Thoughts on a Word in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest

Pederasty (a homosexual relationship between a pubescent or adolescent male and an adult male) was at one time considered an ideal but is now considered a crime. It has become increasingly obvious that our codes of ethics depend upon the dominant interpretation of what we know now, the dominant social thought, forget about religion. How does religion fit into our inconstant, changeful morality? Does it fit at all? I am confused by the innocuousness of extramarital sex and homosexuality, as portrayed by today’s popular culture, and the damnation of both by strict or conventional, millennia-old Christian principles. We are learning that they were wrong before or we are socialized to believe that they were wrong (because it is now a crime), when they set pederasty as an ideal sexual relationship. Are we now learning or are now socialized that homosexuality is not as wrong as we thought when we make laws supporting it? Those newly-enacted laws bend to current interpretation of homosexuality as harmless and legitimate (a woman can actually love a woman, a man can actually love a man, sexuality moves in more than one direction). Is it harmless and legitimate? Should I listen to the people who are now “coming around” to the idea of homosexuality, the people whose coming around effects the making of laws that force at least institutions to formally come around because homosexuality is harmless and legitimate and deserving of these legal protections? Should I internalize the implications of these laws? Should I continue to adopt God-breathed, millennia-old principles as my personal code of ethics in the face of these socially-accepted implications?

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My Valedictorian Speech

Here is the speech I gave on Friday at my high school graduation, replicated here with the symbols and breaks I used in my notes:

Good evening fellow graduates, friends and families, administrators and guests

My name is [yourweirdlittlesister], and I am the valedictorian of the class of 2015.

As valedictorian, I am expected to encourage / with anecdote, platitude, and metaphor

And I will heartily meet those expectations

One day during my junior year, my mother picked me up after school/ on the curb. She was behind the wheel, and although there was no one in the passenger seat,

I sat in the back of the car with my book bag next to me.

And as we drove off, I noticed that an upperclassman was giving me a strange look. I couldn’t think why and soon forgot about it.

But the next day, this person turned to me and asked, “Why are you still sitting in the backseat?”

And with a question like that, the symbolism was much too ripe for an English major to resist plucking.

I gleaned that the backseat / symbolizes the things to which we have probably grown accustomed. Simple things like a locker, like afterschool, like fixed schedules / and chapel on Fridays.

It symbolizes the people we have grown to love and admire. The people who demonstrate what academic excellence means / by simply living righteously and with integrity.

In our high school careers, we have learned that I may see a diamond and you may see a square, but that if we put our protractors to it, we would both measure out 90 degrees

We have learned / that the universe tends toward disorder, decline, and unpredictability

We have learned that the cell splits without failing to give each piece of itself what it needs / to function

We have learned that Lady Day could not have been Lady Day / without the emotional scars that so enriched her voice

At home, we have learned how to juggle responsibilities to our friends and responsibilities to our parents, how not to turn our white clothes pink, and how to cook without burning the kitchen down

But that’s backseat stuff.

We have mastered and internalized these things, and now it is time to move toward fresh challenges.

We have shown our love to these people (our people) in word and in deed, and now it is time to share our capacity to love with the soon-to-be friends, soon-to-be husbands, soon-to-be wives / that most assuredly await us

We can agree that the backseat

is safe. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable.

But life does not stop there/ at the backseat

And we know that because this is graduation

And at graduation, we are asked to unbuckle ourselves

To step outside and stretch our legs.

We are asked to look at the car in its entirety

To see with our own eyes that we had been limiting ourselves

By thinking the backseat was our entire world

We are asked to see that the car, in fact,

has a front and a wheel and a key

Graduation /

is a door opening

So, class of 2015,

Let us head toward that square of sunlight that begs us come

Without fear of the future

Without fear of failure

Trusting / that God is real and that he will help us

If we humble ourselves to ask this of Him

Let us, class of 2015,

Head toward this open door

Ready to move past it

Ready to start our lives

Ready


Before the ceremony, I was very nervous and nauseous. The graduation was at 6, but the graduates were supposed to be there at 5. I was running almost 30 minutes behind, and I was quietly fretting. I was supposed to sing and play a song during the graduation, and I was nervous about that because when I open my mouth to sing, I really don’t know what sounds are going to come out; I just hope for the best. Adding to my nervousness, there were cues that we practiced the day before– when to stand, when to turn, when to move the tassels on our graduation caps. And because I led the march into the sanctuary and onto the stage, I had to be on point, or else make myself look ridiculous. All of this on my brain made me so nervous that when I arrived, I had a three-second cry in the bathroom. Dire.

