This is the Life of a Redhead

Thursday, July 30, 2009


I just read Dave Eggers' biography A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and found that there was a lot in it that I could relate to, on a weird level. Eggers grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and I can see the mark that has left on him.

Lately, when I've been reading, I've been marking up books by writing in the margins, underlining sentences, and circling entire passages that are particularly striking to me. Sadly, I checked this book out from the library, so I had to restrain myself from writing in it. I did end up dog-earring two passages, and now I will share them below.

Page 76.

"We grew up in a tightfisted house, where there was no allowance, where asking for $5 from our father elicited the heaviest of sighs, required detailed plans for repayment. Our mother was far worse--would not even shop in Lake Forest, where everything was overpriced, would instead drive ten, twenty, thirty miles to Marshall's, to T.J. Maxx, for bargains, for bulk. Once a year we'd all pile into the Pinto and would drive to a place on the west side of Chicago, Sinofsky's, where for $4, $5 each we'd buy dozens of slightly flawed rugby shirts, holes here and there, extra buttons, collars ruined by bleach, pink bleeding into white. We grew up with a weird kind of cognitive dissonance; we knew we lived in a nice town--our cousins out East often made that point to us--but then, if this was true, why was our mother always fretting aloud about not having money to buy staples? "How will I even buy milk tomorrow?" she would yell at him from the kitchen. Our father, who was out of work a year here, a year there, never seemed impressed with her worry; he seemed to have it all worked out. Still, we were ready for and expected sudden indigence, to be forced out of the house in the middle of the night and into one of the apartments on the highway, at the edge of town. To become on of those kids."

Page. 201
". . . my feeling is that if you're not self-obsessed you're probably boring. NOt that you can always tell the self-obsessed. The best sort of self-obsessed person isn't outwardly so. But they're doing something more public than not, making sure people know that they're doing it, or will know about it sooner or later. I guarantee that the applicants for The Real World--I guarantee that if you put all these tapes in a time capsule and opened it in twenty years, you'd find that these are the people who are, in one way or another, running the world--at the very least, they'll be the most visible segment of the demographic. Because we've grown up thinking of ourselves in relation to the political-media-entertainment ephemera, in our safe and comfortable homes, given the time to think about how we would fit into this or that band or TV show or movie, and how we would look doing it. These are people for whom the idea of anonymity is existentially irrational, indefensible. And thus, there is a lot of talking about it all-surely the cultural output of this time will reflect that--there'll be a lot of talking, whole movies full of talking, talking about talking, ruminating about talking about wondering, about our place, our wants and obligations--the blathering of the belle époque, you know. Environmentally reinforced solipsism."

I also hope that some people note that there are similarities in our writing. I don't want to imply that I am as good as Eggers--not at all. But, I do feel, especially when I read this, that my style is very much in the same vein as his, and that made me kind of happy. I loved what I read here, and it brings me joy to know that without trying desperately, I've created format to my writing that parallels great, wonderful writers whom intrigue me, make me think.

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