Why I Love David Sedaris

“I’d tried to straighten him out, but there’s only so much you can do for a person who thinks Auschwitz is a brand of beer.” (Naked)

I am languid and lounging, sipping coffee on the train with the opening strains of Cannonball Adderley’s rendition of Autumn Leaves caressing my ears.  It’s the third cup of coffee that my companion, the writer David Sedaris, has bought me.  He is hoping to form a sort of writers’ idea exchange.  Not dissimilar to Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris in decades long since past.  But that is really an excuse to get close to me, to breathe my air and gaze adoringly into my piercing ice blue eyes.

I contemplate my handsome profile reflected in the window – it’s really no wonder that the other passengers keep turning to look at me.  “Is that really him?” they ask each other, craning their necks for a better look.  The susurration of their conversation should soothe, but I find the attention exquisitely painful.  I am unusually sensitive to human emotions.  I feel myself blush; the dash of colour on my artistic cheekbones only makes my features more appealing.

It’s understandable, though, the attention.  In addition to my devastating physical beauty, I have just been awarded my sixth Nobel prize for literature, to go with my collection of Pulitzers, Peabodies and Hugos.  I am told that I was the first ever debut novelist to win the Nobel prize, and the only person simultaneously to receive the Nobel prize, People’s Choice and Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice awards.  I have not checked to see whether either is true for I am not motivated by acclaim.  People are often moved to tears by my humility and lack of conceit.

I do not write for the bragging rights, I do not write for fame.  I write not for the awards, not the money, not even the many sexual favours I receive from besotted Hollywood starlets and supermodels.

David notes that I have finished with my coffee and insists that he be allowed to buy me another from the buffet carriage.  I am famed for my consumption of coffee: it is my one vice besides red wine, sex, cigarettes, methamphetamines, vodka, marijuana and the occasional hit of smack.

The coffee is quite dreadful but I of course thank him for his kindness – my physical grace is exceeded only by my social graces.  He stares at me rapt.  I find this hero worship a little tiresome, demeaning even.  He asks me what I am listening to and begs that he be allowed to interrupt it to tell me once more just how much my work has meant to him.

“Your latest book,” he says, “it’s really something else.”

I smile indulgently and note the awkward pun, the weak attempt to wheedle his way into my social circle.  I was there, I saw what he did; I was in the front row, is what he imagines he will say to my future biographers: he was real and authentic and in my time with him I myself became more tangible.  But what David doesn’t know is that I am a loner, indeed it is an irony that I am so praised by critics and the public for subverting the cliché of the lone wolf.  I have no social circle, and no real peers either.

This is not hubris you understand, but one of my many sources of pain; as I have said, I am unusually sensitive to the human condition.

“Seriously, the first time I read your work I realised how awful I am, how crude is my own writing. God, that first one was like someone dropping a toaster into your hot bath while you’re in the middle of an orgasm, it was that good!”

I do not really follow; I start at the start and write to the end.  My work barely even needs editing.  And once it has been published I never think of it again – I have never read a single one of my own books.  The memories brought up by each and every word would probably kill me.

It would sadden me to know that I can never enjoy the fruits of my own labour, but I don’t think in such egotistical terms.  It’s one of the personal qualities that is most often commented on by others.

In any case, I have very little time in which to enjoy myself.  I am considered by other authors to be extremely prolific, publishing between 5 and 6 novels a year not including my nonfiction works.  I am naturally athletic and my body more or less effortless, but I enjoy running double marathons twice a week.  I don’t keep track of my times, because I’m not competitive.  Professional distance runners have often complimented me on my technique, speed and endurance.

Everyone needs a hobby.

I am also driven to give my time and my money.  Mothers stop me in the street to bless their children.  My accountant is forever asking me to double-check his calculations; my lawyer relies on me to assess her legal opinions and modify them accordingly.  It’s exhausting, but I am compelled to offer what I can.

I have founded a hospital for children with weak chins and girlish hands; I have started a charity for the rare furless mountain bear and raised their young as my own.  I often weep for all the furless mountain bears that suffer and die within a month of birth because they have no fur and live high up in the Himalayas.

David can sense my kindly and forgiving nature; it’s the only way he can bring himself to spend time with me.  Unlike me, poor David is riven with crushing self-doubt.  He feels clumsy and oafish, because he is, but I would never dream of saying so.  If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s condescension towards others.

I am aware of my incredible genetic gifts; I just prefer not to talk about them.

“Why don’t you get out of bed little Lord Fauntleroy; it’s 10:30am! And get a goddam job, asshole, go to business school, go to law school, just do something with yourself!”  My mother denies that I am adopted, although she is willing to say that I was an accident and a mistake.  She lights a cigarette and wanders off, muttering to herself “I don’t know where he gets it; his father isn’t this goddam lazy…”

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David Sedaris is the writer of several essay collections, as well as a playwright and novelist.  He shot to fame in 1992 with his essay The SantaLand Diaries, an account of his experiences working as a department store elf.  This is included in Barrel Fever (1994).

