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The Art is in the writing

Posted in Opinion by Adele Todd on December 21, 2008

I do not usually write about writers, but the words of this man, David Foster Wallace, is important enough to reproduce here.

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**If you are automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important – if you want to operate on your default setting- then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars – compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things.

Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true; the only thing that’s capital – T True is that you get to decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches pf adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, bromides, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need even more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s that’s what you are doing.

And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default setings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely o the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.

Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yeilded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation.

This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

That i real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the ‘rat race’ – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. obviously, you can think of it whatever way you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or nig fancy questions of life after death.

The capital -T Truth is about simple awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over; “This is water, this is water.”

* He had told a joke at the beginning of this speech that he gave to the commencement class of Kenyon College, Ohio.

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?”

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David Foster Wallace died this year at the age of 46. He was arguable the best writer of his generation.

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**Taken from The British Guardian of 20th September, 2008

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