Monday, April 18, 2011

A Night With David Sedaris

Last night, I had the wonderful privilege of going to see David Sedaris read in Gainesville, Florida. I've been a huge fan of Sedaris for many years. He is one of the first contemporary memoir writers that grabbed my attention. His wonderful humor and insight into the human condition never ceases to amaze me. What I've always loved about his work is that he has such a relatable quality. Part of this is very personal. Reading some of his essays feels like reading about myself. We are both gay and both had to go to a speech therapist as a kid. We both deal with anxiety issues and are, obviously, both writers.

Many memoirs are written to focus on tragic events such as rape or addiction. Sedaris, instead, writes about everyday life and experiences that seem always a little familiar. He comes from a middle class American family and writes a great deal about his family. He writes with so much honesty about the little things in life that we actually spend most of our lives thinking and worrying about.

I also love his ability to get at the sadness of life, but the quiet sadness. One of my favorite essays by him is called "The Ship Shape," which is in his book Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. It is about his family vacationing and his father telling everyone they are going to buy their very own beach cottage. Of course, it doesn't work out. The story is full of hilarious moments, but ends with such a beautiful passage on his parents' relationship. He writes: "As if carried by a tide, our mother drifted farther and farther away, first to twin beds and then down the hall to a room decorated with seascapes and baskets of sun-bleached sand dollars. It would have been nice, a place at the beach, but we already had a home. A home with a bar. Besides, had things worked out, you wouldn't have been happy for us. We're not that kind of people." This essay is a perfect example of that quiet sadness. It is not overly dramatic. He's not talking about life and death. But he is getting at the disappointment that can come from family, from relationships, and from time passing.

Last night, Sedaris did not disappoint. He's an excellent reader and really brings out the humor in his work. He read a story from his newest book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk as well as two new essays and some hilarious passages from his journal. I haven't been to a reading in quite some time and it was great to be in that environment again and to see people coming together to celebrate good writing. It is exciting to see a writer who can pack a theatre. He made great jokes and dealt well with the stupid questions from the audience (really Florida, thanks for making us look so smart). He also did a great job of promoting reading and saying that the best way to be a good writer is to be a good reader, which I say all the time. I also enjoyed that he was promoting another person's book, which was available for sale outside. He actually told people to buy that book instead of his own.

Afterwards, my friends, Jaclyn and Josh, and I stood in line for the book signing. Luckily, we got to the line quickly and didn't have to wait too long. Sedaris clearly enjoys the book signing process. He loves to tell jokes or have you tell him a joke while he is signing your book. When my friends and I got up there, he was hilarious. He told my friend Josh a joke about a gay pirate, he drew my friend Jaclyn a picture of a rabbit bleeding from its anus, and he told me a joke about getting fucked in the ass. All of this only made me fall in love with him even more.

Since it is National Poetry Month, I wanted to tie this post to poetry in some way. A few years ago, I wrote a poem about David Sedaris. I wrote this mostly for fun. I believe I read it at one of the readings I did at Florida State, but it isn't really a poem I've tried to publish. It was more just a fun exercise. This is why I'm posting it on my blog today. Check it out below:

Talking Pretty

A love poem for David Sedaris

When you got your boyhood friends to sit

naked on your pre-pubescent legs I applauded

your genius. When your mother and you

dreamed up a beach house I voted

for the Ship Shape and cried between

the words falling in blunt patterns across

your page when your father backed out—

mine would never have suggested

such a dream. I imagine that you

might like me—might grow to love

me in “your way.” I started this poem

20 times attempting to please the critic

inside, but tossed it away for fear of Hugh

finding it tucked beneath your pillowcase,

your loafer, your laptop. In a Parisian café

I feared he might move his chair an inch

away, accusing you with frozen words

bellowed over expensive coffee. Now,

I no longer care. I want to make love

to you somewhere darker than Paris.

I imagine your cleverness turning

to shyness in the bedroom where I would

take the lead—dropping your khakis

to the ringing of keys in your pockets,

unbuttoning your buttons, pulling you

forward and back. I bet you are loud

when you cum, screaming my name,

the “s” slipping sideways—the speech

therapist echoing in both our ears:

“say squirrel.” But I know it would end

bitterly over something seemingly small:

a misplaced story, an awkward phone call,

a message I never received. You see,

I know, like you know, men are much

harder to love than books on the shelf.

-Stephen (Sedaris Lover)

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