Tuesday, June 24, 2003

A Sickening Display of Hero Worship by A.D.

I'm not afraid to admit it. I have a genuine, unadulterated man-crush on Dave Eggers and I don't feel that my heterosexuality is threatened in any way. Sure, I love women and I date them exclusively but I would easily give up an evening out with Giselle for an hour of coffee with Dave Eggers.
And while I will be quite forthright and vocal about my admiration for him and his accomplishments, I find it most disheartening when I have to defend my appreciation for all-things Eggers, as if he was a popular band and it just wasn't cool anymore to like him.

When some ask me to name my favorite books, I will immediately respond with 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." And almost as if they were reading a script that hadn't yet been written, they would roll their eyes and make a snide remark along the lines of:
"I don't get him."
"I found that book a bit too ironic."
"I'm thirsty. What do you have to drink?"
These comments infuriate me because I sometimes question their reaction and the intentions behind it. I ask myself:
- Did they really read the whole book? Because you need to read the whole thing to have a truly valid opinion. It's like saying after a really hard Tuesday at work, "man, this week is hell." You don't know whether the rest of the week will be hell or not, now do you?
- Or maybe the reader was not into the whole postmodern angle. Maybe, just maybe, this isn't the type of writing he or she is looking for. Maybe Mr. and Ms. Reader were more comfortable reading books by Jane Austen and by everyone's favorite bookshelf decoration, Ayn Rand?
- Ahhh, the aforementioned Popularity Backlash. Sometimes true art can exist in the world of commercialism and when this happens, we need to punish the artist because they are undoubtedly a "sell-out." Dave Eggers has to be a sell-out, some will say. I mean, the book sold sooo many copies.
This last perspective is the saddest because the reader may have actually enjoyed the meta-memoir but abandons it anyway like it was a recipient of a naive high school crush who turned out to be a shallow slut. Oh, the betrayal.

But what people don't realize that none of this is Dave Eggers' fault. He wrote a book--a damn good one, at that--with a title that included the words "heartbreaking," "staggering" and "genius." Them's fighting words, indeed. Those words conjured up others like "pretentious," "conceited," "braggy," "incredulous." Critics wanted to hate this book (although they didn't).
Well, if you are "hip" to Eggers' methods (and I don't mean that in a condescending way and who even knows if I am) and his style and sense of humor, you'll figure it out that he's being facetious. He doesn't mean it. It disguises the awkwardness of putting out a book so honest, so pure, so--yes--heartbreaking that he had no choice but to mock it first. It's almost like the time I worked for three days straight on a color-war banner in summer camp. I put everything I could into it. My blood, my sweat--and yes, my tears. But when we were finally ready to present it to the camp, I laughed it off, almost belittling it with an obligatory eye-roll, by calling it "an absolute work of art' and then chuckling afterwards. I was afraid of failure and criticism so I beat the judges to the punch.
So, the problem is maybe you can't hear Eggers' dismissive awkward laughter or see his eye-roll. Imagine it now:

"A heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Aha ha ha ha [eye-roll]."
Almost translated to; I am naked before you. I have revealed every single nuance of my life. I am brazen enough to make a joke out of it before you can. So there.
Does that make any difference to you? Does it make you actually want to get past the first chapter? Huh, slacker? I'm talking to you.

But wait, here's the crazy part--the title is actually pretty accurate. As far as I'm concerned, the book is heartbreaking, staggering, and genius. His first full length was so raw and emotional, it may have made some people uncomfortable like a good comedian breaks taboos. But AHWSG did wonders for me. It inspired me in a way that no other art had before. This is the book that convinced me to write. Seriously.
Before I read this book, I wrote emails, the occasional Evite response, a shopping list or two, and maybe a couple hundred birthday card messages. Other than that, I was outlet-less. I was as creative as a Brendan Frasier movie (which is not so creative, incidentally). Then I picked up a book--although I can't remember why I did--and devoured every page. While reading AHBWSG, I related to the tone, the flow. I wanted to express myself exactly as he did. I felt Dave Eggers metaphorically headbutt me but instead of hard contact, his brain melded into mine as if he was moving inside my skull with his Ikea loveseat.
The experience of reading this book was even a sort of deja vu except I had never actually gone through the scenes, the setting or the dialogue. Nevertheless it felt familiar because the sentences were like the ones I would have used. The ones I should have used if I had been writing all this time.

In fact, his book inspired me to write my first story about the time I met Dave Eggers. It was a 15 page account, albeit creative non-fiction, of the sweat-inducing, starstruck conversation I had with him. I loved writing it and I wanted to keep doing things like that. Writing, it seemed, was cathartic and liberating. The act of putting words on paper (or cyberspace) was the closest I would get to streaking in public.

And so I continued to do so. Heck, this blog exists because I read that book.

The third time I met Dave (I have to skip a great deal for brevity's sake. My readership has repeatedly told me that they don't have the patience they all once had), he wrote down a list of tips for being a good writer, or in the case of the conversation we were having, a good music journalist.
This is what he said:

1. Be Smart
2. Read Nick (Hornby; he was referring to Hornby's music criticism)
3. Know your magazines
4. Be nice.
5. Be confident.
6. Be humble
7. Be positive
8. Be nice. Everyone likes nice people.
9. Keep smiling despite it all.
10. Send me some of your writing.
11. You will do it. This I know.

I will cherish this list forever because the person I believe in, in return, believed in me (see #11). Every time I look at this inscription, I have confidence renewed. I remember the first time I read his book and then realize how writing indeed makes you feel more alive than any cup of coffee. Even if that coffee is strong.
As cheesy as this all sounds, I thank Dave for doing this. He will never know about this but this is the kind of impact you can have on people given the circumstances. I will never forget that.

Thank you, Dave.

In truth, I could write so much more on this topic because as you can tell, I am passionate about it. And I can't really expect everyone to agree with me or see "it" my way. Because when I think about it, this is art and no matter how opinionated I am about art, it is still a very individualistic experience. There is nothing objectively genius.
Which is fine. I understand that. I even encourage you to use this argument with me when we discuss Eggers. When you say you didn't particularly like this book and I say back, well, then, you don't know what you're talking about.


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