Friday, June 8, 2018

The Diarist and Me: A Love Song in Three Parts

In The Art of Memoir, which I've been tooling around, listening to in my car, Mary Karr says there's a special circle in hell for people who quote themselves. There's probably an inner, hotter ring to that circle, meant for people who quote their own diaries. But I recently found a journal entry that said: "I told Tim, if someone you liked in your twenties is still making you laugh out loud in your forties, I think it's real love."  I was talking about David Sedaris.

In the library one day this winter, I passed by Sedaris' Theft and Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 and sort of rolled my eyes.  On some level, I was probably jealous.  How come his thoughts matter so much they get their own huge book? thought my envious, obviously neglected psyche.  Then I picked up the visual compendium to those diaries, and was hooked.  The editor, Jeffrey Jenkins, was a childhood friend who describes the Sedaris den growing up as place where jazz blasted and modern art hung on the walls.

I've probably loved Sedaris since picking up Me Talk Pretty One Day for a flight just after college, a flight I spent in stitches, silently crying. In Theft by Finding, which I dove into this spring, he writes about being slightly embarrassed by Me Talk Pretty, because other, "better" writers had written books that fell into obscurity.  He also writes, "I think I can write something much better than Me Talk Pretty," which I found to be a fascinatingly bold statement.  After reading 2013's Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, I can say he's done it.  (What a relief! He's definitely been waiting for me to say so.) 

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls has more gravity, more maturity - more stakes, to use the dreaded workshop phrase - than some of his earlier stuff, and the self-loathing so apparent in early entries of Theft By Finding feels worked-through now.  It's like being around someone who's gone through successful therapy.  The writing feels warm, generous, wise even, while still profoundly funny. 

I have Calypso, Sedaris' new book, on my desk now, but enough about that guy, huh?  Let's talk about his obvious literary predecessor, the late publishing scion, Katharine Graham.  Just kidding!  I suppose they have in common losing loved ones to suicide - Kay, her husband Phil; David, his sister Tiffany - but there's a pretty big gap between Sedaris' hooked-on-meth performance artist days and Graham's personal friendships with the Kennedy family and Warren Buffet.

After reading All the President's Men (about The Washington Post's reporters breaking the Watergate scandal), and seeing The Post (about, duh, The Post printing The Pentagon Papers), and being slightly obsessed with Meryl Streep's portrait of Kay Graham, I checked out Graham's memoir, Personal History, which came out when I was in college.  I remember journalism majors toting it around, and female journalism majors especially speaking in hallowed tones about Graham, but I wasn't ready for the book then. 

It's odd, though welcome, how my capacity to absorb history has changed.  Last weekend, I spent hours reading a book about the assassination of JFK while Tim did yard work and Samantha trailed him with the snow shovel she believes is a gardening tool.  If you had taken me aside in college and told me this would be my life, I would have squinted hard into the future and been able to glimpse one wavering leaf in that sunny afternoon before diving back into my frozen yogurt, uninterested.

I cracked Personal History some days after turning forty, and was instantly riveted by the writing, which is elegant and diplomatic and full of grace.  I suppose I was reading to find out why her husband killed himself and how she felt about it (is that lurid?  I am interested in mental health, and the oblique mention of Phil's suicide in The Post had me wanting to find out more about Kay's feelings around it, because it left the responsibility of running a media empire to her, a former reporter and now socialite with little business experience when she inherited the job).  But the writing was so good, and the events of her life were so interesting, I devoted myself to finishing it, much to Tim's dismay.

I also read The Long Goodbye, by Meghan O'Rourke, about her mother's death to colorectal cancer.  I loved the first half of the book, which detailed her relationship with her mother, especially in the final months of her mother's life.  I struggled to connect with the second half, which was an examination of grief in general, including her own.  But the writing was stunning throughout - no surprise considering O'Rourke is also a poet.

What else can I tell you?  My good friend Amelia has started a podcast with fellow writer Edan Lepucki called Mom Rage.  I absolutely love the intimate tone and their mission to expand the conversation around motherhood.  The tagline is: "a podcast for your best and worst selves," which, let's be honest, is exactly who we all are as parents. 

Spring is here (finally!) and I am feeling it.  When we moved to Michigan several years ago, I was undeterred by rumors about how long and hard winters were.  I think I've been broken, though. I drove over a pothole last week that belonged more in a field in Yellowstone than a suburban street in town, and I thought, Okay, winter, I see you and what you've done to us.  I'm not ready to move to Key West or anything, and I don't mind the cold, but the lack of quality exercise bothers me, and from November to May, I make the most questionable decisions regarding nutrition. 

If you need me, I'll be rescuing Ellis from the tables he's pulled himself up to and beating back the tide of Curious George books in our living room. 

Meanwhile, happy Spring! 

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