Choices, Awareness, Complicatedness & David Wallace Foster

This is Water is a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace in 2005 @ Kenyon College. While 14,000 people have listened to the 10 minutes of Part 1 on you tube only 8,000 have listened to the 12 1/2 minutes of Part 2. I will link part 1 at the bottom of this post should you have time for both. This is a remarkable speech given by an author who was a creative genius. Sadly, he struggled with depression as so many artists do & he did kill himself.

In the first video he describes “We are the center of the universe as our default setting.” He suggests that education is the opportunity to not be arrogantly certain. Thinking can help us decide to choose to look at situations with greater complexity. One example is people who drive SUVs, to consider maybe some of them have been in terrible accidents and require a sense of safety.

His videos are inspirational therapy. He goes on to illustrate the value of awareness so that we can live “conscious and alive day in & day out. Awareness of having choices is the key to living a better life. So many people arrive at my office feeling they are without choices. That feeling is not accurate though it is powerful.

In the comments one woman said she was stuck in traffic and feeling angry and she thought about this speech. So she flipped on some good music and did some relaxation instead. There is the opportunity for choice, stepping away from anger & frustration is a good idea when stuck in traffic. Stepping toward anger when a relationship is about to die under the weight of someone else’s self centeredness is also a good idea. So often we can not see that we have choices, because we don’t feel as if we do.

My friend Jim, just visited Tokyo and he talked about the complete absence of litter, because Japan is a society based on thinking more of others. We in America are so buried in litter because we think so much of only ourselves. We’ve created lives of comfort as DWF talks about and yet so many people feel sad, empty & lonely. It’s not enough to “Want, Achieve and Display.”

In working with people who’ve suffered great tragedy I am constantly given the gift of perspective. Raising children gave me the gift of being more humble. Moving back into the city raises my visual awareness of poverty & every day makes me feel lucky. Deciding values, what matters and how to make meaning is both important and too easily ignored.

Take the time to at least watch part 2. Here is the link to Part 1, as promised: This is Water Part 1. Please take time to Comment. Thanks.

2 thoughts on “Choices, Awareness, Complicatedness & David Wallace Foster

  1. Iqbal Latif says:

    David Foster Wallace- America’s greatest literary talents.

    ‘There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

    The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude — but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance.’

    Claire Thompson, author David Foster Wallace’s girlfriend of two years, stopped reading his 67-page breakup letter at page 20, Thompson said she believes Wallace penned the breakup opus during a January lecture trip to the University of New England in Biddeford, ME.

    “When he came back, he handed me a big manila envelope,” Thompson said. “He said that during the trip, he confronted himself about some things he’d been avoiding, and that he needed to start living his life in a whole different way. He said the contents of the envelope would explain everything. I was just like, ‘Okay, whatever, David.'”

    Thompson said she did not immediately open the envelope.

    On Feb. 5, two days after receiving the letter, Thompson received a voicemail message from Wallace asking her what she thought of it. The message prompted her finally to open the envelope and “crack” the letter. That evening, Thompson slogged through the first 20 pages of the dense, complex Breakup Letter For Claire–Rough Draft, eventually putting it down to begin making dinner. The next morning, she moved the letter from her coffee table to a desk drawer, where it still remains, unfinished.

    “Maybe I’ll pick it up again,” Thompson said. “I’d sort of like to see how it ends. Then again, knowing David, it probably just leaves a whole bunch of loose ends untied.”

    “He was also as sweet a person as I’ve ever known and as tormented a person as I’ve ever known.”

    For all his natural ability, and occasional brilliance, Wallace never lived-up to the fullness of his talent, or the haunting reach of his possibilities.

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