Eggers and a Photoless Dinner

Dave Eggers is haunting me. Marissa recently suggested I read his book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, after my mention of The Road started a little back and forth between us about book recommendations. I checked it out of the library and was reading it last week when my in-laws were in town. My father-in-law, seeing the book on my bedside table, said that he really enjoyed reading it. Then I saw Andrea's recent post in which she included a quote from the book. Several people left comments on her blog about how much they liked it as well. I'm in the minority on this, I guess, because I wasn't a big fan of Eggers' book. My blog friends loved it, the press adored it, heck - it was a Pulitzer finalist. But it didn't float my boat. However, there were a few passages of the book that really stuck with me. Like this one:

"...I know what I am doing now, that I am doing something both beautiful but gruesome because I am destroying its beauty by knowing that it might be beautiful, know that if I know I am doing something beautiful, that it is no longer beautiful. I fear that even if it is beautiful in the abstract, that my doing it knowing that it’s beautiful and worse, knowing that I will very soon be documenting it, that in my pocket is a tape recorder brought for just that purpose – that all this makes the act of potential beauty somehow gruesome. I am a monster."

This sentiment relates (it's definitely more intense, but it relates) to one that I've had recently as I've decided what and what not to document and post about here. A few nights ago, while plating our dinner (doesn't "plating" sound formal? it wasn't), Barry asked if I wanted to take a photo of the food for my blog. I'd spent a decent amount of time in the kitchen preparing a yummy soy and ginger salmon recipe and an improvised Asian-inspired slaw that I was compelled to make after hearing a recent episode of the Splendid Table with Sally Schneider. But no, I didn't want to take a photo of what turned out to be a darn good meal. I just wanted to eat it. Sure, I wanted to share the recipe links with you guys, but I wanted to share the experience of the dinner with Barry, and not be bothered with thinking about lighting, camera angle, to zoom or not to zoom... Thinking about so much of the good things in my life in the context of how I document them on my blog makes me feel kinda lame at times. How about you, fellow bloggers? Ever feel like some of the beauty of an experience is taken away by posting about it (or by doing the work it takes to post about it)? Or is blogging simply a nice way for you to collect and share snippets of beautiful (and/or not-so-beautiful) parts of your life? Or maybe blogging is more than that - maybe it causes you to see and experience beauty that you hadn't before. Maybe it's all of the above. Discuss. And have a great weekend, whether you document it or not.


lealou said...

This actually reminds me of when we were in Italy last year. My husband Mark and I were driving along the Amalfi Coast through all its zigzags and turns and Mark wanted me to video tape the entire trip. I taped it for a few minutes but then I started to feel ill so I stopped. But I also stopped because I just wanted to enjoy it! I felt that too many times during our trip we would just take photos of this and that and not experience the true and real thing for itself. It's never the same when you see it later anyway, so I'd rather just remember it in my mind. Great post.

Shan said...

Yup. I don't blog a lot of stuff because sometimes it feels like I'm turning life into something 2-dimensional, accompanied by tinny music and production engineers.

But hey, people like that.

Heartbreaking Work: read it last year. I remember it being incredibly moving and clever, but not necessarily a reread.

Mariss said...

All you had to say was you didn't like it! Ha ha ha. I'm SO just kidding :) I think the morbidity of the book influenced and stuck with me, since a friend of mine had died around when I read it, and it captured the rollercoaster of hilariousness and grief, and brevity so well.

That is a really good point about the photo taking and does doing something diminish the meaning of an experience. I think it can go either way.

1. Since I've started blogging, I've tended to notice and appreciate the small joys of life much more. Or something random or funny will happen, and it crosses my mind that I feel like writing about that. On rare occassions, I'll bring the camera with me in case I see something noteworthy. But I'm not the type to carry a camera around with me all the time. It's because I'm not a photographer. I enjoy photographing things as well as I can, but am more interested in using it to highlight a point than to create art.

2. On the flip side, if I'm going somewhere cool, I may take photos. If it feels right, I may post about the experience, but most times, they just sit in my flickr account because I'm too lazy to write about it. Or maybe it doesn't feel geniuine. Not sure.

