Hope and Delusion by Geoff Herbach

Today is the best day of your life, and so is tomorrow.

So, what’s that title about? In my latest book, Anything You Want, Taco, the main character, is told this by his dying mother. Hear it again:

Today is the best day of your life, and so is tomorrow.

Taco believes his mom and fanatically tries to live each day filled with joy. He behaves like SpongeBob in the face of serious, debilitating trouble. He shrugs off insurmountable hurdle and common sense in favor of high fives. Things go wrong. Yes, Taco is deluded. He is a fool.

He’s not the only one!

Delusion runs rampant in the immature mind. I have students at the college where I teach who sweep into my office, often wearing artsy scarves, to describe to me their desire to write, so they can live in Paris and eat baguettes in the shadow of Notre Dame (I do tell them there is no true correlation between being a writer and living in Paris). Inevitably, they are the same students who miss class due to various emotional maladies and who turn in half-assed work weeks late. A fantasized lifestyle clearly does not make a writer. Although writers have a reputation for depression, most I know are not depressed (pains in the butt, yes, maybe). What makes a writer, then? More than anything else, hard work and faith in one’s story. My poor students are deluded. Reality will soon descend.

I was not immune. In high school, despite the fact I’d clearly lost the genetic lottery in multifarious ways, I was certain I’d play professional football. Reality descended when an actual big-time linebacker from a neighboring high school hit me so hard the color of the sky changed to yellow and orange. I thought I might die. I cried a little bit in a pile on the field. Reality landed on my head and I was concussed. I decided to be a writer instead (it took me years to figure out I had to work so hard).

Yes, delusion runs rampant. It is the source of much dark comedy and lots of tragedy.

“I’ll still go to my shift at the factory. Pot doesn’t affect me like it does other people.”

“I’m finally in control of my eating. I can buy this bag of Doritos and only have a few chips.”

“I don’t know why my pants don’t fit. Oh, the cramps! I must be eating too many carbs…Wait, am I giving birth right now?” (This really happens.)

I am both horrified by our ability to deceive ourselves and also in love with it, and not only because delusion is the source of so much comedy. There’s something beautiful in delusion. Its cousin is hope.

Okay, I have had a difficult time writing books that aren’t rife with sarcasm, largely because I find my own kids to be hilarious when they’re making salty comments about life. I make those kinds of comments, too, and the more poetically constructed the saltiness, the better (we value language in this house). But, I also recognize that I’m not particularly happy when I’m feeling salty. I have to assume my kids are feeling a little off, too.

So, I wondered if I could write a book where the narrator is both funny and entirely earnest. I tried, and I started with this:

Today is the best day of your life, and so is tomorrow.

This is what I believe. Taco sincerely benefits from his optimism, even if he misses the point (his mom wanted him to cherish life, not to be filled with cartoon joy). He doesn’t know it, but he desperately needs help. Eventually its his unsinkability, his sunshine, his continued desire to do well, to work hard, to make other people happy, that attracts all kinds of positive energy to him, all kinds of help. The kid is legitimately hopeful and he legitimately believes in the goodness of most people (even those who are struggling to show it). People might make fun of him, but oh they like him, too.

While writing the book, I thought a lot of my grandmother. In 1940 she’d just had her first child (my dad) when the Nazis came sweeping through Belgium. It wasn’t a good time to be Jewish in Antwerp. She and a few in our family ran and eventually made it to Brazil, safe. Many, many relatives did not survive. Ten years later, she lost her husband to kidney disease. Shortly after that, she lost all of her money in a bad business deal. She moved herself to the U.S. where a woman could go to work more easily than in Brazil. And she could’ve folded. She could’ve gone dark. But my grandma was the warmest, brightest person you could meet. She told me very late in her life, “I’m an optimist. I don’t know why. But it has made things easier.”

Although her family spread all over the world, at Thanksgiving 30 people would pack into her one-bedroom apartment in Flushing, Queens. We’d sing songs around the piano. Her sunshine drew people to her and she flourished in the face of serious, debilitating troubles.

So, it’s a fine line, right? Delusion? Hope? Self-deceit? Optimism? That line is what Anything You Want is exploring, I guess. I’m not sure where the line is, exactly. If you believe that most people are ultimately good are you a fool? Maybe. I think writing the book made me a better human, though. I think I’m a little more like my grandma now. I think, like Taco, I’m going to err on the side of keeping the faith, which doesn’t mean there won’t be hard days to come.

Even if there are, I say, today is the best day of your life, and so is tomorrow.


anything you wantGeoff Herbach is the author award winning young adult novels including the Stupid Fast series and Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders. Before writing for young adults, Geoff wrote and performed for Minnesota Public Radio’s Electric Arc, and for the live show Radio Happy Hour performed at New York’s (Le) Poisson Rouge. His newest novel, Anything You Want, is now available. His next project, Strange Times: The Ghost in the Girl (co-written with Blink 182’s Tom DeLonge) debuts in October.