How do I stop being Neal from "Good Old Neon"?
March 29, 2009 4:39 PM   Subscribe

So, I just read David Foster Wallace's "Good Old Neon", and I feel like Neal is a creepily accurate description of myself at this point in my life. What do I do?

(Sorry for not linking, but apparently nobody has thought of pirating this story to the Internebs just yet...)

It may have been a bad idea, but I just recently ordered whatever I could find of David Foster Wallace's writing and have made my way to "Oblivion" now, and while I felt touched by many of his characters, "Good Old Neon" was really mind-blowing in its identification potential.

I know the achievement/disappointment/fear pattern quite intimately. My perspectives on therapy, meditation and religion as coping mechanisms are almost exactly as described in the story. What ways out of this would you recommend if the one from the story (involving a car, a bridge abutment, and "stepping out of linear time") was not an option?

(As a side note, I am slightly frightened by the fact that even the schoolmate who has "emerged from years of literally indescribable war against himself" ultimately seems to have been deluded about his emergence.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This is a very vague question, but the first thought that came into my head is "travel". Buy a plane ticket and go there.
posted by rabbitsnake at 4:42 PM on March 29, 2009

If you read enough, you will find characters that you feel exactly match your given situation, personality, and any other aspect of your life. That doesn't mean you are that character, or that what happens to that character will happen to you.

We're terrible judges of ourselves, anyway. The character very likely has a much longer list of traits you don't match, than those you do.

I suggest not reading that type of work to identify with the characters in it. In fact, for a time, perhaps don't even read those types of works.
posted by aleahey at 7:59 PM on March 29, 2009

Please, seek help if you are suicidal. Tell anyone, or call 1.800.SUICIDE. My MeFi mail is open.
posted by phrontist at 11:46 PM on March 29, 2009

Sounds like you've identified the lesser points in yourself through art. Congrats. You've now got an example of how not to be.

Find a therapist and talk about what you'd like to change.

Seeing yourself in art is not uncommon. Synechdoche, New York was me on film. It was mind-blowing. But at least now I can say -"I don't want to be like him"
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 1:40 AM on March 30, 2009

Yeah I second what phrontist said.

Also just because you can relate to certain parts of a character does not make you them. Everyone reads a book and finds a character that they can relate to. Often we will cherry pick the qualities stand out the most and ignore the ones that don't.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:42 AM on March 30, 2009

I'd like to be able to reach out and respond to this, but I haven't read the story, can't find a sufficiently detailed synopsis online anywhere, and you haven't explained how it's relevant to you personally. You are not a character in a book. Talk to someone about your specific concerns individual to yourself and your own life, whether by reaching out to the Samaritans if it's immediate (they have an email helpline as well), finding a counselor, or rewriting your question to actually tell us about YOU so that people can offer real advice if they've been in a similar situation or know someone who has.
posted by availablelight at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2009

This isn't a vague question if you've read Good Old Neon.

I don't have any great insight into the fraudulence paradox, anonymous. All I can offer you is that we're all frauds, more or less. Some of us are better at breaking the "vicious infinite regress" than others, and you just have to keep slogging and fighting until you find something that works for you. If it's not analysis, meditation or religion, it might be community engagement, a heaping helping of psychoactive medication, or something I can't even conceive of. Asking for help figuring out what might work (professional or otherwise) is a pretty good idea.

I hesitate to quote more DFW at you, but his Kenyon College commencement speech is sort of apropos.
…here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually 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 the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable 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, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your 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 grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're 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 what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
Do as the man said, not as he did. There isn't a perfect answer floating out there on some Platonic plane- all we have are best-guess approximations, flawed, messy and human. Good luck. Feel free to mefi mail me.
posted by zamboni at 11:46 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

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