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April 30, 2011

Karen Green's Forgiveness Machine

Green, the widow of David Foster Wallace, created it as one of a number of her responses to his death in 2008 at the age of 46.

In an extraordinarily evocative interview with Tim Adams published April 10, 2011 in The Guardian, Green let down her guard about the very painful two and a half years since and what she envisions as her future.

Though sad to read, it gives you a sense of just how difficult life was for Wallace amidst his sense of being overwhelmed by his inability to express just how complex and alive the world felt to him. It's almost as if Wallace's demise resulted from a kind of flood of incoming that simply overpowered his formidable ability to convey it in terms he could live with.

Excerpts from the Guardian piece follow.


The first piece of art that Karen Green made after her husband, David Foster Wallace, took his own life on 12 September 2008, was a forgiveness machine. She is standing in the neat, white studio at her house at Petaluma, north of San Francisco, explaining to me how the machine worked and how it didn't.

"Before David died," she says, "I had been working on some machines with a five-year old, the son of a friend who had a gallery down the road from mine." There had been a recreating-a-pig-from-bacon machine, and a prototype for a machine that cleverly pitted dates. The day that her husband hanged himself she had been working on a political machine that involved a bright-coloured circus tent, elephants and donkeys. For a long while after that, she says, she couldn't make any art at all, wondered if she ever would again, but eventually, tentatively, she developed the idea for her conciliatory Heath-Robinson. "The forgiveness machine was seven-feet long," she says, "with lots of weird plastic bits and pieces. Heavy as hell." The idea was that you wrote down the thing that you wanted to forgive, or to be forgiven for, and a vacuum sucked your piece of paper in one end. At the other it was shredded, and hey presto.

Green put the machine on display at a gallery in Pasadena near the Los Angeles suburb, Claremont, where she and Wallace had lived in the four years they had been married. She was fascinated by the effect that it had on people who used it. "It was strange," she suggests, "it all looked like fun, but then when the moment came for people to put their message actually in it, they became anxious. It was like: what if it works and I really have to forgive my terrible parent or whoever."

In the end, Green didn't use the machine herself, except to put a few tester messages through. "I couldn't give it my full attention," she explains. "I was worried it wouldn't even work for the full four hours of the show's opening. I was also kind of a mess about surviving the opening itself. Seeing people, chatting. Not 'kind of a mess' — a mess. I couldn't imagine doing it." She thought she would come back to visit the machine after the opening but instead she drove to her new home, not far from where she grew up, and stayed there. The machine was overwhelmed, too; it couldn't process all the requests and was eventually dismantled. "Forgiving is never as easy as we would like," she says. "Apparently quite a lot of people cried."

In her studio, now, Green smiles at that idea, with all the weariness of someone who has lately done far too much crying for one lifetime. She is full of spirited life, continually doing her utmost to laugh, even to attempt bad jokes when she talks about the last two and a half years, in an effort to deflect herself from the alternative. Her eyes tell different stories. "I don't know if David's parents have anger at him," she says. "Maybe because they were dealing with his illness, his depression, for such a very long time. But I have heard from other people who have lost spouses in this way, and fathers and mothers, and anger is perfectly appropriate. You can choose to be angry at the illness rather than the person, of course, but fury is completely appropriate: thus the forgiveness machine."

If the contraption didn't get the chance to work its home-made magic for Green herself, at least it had the effect of getting her back into her studio, where she has been trying to confront, or shore herself up against, what has become the fact of her life, the role she has found herself assigned by the ardent, obsessive readers of her late husband's books. "I think I'm supposed to buck up and be the professional widow," she says, with another quick laugh, "and I have found that very hard. Very hard. I mean one day you are a couple living in a little house and watching The Wire box-set for the third time, and letting the dogs do their antic stuff, and then suddenly you are supposed to be functioning as the great writer's widow. That wasn't how we lived when David was alive. I felt about him like I would if I had been married to a sweet school teacher. So I ignored everything for a long time. Until now, really."

I had come here to California to meet Green after corresponding for a little while by email. We had written mainly about her art, which seemed to me a profound and raw expression of the extremes of grief and loss. Not surprisingly, for a woman who was married to a man widely considered to be the most gifted novelist of his generation — described by Jonathan Franzen as "our strongest rhetorical writer" and by Zadie Smith as having no "equal among living writers. He was an actual genius" — Green has been much concerned with language, and the point where it gives up its ghosts of meaning. "When the person you love kills himself time stops," she says at one point. "It just stops at that moment. Life becomes another code, a language that you don't understand."

She resists the idea that suicide is in any sense a meaningful act, still less one understandable in terms of art — the myth of the romantic depressive — as many of the multitude of commentators on Wallace's death, grouping him with Kurt Cobain, have sometimes wanted to see it.

"It was a day in his life," she says, "and it was a day in mine. Problematic for me is that there is a post-traumatic stress that comes from finding someone you love like that, as I did. It's a real thing. A real change to your brain, on a cellular level, apparently."

She's talking to me now, she says, in part because she feels something of a duty to support the publication of "The Pale King," and in part because she has a sense that talking about her experience might be of help to other people who have been left behind to live with the knock-kneed fact of suicide.

Green had only read the book, as I had, the week before we met. She had tried before but only got to page two, and had found it so unnerving that she had been unable to leave the house for three days. This time around she went through it in a couple of days almost without a pause. "It was actually fun to feel him around the place again, in my head. And of course it was sad because I wondered where it would have gone."

When I ask Green if she felt the best of him always made its way into his writing, she thinks for a moment. She is sitting cross-legged in a favourite chair, cradling a mug of herbal tea.

