Thursday, 25 September 2008

undo the laces

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Tuesday, September 23

Tonight I met David Sedaris. I had bought two copies of his latest book When You Are Engulfed In Flames in advance, so that K. and I could each have one signed.

Sedaris read several stories, some not (yet) published and excerpts from his diaries -including a number of "a man walks into a bar"-jokes he googled one day and the confession of a stewardess giving a whole new meaning to the words crop dusting - followed by an interview with former US correspondent for Dutch public news, Tim Overdiek, including a few questions from the apparently reticent crowd.

A few minutes into Sedaris' reading (after an introduction from someone from the organisers, the John Adams Institute, and one from Overdiek) K. got up and staggered out. That is to say, he got up and staggered into the back wall, disappearing behind one of the curtains that were lining three sides of the venue. He was retrieved and led outside by someone.

It may sound harsh, but I know him and I know he always finds his way home. So I didn't rush after him. The curtain incident, combined with his recent fall off the edge of a canal whilst trying to enter a public convenience (he landed in a boat and survived with only a few bumps and bruises but managed to give his little sister a near heart attack, ruin the clasp on a Rolex and tear his suit) might have been cause for concern, but fifteen minutes later I received a text message from Sunshine, simply saying "K. is home".

The colleague K. had invited to the reading and I stayed until the end of the reading, although I didn't work up the courage to stand up and ask him how buying drugs in a North Carolina trailer compared to Amsterdam.

Missed opportunity, obviously.

I joined the queue, with my two books under my arm, at almost the end because I met a friend of K.'s who's been on the wagon for fourteen years and who could probably handle this situation much better than I could. I waited for almost an hour as the author graciously chatted with everyone who came up to him. Every book that was offered up in front of Sedaris received a personal inscription.

Like a good friend I not only handed him both mine and K.'s copies but made sure to tell him that my best friend had walked out after a few minutes and had gotten lostin the curtains at the back. At the time I thought that Sedaris was just that professional that he just pretended not to notice, but apparently he hadn't at all, so it was a good thing I stuck around to make sure he found out.

Following this disclosure he gave us matching inscriptions:

To K. My boozy friend

To M.J. My sober friend in Amsterdam

Then I suddenly remembered I'd been reading another book of his on the train commute, which I'd started before K. invited me. So he signed that too and very graciously told me that if it could happen to him - that someone just called him because they wanted to publish his work - it could happen to me.

Unfortunately he'll be leaving for London in the morning, because I would have gladly skipped work to take him shopping - even in Makkum (a competitor for Delft when it comes to earthenware). I would have convinced myself I was doing him a favour because he doesn't drive and Makkum must be at least a two-hour train ride away. Obviously I would have no ulterior motive at all.

Something else that he mentioned during the interview made an impression on me. Any aspiring writer should do well to keep it in mind: you have to persuade the reader to step into your shoes, you can't just slap them down on the floor and expect them to jump in. This will lead to objections about bunyons and such. So to start a story, find a way for people to connect, a person or situation they all recognise (in his case a pedantic teacher), or, as he put it, undo the laces and open up the shoes for them.

I'm not sure if I just followed his advise with this post or not, but if you're still reading I must have done something right.

EDIT: I just remembered I also didn't stand up and offer this joke, in honour of Talk Like a Pirate Day last week:

A pirate walks into a bar and orders a shot of rum.

The bartender fills his order with a look of surprise. As he hands him his drink he says: "Excuse me for asking, but... you seem to have a steering wheel attached to your genitals."

The pirate downs the drink, slams the glass on the bar and looks at the bartender: "Arr, it be drivin' me nuts!"

1 comment:

sageweb said...

You sucked me into reading the entire post, so I guess that means you are good at what you do.

How lucky you are to meet him, very cool.