Books Magazine

How I Met David Sedaris

By Clogsandtulips @clogsandtulips
How I met David SedarisI've always been a huge supporter of the gay community, but even my best efforts pale in comparison to all that my mother has done.
When her high school students began to confide in her their sexual orientation and lack of place to go and people to talk to, she created a Gay/Straight Alliance at her school.
Years ago, after she lost a friend to AIDS, she put together an AIDS benefit, featuring male and female impersonators. The event has been going on for 5 years and raises thousands of dollars for AIDS research and rehabilitation.
The success of the GSA she began at her school inspired her to start a PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter in our community.
To show my support, I helped her plan GSA meetings, performed each year as a vocalist at the benefit, and joined the PFLAG book club.
We read some excellent titles either by gay writers or on the topics of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues during my year in the book club: Running With Scissors, Mordred, Bastard Son, Me Talk Pretty One Day...
It was this last title, by David Sedaris, that I missed out on. Planning a wedding and a move to another country will do that to you. My mom didn't care too much for the book, so I opted not to add it to my reading list.
My first December in the Netherlands introduced me to the Dutch holiday Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas can be thought of as a cousin of Santa Claus and, in fact, many American Christmas traditions are based on the Sinterklaas traditions carried over by Dutch settlers: setting out stockings, leaving treats for the bearded man's transportation, the naughty versus nice treatment, gift exchanges and all the other joys of the holiday.
But the similarities end there, and leave it to Sedaris to dissect the Dutch holiday in a way that only a foreigner can. His hilarious piece, Six to Eight Black Men, is passed along through Dutch and expat circles each December.
That was the first real taste I got of David Sedaris.
The following year, I took a writing workshop with Jo Parfitt. Her workshops are fascinating and informative and I've eaten up every word she's said or written ever since the first time I heard her speak.
At this particular workshop, she shared a few passages written by authors who do an extraordinary job of really re-creating a scene for their readers and drawing them in.
One of the examples was a piece by Sedaris. The title of the essay and the book it appears it escape me, but I remember reading along with Jo and thinking how perfect his wording was and how magnificently he painted the scene.
But even Jo's high praise of the author wasn't enough to get me to go out and pick up one of his books.
Halfway through my third year in the Netherlands, I got an email from my editor at The Holland Times. She wanted to know if I was familiar with the author David Sedaris. He was coming to Amsterdam to give a performance at Theater Carre and the theater had contacted several publications asking them to cover the event as part of their marketing. Would I be interested in interviewing David Sedaris for the September issue of the newspaper?
I lied through my teeth, saying that yes I had read Sedaris's books, knew quite a bit about him and would be delighted to do the interview. Having an interview like that under my belt would be a glorious, downy feather in my cap and I wasn't going to turn the opportunity down.
Immediately I began researching him on the internet and taking down copious notes. I watched clips of Sedaris on Letterman, The Daily Show and several Dutch talk shows he appeared on. I Googled the author and read interviews, book reviews, life story and anything else I could get my eyes on. Friends, family, Twitter followers and Facebook fans were all asked for possible interview questions I might be able to direct to Mr. Sedaris.
The next day, I ran to the book store and bought Holidays on Ice, When You Are Engulfed in Flames and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, determined to read them all in the week I had to prepare for the interview.
Now, I was just waiting to hear back from my editor with an interview time and phone number.
I was just one essay away from finishing the last of the three books I had purchased when I got a disheartening email from my editor. David was in Scotland with no phone or internet connection and wouldn't be able to be interviewed until he arrived in the Netherlands the first week in September. The Holland Times is a monthly newspaper that comes out on the first of each month, meaning the interview was a no go.
Luckily for me, all was not lost. My editor was able to score me a complimentary ticket to the performance and commissioned me to write up a review for the publication's website.
Once I finished the books I had, I figured there was no need to stop since I still had over a month until the performance. So I hopped on Amazon and ordered Naked, Barrel Fever, and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. I had them all delivered to my parents' home in the US where I would be heading for vacation the following week.
My mom still had her copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, so I figured I'd just borrow that title from her.
During my week in the US, I breezed through Naked and Barrel Fever and started digging into Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.
Upon our return to the Netherlands I realized that I'd forgotten to pick up Me Talk Pretty One Day. But there was no time to read anything anyway as we had a week's time to pack up all our things and move into our new house.
My affair with David Sedaris was put on hold.
Once we were moved in, I had less than a week till D-Day (David-Day, that is). Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk was finished in no time, leaving only one book of Sedaris's that I had yet to read.
Finally, the day before the performance, I had the chance to slip into the bookstore and purchase a copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day. I spent as much time as I could reading it and took it with me on the train to the theater the next day.
I headed to Will Call and picked up my ticket. It turned out that I had a great seat - row 11, right in the center.
When David walked onstage, an audience of American, Dutch and countless other nationalities erupted in boisterous applause.
A small man with an equally small voice set his manilla folder and his copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk on the podium and began reading.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of Sedaris's books. I often found myself laughing out loud. I appreciate his style and think he has an excellent way with words. Having said that, however, the best way to experience Sedaris's work is to hear him read it himself.
He read two stories from Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and followed it up with his hilarious commentary on the current Republican Presidential Candidate elections in the US, published in Vanity Fair. The fun continued with two additional essays, Standing By and Innocents Abroad (the second of which we all recieved free copies of after the performance).
The readings were topped off with some side-splitting entries from his personal diary and the Q&A afterward gave Sedaris a chance to really interact with his audience and let his quirky personality shine.
We, the audience, laughed, learned, and got some of the most cynical views on life and human nature during that hour with David. By the end of the day, those who weren't Sedaris fans before certainly were now.
After the performance, David signed. I waited in line for two-and-a-half hours. Not that the line was that long. It was the chatting that was going on with the author that we were waiting for.
Typically when you get to meet an author -- or any other celebrity -- you want to envelop them in a flood of questions. That's hard to do with David. Because all your time with him is spent fielding the questions he fires at you.
He asked where I was from, if I had any children, what I was doing in the Netherlands. Others were asked where their names originated, what they did for a living, and other such personal matters. All this while doodling a picture of a cat on the title page of your book before signing his name underneath. I walked away completely disoriented.
I'm thankful I hadn't finished Me Talk Pretty One Day in time. Otherwise I wouldn't have had anything for him to sign. Or I'd have had to buy a dupicate of one of his books (though now that I think about it, it might have been fun to have the Dutch translation of one of his books).
Now, my bookshelf sits full in my brand new house, with half a shelf devoted entirely to this author I had crossed paths with so many times but never thought to read. And one of those books has a rough permanent marker sketch of a cat with a head about the same size as his body, lazily laying on the words "David Sedaris."
Image: theNerdPatrol, Flickr
© 2011 Tiffany Jansen, writer

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