Get your weed packed and your patchouli oil out, and come along as I’m about to get philosophical today.
I was listening to a WTF!!?! Podcast episode with Judd Apatow protégé Jason Segal as the guest. I’m a big Jason Segal fan (HIMYM, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Muppets) and it was a really insightful interview. He got into a lot of personal stuff, including substance abuse, grinding through a tough 3 year period after Freaks and Geeks, and how he transitioned from comedy to drama in the new movie about the last four days of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest book tour entitled The End of the Tour (small theater run, out on DVD on Nov. 3, 2015). Dave Lipsky who interviewed Wallace during this time was supposed to run an article in Rolling Stone based on this trip, but never did due to Wallace’s change of heart. After DFW’s suicide in 2008, Lipsky wrote an article that has apparently been pulled off of Rolling Stones site, that you can (for now, if it gets pulled I have a copy saved) find here: The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace and later delved deeper in it here: Getting to know David Foster Wallace .
Since I generally avoid the news, newspapers, and especially entertainment news, and only rarely see theatrical releases, I missed this movie, which by all accounts has received great reviews. I’m DFW fan though, and have read his 1000 page opus Infinite Jest, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and just rechecked out from the library A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
(an essay collection of this was the first one I read, Consider the Lobster
being his other collection). He’s an interesting cat.
Infinite Jest is one of my favorite books of all time (right up there with Kerouac’s On the Road, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and Palahnuik’s Fight Club on my shelf), but was one of the hardest to read. First, it weighs a ton, and is intimidating as hell. I remember for me the story didn’t really start to take off until a couple hundred pages in. Second, 20% of the book must be footnotes – side tangents he felt it important the reader know about. Published in 1996, it follows three primary storylines: One is a film that is so entertaining that it’s viewers lose all interest in doing anything but watching the movie until they die; one is substance abuse and alcohol recovery; and the final leg of the stool is a super high level tennis academy where success is defined as making it to the pros (with all else being failure). This subject matter is commentary on life, and one that should hit home for us. This was before the insidious iphone use, but obviously checking out, drinking, drugs, and success have been a large part of western civilization for awhile.
DFW suffered from depression, but ultimately the questions he asks in his books and to himself is one we all ask: “What is the matter with me? Why am I so flawed that despite all that I have, I am not happy? That I have yearning and am unfulfilled in my heart of hearts?” Jason Segal talks about this in the interview as well. That money and fame and success does not make you happy. That there are doubts and we worry about how others perceive us. Like the Grinch says, happiness doesn’t come from a store, or from consumption. I love this commencement speech DFW did at Kenyon College (Ohio).
If you don’t have 22 minutes, fast forward to about the 19 minute mark (or read it here: This is Water PDF). He talks about what we worship (power, intellect, vanity) and how it ultimately makes us miserable in those pursuits. He talks of selflessness, and sacrificing our own individual meaninglessness to lead fundamentally and to live meaningful lives. And this doesn’t (or maybe shouldn’t) come from our jobs. Like Morrissey sang “I was looking for a job, and then I found a job. And heaven knows I’m miserable now.“
So what can we do to live a life worth living? That’s really the million dollar question isn’t it? It’s something I’m trying to figure out too. Here’s what I think:
- Take care of your body. Your body and mind are connected and you need to find self-discipline to take care of your vessel
- Take care of your mind. Meditation has a lot of positive power to change your energy to positive. I have an App on my phone called “Headspace” (you can find it on iTunes or Google Play, they have free ones and ones you can pay for a subscription for – money well spent in my opinion).
- Live in the now. I love the Kung Fu Panda quote: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” I’m a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and have really, truly been trying to follow this. Stay in the moment, live moment to moment, or at least day to day. Life is a wonder in bite sized pieces of time, but a mountain when you look beyond that to the monumental tasks ahead (to raising kids, paying for college, that work project, retirement, losing 20 pounds). So live in the now and don’t worry about the rest, and you’re more likely to be at peace
- Give your time, or your money, or your skills, or anything of value. This doesn’t just something I think, Psychology Today talks about how well-being comes from altruism:
Consequently, it comes as a shock for many people to learn that there is no straightforward relationship between wealth and well-being. Once our basic material needs are satisfied (i.e. once we’re assured of regular food and adequate shelter and a basic degree of financial security), wealth only has a negligible effect on well-being.
While possessing wealth and material goods doesn’t lead to happiness, giving them away actually does. Generosity is strongly associated with well-being. For example, studies of people who practise volunteering have shown that they have better psychological and mental health and increased longevity. The benefits of volunteering have been found to be greater than taking up exercise, or attending religious services – in fact, even greater than giving up smoking. Another study found that, when people were given a sum of money, they gained more well-being if they spent it on other people, or gave it away, rather than spending it on themselves. This sense of well-being is more than just feeling good about ourselves – it comes from a powerful sense of connection to others, an empathic and compassionate transcendence of separateness, and of our own self-centredness.
- Have fun and take off that backpack of responsibility bricks we wear as responsible adults. Play tag and be silly and laugh and chase the dog and make an obstacle course and parkour and throw a ball and race.
- Work hard. In all you do, do your best. Take satisfaction in a job performed well. This may mean being less lazy at times, but when you work hard you’re depositing positive energy in your mental bank or subconscious.
- Make and maintain relationships. Finding love with other humans (or pets) is one of the joys of life. Whether plutonic or romantic, these relationships bind us to one another and help to fan the flames of happiness and positive energy. Don’t let your friends, or spouse, or kids get lost in the day to day bullshit of life, instead embrace that love and wade into pool of goodness that is a strong relationship.
In Wallace’s commencement speech, he hits the refrain “This is water” a couple times. In the Tao Te Ching, there’s a verse that states: “Highest good is like water.” Water gives us life but can also be a powerful force as seen in South Carolina. It’s immensely malleable and flows. I think being like water, finding flow in life, and realizing we have the power to change and cut a new path is a message we all need to realize in our heart of hearts.
This is water….This is water…