David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), who is considered one of the most outstanding writers of our time, lived only 46 years. In fact, D. F. Wallace was the smartest and the deepest man who felt uncomfortable in the conditions of the American life. In 2005, he pronounced a speech for graduating students at one of the US universities.
In this speech, he stressed on the real freedom and on why there are no atheists in the trenches of the adult life. He did not claim the truth in any way, he just expressed his thoughts about life, with which it is really interesting to get acquainted. And although the lecture was dedicated to American students-philologists, and it was about the realities of the American life, Wallace’s advice are always useful. Because to some extent, we are all illegitimate children of an American civilization with its fixation on themselves, a thirst for the personal success. And all of us without exception are forced to remain daily “in the trenches of the life.” As Wallace said, it is up to us to determine whether our existence would be meaningful, filled with something worthwhile, or become one vain pursuit of illusory values.
He also told a little story about two fishes. One fish asked another how the water was. That another fish only asked back: “What is the water?” The meaning of this story is that the most obvious and important truths are often the hardest to see. This statement looks terribly corny, but in the trenches of adulthood, banalities sometimes become a matter of life and death.
Imagine a typical day, D. F. Wallace told. You get up in the morning. You go to your hard work, work 9 or 10 hours. At the end of the day, you are tired, tense, and the only thing you dream about is to go home, to have dinner, relax for a couple of hours and fall into bed early, because tomorrow you have to get up again and repeat everything again. Suddenly, you remember that there is no food at home because you did not have time to go to the store because of hard work during the working week. You get in the car and go to the supermarket. At the end of the working day, traffic jams are everywhere. The trip takes much longer than it should, and when you finally get to the store, it’s already full of people. Everybody purchase some food after a day’s work, the store is disgustingly enlightened. The fluorescent lights beat your eyes and some kind of soul-killing pop music is playing. This is the last place on Earth where you would like to be at this right moment.
You cannot just leave quickly. You have to walk around the store among the huge rows of shelves and crowds of people to find some food; you have to maneuver with your crappy cart among all these tired and hurrying people with their carts. Of course, you are hustling around the old people, slowing as turtles, and the children always blocking the passage. You have to clench your teeth politely and to ask them to step aside. In the end, you found everything you needed for dinner, but then it turns out that, despite the evening excitement, there were not enough cash desks, so you have to stay in a long queue. It’s stupid and terribly infuriating, but you cannot take your anger out on a tired cashier.
Finally, you pay for your food, wait for the check, you are told “Thank you, come again” in such a voice, as if it were the voice of the death itself. Then you still need to carry plastic bags in the trolley through the clogged and dirty parking and try to load your packs into the car so that everything does not fall out on the way and crumble over the trunk and go home through traffic jams.
So far it has not become a part of real life for young graduates. But it will be so. Like many other dull, annoying, seemingly pointless actions. The fact is that such a small, disappointing shit enters our life with the need to choose. Because it is traffic jams on the roads, crowded rows of shops, long queues at the ticket offices give time to think. And if we do not make a conscious decision, how to think and what to focus on, we will be angry and unhappy whenever we are forced to go shopping.
It is to note that Wallace himself three years later, in 2008, capitulated and left the trenches, hanging himself in his own house. As they say: Doctor, heal yourself.