David Sedaris gave a reading at Benaroya Hall here in Seattle last night. I was sitting in the third row from the ceiling, in front of the lady with the loud chortle and inappropriate candy wrapper crinkling, and next to my husband and some of our closest friends. Down, down, down, at the tiny podium on the stage stood Mr. Sedaris, from my vantage point a mere man shaped spot in the middle of the blonde, blank wood flooring. If I leaned my head one way or the other I could almost make out the person toward the edge of the stage translating the pieces in sign language, but more frequently than a person would think at an expensive show at a concert hall, the people in that row would get up and squeeze past each other, knocking knees and saying excuse me, adding a comic shadow puppet element to my viewing experience. But one doesn’t go to see David Sedaris, one goes for the listening experience, in hopes that he will give just a little peek at something never before seen, or perhaps a revision of an old favorite. On all these points he succeeded to impress me.
Something that I found very humbling about the performance came toward the end during the question and answer section. Mr. Sedaris had just finished talking about one of his favorite Tobias Wolff books, The Barracks Thief, a book about a small group of guys about to be shipped out to Vietnam. He commented on the slender page count (100 total) and how, although it may be fairly short, still counts as reading an entire book, and is thereby impressive. A woman down in the pit of somewhere below, asked a question I couldn’t quite hear, except she said the word “spare.” I think maybe she was asking why all the books Sedaris recommends or loves are quite “spare,” and it was unclear to both Sedaris and to me at that moment whether she meant precise, succinct prose, or if she was referring to the shortness of page numbers. In the end it didn’t matter because his answer was somewhere in the realm of: I don’t like to torture myself with wordy, lengthy, boring things just I am supposed to think it is amazing. This is, of course, my crude interpretation, but I felt like he had suddenly given me permission to stop feeling guilty about not reading and loving (or even understanding) ancient classical literature, or even just the books that use more words than I have the patience to pay attention to. This doesn’t exactly speak well for me as an intellectual, but there is a certain amount of input a person must do for his or her craft, but that doesn’t mean this exentive "learning" isn’t sometimes torturous. I like that he gave me permission to feel that way, because I already did.
Having finished my nice little book that counts as my master’s thesis, I now have a small body of work that will go out into the world in a very small way, but it is significant to me because I can now say that I am a grown up writer. What I choose to do with that self proclamation will define whether this is true. Listening to Sedaris go through his essays, causing the audience to snort and gafaw at moments, and at other moments let out audible “awww” sounds. He was funny, as expected. His pieces had depth, interesting narrative. I envy the way he uses dialogue because I can never recreate a conversation and make it mean something. I was also acutely aware, for the first time, of the way each one of his essays was structured. I could tell certain points that were rough. I could hear places where I would have made changes. It was an awful feeling, and it was amazing. It was like listening to someone play a symphony and be able to see the notation in my head. It was like holding a slab of raw meat in my hand and knowing that it weighs exactly three quarters of a pound. It wasn’t as if I was right about any of the running commentary in my head, the idea was merely that I could have an opinion about the writing on that level at all which impressed me.
After that moment of reckoning in the theater, enjoying Sedaris reading hilarious pages from his diary, I realized that I still have a very long way to go.