already disappeared again behind the Dana building.

I’ve never been much of a fan of any particular architecture, but the play of building on building that comes from motion through a cityscape, the conciliance of many architectures that comprises a city is wondrous to me. Amidst praise, if I may briefly tack back in the direction of disparaging Washington, D.C., this is another place where the city comes up short. That said, the Washington Monument is a fun little game element of the cityscape in D.C.

First Naan

My first attempt at naan, a vegan cilantro version, 20 August 2009

My first attempt at making naan. I used cilantro instead of garlic and made the usual vegan substitutions to the first hit on Google, the AllRecipes naan. It came out listing a little in the direction of focaccia, but good.

Improvisation: Any of the family of pan-based breads are good for me as the entire six years I’ve lived at this residence, the stove has not worked. I don’t own a rolling pin so an empty wine bottle had to substitute.

Early bread making lesson: if you used the last of the flower in the dough and don’t have any left to dust your rolling surface, pin or hands, then you must abort. Thankfully the “Convenient Mart” (that’s what the sign says) stocks more than the usual quick food items.

Infinite Summer Informal-Irregular Get-Together IV

Infinite Summer Informal-Irregular Get-Together IV, Mr. Henry's, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., 6 August 2009

6 August 2009, Mr. Henry’s, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Infinite Summer Informal-Irregular Get-Together IV to discuss David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Clockwise from 12:00: typicalsquirrel, Miruna Stanica / Rrose Selavy, Daniel Ginsberg / NemaVeze, the photographer (off frame), Sarah Webster, Quinn Norton (blog | twitter | Wikipedia), Matt Dickerson / piscivorous. Oh, that’s right, piscivorous, you weren’t there.

Dumpling Soup

Last night I had a dream that I was making a dumpling soup.

So today I made one.

Until very recently I’ve never used anything more than a few tablespoons out of a bag of flower for a roux or a thickener. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of very flower-centered work in the kitchen, despite not having had a working stove for the entire six years that I’ve lived here (see “Tyler Durden’s House,” 15 April 2007). But tonight was the first time I’ve ever made anything that required me to knead and allow rest.

My first product requiring kneading, 28 July 2009

I could almost hear Alton Brown’s voice explaining the formation of the gluten structures and the importance of the right balance of kneading and rest to texture.

Anyway, cut off spoon-sized pieces, ball them up, drop them in the boiling pot and violà:

Boiling dumplings in soup, 28 July 2009

Dumpling soup.

Space Rendezvous

Okay, so my posts on Apollo 11 have been a little Stanley Kubrick-esque. In the film 2001 (Wikipedia | IMDB), the proto-human throws a bone into the air where it is suddenly replaced by ship engaged in an elaborate docking maneuver with a rotating space station, set to Strauss’s waltz, Blue Danube. It is one of my favorite scenes in all of cinematography because of its purely aural-visual implication of the technological continuum from the first tool through the most unrecognizably advanced, and then, in the dance of space ships, the humaneness of otherwise inhuman machines .

On space maneuvers being like dance, here’s the official NASA Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary from the radio broadcast of the mission explaining what’s going to happen during the docking maneuvers of Command Module Columbia and Lunar Module Eagle (APOLLO 11 MISSION COMMENTARY, NASA, Manned Spaceflight Center, Houston, TX, 7/21/69 CDT 13:40, GET 125:08, 413/1, p. 466):

In all of these maneuvers Mike Collins aboard Columbia is spring loaded to do what is called a mirror image maneuver approximately a minute after the Eagle is scheduled to make its maneuver, and if for some reason Eagle can not make the maneuver, Collins would do the exact same maneuver only in reverse so that Columbia would in effect begin a CSM active rendezvous with Eagle.

The dance analogy seems apt here because, like Ginger Rogers with Fred Astaire, Michael Collins had to do everything that Buzz Aldrin did, only backwards and in a command module.