"I guess it depends how you define best," she says eventually. "But in my opinion, no. The writer's voice took on a life of its own, which I think he found very constraining. I think part of what he was struggling with was how to change that voice. Cleverness, particularly for someone as clever as David, is the hardest thing to give up. It's like being naked, or getting married as opposed to having one-night stands. People don't want to be thought of as sentimental. Writers don't anyway."

By 2007 he had been on the same medication, Nardil, for 20 years. He believed the pills were starting to have bad side-effects; he was finding it hard to eat, but also he believed that the drug might be getting in the way of his writing. On the advice of a doctor, he stopped taking Nardil.

Looking back now, she says, she can line up all the mistakes of that period, but at the time every decision that was made was an effort to get Wallace well. Different drugs did not work. Nardil, when he returned to it, seemed to have lost its effect.

Green was with him all the time through the months of treatment, on one occasion not leaving the house for nine days. "It was terrible," she recalls. "I think he was so panicked that it was not working that it was self-defeating in a way."

One of the bleaker ironies, she suggests, is that she now knows exactly how that panic feels. "I have these visual cues where it all comes back to me, and if there is any way you can make that stop then you will do. If it means bashing your head against the wall, or whatever. The fear that you won't get out of it is worse than the thing itself. I think that is where he was that afternoon. He couldn't see a way to be."

"People don't understand how ill he was. It was a monster that just ate him up. And at that point everything was secondary to the illness. Not just writing. Everything else: food, love, shelter....

The following day I email Green a couple of questions to clarify some things she had said. She emails back quickly, from her studio, where she is back at work on her intricate paintings, and with what I imagine she would like to believe was her last word on the subject: "David's work is extraordinary and cause for celebration, but not from me. Does his death make it more poignant? Yes. Do I think, if he had lived, he could have made it as poignant as he saw fit? I do. Which is why I can't 'celebrate' it."

April 30, 2011 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Eye Rolling Clock


From the website:



Timekeeping can be a bit much, can't it?

Being punctual can start to become a burden.

The Eye Rolling Clock takes a more relaxed, laid back approach.

If you’ve ever glanced at the time and rolled your eyes with a quiet sigh, this is the clock for you.

Instead of hands, the eyes move slowly round — one showing the hours and one showing the minutes — as if agreeing with you that yes, 9 a.m. is too early.

This clock may not be the most precise, but it is the most understanding....




April 30, 2011 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ICorrect: Browsing is free — but posting costs $1,000/year


Why didn't I think of that?

Let's see... $1,000/year x 1,000 commenters = the million dollar homepage I know is hidden somewhere around here.

"What you think you're gettin' for free?"

But I digress.

Jennifer Schuessler's April 10, 2011 New York Times Book Review "Inside the List" column had this to say about ICorrect:


For The Record: There’s been a lot of buzzing lately about ICorrect, the self-proclaimed "universal Web site for corrections," which allows prominent people to correct false information circulating about them on the Internet. (Posting on the site costs $1,000 a year, but browsing is free.) The site, based in London, attracted some 225,000 Web hits on its first weekend, despite having only about 50 posts, including Bianca Jagger's declarations  that she never dated Billy Joel or rode into Studio 54 on a horse. A few posters do address serious literary matters. Here's the historian Niall Ferguson, responding to Alex von Tunzelmann's charge, in The Evening Standard, that Ferguson’s book "Civilization" (to be published stateside in November) is "imperial history without the nasty bits": "In fact, the German genocide of the Herero and Nama in Namibia is covered in considerable detail on Pages 176-181. Clearly von Tunzelmann didn't quite get that far. This is called 'reviewing a book without the nasty bits' . . . like reading it." Ferguson would also like to clarify that he did not, in fact, lose an argument about Godwin's Law with Paul Krugman in Seoul, no matter what Krugman said in December on his New York Times blog: "There should be a new Krugman's Law: the first person to claim he has won the debate has lost the debate. So comprehensively did Krugman lose this exchange that one Korean newspaper ran the headline the next day: 'A great Nobel Prize winner humiliated like a dog in Korea.'"

April 30, 2011 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Footballer's Knees Vases


"Look at one of this pair of vases and you may find the flowing, organic form intriguing; put two together and you quickly discover their true origin: a healthy pair of footballer's knees.

21cm H x 14cm D x 16cm W (8.3" x 5.5" x 6.3").

White glazed earthenware.

Sold as a pair: £100.



April 30, 2011 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hourly Weather


From the website: "The National Weather Service provides a little known and hard-to-find but highly useful product called the Hourly Weather Graph. It's a graph up to 72 hours out of precipitation chance, temperature, sky cover, wind speed/direction, and other variables depending upon the season."

Free, the way we like it.

[via Richard Kashdan]

April 30, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Rambler Socket


Designed by Meysam Movahedi,


it's a plug with an integrated 1.5-meter-long retractable extension cord.


I'll take several.


[via Fancy, ideas4all and Yanko Design]

April 30, 2011 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The rise of Barack Obama


Above, a remarkable photoshopped image accompanying Ta-Nehisi Coates' article, "The Legacy of Malcolm X," in the May 2011 issue of the Atlantic.

April 30, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Camera Lens Cup


Very strange.

From the website:


This beautiful and inventive way to enjoy your morning coffee is the perfect gift for any camera nut.

It's made from an actual Canon EF 24-105mm camera lens, hollowed out and lined with stainless steel, ready for a steaming cup.

Drink at your desk or take it on the move with you — it's got a nifty lens cap lid to stop you from spilling it over your fellow commuters (or nature photographers).

All the dials, measurements and details are present and correct, making this the photographer's cup of choice. 




April 30, 2011 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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