All Yesterday’s Tomorrows

Last weekend I biked to the main library in downtown Santa Fe to return Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace1 and David Byrne’s new book, How Music Works, and to pick up a few books I’d reserved (Philip Kerr’s latest thriller, Prague Fatale, Christopher Hayes’s The Twilight of the Elites, and Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel, The Two Faces of January2).

Near the front door the library has a large wooden magazine rack where patrons can discard their used magazines or peruse and “recycle” these throwaway copies by taking them home and reading them. On my way out I grabbed a copy of the August 2011 issue of Macworld. I’ve subscribed on and off over the years and admire Macworld‘s stylish product reviews and how-to stories. That night I browsed through the issue, not even a year and a half old, and experienced a sharp and familiar but unnameable sensation. In the world of this “recent” issue, Steve Jobs was still alive, Siri was not yet born, the iPad 3 and 4 didn’t exist, and OS X Lion and the iCloud syncing service (the cover story) had not yet been released.

The magazine’s shiny, cutting-edge future is now practically ancient, its cheery futurity slightly forlorn. Jobs (born just a few weeks before me) is gone, Siri’s Star Trek charms are now quotidian and familiar, the iPad 3 had its turn in the spotlight and made way for the iPad 4 and iPad Mini, and iCloud’s still-superior rival, Dropbox, itself just a few years old , recently passed 100 million users.

Even new issues of monthly magazines sometimes seem supperannuated now, and newsweeklies (and Newsweek the printed product) are doomed unless they’re called the Economist.

Life is a jet plane; it moves too fast. Sure, these observations are commonplace, but thinking about my castoff Macworld from the dog days of 2011, I wish there was a word to describe the almost recent past, that shadowy canyon where everything’s outdated and previous-gen and about to be unsupported, like my 2008 MacBook that can never be upgraded to Mountain Lion or whatever feline version of OS X obsoletes the insanely great puma. It’s a place too new to earn the cool patina of Retro, too distant to possess the uncanny that-just-happened vividness of deja vu.

David Foster Wallace deeply distrusted the Web and had no affection for digital wonders. Maybe he and Steve Job are stolling through the twilit groves of some limbo or afterlife, giving each other shit and enjoying a long break from, respectively, the unbearable onrush of self-consciousness and the relentlessly temporary shock of the new.


  1. I worked with DFW only once, during my brief tenure as a fiction editor at The New Yorker between the departure of Daniel Menaker, who’d previously arranged to excerpt a chunk of the unexcerptable Infinite Jest in the magazine, and the arrival of Tina Brown’s Falstaffian fiction honcho, Bill Buford. I can’t exactly say I “edited” the excerpt (“An Interval,” which ran in the January 30, 1995 issue) because the writing was faultless and fact-checking unearthed exactly nothing wrong with the story. My job amounted to negotiating an uneasy truce between David’s vehement stylistic convictions and the copy editors’ fitful attempts to enforce the house rules in a scattering of instances. I met him face to face a year later, at the infamous (to DFW) publishing party for Infinite Jest at the Tenth Street Lounge. (The “packed and scary” scene is described in Every Love Story.) I arrived early and found David leaning against a wall looking wan and miserable. We had a conversation that I kept short because schmoozing was clearly torture to him, but I asked him to keep in touch and left as the place started getting crowded. He later submitted a very short story titled “Think” (it eventually ran in Conjunctions) and in his cover note recalled “that Boschian scene” where we’d met. (For another example of DFW’s correspondance, see this recent Guernica post unearthing a kind postcard to an aspiring novelist.) When I started working at Outside I tried to get him to write a feature on the X Games in San Diego, and nearly got him to do it. The second and last time I saw him in person was at a Lannan Foundation event in Santa Fe in December 2000. This footnote is dedicated to his memory.
  2. Here’s why I’m reading this.

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