Adam Reger | Pittsburgh Writer, Editor, and Teacher

Pittsburgh writer, editor, ghostwriter, and teacher.

Month: August, 2011

What a Game of Eschaton Looks Like

I’ve remained on the fence way too long re: The Decemberists, the rock band that I should, on paper, like a lot more than I do. (They wrote a song about Myla Goldberg, author of Bee Season; they brought in Gillian Welch to sing on their most recent album; and they are generally pretty literary and wordy without being too unbearably pretentious about it (at least most of the time).)

This new video, for “Calamity Song,” has got to put them over the top with me. Directed by Michael Schur, who works on the fantastic Parks and Recreation, “Calamity Song” depicts a game of Eschaton from the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest (which I’ve written about here). The New York Times wrote a piece giving the full background.

Eschaton is a game that the students in Infinite Jest‘s fictional Enfield Tennis Academy play on an expanse of multiple tennis courts, nets removed. It’s a game of apocalyptic global warfare, with students forming blocs like REDCHIN (Red China) and SOUTHAF (South Africa). They take turns lobbing tennis balls, representing so many megatons of explosives, across the court to hit targets in other nations. The accumulating damages, measured in military destruction and civilian casualties, are tallied by a student who works a computer on wheels, continuously calculating the effects of, say, a direct hit on a major metropolitan center in the middle of ONAN (Organization of North American Nations).

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Tom Scharpling on Doing the Work

This interview appeared some time ago, but I’ve been thinking about one of its main points over the last few weeks, and thought I’d share. The AV Club interviewed Tom Scharpling, host of the Best Show on WFMU. The whole thing is great and worth your time—even, I’d say, if you don’t know who Scharpling is.

But Tom was asked about the recurrent Best Show theme of “doing it”; i.e., putting in the work, paying dues, etc. To which he replied:

“You get so many people who talk about what they are going to do. I think they get the same kind of emotional, almost chemical, satisfaction out of when they say, ‘I’m gonna write this thing, and it’s gonna be like this, and this is gonna happen, then that’s gonna happen.’ They talk you through it, and they’re getting the same satisfaction from your reaction as if they actually did the thing. And that drives me up the wall. Then they never do it, because they’ve satisfied themselves by talking about doing it. I’ve known a bunch of people like that in life who start a thing, and they’ll talk all day long about the thing they’re gonna do, and how great it’s gonna be. But they’re not doing the thing.”

So good. So well put. Recently I’ve been reading books on investing in the stock market, and a similar point has come up: that investing ruins many investors because they don’t have the constitution for making an investment and sitting on it for years and years; once they’ve gone through the hunt of identifying a promising stock, putting in the research, and making the purchase, the entire chemical thrill of investing is over. When the stock’s price begins to slip, there’s no more satisfaction to be had in staying the course. So they sell, because selling gives them a portion of their money back, and they can go on to hunt down the next stock, and generate the next chemical thrill.

That connection’s a bit far afield, but I know what Tom is saying directly. I do this myself, launching new writing projects, thinking about how good they’re going to be, how well received they’ll be once they’re published, etc. Then I never go back to them.

More to the point, I’ve experienced this lately when working on something with another person. Too often, those talk sessions where you imagine the various jokes you can do, where you look down the road at subsequent ideas or projects you might explore together, prove totally sufficient for the other person’s creative desires.

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