I went to see David Sedaris at a reading this past weekend and it was lovely. More than once during the evening, I gasped in shock, laughed aloud, and wiped away tears.
I can’t really explain my tears during the reading, except to say that 1) I had just come from a sweet wedding ceremony, 2) I had several cups of wine by this point in the evening, and 3) my biggest fear in the world right now is the evitable death of my parents. A major theme of Sedaris’s recent work is the aging of his father, who is in his nineties, so many of his stories provide a window into a part of life that I dread…but that I’m trying to explore and prepare for.
Anyway, of the stories Sedaris read aloud, my favorite was a long piece about his recent vacation. It sounds like Sedaris organizes annual vacations for his entire family, and he told a touching story about the week his family spent together earlier this year at The Sea Section, Sedaris’s beach home in North Carolina. Sedaris closely observes his father and relates his mannerisms and offhand remarks in great detail throughout the story. It’s as if Sedaris is carefully recording his father for the time when his father is no longer around, trying to imprint everything to memory or to paper. Or maybe Sedaris is closely studying his father for clues about how much time they have left together, or how his own aging process will be similar to or different from his father’s.
In Sedaris’s published stories about his childhood, his father is portrayed as a tough, inscrutable, traditionally “manly man”—never very physically or verbally affectionate or demonstrative. At the reading, Sedaris said that the only time he remembers touching his father as a child was when the family was at the beach, and his father would pick up his children and play with them in waves. His father was hard and aloof in his younger days, but on this most recent beach trip Sedaris caught him tapping his fingers to jazz and gazing adoringly at his family. Sedaris’s father also (loudly, repeatedly) encourages Sedaris to keep regular medical checkups and stay healthy because “I love you and want you to live a long life.” It’s nice to see the differences between Sedaris’s blustery young father and his tender older father.
And, of course, everything Sedaris presented at the reading was a careful, balanced mix of humor and pathos. Sedaris can turn between the two on a dime. A single sentence might start about his dad’s gnarly hammertoes, but it will end with the image of his dad hiding tears as he sits among his children at the dinner table.
Sedaris gave a couple of pieces of writing advice to the audience, too. When asked what was the hardest part of being in the writing industry, Sedaris said it was the actual act of writing. He rewrites stories more than ten times to tweak them and, at some point, has to finally call it quits on any given piece.
For me, Sedaris’s most valuable tidbit of the evening was this:
Saying “yes” generates interesting stories.
When you readily accept invitations and volunteer for duties, says Sedaris, you’re likely to come into contact with new, interesting people and situations. “Say yes” is a great reminder and a good way to find writing content and inspiration…which are hard for me to come by lately!