Fireside Chat #10 (Fall ’05)

LATELY, I’VE BEEN FEELING A LITTLE INSECURE.

You go to a bookstore nowadays and all you see is David Sedaris this, Augusten Burroughs that. All these writers have made a living off of collections of “personal essays, those books that tell little stories from a writer’s life then supposedly show how the stories relate to a larger truth about the human condition.

I’m a big guy, I can take larger truths. But the thematic pitfall for just about everybody who writes personal essays is that they think they’re better than me.

This proving-your-worth-through-storytelling craze goes back pretty far. Mark Twain thought he was pretty cool, so he wrote a travel log, and Lewis & Clark decided they were so great that they would write all about their American vacation and even draw pictures of all the plants and animals they saw.

Even back in the Old Testament days, you had the writer of Ecclesiastes who was so eager to tell everyone that his life had been a huge success, but that he was over it. “There is nothing new under the sun,” he boasted, as if to say, “So if you come up with something you think is pretty cool, I’ve totally tried it and it isn’t.”

Then there are autobiographies and memoirs, which are just really long, extra self-indulgent personal essays. The only people who might have been sincere were those who have had their journals published posthumously.

Anne Frank, for instance, is an example of someone who was keeping it real. But who can read her without feeling guilty? Sure, Anne her diary is an incredible glimpse into the world of a family in hiding from the Nazis, does anybody else think it’s a little pervy that we’re reading the diary of some blossoming pre-teen?

For the most part, though, people who write about themselves are just trying to impress. I mean, I don’t care, really, I just feel sorry for them.

David Sedaris thinks he’s so great just because he lives in
France, he was almost killed while hitchhiking, he tried to get his sister run over to get his mom’s attention, he worked in a mental institution, and he’s felt compulsive urges to touch the heads of children. Having done all these weird, outlandish things, he’s pretty much saying, “I live a full life and you don’t.”

But I do live a full life, David! I’ve thought about picking up a hitchhiker one time, only I didn’t because it was too dangerous. Oh, and I lived overseas for a year. Sure I just hung out with Americans the whole time, but
America is the greatest country in the world so who wouldn’t?

Want to hear about my weekend trip to
Ireland?

We flew RyanAir, which is cheap. And we saw Guinness and we saw some rolling hills and sheep and one time we got really close to the sheep. One morning we made omelets then rented bikes and rode them. There was this girl who worked at the hostel named Brigita and she gave me her email but I never emailed her. But I loved her. And there was this guy who we kept running into who tried to sell us drugs but we said, “no way.” People spoke Gaelic. What a great trip. Heck, I could write a book!

So you see, those guys on the bestseller lists aren’t so great. My life is just as interesting as theirs, if not more so.

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