This all coming from someone who has a knitting blog and no knitting projects. May need to re-evaluate ;)

Mariss said...

Wow that was long.

aprill said...

weird. dave eggers has been haunting me lately too. your mention here is proof!
personally, i feel often that blogging + living fully in each moment are at odds w/each other. i am guessing that there are ppl out there who are able to gracefully integrate frequent documentation and the near-constant presence of the camera with being wholly in the now, but i am not one of them.

Carol Emma said...

It was the very same conflict that caused me to stop blogging about a year ago - an overreaction perhaps, but I felt like I was documenting instead of living the moment. I said something in one of my last posts about how looking at life through the lens of my blog had begun to change my perceptions. I wanted to remember how my life really looked when I wasn't publishing it.
I don't know that I noticed more things when I was blogging that I might have otherwise missed, but I kept stopping to capture the things I noticed instead of moving smoothly on to the next. Going with the flow feels so much better than all that stopping and grabbing at experiences.
I'm pleased you didn't photograph your meal for us, knowing it was pleasure enough for you just to enjoy it and I'm sure it was delicious!

ambika said...

I'm not a huge Eggers fan. I actually didn't make it through Heartbreaking Work -- and it is a rare, rare day that I fail to finish a book.

I defnitely feel torn about documenting things. Worrying about having my camera, whether the light is any good (it often isn't in Seattle) and then being frustrated when I can't capture something how I'd like--avoiding that scenario by not documenting it at all is *highly* appealing. I've posted less & less to wardrobe_remix for this very reason, have found myself bypassing posting about things I've bought...and on and on. The house has clearly given me another outlet tho so who knows--maybe it's just subject exhaustion?

danger garden said...

Great topic Susan! I am fairly new to blogging (today is my 100th post) but have wondered about this very thing. Since my blog is a pretty targeted one (gardening) it lends itself to not creeping into all parts of my life.
I have a spouse that never takes pictures and hates for people to live their lives behind the camera, so I was concerned that he would be bothered by the times I do stop to take pictures.
I have noticed that blogging makes me a little more aware of my surroundings. I see things (ok plants) a little differently, noticing things that I may not have before.

Nadia said...

It's funny -- one of the reasons I like blogging is to gain distance from myself -- that third person perspective. But I soon start worrying about drawing myself and the world around me in lumpy stick figures.

It's definitely something I think about a lot: ruining the beauty and complexity of things by squashing them into the tiny blog-shaped box. Over-thinking, over-framing, over-analyzing. And of course, over-analyzing my over-analyzing in someone else's comments. ;P

Cheryl Arkison said...

I'm in love/hate with Dave Eggers. I loved "A Heartbreaking Work" but when I mentioned it to a friend he said he thought Eggers was self indulgent. As I've read other books I've started to see a little what he means - except for "What is the What"

Because I do both a food/quilt blog I have differing views. When it comes to quilting all is fair game, but I censor when I put it up because a recipient might see it.

As for food, I hate getting caught up in the documentation of what I'm doing. Sometimes it is motivating, sometimes it's not, even though it might make a good post. I refuse to do it if Hubby and I are on a date, and usually don't take photos in a large group situation. But because I focus on my kids' food experiences I often grab them whenever I can. Of course, I'm a mom with little kids a digital camera so I'm always taking pictures! But it doesn't always make it on.

I rarely feel pressure to perform - I've never committed to a regular schedule.

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

Total coincidence! Newsweek listed the cover as one of the best book covers + it jogged my memory that I always meant to read it. Friend's reviews run from "it was OK" to "OH! MI! GAWD! I LOVED THAT BOOK!!!!!" I'm only on the first chapter + don't know if I'll finish.

Ginny said...

At one point during a after a family vacation, in watching the video that we took and looking at photos, I had the revelation that I had seen very little of the amazing sights we documented, except through the camera lens...how sad.
I realized that I was most often more concerned with getting a picture of the Black Hills than experiencing the beauty of them...

kat said...

I have to agree with what you said and what others have commented on. Living in the moment doesn't always include documenting it :) I find I do not take half the photos I use to. Instead, just experiencing the moment.

