On meeting David Sedaris

I wonder what it would be like to stand behind a podium knowing that everybody in front of you paid at least $30 to hear the things floating around in your head. I got to the Overture Center about 40 minutes before the show started. There was already a line for book signing. And there was a line for refreshments. By refreshments they meant cocktails. Faced with the two options, I wavered for only a moment before deciding to get in line for the book signing. Unfortunately, some guy wearing earbuds and diligently updating his facebook on his iphone told us he needed to limit the pre-show signing, but they would return after and David would be there as long as it took. So, I abandoned that line and wandered over by the elevator to get to my seat.

Soon enough, I was in my seat, marveling at my view. If I had been there to see a performance, it wouldn’t have been great, but I was just there to watch a guy read. The novelty was the fact that I now had a face and body connected to the voice I had heard while listening to his audiobooks. I had a silly grin for the first piece, I Will Not Be Running for President, for that fact alone. Of course, it was wry and clever the way most of his pieces are, but the fact was that I was there. I was in the same room (if you can call that a room) as this man. The idea of celebrity is a funny thing. I never really think about it, because I’m never interacting with celebrities.

I was in this room with the same man who had changed the way I thought about writing. Prior to reading his work, I hadn’t had any real desire to look into memoir or personal narratives. Granted, he doesn’t write memoir, he writes essays, but the concept is still the same. He made me realize that all the journals I had been writing in since fifth grade could actually amount to something. I spent years thinking I had to write either fiction or poetry. Since I don’t do poetry, I was limited to fiction. And most of my fiction closely resembled my life, which felt like cheating. I realized I sort of adored him for that – for making me realize there was potential in the thing I felt most driven to do. By the same token, I resented myself just a little for not having realized it on my own accord. So, while I love what he does, I love the the ways in which I have changed since reading his work.

I wonder if this is what other people say when they meet celebrities. I’m trying to imagine now, what it would be like to meet a movie star. I don’t feel compelled to make a connection to someone in a movie. Sure, I think Patrick Dempsey is good looking, but what would I ask him? What would I want to know about him? And while Kristin Davis plays my favorite character on Sex and the City, I don’t want to meet her. I might get a kick out of seeing them at the grocery store, but other than that, what would possibly come from that?

I stepped out a few moments before the show was done so I could get in line for the book signing. I bought Holidays on Ice (which I haven’t read. I’ve only heard “Santaland Diaries” on This American Life). I was the fifth person in line. When I saw him crossing the lobby to the table, I realized this was both good and bad. Good because it meant I would get home before midnight. Bad because I still hadn’t really given any thought to what I was planning on saying to him. I remembered that he likes to collect jokes from people, but I couldn’t think of anything other than bad orchestra jokes. (How do you get a cello section to play fortissimo? Tell them to play pianissimo espressivo. What’s the difference between a viola and a violin? A violin burns faster.) So I went with the first thing that came to my mind. 

I handed him the book, and as he signed, I said, “I don’t have any jokes for you, but I do have something to show you.” I clasped my hands together and pressed the thumbs side by side. “I have two thumbs that are completely different.”

At that point, he looked up from the page. “Oh my gosh! You do! They’re completely different! How did that happened?”

“This one is my dad’s, and this one is my mom’s.” I wiggled each thumb accordingly.

To my delight, he pulled out his pocket notebook and wrote “Ashley 2 thumbs”.

The goal was to get David Sedaris to remember me. I doubt it will amount to anything, but maybe he’ll flip through it on a flight and say, “Oh yeah. That girl with the funny thumbs.”

On My Amazon Recommendations

For Valentine’s Day earlier this year, Bill got me a Kindle. It was actually a Valentine’s Day/Birthday gift, but it sounds better if I just say it was Valentine’s Day gift.  (Come on boyfriend, you should be showering me with gifts every chance you get.) I was thrilled to get it, and it’s since become my single favorite object. Every now and then I’ll swoon over how wonderful it is and I tell Bill, “I just love it so much. I want to tell everyone about it.” I’m not exaggerating when I say that I use it everyday or that I carry it with me everywhere I go. I’ve only forgotten it twice, and both times, I found myself stranded without reading material and having a minor panic attack until I realized I could read books with the Kindle app on my phone.

Since I do most of my reading on my Kindle, Amazon has a good record of the books I like. To find new books to read, I usually look at their recommendations for me. Chuck Klosterman, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, Stephen Clarke, Amy Sedaris, Kathy Griffin, Augusten Burroughs, Sarah Silverman, Elizabeth Gilbert…the list varied quite a bit. Having decided to really dive into the personal narrative experience, I wanted to see what other women were writing. The list presented to me seemed pretty unpromising. While Chelsea Handler might be a good guilty pleasure read (ie, when I want to feel morally superior to somebody who documents one night stands and her weird obsession with midgets), she’s not somebody whose work I hope to emulate. Tina Fey, also, while charming and hilarious, has gained popularity for her work not as a writer, but as a comedian, as did Chelsea Handler, Amy Sedaris, Kathy Griffin, and Sarah Silverman. And actually, I find the latter four irritating. (Just because she’s David’s sister, Amy does not get my affection.) Also, I hate Augusten Burroughs, and if there’s a way I can block him from every showing up on my Amazon recommendations list, I’d love to learn.

