On Giving Up

 Throsby has been battling his relative dullness for over 70 years. He can be a diligent and attentive author, careful with spelling, syntax, punctuation, within the limits of his almost inaccessible memory. 

Much of SheepOverboard’s content comprises naive rants that originally served to clarify a position on some inscrutable issue that everyone else had a clear opinion about - opinions that, by their 360 degree spectrum, enfeebled Throsby’s indecisive mind even more, were it possible. Indecision that expressed itself as “well, I don’t know the actual truth (read facts) of anything going on in the world, so I guess anyone of those opinions could be the correct one, so I’ll accept then all (on advisement lol) until I learn the truth (never will). 

So, having briefly established Throsby’s feeble-mindedness, ignorance, and relative stupidity, you’ll understand his total lack of confidence. Confidence means knowing the facts, or the “truth of the matter.” Ergo, he will never be sure of anything.

The problem is that he went to a selective secondary school in the days when “bright kids” all ended up at the same campus. And promptly sank to the bottom. A cruel, humiliating place that was not promised by his complacent occupation of the “bright students row” at primary school.

Failing at a dozen subsequent jobs - even sacked for incompetence as a postman - did not enhance self-confidence. If his mother hadn’t leaked, in desperation, his “I.Q.” - that was NEVER told to students - to hopefully boost that confidence, matters might have gone downhill even more. It was that generous percentile that stuck in his head for the following five decades as a point of reference, of comparison, to confirm what should be attainable if he just tried harder.

As life wandered by, everyone seemed to be smarter and to know what was going on. Clever people were indistinguishable at first from the blazingly confident or the merely cunning. It wasn’t until a stunningly smart manager took charge of the department in which Throsby laboured. Only then was it clear that there were dull, average, clever, and god-damned brilliant people. 

Throsby was no longer the smartest person in his fantasy universe - the one in which he was comforted by a mantra “you are as clever as them but just aren’t trying.” This was a new paradigm. This was a level he was clearly incapable of. These are the people who keep the world spinning. “And I’m just filler material. Just a drone.”

In the world of wordsmithery Throsby also knows - like all who have never done it - he could write a novel, a damned good one too, if only he could dedicate a year or two to the project. Just so long as he doesn’t waste time trying to write perfect prose, or be too clever by half, and just worked it out with a plan and persistence. He can write as well as anyone.

Except the brilliant people. Those whom we still read centuries after departing. Those who earn a Pulitzer, or a Nobel for Lit. Yes, people like D.F. Wallace. 

Wallace’s non-fiction is like no-one else’s. His eccentric charivari of abbreviations and obscure words and encyclopaedic knowledge is like a spray of ammonia that you thought was going to be some sweet aroma. It’s that demoralising, too. You just want to give up. Now. Forever. Shut the book. Delete SheepOverboard. Switch off the computer. Go and dig the garden until the light appears at the end of time.

I first ran headlong into his scribbles by the accident of Googling “cruise ships” after Bill Maher’s contemptuous editorial. His 1996 “On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise” was an excoriation of the planet’s most decadent form of vacation, and very likely the most environmentally damaging and expensive, per head. Wallace’s powers of observation, of detail, turn of phrase, and clarity of assessment was quite the attention-getter. Who is this guy?

An even finer tour de force of those skills produced his Big Red Son on the U.S. porn industry. Wallace is like an alien scientist documenting humanity’s most aberrant foible - sex for those (ie: men) who can’t get it au natural. Without shame or favour he describes the shambles of a business that celebrates depravity as show biz. It’s such a normal life for the participants that there is no shame in the human body, or what its sex organs can achieve. Depravity is only in the (brown) eye of we beholders. An interminable but riveting reportage misses no step as it strides dutifully through the astounding mention of so-and-so’s prolapsed sphincter. By then one’s imagination is fully active and appropriate imagery is supplied, even if you’ve never seen one. Certainly not your own. 

I’m ploughing with growing reluctance into Wallace’s Signifying Rappers, co-authored with Mark Costello. As fine a writer as Costello clearly is, he’s no patch on Wallace’s turn of phrase. I delighted in Costello’s autobiographical introduction, but what followed was a battering ram of facts, names, and references that fairly soon had me sick of the whole thing. Skimming on, I ran into what had to be Wallace. And as tedious as the cultural scene was, or still is - as mind-numbingly awful as the actual ‘music’ - Wallace held me entranced. I’m pretty sure I won’t finish the book, but for now am captivated by how this brilliant man could immerse himself so deep in a topic that, frankly, ninety-nine per cent of us couldn’t give a stuff about. And make it so readable.

Fascinating. Not the topic, but how this gifted writer draws you into his obsession as deftly as a used car salesman sells you one you don’t need. 

Surprise. After a lifetime of smart people sucking the impetus from a wannabe, this genius so far beyond us all still inspires sad dull old Throsby to have yet another go. Wallace is a master class in how to break out of the suffocating notions of what writing should be. He breaks rules, abbreviates, use acronyms, makes up words (according to all my dictionaries) and endlessly delights in his ceaseless originality. 

Even had I his talent, his intelligence, his vocabulary, and his learning, I could never be anything like a D. F. Wallace. 

But I can damn well try.

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