The first book I read by David Sedaris was When You're Engulfed in Flames. Like many great books, it came to me as a gift from one of my best friends. She and I share the same can't-put-out-this-burning-passion-for-literature fire. The introduction to Sedaris' work couldn't have come at a better moment; I was at a time of my life where I needed a good laugh. I'm not talking about a cyber LOL, or an inside chuckle -- I'm talking about full-body shaking, head thrown back, and eyes closed laughter. The type of rolling laughter that sends you into mild convulsions and whites out your thoughts. Sedaris' wit, satirical sense of humor and ugly childish honesty -- the type of honesty that only five-year-olds are capable of, where they point out everything that we as adults have been taught to keep to ourselves -- can pull me out of any emotional coma or bad day.
So when the opportunity arose to go to a David Sedaris book reading and signing, I coerced my boyfriend to tag along. Well, okay, I didn't really coerce, he was very supportive from the beginning (major boyfriend points here).
On November 26, we drove to McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Calif., to see and hear the genius of satire. It was a full house of predominantly fake teeth smiles, shiny canes and chalk-colored Ralph Lauren polos. As we took our seats, I noticed that beside me, a woman in her late 50s with bright red hair, a blue sparkly blouse and a vintage brown handbag that absent-mindedly perched itself in my leg space, was practically jumping out of her seat with excitement. 'We'll see who's his biggest fan. Lady, you're on,' I thought.
Just as I was scheming how I would out-fan this woman, my boyfriend, who has been leafing through the McCallum Fall 2012 Program, said something profound, in a very matter of fact way: "He had an 'angel.'" I leaned closer to see him pointing to a paragraph that discussed David Sedaris' becoming his great writer self; the paragraph mentioned that Sedaris was discovered while reading his diary in a Chicago club by radio host Ira Glass. 'Glass is Sedaris' writer angel,' I thought to myself as a light bulb turned on in my head. Of course let's not discredit Sedaris' brilliance -- he, like many successful (and unsuccessful) writers, labored for his stories. But, I couldn't help to allow the concept of a writer angel lull me closer to peace of mind.
With this thought, the lights in the small theater faded, and in the bright spotlight appeared Sedaris. I was surprised to see how small he is: 'How could so much greatness fit into such a little body?' I thought ignorantly. Sedaris' voice, though, is as mischievous as his work.
Sedaris had everyone in the entire theatre shaking in their seats and rapidly dying of uncontrollable laughter. He could've killed us all right there and then, "I don't know what happened, Officer, I read a few stories, they were all laughing, but at the end nobody got up from their seats," he might nervously report to a regional police officer later that evening. I could see it then, a headline reading "American Humor Writer Kills Palm Desert Retirees."
But, there was nobody laughing harder than my red-haired neighbor. The sound that was coming out of her mouth was so original that I truly hope she is making a good living from it. There was a point during the evening where I wasn't sure if I was laughing harder at Sedaris' stories or at the ridiculousness of her laugh. How could I describe it to you... it was like a man had swallowed a baby and a woodpecker -- the end result a hearty staccato sound that sporadically shrieked and cooed.
At the end, Sedaris did something remarkable: He pulled out a book and recommended it to the audience. This wasn't a book he had written; this book is by author Bernard Cooper called The Bill from My Father, A Memoir and Sedaris couldn't stop talking about it. It was so humbling to hear such a successful and world-renowned author, like Sedaris, appreciate the craftsmanship of a fellow writer. There wasn't an ounce of jealousy or resentment, just pure joy and respect for Cooper's work.
When it was my turn to have the few fleeting minutes with Sedaris, while he patiently signed books at a fold out desk, I crouched down, looked at him and almost whispered, 'David, did you always believe in yourself as a writer?' I was a little bit startled to see how quickly he became so serious. He dove into the answer without hesitation. In sum, even after so much success, Sedaris is still humble to rejection, no matter its source. He encourages other writers to support and enjoy each others craftsmanship and notes the importance of being grateful for having something wonderful to read, whether yours or not. He spoke so softly and sincerely, and the moment felt so intimate I had to fight back the tears.
I thanked him, teary eyed. All doped up on the possibility of "writer angels" and the gratitude of Sedaris' presence and advice, I felt so disoriented with happiness. My boyfriend took my hand and guided me out of the building, buckled my seat, and drove me home through the desert mountains. Darkness never looked so beautiful.