Let’s Geek Out with David Sedaris

Today’s a pretty good day. I’m going to be able to touch an owl in a couple hours.

David Sedaris on Fresh Air

There are many authors whom I adore and would rightly place on my “favorite authors” shelf. But David Sedaris is the author I geek out about. Maybe it’s his literary rock-star status, or his mesmerizing lilt, or his propensity for turning everyday events into small adventures, but I am a total fangirl.

A signed copy of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.
One of my prized possessions, which my sister got for me when Sedaris spoke at Pomona College.

We saw him speak in Seattle last year, and when he asked if there were any questions, I thought, “THIS IS IT! THIS IS MY CHANCE! I AM GOING TO ASK SOMETHING INSIGHTFUL AND BRILLIANT AND WITTY AND DAVID SEDARIS IS GOING TO NOTICE ME AND WE WILL BE BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE”….and then proceeded to clam up. The thought of asking him anything intimidated me like whoa. But I continued to grin like an idiot, because he continued to be witty and intelligent and talk about how animals are assholes. I mean, what’s NOT to love?

(It’s pretty silly that I didn’t raise my hand to ask a question, because one of the reasons why I love him is he seems like a genuinely decent guy. The kind of person who is interested in people — really interested — and curious about the world. I can dig that.)

He has a new book out — Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls — and so has a new interview on NPR’s Fresh Air (thank God my husband is an NPR geek so I know about these things). The interview is charming and informative and…just go listen to it, ok?

If you’re too busy/lazy/ambivalent to listen right now, here are some highlights (but please, do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing):

I was never the person who thought that having a job during the daytime meant that you were any less of a writer. I never thought, “Well, when I can quit my job, that’s when I’ll be a real writer.”

Isn’t that refreshing, to have a ridiculously famous author like Sedaris tell us we don’t have to quit the day jobs to be “real” writers?

You know, it used to be like I had to do my laundry every Sunday at six o’clock, and if I didn’t do my laundry at six o’clock the world was just going to fall apart. [….] Like somebody inviting me out for dinner on Saturday or inviting me Saturday, it just wasn’t going to happen because I had to clean my house. I had to do my laundry. I had to do these things on schedule at the exact same time at the exact same place, and I had to be sitting down at my desk and I had to be drinking by nine o’clock, and I had to be lighting the bong, you know, by 11:30.

And now I can do things. I can go out. I can – every night can be different, you know? And I think it’s – and I think that’s been great for me, you know, to be able to – to be able to have adventures in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to have adventures before.

As a creature who gets deeply ingrained in her habits — this is rather humbling and inspiring. A reminder that, no matter how stuck we may seem, we can change, we can grow. Everyday can be an adventure.

Do you have an author you totally geek out over? Tell me who, tell me who. (That was a tiny bit of an owl joke to end us on there. You’re welcome.)

When Movies Beat Words

I’ve always been a visual learner. Try to explain something to me audibly, and chances are I’ll say, “Can you write that down?” I need to see something in order to get it.

My stories play out the same way. Before I write them, I typically “see” them in my head. And, ok — IT’S NOT THAT WEIRD. I’m gonna guess it’s actually pretty common (fellow writers, yes?). I see the characters, see the lighting, feel the mood, figure out how the scene plays out. And only after that do I figure out how to describe that scene in words.

In this way, movies are sometimes — sometimes — the better storytelling format. Some scenes you can’t effectively put into words. Hell, some scenes are most effective without words. And, you know, if you’re writing? That’s a conundrum.

Oddly enough, these scenes are the ones that stick with me, that inspire me to be a better storyteller. I want to dissect them and figure out exactly why they’re so effective. They’re the ones my brain returns to again and again for inspiration.

Three scenes in particular come to mind, ones that I always press “rewind” to watch again and study. And yes, haters to the left — two of them are Wes Anderson.

This one comes from The Royal Tenenbaums (probably my favorite movie of all time). I love the lighting. I love the slow-motion silence as Margot Tenenbaum steps off the Green Line. I love the row of uniformed sailors behind Richie, stepping in time to the music. I love that you immediately know — without any words said — that these two characters are intensely, hopelessly in love.

500 Days of Summer is a GREAT movie for any writer to study. The way the timeline jumps around could have been hoaky but ends up 100% making the movie. A good example of how to mix up an otherwise pretty straightforward story.

But enough about the movie on the whole — we’re talkin’ THIS SCENE. Which I love. It so perfectly captures that feeling of being on top of the world, when everything is going your way and nothing, no one can stop you. Could this emotion be captured in words? Sure. But I don’t think as well (although if anyone has an example, I’d love to see it).

Oh what’s that? ANOTHER Royal Tenenbaums clip? I warned you, it’s my favorite. And this scene, THIS scene is my favorite scene from any movie, ever:

I don’t even know if I can count how many times I’ve watched this bit. And ok, yes — I realize it’s super depressing. But it’s also amazingly beautiful. The meticulous way Richie cuts his beard. The moody blue lighting interrupted by red. And the music — I mean, let’s face it.  The music makes this scene what it is.

That’s really the one thing these scenes have in common — great music. That’s one area where books can’t compete — there’s no soundtrack. Although I DO think this could be changing. The spring 2013 edition of Kinfolk magazine featured a story with a bar code. Using your phone to scan the bar scode, you could download a song specially written to be played while you read that story. I’ve gotta say, it was pretty damn cool and makes me excited for how we tell stories in the future.

Are there any particular movie scenes that inspire you? Which ones, and why?

“I Am In Love with the World”

It’s been an odd, bloated sort of week. Not bad, per se. Tepid. I’ve had a major case of space-cadet, my head firmly stuck in the fog. But I want to end the week on a good note.

In 2011, Terry Gross interviewed Maurice Sendak on the radio program “Fresh Air.” Christoph Niemann, an illustrator for The New York Times, heard it while driving and later turned it into this short little video.

This interview makes my heart swell. It is happy and melancholy and heartfelt and joyful. I listen to it and feel the need to go out and be. To appreciate all that is around. It is a tribute to the beauty in the world, the goodness — and the sad bits, too. Every time I listen to it, it makes me remember the loved ones we’ve lost — and it makes me sad, having lost them, but leaves me grateful at the end for having known them.

It’s a fitting way to end an off-kilter week. Remembering all we have to be grateful for, and heading into the weekend with Sendak’s words:

“Live your life, live your life, live your life.”