It is one of the reasons I did not videotape our wedding. I wanted to remember the day and evening the way I felt + experienced it. While it would be nice to show our kids, I like telling them about it from my "coloured" memory. {which is all beautiful and wonderful}

I'm one of those people who can be pretty critical of things..and I was afraid if I videotaped it, and watched it later I would then see things that I did not see that evening with a critical eye. "why is that person doing that? oh, I look goofy. Boy, that table looks a mess." You know what I mean :)

Of course we documented our wedding through great photos – but mainly, my memories of our wedding is how I felt that evening – which was like a princess :)

Mom said...

WOW, what great philosophical, thoughtful essays!

I always go to your site Suzy, just to catch up on what you are doing and writing about (also for the recipes) but must confess there are days when I do not get on the computer.

I much prefer a phone call and to be able to talk to the person but I must say I really enjoyed reading these comments.

Have started to read The Road, don't think I will go for Egger's book. Love, Mom

Carolyn said...

i agree about Eggers. dude can write but desperately needs an editor (or to edit himself more) because the brief bits of good writing are hidden among pages and pages of not great.

as to blogging/reminiscing.... hard to say. sometimes i just want to share share share and sometimes i am all keeping it private and special to myself. but there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind it.

Chickenbells said...

Yes...and sometimes I just leave the camera be and live my life...it feels better to do that from time to time!

Anonymous said...

yes, I completely agree. sometimes I do feel like I'm documenting purely for the sake of the blog. And those are usually the times that I start to get quiet and don't know what to post. But then inevitably I get back to taking pictures of dinner because I think it's pretty, rather than for the sake of showing it off.

I also sometimes feel like taking pictures does get in the way of just enjoying something. I'll leave the camera at home sometimes on purpose so I can just have a moment without the desire to photograph, or the obligation. I like the times when it feels like I snap to document the feeling, rather than just to snap. When it feels like another sense, like seeing and smelling. Photographing. When I don't feel like I'm missing something by photographing it. I love when that is the case. It's a state of being, a balance, I think.

traci said...

i agree with you on that book. not my favorite. i actually had a really hard time sticking with it. i did however love love love his collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry. It still stands out as a favorite even a few years after reading.

wende said...

I've always found blogging to be a spiritual discipline--it reminds me to see the beauty in my life. However, like you, I'm finding that the very practice of "seeing" is enough. I want to experience life, not just photograph it.

I'm finding that I shoot pictures of food for that reason. I take photos of the prep work, but when the actual party begins, I put down my camera and enjoy. I've not regretted. (although, there are moments I wish I'd captured just for me!)

Dad said...

Suzy, I've been thinking about the quote from
Eggers book...don't know anything about the guy,
but I sense a great self centeredness and ego.
Anything, a thought, person, act, idea, art, flower or whatever can be beautiful in itself. It's absurd to
think that his documenting anything can affect it's
real beauty, absract or otherwise. The only thing
he affects is his own perception of the subject, the
natural beauty remains. I might even go as far as to say that documenting and sharing beauty can
only enhance it! Hmmmm, Love, Dad

Dad said...

PS: I just finished "The Road"...wonderful story of
love between father and son, great dialog between
them, but wow!!!!!!!
Love, Dad

Julie Owsik Ackerman said...

Wow--so many great thoughts about Eggers and documenting life. Has anyone else seen the movie he wrote--Away We Go? I liked that much better than AHWOSG, which I didn't care for much at all, though I can't remember why anymore. I just remember thinking it was overrated.

As for blog adding or subtracting from life, my blog helps me sort things out, make sense of experiences I'm having, put thoughts in order. There are things I don't write about, mostly to preserve my own or loved ones' privacy. I also only post once a week (and sometimes less) so that could be partly why I don't feel it subtracts from my appreciation of life.

Great topic!!!

Julie Owsik Ackerman said...

Just caught up on your blog. Wanted to say how nourishing I find your photos. They give me such a boost--the color, the humor, the playfulness. It was just what I needed at 4 pm.

Fashion Minute said...

Heartbreaking Work is my fave of Eggers' stuff. I feel like it was most relevant/timely however when it came out.