What’s frustrating is that female writers have a difficult time being funny without looking like bimbos. I brought this up to Bill once, and he asked me what I would think if I found an essay written by David Sedaris had actually been written by a woman. The fact is that it would still be good. His essays are funny and self-deprecating without trying too hard, because while he laughs at himself, he also realizes his error. I’m thinking of the first essay in Courduroy and Denim, “Us and Them”. He writes about his fascination with a family in his childhood neighborhood who didn’t have a television. He comments on how strange it must be to grow up like that, not knowing how and when to do things. They’re so clueless, in fact, that they go trick or treating the day after Halloween. His mother makes him and his sisters get their own candy to share with the Tomkeys so they don’t feel as if they’re in the wrong. In a desperate attempt to save his good candy, David stuffs as many candy bars in his mouth as he can. His mother comes in his room to find him with chocolate falling out of his mouth, and she tells him, “You should look at yourself, I mean really  look at yourself.”

…it was hard to shake the mental picture snapped by her suggestions: here is a boy sitting on a bed, his mouth smeared with chocolate. He’s a human being, but also he’s a pig, surrounded by trash and gorging himself so that others may be denied. Were this the only image in the world, you’d be forced to give it your full attention, but fortunately there were others. This stagecoach, for instance, coming round the bend with a  cargo of gold. This shiny new Mustang convertible. This teenage girl, her hair a beautiful mane, sipping Pepsi through a straw, one picture after another, on and on until the news, and whatever came on after the news.

The essay entertains you by creating this funny image of a child, but it also illustrates the ugly selfishness of humans and how we find both distraction  and solace from our hideous selves in television. It’s brilliant!

Try to find something that works on multiple levels in a Chelsea Handler book. I dare  you. It’s self-deprecating to be self-deprecating. It doesn’t provoke thoughts beyond, “Yeah, I guess midgets are pretty entertaining.” And I guess you could say that’s a difference between a silly book and a literary book – it does more than entertain a reader.

I’ve since read a few collections of essays by women – both of Sloane Crosley’s books, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, Elisabeth Eaves, Sarah Vowell, Lucy Grealy. Those are books I’d recommend. (For a point of reference, I would not recommend Emma Forrest or Laurie Notaro.) I’m not saying every piece by these women is magnificent. I’m not saying every piece David Sedaris writes is magnificent.

I’m not expecting perfection. I’d just like to see a female essayist write with intelligent humor. But it might be an entirely different obstacle to overcome: are women who are self-deprecating automatically seen as bimbos? Can a woman poke fun at herself without looking incompetent and undeserving of respect? Or does the problem lie in the fact that women’s experiences are generally perceived as sillier than those of men? Do I have time to even begin discussing this? Not really, so I’ll leave this post unfinished and return to it at a later time.

Dear Wonderful Boyfriend

As a rule, I hate Facebook ads. Facebook is a huge timesuck and I wish I could delete it. For NaNoWriMo, I think I might. Since I have an Android phone, that’s how my contacts are all synced up, but I’m sure I can find a way to get around that and to completely delete Facebook off my phone as well.

Anyway, to throw off the people at Facebook, I go through phases where I will mark all the ads as “offensive” or “sexually explicit”. I could see the ads getting more and more desperate – grasping at anything that I might be interested in. This included things like Modcloth, vintage engagement rings, shoe subscription services (Surprisingly, I don’t want to get a new pair of Kim Kardashian shoes every few weeks), and classes to be an ultrasound tech. Nowhere on my profile do I claim to like dresses, jewelry, or shoes, so I think they just said, “Well, she’s a girl, so let’s throw this crap at her.”

I do, however, have my favorite authors and tv shows listed, so that’s about all they have to go off of until I write on a friend’s wall, mentioning champagne and all the ads on the side change to things about cocktails and drunk driving attorneys (yes, that happened). Last week, they gave me an ad about David Sedaris performing at the Overture Center in Madison. I did not mark this ad sexually explicit or offensive. I clicked on it.

Because I’m broke, I couldn’t justify the cost. However, I told Bill about it, and he said he’d be more than happy to buy a ticket for me if I could get down there. So, I will be borrowing a parent’s car and getting to Madison on October 28 to see my favorite author do a reading.

After Bill bought the ticket, he told me this was conditional. He probably should have said that before purchasing the ticket, but whatever. He said that he got me the ticket under the condition that I find some way to interact with him while I was there. This didn’t mean clapping after he finished reading an essay, I’m assuming. Of course I agreed to it, because that’s a perfectly reasonable and fantastic condition. If there is a book signing or meet and greet, I will stay in line for as long as security will allow.

I feel like I need a game plan. What do I talk to him about? He’s a pretty successful author, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who talk to him saying, “I LOVED that essay and then I copied it, but not before decorating my living room in a conspiracy-hunting psychotic style with your and Hugh’s pictures.” And that is not something I will say. I’m not psychotic and I have no idea what Hugh looks like. I think my best bet is to mention the “Old Faithful” essay (see my previous post), or ask him about “Repeat After Me” and how his writing has affected his family.

Let’s hope that I develop a plan and actually stick to it instead of bumbling like an idiot, “Your books good. I read lots and laugh loud.”
That’s what I imagine myself doing, but perhaps I can fight my instincts for once.