However, the ceremony went off without too many hitches. My classmate sat down when she was supposed to turn. At one point, my scarf flew off of me as I took the stage. But it was fine. I got a Headmaster’s Award, which was an unexpected honor. My best friend (the one who was my prom date) gave his salutatorian speech. He gave me a MAJOR shout-out in the beginning of it. Part of the speech was a spoken word poem, and he dedicated it to me, his best friend. What an honor. I was smiling for his entire speech. My other friend received an award for doing about 250 hours of community service. That was good.

After the graduation, I had people waiting for me in the parking lot. Most of them weren’t even family, but they were so happy for me. They got me cards, balloons, roses. They told me how proud they were of me and took plenty of pictures. By this time, the nervousness was long gone, and I was as happy and excited for myself as they were. We went to IHOP afterward, as was my wish, and my friends decided to come eat with us. There were about 20 people in all. We had a good time there. I ate strawberry and banana pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage at 8:00 at night. Good eatin’.

It was a good day. SO much better than I was expecting. SO much more than I could have hoped.

I wanted to share with you that I am officially done with high school.

I Was Prom Queen

My sister’s friend is a makeup artist. She came to my house, did my hair, and made-up my face as a favor to my sister. I went to prom with my friend. We took lots of pictures at my house, and he said I looked like a princess. He put on my corsage. Our driver was cool. My friend and I talked about music with him the whole way to the prom. We were the first ones there, even though we were fashionably late. We were the first ones there for, like, an hour. We were supposed to vote on the prom representatives once everyone arrived, but the rest of the class hadn’t shown up yet. So my date and I were crowned prom king and queen. Eventually, my girl friend came with her date. He was cute and older and way out of my league. Unfortunately, the DJ played rap the whole time. We ate, danced to a couple of songs, made fun of a couple of songs. When prom was over, we (my girl friend, her date, my date, I) went to a Waffle House down the street. My date and I had to leave after a while, but it was nice. It was nice. On the way to drop me off, our driver played three tracks he had recorded himself. My date told him that I could sing. The driver wanted to hear if I was any good. I told him that I made a CD of original music. He gave me his card, so I could send it to him. I got home, my family took more pictures, I hugged my friend, and he left. It was a good time. And I get to tell my kids that their mommy was prom queen.

Whatever

A lot of things have happened since the last post.

You already know my grandma’s dead. But I missed a week of school to go to her funeral in Jamaica. That’s where everyone on my mom’s side of the family is from. But I don’t like Jamaica. It’s too hot. It’s too rowdy. It’s too unfamiliar. They drive on the wrong side of the road. People walk in the middle of the street. Cars swerve around potholes and pedestrians, alike. The people talk rough(ly). The language is raw and grammatically incorrect. And I don’t like it there.

At the funeral, I met some family members I will never see again. Part of me wondered what the point was. I don’t care much for family. A lot of them knew my older sister already, so it was like a reunion for them. I may be jealous of my sister. She’s personable and talkative, and people want to be around her. I am the polar opposite. I want to be nice to people and be happy, but I can’t.

You should have seen how I acted when we went to the beach. I talked angrily and in monosyllables to anyone who asked me anything. I stared angrily out at the ocean and refused all requests for me to dip a toe in the water. I’m not sure why I did that last thing. But the reason for my mood must have been my stress level; the AP exam was getting closer and closer. At the beach, my sister kept asking me how the studying was going. I’m sure she meant well, but she didn’t know how close I was to screaming and tearing my hair out. My college will only give me credit for a 4 or 5, but I felt so unprepared. I have this reputation for being the smartest person in my school (for my SAT scores and awards), and people would think differently of me if I got a 2, and I would think differently of myself. There’s a junior in our AP class. I was really upset about that, at first, because AP classes were originally reserved for seniors at my school, and because of what it would mean if she did better than us. I thought I was over that, until I had a bad dream that she got a 4 and I got a 0 on the test. Of course, you can’t get a 0, but every time I think about the test, I feel such anxiety. My sister did not understand all of this, when she asked how the studying was going. And I couldn’t make her understand, so I yelled “Fine” in reply.

I want to be nice and happy and like my sister, but I can’t. That is, apparently, not me.

I Think Y Is My Favorite Letter

living peanuts cartoonMy grandmother died last Tuesday. I saw her in the hospital with her tongue pushed out to the side of her mouth and her hair in grey, haphazard braids. The doctor held my mother’s hand and told her that my grandma wasn’t breathing on her own. She was letting the machine do all the work for her, so he held my mother’s hand and told her that he recommended turning off the machine. As he talked, I looked him in the eye and I looked at his hands, and when he hugged my mom and left, all six of us in the room cried. They took her off the machine the next day. I didn’t know her that well. My grandmother died on a Tuesday with her tongue pushed out.

