Here’s the thing: this week has been an extraordinarily rough week. I traveled to Dijon and bought fresh goat cheese at the market and sent my resumé off in three languages to employers everywhere, but sometimes in travel your mood has nothing to do with the circumstances around you.
A few of my students think my classes are a party. A few of my students repeatedly mistake my classroom for a bedroom, even this week when I played a fairly explicative video of Justin Bieber’s arrest. So, it was not that much of a surprise for me when a student announced this week that he would follow me home to find out where I live, and when I told him I would tell the police, he responded that he’s very good at hiding in the shadows. This is normal, and he will do no such thing, much like how my students have all sobered up the multiple times I had to draw a line on the board with twelve dots on one side and one dot on the other to indicate that a student had crossed a nonverbal line (usually due to a sexual joke.) I’ve indicated multiple times that my students are difficult (mostly, here), and I’ve also indicated here that I don’t like to yell at them, as I really think they are great kids blessed with technical gifts that are not my own. Literature is my subject of mastery and I do not expect any of my students to be reading Joyce in April; I simply want them to pass their exams, go out into the world as the great electricians that they are, and perhaps know a little bit more about themselves and their relation to others in the process.
When it’s raining, you haven’t slept more than four hours in the past three days (for no particular reason), and you’ve been placed into an eternally depressed state due to having just seen 12 Years a Slave (you should all go see it anyways), it’s hard to remember that your misbehaving, video game-loving, sometimes highly inappropriate students are, in fact, good people. It’s even harder not to cuss in three languages at the person who taps you intentionally with his car to tell you to get out of the way (even though there is a line of traffic in front of him that will prevent him from moving, anyway.) I have been accused many times of “avoiding life” by moving to Europe to teach English, and I would say that this is true, from the accuser’s perspective. “Life” is a highly subjective term, and it happens that I do not associate it with making money or living comfortably. I would like to one day climb the Himalayas and ski the Alps (the latter being a more attainable goal), and I’d really love to learn a fourth (German) or even fifth language. In many ways, I have run straight into the arms of my own “life” this year, though it may not be another’s. Even if my “life” is “soft” from a different perspective, I would like to point out that being hit by a car, told you will be followed home at night, dropped off in an abandoned parking lot far away from your home, and being asked out repeatedly by a bunch of sixteen-year-olds is not easy while living five thousand miles away from all your family and friends in your third, imperfectly mastered language. Luckily, literally all of these things have already happened to me in Argentina, so I know I will get through the week just fine.
I’m in the middle of a biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story (click the link for a really interesting exploration of the book’s title, a famously untraceable quote that repeats itself in Wallace’s work.) Though I will have a lot more to say on the biography when I’m finished, I think it’s important to mention in the face of a weighty week. The author of the biography, D.T. Max, mentions the importance of Wallace’s emotional affect, so unusually strong it leaves him with a gripping social anxiety and severe bouts of depression, leading to his eventual suicide. Emotional affect also happens to be a great undercurrent in Wallace’s noteworthy novel Infinite Jest, in which
There is a sense…that our obsession with being entertained has deadened our affect, that we are not, as a character warns in that book, choosing carefully enough what to love.”
Max, D. T. (2012-08-30). Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (p. 94). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
So, in this tumultuous week I am a bit downtrodden about the fact that someone who understood the world so geniusly (listen to his famously empathetic graduation/compassion speech at the end of this post), could not bear it in the end. I AM NOT A PSYCHOLOGIST; in fact, I am the opposite, as I choose not to put up with most emotion, but David Foster Wallace inspires me to try to understand a bit more, to know a bit more, to see really what we are dealing with in this life. My students, that man in such a rush to get somewhere that he would use his car as a weapon, an empty parking lot, they’re all metaphors for something, though I don’t know quite what, yet.
I don’t want to bring anyone down, because I assure you that while the smallest (and they are small!) difficulties abroad can be so much more difficult than at home, they result in proportionally grand happiness when they are surmounted, or when driving through miles upon miles of grape fields under the setting sun. So, I seek no pity, as I have plenty of trips coming up in the next few weeks, not all of my students are stalkers, and some of them are actually making great leaps in the English department. What does interest me, however, is the difference between my “life” and another’s. What makes us do the things the do? Why do we love the things we love? In the end, what gets us through the tough days; no matter where we live or how we define ourselves, what do we have in common that makes us seek life? Feel free to respond because, as I mentioned, I don’t have any of the answers.
Here is an artfully-done excerpt from Wallace’s famously human speech, which you will probably want to hear multiple times.