When I first started collecting my writing for a book, almost two years ago now, I was excited to finally equip myself with an excuse to expunge all of this old material that I'd just produced and released, scattershot. As the process played out over many months, I became less and less convinced that the material amounted to anything in aggregate. Separately, I was able to get behind my own stories, and saw them as photographs taken from weird angles. But together, they created another exercise in a wacky perspective on a fairly uneventful life. Something I would never want to read, although I'm probably underestimating other people's desire to pick up and enjoy that kind of thing.
The thing is, I have this insane future projection that leapfrogs right over the part where I'm finishing the book, editing it, and trying to get it published, and skips directly to the part where it's a complete package, on a shelf. And that's the (absolutely unkown and useless to entertain but nonetheless agonizing) part that always paralyzes my efforts. You know how you go to Barnes & Noble sometimes, and there's always this whole table littered with first-person essay collections with quirky names like "McDork: Adventures in Painful Employment" and "Girl, Crazy" and "Love Sick: A Smalltown Hypochondriac's True Tales of Neurotic Romance in the Big City?"
And, as you scan them, they start to merge and it becomes difficult to determine where one book ends and the next begins. It's a blur of pun-stricken titles; cover art dominated by crooked and mismatched type faces with irreverent and irrelevant images lifted from the "Portraits, Humor" and "Vintage, 1950s, Unusual" sections in stock photography catalogs; pull-quotes on the back attributed to People magazine and other writers on the same publishing imprint with similar memoirs they're trying to push. It's fairly transparent, is it not? And I see my book (again, unfinished and a million miles away from seeing its way on to a publisher's desk, which makes this dark thought and my quantification of my writing as a book, even in future-tense, feel like a thin cover for some kind of acute egomania) alongside the others, and it depresses me. It's like seeing a picture of the day the universe ends in your lifetime and then being asked what you want for dinner tonight. It freezes up your hands.
Sometimes I think it would be so much easier to pitch one of those high-concept books. You know – the ones with titles like "The Cynic's Guide to World Travel." They're always filled with ridiculous fake charts and figures that pay homage to an out-of-date style of graphic design. These books are basically like a huge volume of collected front-of-book charticles from Maxim Magazine and Spin. The kind of thing you flip through once or twice, chuckling occasionally. And then, months later, you slap a sticker on the book that says, "$1.00" and lug it down to your stoop sale.
That probably sounds like an undignified second life for a book, but at least the effort to create it matches the effort with which it was received by its readers. It's much less tragic than authors putting their lives between two trade paperback soft covers, and being met with an overwhelming sense of national indifference.
Admittedly, sometimes the authors are as culpable as the readers. It's not unusual for a humorous memoir to read like a rundown of familiar 20-to-30-something foibles – crazy families, work, summer camp, starbucks, trying to finish your book, etc. – littered with a generically-patterned collection of one-liners for extra zing. Kind of like a Cathy comic strip, with an occasional allusion to anal sex. (it's weird, ladies! and it makes us think we're going to poop, am i right?) But the fact is, not all of our lives are exceptional; some of us live in great fear of everything, and the greatest asset we have is a point of view or a really nice author photo. And I have to get it into my skull, I guess, that I'm not a tranny or a former sex industry worker. Or a guy who bit his own arm off to save American pride. Or a man in search of the Polish family who hid his grandmother during WWII. Or a woman with a working raccoon heart. I'm just a nervous wreck. Which is no excuse not to finish my book, "Uh Oh, Coward! A Neurotic's Misadventures in Summer Stock Theater."