David Sedaris, the bestselling author of quirky and funny/serious books like LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS, SQUIRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNK, and ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, has recently delighted us with the first volume of selections from his diaries: THEFT BY FINDING: DIARIES (1977-2002).
I have been immersed in this volume for the past two weeks, skipping around as I please among his many entries. Not all entries from every year are included here, because that would necessitate a multi-volume collection. His book has given me the perfect opportunity to peruse the diaries I have kept continuously since 1984; for some inexplicable reason, I kept diaries during 1968-69, but abruptly stopped until the 1980s. I have no intention of publishing these, however, because I not a famous and rich established author and doubt anyone would have an interest in reading my ramblings. My diary entries, which are very short, basically recount factual information about what I did each day, and don’t include any of my explorations into the deeper meanings of these events; these deeper meanings come when I go back and read what I’ve written, and these meanings change every time I go over an entry. These volumes, some hand written, and one year (1989) typed, have been invaluable sources of verification of dates and milestones. Curiously, I made no mention in my entry on May 9, 1989 that that was the day my first Loafer column appeared. Sedaris notes on that day that he vowed to “1. Lose ten pounds, 2. Rewrite the last two stories so I can start something new, 3. Paint a picture of a mole, [and] 4. Make myself go out when I don’t want to.” I noted that it had “Rained all day”, that I presented a synthesizer demonstration to students at Jonesborough Elementary School (I was working in the retail music field at the time), and that I ate dinner at Pizza Inn. No Loafer debut mention, however (my first column was not called “Kelly’s Place”–that didn’t come until the following year).
In the introduction to his collection of diary entries, Sedaris notes that keeping a diary “teaches you what you’re interested in [and that the point of writing is] to find out who you are and to be true to that person.” He concludes that “In order to record your life, you sort of need to live it. Not at your desk, but beyond it. Out in the world where it’s so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need to sit down and write about it.” I agree, and urge you to become a diarist if you aren’t already one.
My diary collection appears in all shapes and sizes, from standard notebooks and leather journals to typed ring binders and itty-bitty memo books, not unlike the description Sedaris gives of his collection. I have found that handwritten entries work best, because every time I have attempted to create neat typed or word-processed entries I tend to get way behind and neglectful. The downside is that I have difficulty reading my handwritten notes.
I have had fun–and have had many layers of memories dredged up–by comparing my entries with Sedaris’. I selected four years–1985, 1987, 1992, and 2002–for comparison and came up with the following, hopefully-not-boring comparisons:
Thursday, December 26, 1985 (I was living in Knoxville at the time and working in a piano, keyboard, and organ store): On the day after Christmas, my Mom was visiting from North Carolina and we went out to eat with the owner of the music store and his wife at Pero’s–I had a strange combination of “chicken breast and steak.” Reading this entry brought back fond memories of my Mom and reminded me of the long-forgotten Pero’s. Sedaris, on this day, enumerated a list of his Christmas presents, including “a radio/tape player ghetto blaster, a wristwatch . . . .socks, underwear, a blank tape . . .two rubber stamps [and] a lighter that looks like Godzilla.” Wonder how many people today have any idea what a blank tape or a radio/tape player are. These, you see, were the days before social media and 24/7 connectivity to the internet.
Thursday, July 16, 1987 saw me playing my role as church organ demonstrator for Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church (I did a lot of these kinds of demonstrations in those days, and would occasionally get lucky and sell something). This entry reminded me of the important role retail music has played in telling me who I am. On that day, Sedaris had a perhaps more interesting, although not necessarily stranger day that I had when he “went to the library and passed a street musician [in Chicago] who had a live weasel in his guitar case. It was on a leash and was taking a nap. There was a girl at school who had a weasel, though she called it a ferret. She said it was sweet and would burrow under the covers while she was sleeping. If there was a weasel in my house, I’d move.”
On Halloween 1992 (which was a Saturday, the day before my birthday), Jeanna and I took our daughter, Dresdan to the Johnson City Mall for trick-or-treating and then on to her grandmother’s for a community trick or treat. Since that time, hardly anyone shows up in the neighborhood for trick and treating–we were luck to witness the golden age of this activity while Dresdan was young (she was three at the time and now, at 28, is preparing to have a daughter of her own). Sedaris relates that for his Halloween that day, “We went with Ken and Taro to see the Halloween parade. My favorite costume was a very thin, dirty Santa carrying a plastic bag of discarded cans. He was accompanied by a filthy Ronald McDonald.” Hard to top those experiences.
On Saturday, March 30, 2002 I “slept late” but made it to work (I was still doing my retail music bit at the time, but moved on to my current teaching job that Fall) on this rainy day. Later that day, my daughter (age 13) was presented with her Easter dress by her great-grandmother. To to top off the day, we inexplicably stopped at K-Mart on the way home–an activity that is now becoming a thing of the past. Sedaris, now living in New York, noted that during the past week, “Milton Berle, Billy Wilder, and Dudley Moore died,” making us aware how much meaning we attach to dead celebrities and how we mark the passing of our time by theirs.
Realizing that you might have difficulty relating to my life or David Sedaris’ I hope you will do some reflecting on the days of your own life and will find meaning in the smalest of things. It is indeed amazing how one phrase like “chicken breast and steak” or the recounting of a trip to K-Mart can speak volumes about the contours of our lives. Because these are the kind of things that define who we are.
Stop reading and go start a new diary entry.
See you next week.