But this, this was good, right? Could I brag to friends yet? “Pretty sure” seemed promising. But in retrospect I think it was the phrase “take it or leave it” that would derail my subway to stardom. Because I took that to mean I could look at his suggestions, consider each individually, and either take or leave it as I saw fit.
It takes two to miscommunicate, and I did my part. I received his editor’s notes via e-mail, INSERTED IN ALL CAPS directly in the text so as to convey a strong YELLING AT YOU effect. And it’s funny: I just dug out that list of notes today and read it again, and they are very minor edits, very reasonable, actually quite polite — very different from how I’ve remembered them over the last decade. I still don’t agree with every last bit of it, but it’s just little things here and there. Getting all worked up about it would have been pointlessly counter-productive.
But that’s exactly what I did. At the time, those notes bugged the living shit out of me. I still don’t get why. I could blame a typical writer’s blend of ego and insecurity, or the general turbulence in my life at the time, or my lifelong issues with authority, or Dave’s misunderstanding of the importance of the narrator’s verbal tics to a vast novel-length story cycle that I planned to write but of course never did — the point is, I never did figure out how to trust Dave Eggers. I expected the worst. I assumed that at some point he would take away the candy and whip out the stick.
Believing this, I made it so, via a rapidly escalating exchange of defensive, grumpy e-mails over the course of an afternoon, bickering over shit like commas. By the end of the day, this big coup I had begun to believe in — bigger in retrospect, as McSweeney’s went on to become The Next Big Thing in obscure literary magazines — had fallen apart and melted into a little lump of dog shit on the doorstep of my heart.
This is why I cannot have nice things: the Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Genius Grant, a blurb from Ted Nugent. Because, for all the difficult stuff I am good at, there were too many basic life skills I lacked at the adult age of thirty-two. Maybe still.
So down in flames plummeted the over-inflated zeppelin of my literary aspirations. And yet, I still had this giant pile of homeless stories in my lap. Some of these had appeared in a ’zine I put out irregularly called EYEHEART. Others I had distributed via a little mailing list, just to friends, just to get feedback I thought I could trust. Other stories weren’t even stories, just strange little bits of text that had fallen out of my head, warm-up exercises or whatever, that I couldn’t find it in me to crumple up and recycle. There was a huge stack of this stuff — more than two hundred individually-numbered bits of story, essay, poem, recipe, whatever — and I sought the advice of people I trusted, who told me I needed to publish these stories, somewhere, somehow.
So, having blocked the entrance to Literature for myself, and then having shat in the fire escape, I determined not to go down quietly. I whittled my stack down to about forty things and threw them together into one last ’zine, just to feel like all that time in front of the typing machines had amounted to something. A headstone, basically, for my dead career.
EYEHEART EVERYTHING is that ’zine. I printed it at Kinko’s Copies in the middle of the night, just like all my other ’zines. The pages were cut by giant guillotine, and I stapled the spines and glued the covers myself. My brilliant friend Brady Clark did a fantastic job of the book design. It looked just like a Real Book — most people couldn’t tell the difference. I put it on sale at Reading Frenzy, our local ’zine emporium that used to take consignment of anything with a staple in it. I gave free copies to friends, as always. I abandoned copies on the bus, snuck them into libraries, threw them at cops. I used a copy to steady a wobbly table leg. Any use was a good use.
Then a thing happened: the curator of the small-press section at Powell’s City Of Books in Portland found a copy, liked it, asked for more. Suddenly I had a book featured prominently on the shelves of the largest bookstore on the West Coast. They have been re-ordering ever since.