Monday, September 29, 2008

Two good men, now dead...

When I read online that David Foster Wallace committed suicide a few weeks back, I was heartbroken. A brilliant essayist and novelist, DFW managed to crystallize his thoughts in such interesting, dynamic ways. I'm generally not a fan of post-modernist fiction as I think I just like a classic, well-told, muscular story and the PoMo insistence on thick slabs of irony to go with every situation is distancing, indulgent and tiresome to me. Not so with DFW, considered a leader of the PoMo school, who managed to be both brilliant and engaged, not sneering in his academic ivory tower at the rest of us plebeian sloths. He never tried to mask his genius in his work, nor did he perform unnecessary conceptual gymnastics to impress us with his finesse: he was able to, in that way that all great artists are able to, channel God or his higher power or his greatest self, and plug into that in a way that leaves most of us mere mortals stammering and stunned. He did all this while wearing a bandanna and looking, for all intents and purposes, like he was ready to take a hackysack break at the Phish show. Apparently bandanna-wearing, hyper-talented artists also can suffer from debilitating depression and sometimes it doesn't matter if you've won major awards and are at the pinnacle of your field: you can not go on for one minute longer. At some point on September 12, David Foster Wallace ran out of minutes. Another great mind lost, and we are stuck here with Sarah Palin and her notion that dinosaurs and humans co-existed. I hope David's having a good laugh at this. [I feel like it's necessary to say that Ms. Palin's debate with Senator Biden will be the final nail in their spiraling-out-of-control coffin. G'bye, Sarah!]

Second, I was saddened when I heard of Paul Newman's passing, but it certainly wasn't a shock to my system. He was in his eighties, generally when people can expire without raising a lot of eyebrows, and my mother gets enough of those gossip magazines - not that I read such trash... okay, if it's open to a page, I might grab a furtive glimpse - that I had seen assertions that he had cancer. It was still sad, though, to note the end of someone who was so enriched by giving. I think he understood that his chiseled jaw, pout and piercingly blue eyes were simply happy accidents of DNA, the way his mother and his father's code melded together in his form. It was nothing to take credit for, nothing to be overly proud to possess. It simply was. What he could do, though, with whatever doors opened for him because of his eyes and his smile and his style, was give to others and that he did, to the tune of more than 25o,ooo,ooo, at last count. I am not in general big into celebrity worship - in fact, it disgusts me - because I have been active long enough to know there are so many good people who work tirelessly to build a better world. Paul Newman, though, stands out as the genuine article.

In a world of inane celebrities and a cynical culture that aspires to reach the lowest common denominator, I am going to miss these two.

Shalom, everyone.

PS - Happy Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to all. May 5769 (in the Jewish calendar) bring us what so many people have been asking for: no more Republicans in the White House for at least another eight years.

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