Despondancy in San Diego
The allure of the artist and the disillusionment of Youth.
When I found out we were going to see Dave Eggers speak, I knew something was going to go wrong. A sunny San Diego spring vacation with three of my best friends—it was too good. A writer’s symposium featuring my favorite author was the impossible cherry on top.
Calling Dave Eggers my favorite author may have been a stretch; at the time I’d only read one of his novels. But it was one of those books that impacted everything in my life and it was all I ever thought about. It made me recognize the unspoken movement of Youth, the way bad situations are actually adventures, the way we’re all copy cats, the way everything that happens is wrapped up in irony, the way our responsibilities are overwhelming. He awakened me to these things that I always felt but never knew and it made me feel legitimate.
I remember San Diego like a scene from a movie. The four of us looked like characters and everything we did and saw and thought and felt could have been tagged as ‘indie movie’ moments. We walked the warm streets of Mission Beach and met locals who spotted us, clad in our summer clothes, as tourists. Friendly “to-do” advice received, we’d part from these interactions high on adventure, intoxicated by these strangers’ forward-kindness. Every day we anticipated the time we’d return to our hotel and go for a sit in the hot tub.
The hot tub was magic. Every night new people appeared as ships do at ports—only we remained constant. We met a lawyer couple that got real with us about their marriage and a woman who had also lived in Canada. Full of shy wisdom, a middle-aged, newly-wed Mormon couple shared with us their lives, and we laughed with two recent graduates relaxing before they had to return to jobs and banalities. Their stories made us soar. I realized that we were independent from everything and I thought that this was true life. This life was free from responsibility, free from parents, school, parents, work, free from the bonds of life that I hadn’t realized were stifling. This is the life that Dave Eggers wrote about.
At the symposium I sat by the university’s librarian—an older, stuffy man who had never heard of Dave Eggers. Offended by this ignorance, I tried to be polite and engage with his chatty nature, but he wasn’t relevant to me; I detested his age, his seemingly dull remarks. He hadn’t even read Tolstoy—what kind of a librarian was he? I quickly forgot him when my author—my philosopher king— entered onto the stage.
Naturally, the interview was centered on A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius—his most famous novel and the one that I had read. This was the moment I couldn’t believe was happening. I had so many questions, so many things I wanted to discuss. Yet, as questions were asked, I began to feel a hundred people suddenly share my thoughts. Everyone had the same questions I had. Some were even better than mine! What did this mean? I am like everyone else. But I thought I connected to this book; no one else felt the things I felt, because I alone understood this tragic man! Ignorant, foolish girl! You are average—your love of art is universal. More disturbing than these fast forming self-realizations were my hero’s answers.
When asked a question about a particularly profound sentence he had written—“Secrets do not increase in value if kept in a gore-ian lockbox, because one’s past is either made useful or else mutates and becomes cancerous.”—he laughed and shrugged it off as something his silly, impassioned younger self thad thought up. It didn’t mean anything now. This sentence, this paragraph, this chapter, this novel was insignificant to him thirteen years later. Was my Dave sitting there now really the same brilliant artist that I had always imagined?
Sinking down into my chair, I glanced at the librarian, and felt he was no longer the odd-man out. I buckled down for the rest of the interview and it was not entirely depressing. He talked of his new projects and wonderful achievements. They were not spurred by the sporadic, chaotic impatience of Youth, but by recognition of things to be accomplished. Youth was not lost, only tamed, but it wasn’t the same. It reeked of responsibility and stability, of “grown up,” of a-little-less-self-entitled. There in that moment I knew this was no stench— it was how we all must smell one day, and maybe then it will be sweeter.