Monday, April 29, 2002

The One with an Extra "L"

I don't know if we're still allowed to read books now that Oprah has unilaterally dissolved the little exclusive society that came complete with an enchanting secret handshake. Even though it felt good to finally feel like a part of something, perhaps it's for the best- it just gives me more money to spend on my Botox treatments.

I did decide that if I'm not allowed to read anymore that it technically might be OK to have someone read to me. Thus when it was announced David Sedaris was coming to town to read some of his work at the Ordway, I knew I had to go. Sedaris is one of those writers that I have a true admiration for while at the same time harboring a dose of jealousy equal to the amount of fat content of your average Krispy Kreme doughnut.

He is a remarkably witty writer with a keen sense of observation. He can make the absurd sound hilarious and make the mundane sound absurd. His opening piece compared the American Christmas saga (Santa and his elves) with Holland's (St. Nicholas and six to eight black friends). It was wickedly silly and it was a wonderful social commentary, an admirable mixture. Sedaris was later asked by an audience member if it had always been an ambition to be a writer. He said that at first he wanted to be a visual arts artist until he found out he had no talent in that area. He tried dancing and then he tried acting only to again discover he lacked the ability. He thus began writing because it was next on the list.

I'm sure everybody in the audience with the possible exception of the charismatic visionary with a most intriguing mind sitting beside me could relate. Those of us who have bounced around enough to lose some of our elasticity along the way (the red rubber ball that just couldn't bounce back) have come to learn, if not justify to ourselves, that part of the marvel of life is learning you're just not good enough to do some things. (I am after all the guy who came up with the return of home grocery delivery service years before that yuppie scheme, but failed to cash in on my idea.)

Let me make a few confessions here. Besides being a baseball player and the host of the Tonight Show the only thing I've truly ever wanted to be was a writer. With an inability to hit an overhead curve ball, and a serious lack of verbal know how, the third option seemed too to be as far away as the (day before) full moon. The connection between the three ambitions was as simple as a single word that begins with "L." From the time my Mom introduced me to baseball I was hooked. Even though I didn't understand all of Johnny Carson's jokes, I always thought he was the coolest. Through the rush of emotions that accompanied junior high school my day never seemed complete until I could come home and write about it all. I was nothing if not prolific.

Not too long ago my sister-in-law asked me now that I do a lot of writing for my living if I ever just write for fun still. I thought about it for about three seconds and answered no. She, having a talent for drawing, and now responsible for running her own graphic arts business seemed to understand exactly the weight of her question and the significance of my weary response. When you are paid to do the thing you always loved doing, who has the time or energy to actually enjoy it? And by golly are you supposed to?

And yet my evening at the Ordway with my still breath of fresh air best friend, who remains a true heart's inspiration, was a nice reminder of keeping some perspective. There have been times over the past few years that I have felt a million miles away from her (and sometimes deliberately so) as close to her as I once felt (and that's probably closer in many ways than I ever felt to anyone else) often with the two of us seemingly thinking about something else during our conversations. But it was nice to see we can still relate. My favorite Sedaris essay of the evening was one about how his family deals with his chronicling their many eccentricities for all the world to read.

Afterward when the two of us walked through the brisk air back to where she had parked (and she of course noticed the increasing stumble to my walk) she too mentioned that particular essay. For her it meant something meaningful having recently struggled to deal with some difficult family matters. For me the piece was a keen observation of crossing a line of the first rule of writing- write about what you know - and the discomfort of family and friends who read about themselves in something you've written and take some discomfort in what you have chosen to share or how they are portrayed. And I know she won't be entirely OK with me writing this, but it was nice identifying with her again if on a somewhat different plane.

She told me it was the first book reading she had attended and she was glad I asked her along. It was a different way of sharing what writing means to me but you know what? Her enjoying the evening made me finally feel that I can go to my grave glad to do what I have done.

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