The funeral is in Jamaica. I will miss a week of school for it. I’m going to sing Take My Hand, Precious Lord. Sing it smooth and slow, like she can hear.

Free Associate

cartoon-What-Do-I-know-I have chosen what college I’m going to. It’s in Florida, a place I’d swore I’d never live because of the heat. Life is funny that way.

My friend asked me to go to prom with him and I accepted. I bought my prom dress in Florida after I visited that college.

I’m watching the Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Rory Gilmore makes me feel bad about myself.

I’m keeping my head above water in AP Chemistry.

I’m reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Waiting for Godot. They’re good. Dense but good.

I entered a poetry competition at school and didn’t win. That’s okay. I like my poem.

I got my eyes checked today. My right one’s getting worse.

I have switched from grey colored contacts (which I have been wearing for six years) to clear ones.

I don’t like to wear my retainers so my gap is coming back. I hate my gap as much as I hate my retainers.

I have the urge to dye my hair red. I know it would look stupid, but I have always wanted red hair. Maybe I will do it in college.

My self-esteem goes up and down several times a day, like somebody’s adam’s apple.

My parents’ wedding anniversary is tomorrow.

My (Jamaican) mother has two (Jamaican) visitors over the house. They have been staying with us for a couple of weeks and will soon (Thank God) go back to where they game from. They keep leaving the kitchen door open and letting tiny flies get in. I went into the kitchen just now to look in the fridge. My mom and the lady were talking. My mom said to me, “Don’t look at me like that. You don’t love your momma anymore?” as she tried to cup my chin in her hand. The lady said, unprovoked, “Ya wan’ titty.” Mom said, “She did like the breast when she was a baby.” I walked outta there quick(ly).

I felt so bad the other day that I almost took one of my dad’s anxiety pills.

My dad has Parkinson’s. Doctors put wires in his brain and two batteries in his chest to try to fix him. I wonder sometimes if he will ever get fixed. It makes me feel heavy when I think about him. I try not to.

Are You Sad?

frowncharliebrownI did not have a good day. I woke up at 6, thirty minutes later than I was supposed to. So, I was late to the morning AP Chemistry class for about the tenth consecutive time. The early morning classes have been taking their toll. I’m tired all the time. Last night was no exception. I fell asleep doing some late assignment and hadn’t even gotten to the more recent homework. I woke up tired and was mad at myself for falling asleep. I had a glass of orange juice for breakfast. All day, I was stuck between numb tiredness and generalized sadness. People were asking what was wrong with me and what they could do to make me feel better. They told me not to worry about it.

Well, I don’t really know what it is. It might have something to do with my hair. My teacher’s hair is braided in a way that I wanted to try. I got my hair professionally done like hers. And I hate it, mostly. When my stylist finished, I looked at my silly hair and my silly face in the mirror thinking, “This is me. This is me.” Sometimes I think my hair looks cute, and I’ve gotten compliments on it. From teachers, it sounds genuine. From peers, it sounds like pity or courtesy– as in, I have this major change to my appearance and people notice and think it appropriate to say something. I dare myself to walk into that school building. I did say I wanted my hair to be like my teacher’s. I did ask my mom to make an appointment with my stylist whom I haven’t seen in over a year. I asked for this. This is me. This is on me.

Anyway, I’m just saying that my feelings today (or lack thereof) might have something to do with my anxiety about how people see me. It’s like I travel outside of myself, trying to imagine what I must look like to them, and that’s why I can’t be there in the moment. Do you understand what I’m saying?


I was going to get some lemonade. I reached for a cup, and my classmate offered to get the lemonade for me. As he pressed the tab on the jug, I took this long, deep breath and my eyes got watery. I thought, “If I start crying in this line, these people will think I’m crazy.” I thanked my classmate for the lemonade, set it down at my spot at my lunch table, and headed to the bathroom. My eyes were still watery and I patted them with the backs of my hands. Another deep breath in another mirror. I don’t know what I was upset about. For most of lunchtime, my face was in that cup of lemonade. I held it in my hand for about 10 minutes, frozen.

After lunch is Calculus. The desks were arranged in four groups of five. It was ugly, in that it was new and unfamiliar. The teacher passed out the tenth worksheet in two weeks. He’s a carefree, sociable kind of guy. As he passed me a sheet, he said, “Why do you look so sad? Are you sad?” I didn’t say anything. He asked again, “Are you sad?” What could anyone say but, “No”? I said it clearly. Although, all day I had been asking myself, Am I?