Tania got the personal development books that I've accumulated over the years, and put them together in one shelf, asking jokingly 'what does this say about you James?'
I like the way personal development books talk to me. You are human they say, you are uniquely valuable, it has taken the universe billions of years to create you, your body contains elements forged in the furnaces of distant and long gone stars, you are a part of the universe looking out at the universe, your ancestors, whovever they were, have survived and sometimes prospered in many different landscapes and circumstances. So long as you are striving towards your dreams you are not a failure. The universe that made you is on your side.
Recently I read 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' by Dave Eggers. It is not a personal development book. It is Dave Eggers writing his autobiograhy, but writing it as though it was a novel. It relates how both his parents died within a month of each other when Eggers was 21, leaving him with his kid brother (Toph, aged 7) to bring up.
His response to the cloying gravity of the double tragedy was to sell the suburban Chicago house and rocket off with Toph to sunny San Francisco. He describes bringing Toph up, how he read him John Hersey's 'Hiroshima' as his bed time story, how they evaluated flats to live in by how long an area of hall way they had for sliding along on their socks, how Eggers hoped to strike lucky with single mums at parents evenings at Toph's school.
He reaplays the thoughts that streamed through his heads at the momentous moments like when his mums nose wouldn't stop bleeding in the advanced stages of her cancer or when he is scattering her ashes into a local lake. His thoughts try to match the gravity of the situation but keep getting pulled back to prosaic matters like whether or not to switch the telly off or whether his feet are going to slip into the lake.
At the unmomentous moments his thoughts get pulled in the other direction. He is on the beech playing frisbee with Toph. Toph has perfected some show off moves, like lying on his tummy just as the frisbee is coming down and then jumping up and catching it. Eggers proudly describing how dumb these moves are, and the writing/thoughts flick from the frisbee throwing to the last breaths of his mother and back again.
Eggers expresses the same thoughts as the personal development books, but harshly, with the gloves off.
A TV company employee interviewed him after he applied to appear on her reality TV programme. She questioned whether he was an exhibitionist, willing to live in a televised house for two months, talking on tv about the tragedy of his family. Eggers replied:
''Someone wants to celebrate their existence and you call it exhibitionism. Its niggardly. If you don't want anyone to know about your existence you might as well kill yourself, your taking up space, air.''