His stories about his life and family are so heavily exaggerated that they should not be sold as nonfiction even though they are.

Needless to say, I believe every word of them.

Funny as a heart attack and on occasion emotional as an episode of Glee, Sedaris is acidic, sweet, self-deprecating, self-aggrandising and bitchy, but always sharp.

If you’ve not heard of him or read any of his work, do so.  If you have and have and don’t like it, well as I always say: there’s just no hope for some people.

“I hate you’ she said to me one afternoon. ‘I really, really hate you.’ Call me sensitive, but I couldn’t help but take it personally.” (Me Talk Pretty One Day)

What Do You Think About That, Then?

Yesterday morning I awoke to a dandruff coating of snow.  ‘Aargh, my one weakness!!’ I thought; after all I am merely several tonnes of electrified steel and tempered glass and my opponent is a small quantity of crystallised water formed around dusty cores. This will destroy my chances of meeting my scheduled arrival times.

But I struggled through with trainful determination. 

Snow is indeed the one weakness of our creaking public transport system, except for all the others like unseasonable cold or warmth.  Or thunder, which is scary for trains. Leaves, lightning, any combination of weather patterns, it’s all the same ultimate weakness.

This morning the London Underground was faintly troubled (on the Bakerloo Line) by strike action over pay and conditions.  Naturally I was as flabbergasted and outraged as disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, that well-known writer of venomous letters to local councils and newspapers.

After all, I don’t get overtime pay and anyway everybody knows they’re all hugely overpaid anyway, they want to try living in the real world etc.

A recent edition of the Economist posed a question: is innovation drying up as a force for economic growth?  After all, increasingly powerful computers in the workplace ought to boost productivity by reducing the time necessary for completing various tasks.

But they haven’t.

Spoiler alert: the writer didn’t seem to think there was much to worry about; such innovations take longer than you might think to have a measurable impact on productivity.  The cynic might suggest that computers may boost and reduce productivity simultaneously – the same work can be done in less time, but with more time spent on the Daily Mail website’s sidebar of shame or, worse, wallowing in the ‘Comments’ sections of The Guardian, BBC or Telegraph.  Insert appropriate local news purveyor here, naturellement.

Now technological progress is wonderful, but the combined effects of 24 hour news and the internet means that we have increasingly less time to digest what we’re told.  We have so many available sources of information it can be difficult to be discerning in which ones we trust.  Each new story, each new scandal demands: “’Ere! Whochoo fink of that, then?”

An illustration – polls taken have found that a majority of people in the UK believe a sizeable minority, or even a majority, of all public welfare spending goes to benefits cheats.  In other words it’s lost on fraud.

Is that statement true?  Is it, in fact ‘a’ statement, or several (about beliefs, about spending and about fraud)?  What do the terms mean – what is ‘public welfare spending’, what constitutes ‘benefits fraud’?  Are we talking a statutory definition of fraud or something more general?  Where’s the context?  What does any of it mean, and what do you think about that meaning? 

Nah, just playin’, the real questions are: who’s doing what about it?  And whose fault is this?

And of course that last question is the most important one; after all, I’m not the one fraudulently claiming benefits.  What do I think of that?  I don’t know, but I am angry.

Add to that the ease with which one can plaster comments on the internet, however ill thought out, and you’ve a recipe for some ridiculously entertaining stuff.  The broadsheets are past masters at this – ‘whiny’ liberals and ‘paranoid’ rightwingers are so easily wound-up and the readership tends to be reasonably well educated, which means that they use more and bigger words as an alternative to calling each other **%(£ and *(%&^”!£$.  Which would otherwise get repetitive.

And all this content creation is free and easy to achieve; all you need to do is write something fairly one-sided and chuck in some controversial factoid or other. Then wait for the verby brawling to commence and voila: proof for your advertisers that they’re not wasting money, which in turn keeps the fiscal wolves from the financial door (because no one actually buys newspapers these days).

But you can have too much of a good thing, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read an article, moved to the comments section and quite forgotten whatever the article was about.  People talk about Twitter spats.  Pssh, check the Guardian.  

The vitriol, the pomposity, misplaced pedantry, blind prejudice repackaged as insight (see everything said about politicians, bankers, lawyers, teachers, celebrities, public sector workers…) The lack of self-awareness, conceited, opinionated bollocks by people who proclaim the profit-seeking impulse or European Union to be morally evil constructs.  And that’s just the lifestyle sections, let alone politics or the economy.  

To paraphrase Mark Twain: it’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re beah thick than open your mouth and prove it, you feel me, bruv?

Much of the time the commenters aren’t even commenting on the article itself or the issue at hand but engaging in some stylised tribal war dance.  Albeit one with more accusations of Nazism in accordance with Godwin’s law (as the length of any online discussion increases, the probability of one of the participants bringing up Hitler approaches 1).

