I went to my first reading in early 2001. In general I was a cocky little shit back then. I still believed that I was destined to win the Nobel Prize. I would surely have been committed for grandiose delusions if I sat down across from a psychiatrist in a bad mood. The reading was for some hotshot neophyte named Dave Eggers. I was unimpressed. The writer kept referring to something called “McSweenys.net” as if it were as ubiquitous as the King James Bible. These references went so far as to describe the family that had beat him to the registration of “McSweenys.com”. Everyone seemed to be rolling right with him as I felt further and further from them all. His very town smacked of cloying irony. Had no one told him that irony is no longer ironic? When everyone expects it the unexpected loses its clever sting. This writer read from a book with a knowingly pompous title and the whole selection seemed to hinge on a Journey reference. He took a guy out of the considerable crowd, put him up to the microphone, and had him sing parts from “Anyway You Want It” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” Eggers couldn’t even make reference to the deep cuts that really make Journey pathetically appealing. “Seperate Ways” would have been so much more poignant considering the narrative made shameless use of personal tragedy in order to catapult its writer to fame. I found myself wishing my parents had died young so that I could be a famous writer too.It seemed like a fairly even trade at the time. This made me even more in need of commitment. Wishing ones parents death is not healthy. In the midst of the madness I was compelled to take action. I knew there was something important for me to do as soon as the questions were expected. So my hand shot up fast at that time and Eggers called on me right away. “What is more important to being a successful writer: hard work or stick-to-it-iveness?” He smirked. This seemed to be his favorite facial expression. “Is that a real question?” he asked. “No,” I said, and sat down. I wondered if he got the reference. The same question had been asked of Mr. Burns by Seymour Skinner on the Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns writes a memoir called Will There Ever Be A Rainbow? It seemed appropriate to ask a non-question of this particular writer. It got a laugh, neither at him nor at me, which felt good. That laugh felt only as cheap as the material in question. When I moved to New York in 2004, my roommate had a copy of Egger’s Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I tried to get through it but found myself disgusted with the tone. I still cannot quite explain my foul distaste for Eggers. Is it because, like him, I am self-involved and self-serving as an artist, utilizing the tragedy in my life, which has been considerable, to win an audience? Because I seem to write best about myself and fear that doing so might be my best route to success? Ions with alike charges repelling each other? Nothing has ever been so hard to place. I suppose it comes back to the practice of relying on cutesy hipster references in place of heart. Irony felt dated already in 2001 and by 2004 it felt extinct. Of course there will always be a market for jokes where feeling should be. It is easier to laugh than to think. I just can’t sit well with a resentment toward a writer that feels irrational. But the resentment exists, and seems to persist through any and all attempts to heal it through understanding. So I go back to the psychiatrist in my mind, the one who would lock me up in a flash, and ask why I can’t stand someone so much like me. I will not like the answer I am waiting for.

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One Response to “Writer’s Brock – “It is easier to laugh than to think.””

  1. Amy Wright says:

    Mmm, the asking is the answer I’d say, and it’s revealing. I went to a baby shower on Wed. where something prompted a woman to remember how in elementary school one of her older classmates teased her “Your epidermis is showing!” It wasn’t a joke that went around my generation, but several other women remember it. “Yeah, your epidermis!” And their reaction of embarrassment–looking down at their shirts, their zippers. She said she probably turned to literature for that reason–so she would never be caught again with her vocabulary showing. All of this to say it shows maturity for you to flake off a few cells of that epidermal layer for us.

    Thanks,
    Amy

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