Geoff Dyer’s latest book, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H W Bush, is sure to be another great study in procrastination. My first experience with Dyer was his surprisingly hilarious biography on D.H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage. Instead of a straightforward depiction of Lawrence, Dyer brings himself into the story as he grapples with severe writer’s block, or rather, procrastination. The result is a wickedly funny look into Dyer’s psyche with a whole lot of Lawrence thrown in for good measure.
At that time I was unfamiliar with the canon of Gonzo journalism. I hadn’t yet read Thompson or Plimpton. This new frontier where you could actually talk about yourself and not call it a memoir was a revelation. I remember this story I once heard about Jack White as a teenager. He was a dishwasher in some Colorado restaurant just killing time with no direction or focus, certainly not a bourgeoning music career. When a busboy working along side him quit to go on tour with his band, White was in shock. “Nobody actually gets to do that,” he thought. While working in an uncreative dead-end job it’s often inconceivable that anyone else could be doing what they want to do. Some dreams are too big to imagine.
I’ve never thought I had a novel in me. I really love telling stories. Even more, I love acting them out for people, playing all the different characters, being big and over the top. Dyer’s non-fiction gives me hope that I may one day detach from my debilitating fear and actually write those stories down. HIs needless insecurity is comforting. His procrastination is a reminder that we’re all in a similar boat, regardless of our talent or experience.
The boat that Dyer finds himself in this time is an aircraft carrier. I recently went to hear Dyer speak in LA about his hilarious account of life on a ship. In true Dyer fashion, he launched into a story about trying to write Another Great Day. While in the throes of procrastination, Dyer read parts of Tom Wolfe’s Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, including Wolfe’s similar account of life on an aircraft carrier. Of course, Wolfe’s writing is masterful and the comparison left Dyer stymied. At the end of the day, he pulled out of it by saying to himself, “I’m just Geoff Dyer from Gloucestershire,” and that’s all I can be.
Needless to say, that floored me. When I look at my list of essays I want to write and then glance back at my shelf stocked with Sedaris, Didion, Moore, Patchett and so on, I sigh, and quietly repeat: I am Cori Nelson from Roswell or Connecticut or even New York, depending on where and when you met me, and that is all I can be. That is what I bring to the table.