And then some douche ruins it by making a thoughtful, considered and insightful comment.

But ignore them, clever, sensible people that they are.  Also ignore the fact that if you just let some things go you’ll probably be happier because all this angst can’t be good for your health.  Go away, have a think, be open-minded and then decide whether or not you want to form an opinion about whatever you’re being told you need to hold an opinion about.

Alternatively, go comments hunting and focus on the more goggle-eyed paranoia and cathartic stress relief (no one’s ever really that angry about windfarm policy but it does give a good excuse for some of that volcanic anger you wanted to direct at your boss/spouse).  It’s funnier than fart jokes and it’ll make up for the day’s little irritants.  

Then think of that next time someone asks you: ‘ere, whochoo fink of that, then?

And remember Mark Twain.

2013

“In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”

We were somewhere outside of Guildford when the clock tolled the passing of this foul year of our Lord twenty hundred and twelve.

Foul-tempered phrases flowed from the acerbic typewriter keys of Hunter S Thompson.  In particular, his magnum opus (or at least the one I like the most) Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas is a pungent mix of pithy bullshit and addled insights – a pulchritudinous gumbo, clever lines floating to the surface then sinking to the depths in a cavalcade of putrid bubbles. I highly recommend it.

Apparently, today finds me in a florid frame of mind.

That an abortive attempt at gonzo journalism should prove to be the basis of such an extraordinary novel is probably a life lesson.  Life has many roads and you don’t know where you’ll end up and stuff.  I’ll leave you intrepid cod psychologists to work through the details.

I’d not read Fear and Loathing in years, nor even thought about it.  But the mind is a wondrous/bizarre/specious (delete as applicable) contraption with the power to spew up old tangents and past memories and then proceed to be fascinated with them, turning them over like some species of curate’s egg.

If one were so inclined, one might wonder what Hunter S Thompson would’ve made of 2012.  All those scandals and appalling events, freak weather, hideous tragedies and an extraordinary amount of fatuous twaddle from the mouths of our elected officials.

What would the man who described GW Bush as a baffled little creep have made of the GOP nomination process, or Romney’s electoral strategy, for example?  Would any vitriol have been spared for the LIBOR manipulation scandal, or the apparent truth that corporation tax is increasingly an opt-in scheme?  What would he say about the ever-growing use of drone strikes, not to mention the general sabre-rattling and chauvinism?

War has a brutalising effect on those who wage it same as it does on those against whom it is waged.  Something to bear in mind as we enter the second decade of the war on terror.

In the mournful absence of the man himself, I’d suggest the opening quotation as a fitting if cynical epitaph for the year as a whole.  

Apparently, today finds me in a somewhat bleak frame of mind.

I blame it on January – it’s cold, it’s dark and it rains.  The world is bathed in the orange glow of artificial streetlights as sunlight recedes into the memory – a myth from childhood, like the Easter bunny or tooth fairy.  And while I like rain and darkness and streetlights on the tv screen, in really real reality it gets a bit trying after a while.

This, incidentally, is why New Year’s Resolutions™ are so patently absurd.  It would be better to have new school year resolutions, or new financial year resolutions – start when the weather is balmy and people wear fewer items of clothing, that’s what I say.

That being said, January is probably as good a time of year as any to reconsider one’s life choices – including whether it’s advisable to use ‘one’ as a pronoun given it reeks of pomposity and general twatishness.

On that note, here are my own vague intentions to be noted and then forgotten by January 12th:

  • Take more pleasure in the little victories – they’re not more important than the big ones but they are more frequent.  Conversely, don’t sweat the little stuff so much.
  • Stop sounding like a daytime tv therapist.
  • It’s ok to be bad at things.
  • People take life in general too seriously and don’t take either the kitchen or the bedroom seriously enough.  Don’t do that.  Low blood sugar and not enough sleep are probably detrimental to the soul.  Also, if you have more sex you’ll obviate the need for dieting and a gym membership.  And the hormone release IS good for the soul.
  • You used to know the difference between righteous anger and self-righteous anger.  Learn that again.
  • I’m in love with Victoria Coren.  And Camilla Long. And Hadley Freeman.  And AA Gill.  Basically, make me laugh and I’m yours (I’m that sort of cheap hussy).  That’s not an intention, more an observation. But it’s generally considered advisable to focus on the things you like.

Predictions for 2013:

  • Comic book films by Marvel and something with darker lighting and more serious faces from Nolan (sort of).  Stephanie Meyer adaptation.  Katniss Everdeen.  Hobbits.
  • Skinny jeans.
  • Bad year for manufacturers of Mayan calendars.
  • Tabloids to continue to mix prurience with moral hand-wringing – aroused in all senses of the word.  Scandals, doom ‘n gloom and general oblivion to continue to be the order of the day.
  • (I will re-read Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.)

Ladies, gentlemen and miscellaneous others, 2013 has arrived: say hello to the new king, same as the old king.

Fortunately, I quite liked the old king.