I have a confession to make: I’m not much of a David Sedaris fan. I vehemently disliked Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. I think I read Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and thought it was ok, but since I can’t remember a single essay or joke, I don’t think that qualifies me as much of a fan. This lack of enthusiasm is unsettling to me, because I am very white, and David Sedaris is #25 on the Stuff White People Like blog, the bible of all things I’m supposed to enjoy. To be fair, I’ve always thought that blog was a bit more “stuff hipsters like” than white people in general, because last I checked, giant swaths of Middle America weren’t going crazy for irony, the New York Times, or Wes Anderson movies either. But even so I’m at a bit of a loss, because while I don’t consider myself a hipster, I’m definitely hipster-adjacent:
Just a short Prius ride and two Whole Foods Markets away!
But, in reading Part I of Theft By Finding, excerpts from Sedaris’s personal diaries for the years 1977 through 2002, I developed more of an appreciation for him as a writer. For the first half of this 500-page book, I wondered how the hell this guy was ever going to get his act together. As a young man, he seemed to only be interested in getting stoned or drunk, or at least, that’s the impression he’s chosen to impart with the entries he includes. Still, there are heartwarming moments when he talks about his siblings, particularly Amy, with whom he shares some minor successes as a playwright in the early days. It’s sweet to read his entries upon first meeting and developing a relationship with Hugh Hammrick, who remains his partner to date. I stuck a note on the entry for December 24, 1992, when Sedaris first had a story aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, knowing that this would be the major turning point in his career.
What I enjoyed most, though, was the Introduction, where Sedaris explains how he kept his journal. Most people, he says, try to write about their feelings or about social injustices, thinking this is what diaries are supposed to be about. Sedaris writes, “What I prefer to record at the end of my day are remarkable events I’ve observed (fistfights, accidents, a shopper arriving with a full cart of groceries in the express lane) bits of overheard conversation, and startling things people have told me.” Sure, I thought, but not everybody spent their youth high in New York where crazy stuff happens every day. As I mulled this advice over, though, I started to realize how many opportunities I’d missed. How many times my mother said something hilariously off-the-wall, or a stranger in traffic behaved inexplicably. Especially now, during a pandemic, notable things must be happening all the time. For a couple of days, I tried to take note of Sedaris-worthy incidents that happened during my day. It went something like this:
Sunday, April 4, 2020
Peter went to the garage today to look for a caulking gun (might as well fix things around the house since we’re stuck at home), and he came across an entire box of face masks. I’m talking about the good, N95 ones that you can’t find anywhere right now. We couldn’t believe our luck.
Tuesday, April 6, 2020
Last night we made broccoli orichette for dinner, and this morning when I went to put in my contacts, I found the tiniest bit of broccoli floating in the saline. Was it stuck to my fingers when I took my contacts out? Was it in my eye all night? I have no idea, but it can’t be healthy.
Sunday, April 12, 2020
A few days ago my dad texted me that he was worried because a couple of cashiers at his grocery store tested positive for coronavirus. When I talked to him today, he complained about face mask requirements and called New Yorkers cry babies.
Maybe this isn’t as scintillating as drug-fueled parties, but I can see where Sedaris is coming from now. Instead of only writing down what we think is meaningful, the key is to find something absurd, beautiful, or surprising in the every day. While the book itself was only mildly amusing to me, reading it made me want to start keeping a journal again.