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The Infinite Jest Workout Challenge

Published in Blog Archive, Infinite Jest.

Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace

I can almost guarantee that David Foster Wallace didn’t write his mammoth masterwork Infinite Jest with a looming notion that, “I hope someone uses this book to lose weight.” But, by god, that’s what I’m going to try to do here.

One of my friends from college (hi Joe, hope you’re reading this) and I have been bouncing around the idea of a David Foster Wallace reading-list, or a discussion blog, or just something to get us motivated to dive a little deeper into the man’s work. Life got in the way of doing anything beyond reading some of his lengthy essays though. We’d toyed with the idea of reading Infinite Jest… but who has the time? Insert a second friend (Darcey, if this goes poorly, I’m blaming the whole thing on you) who randomly suggested interest in reading the book, and before you can say “1-click checkout” the books were on their way. From my angle, there’s a lot more to this idea though…

When I began this blog I did so with the intention of using it as a tool to hold myself accountable for actually trying to pursue goals that meant something to me. That idea slipped away for much of the year, but was given new life about a month ago when I was watching Louie, “What could your future be if you didn’t shut the door to possibility? What could happen if you worked harder than you’ve ever worked, expanding your aim to areas you previously never even considered? What could happen if you risked becoming a success?” Ideas started connecting and, while this might not seem like much, this past month I began trying to simply ask more of myself. I stopped taking comfort in the bare minimum of what I’m capable of doing, and started stepping outside of my habits of complacency. I have this idea that, when you’re making plans, your goals shouldn’t be predicated on everything going right in life, because things never work out like that. But likewise, why not ask something more of yourself?

So here’s my challenge to self: Not only am I going to read the 1085 pages of Infinite Jest (which includes Dave Eggars’ forward and the nearly 100 pages of end notes), but I’m going to do so while riding an exercise bike at the lovely downtown Nashville YMCA. And — the idea continues — when I’m done riding each day, since I’m already there, I might as well get a full workout in.

When I started the year I weighed about 225 pounds, and this morning I was greeted by 216.4 when I stepped on the scale… progress, sure, but a pound a month isn’t exactly getting me where I want to be. In January I said that my goal weight was 185, which may or may not be out of reach (see: predicated on everything going right), but that’s the goal: 1085 pages, 31.4 pounds, 100 days. Why 100 days? Because in exactly 100 days it will be one year since I set my goals in motion on this here blog. This isn’t Terry Fox attempting to run across Canada on one leg, or anything like that — this is simply an attempt at trying to make an effort that I know I’m capable of. And I’ve got two friends now who are going to be reading along with me, so that has to count for something, too.

Like any smart marathon runner though, I started before the sound of the pistol. (I wanted to do so, mostly, just to see that I had it in me to get started. And now that that’s out of the way, it’s all downhill from here, right?) To finish the book in 100 days, I have to read about 11 pages a day. To make my weight goal I have to lose about 2.2 pounds a week. Some days will be easier than others (considering those nasty endnotes), but overall it’s not impossible. To make things fun, I’m documenting a bunch of metrics along the way like how many miles I ride and how many calories I burn. It should make for some cool charts once all is said and done.

Infinite Jest Challenge Data

Saturday (18 pages read), Sunday (15 pages read).

Infinite Jest Challenge Data

Saturday (16.25 miles), Sunday (15.76 miles).

Infinite Jest Challenge Data

Saturday (421 calories while reading, 1068 during additional cardio), Sunday (417 calories while reading, 976 during additional cardio).

Aside from these charts, I’ll also be jotting down some stray observations (which I will be keeping up with each week). They might be silly, they might be pointless, but they make the ride more enjoyable… Here are some thoughts from this past weekend:

  • Introducing the “WhataBurger Southwest Junior Invitational” tennis tournament as “prestigious” is fantastic. (4)
  • An essay titled “Tertiary Symbolism in Justinean Erotica” is about 17 miles above my head. (7)
  • “This would have been bad enough, but in the end chair, right up next to the strap-secured head of my stretcher, was a T-shirt woman with barnwood skin and a trucker’s cap and a bad starboard list who began to tell me, lying there restrained and immobile, about how she had seemingly overnight suffered a sudden and anomalous gigantism in her right breast, which she referred to as a titty; she had an almost parodic Quebecois accent and described ‘titty’s’ presenting history and possible diagnosis for almost twenty minutes before I was rolled away.” I now know that hell exists, for I have seen it documented in print. (16)
  • “A counselor, Randi, with an i, with a mustache like a Mountie…” I’ve seen many a Canadian constable, and many an American police office, but I can’t think of a single Mountie with facial hair. (20)
  • “He’d cure himself by excess.” I’ve tried plenty of ways to quit drinking and eating too much, but most of them have had very little to do with “Hey, don’t go to the store and buy liquor and junk food.” Bingeing to excess, in order to sour the experience completely, seems no more insane a solution to me than many of those I’ve tried in the past. (22)
  • “He didn’t reject the idea so much as not react to it and watch as it floated away.” Choose Your Own Adventure. (26)
  • Also (from the first two days) here are the words I’ve had to look up (post-ride, of course): “effluvium,” “wen,” “mottle,” “avarian,” “matriculant,” “presbyopic,” “countenancing,” “idiogram,” “supine,” “mollify,” “enfilade,” “espadrilles,” “leonine,” “cirri,” “martinet,” “hypophalangial,” “etiology,” “Saxonic,” and “magisculed.”

So, I’ve bookmarked page 223, I’ve purchased a copy of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (which I’ll be reading on the couch), and I’ve got no excuses why this can’t be done. See you next week.