|Thick With Meaning|
by Tom Wentworth
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First of all, I want to thank Jacob's family, Gustav, Ethan, and Kenny for bringing us this wonderful way to keep Jacob's memory alive. There is not a day that passes that I don't think about Jacob, and what a profound void he has left in all of our lives. But as much emptiness as can invade my own thoughts of Jacob, there is also a great, brimming abundance of love and laughter that I can draw from my memories of life with Jacob. The loss of Jacob, which feels almost metaphysical sometimes, seems almost an exhortation to me to engage the world with the kind of curiosity Jacob had. Jacob's absence now is also a reminder that the very struggle that he grappled with, to revel in life's questions beyond the tendency to feel overwhelmed by them, exists in all of us. The growth of the intellect is a growth of the spirit. This is the lesson, truly the gift, that Jacob seems to have left with me.
I am very much looking forward to reading some of Jacob's writings and criticisms, as Jacob always seemed more inclined to converse at length about his work with me than to share his ever-evolving works-in-progress. Jacob would promise me emphatically that he wanted me to read his stories once he had given them another spit shine or two. Jacob wanted to hear my thoughts on his writing, and I admit there was a certain honor I felt in being considered intellectually sound enough to approach his writing. There was, however, an almost comical way in which Jacob tried to "screen" potential critics of his work, by way of making sure they had completed the recommended prerequisite reading assignments. I remember sitting in Jacob's apartment, around the temple of the coffee table piled practically to the ceiling with a daunting library of Jacob's favorite books. He would dig through the stacks with the thoughtfulness and care of an archeologist, brushing off sacred artifacts. He wouldn't offer you a dust-jacket cover synopsis of the book, he would simply say. "I think you will enjoy this," as if he were a doctor with just the thing for what ailed you. Any conversation I ever had with Jacob seemed to end with me scribbling down a syllabus of reading assignments.
I find myself pulling books off the shelf…books that got there only at Jacob's enthusiastic insistence. In particular, there are two by William Gaddis, "A Frolic of His Own" and "J.R." that are rather dense tomes written in such an epic style and so thick with dialogue that Mr. Gaddis' writing seems even harder to penetrate than anything Joyce or Faulkner or Proust ever weighed me down with. Gustav and I were talking not so long ago, and we both admitted our initial trepidation and reluctance to embrace Gaddis' arcane style. I recommend Gaddis now to anyone who wants to feel like a first grader reading Shakespeare, and I recommend him without the ability to teach you much about him, the way Jacob schooled me.
I was in the middle of reading "JR" when Jake and I were having some of our own respective harder moments last summer. When we would meet, I would tell him that I was having trouble making a dent in "J.R.", that Mr. Gaddis was overwhelming me somewhat. Well, my admission of intellectual frailty would inevitably spur Jake to encourage me to persevere, to keep an open mind, and soon I would find myself unable to put it down. Jacob would become very professorial, as he was wont to do, and would hold forth with a lecture on Joyce's descriptions of barrels rolling on a dock in Ulysses, just to inspire me to revel in the details. He would say, "Tom, I imagine a raconteur like yourself will find Gaddis very refreshing." That was the difference with Jake…I don't have many other friends who would ever use a word like "raconteur" to describe me, and describe me favorably.
I finally finished "J.R." last year, after many long months of inconsistent effort. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was partly pleased with the book and partly pleased with myself for not giving up on it. I had Jake to thank for all my satisfaction. I couldn't wait to sit down with him and have it out…pick it all apart. Unfortunately, I never got that chance, and there is something that feels defeating about that. But there is also something heartening about the curiosity Jacob was able to nurture in me when my mind was otherwise coming apart…the ability he fostered in me to step outside of my usual reading habits and sink my teeth into something really challenging. That curiosity and that ability are still alive in me…and so it feels like Jake is alive in me. So many of my raving intellectual compulsions are his fault (and God bless him for it). I have a voracious appetite for reading philosophers, I have a yearning to go back and read Ulysses again, I have a mind to get my hands on more Gaddis. Jake unlocked these pleasures for me, and I now find my own room filled with sacred stacks…my own temple of literature, and I wade through several books at a time…depending on my mood. I recommend books to friends like I am setting them up on dates. I have always been an avid reader, but now I am a student all over again…the world seems like such a fountain of knowledge that I feel thirsty all the time. If Jacob's death has forced us all to confront the evils of addiction, we must also not forget the joy he had being hooked on books and language. I bless Jake for instilling the same hunger in me.
Jacob seems still to be so full of lessons. I see him almost in the way I saw that Gaddis book, overwhelmingly thick with meaning. If Jacob could use a haughty word like "raconteur" to describe me, I think I can only use a simple word like "thick" to describe him…not in the derogatory sense, of course. He was thick all over (stop giggling, people) his body was thick as an oak, his smile was as thick as a summer moon, and his mind was a thick as the deepest jungle. Like reading that Gaddis book, the journey we are all still taking into Jacob's life and mind is full of satisfaction for those who can be encouraged and challenged to keep engaged in its surprising and inspiring revelations.
Reading Gustav's introduction to Jacob's writing was full of further revelations. Mathematics! I never knew much about Jacob's fascination with numbers. I picture him now, pouring over the stock market indexes like some idiot savant…absorbing its patterns and delighting in its disorder. There still seems so much to learn about Jacob and I hope that we can all keep sharing the details about this wonderful friend, and brother, and son, and boyfriend, whose life was so much more the sum of our parts in it. Each story, each insight, seems like a beautiful new vista over unfamiliar hills.
During all of our remembrances at Jake's service, I remember Jeremy asking us if we ever told Jacob that we loved him. I know I never did, except to tell him that I didn't want to see him hurt himself, and even then, I feel like the words got muffled. I'll say it now so that I can hear the words say what they always meant…
I love you, Jake,
And I miss you dearly.
Thanks for Gaddis, and so much more.