Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium welcomed the critically acclaimed author and humorist David Sedaris as simply Dave last Monday. Not David. Not the formal Mr. Sedaris. But just Dave. He did not let the moment pass by quietly.
“No one ever calls me Dave,” said Sedaris, remarking that his last name has still been frequently mispronounced during his national speaking tour across the country.
His journey has subsequently sparked an interest in another, often poorly executed, kind of introduction. “I’m collecting pick up lines,” he said, “so if you have any, please let me know.”
Sedaris’s stories, known for their ingenious ability to balance humor and tragedy, allowed the audience to reflect on the subtleties and coincidences that happen in our daily lives. For Sedaris, these coincidences perk up when he is traveling with his family.
He moves us through his traveling encounters with workers in hotels and airports, emphasizing the zombie-like routines people create for the casualness of everyday language, pointing to fact that very little of what we say, we actually mean in passing. Asking “how are you,” becomes a phrase to hold no meaning. The overly used and misunderstood word “awesome” relegates that nothing in fact is ever, truly “awesome.”
His stories note more personal interactions could just as easily be replaced by the impersonal encounters we currently have with each other—if we continue to allow for the meaning behind our language to be so easily dismissed. If given the choice, in a decision between dull lies or frank truths, Sedaris will always choose the latter.
Sedaris’s writing holds a power to bring an audience to a common understanding of a moment, even if the story surrounds a deeply personal situation. Brought together on Thanksgiving for the first time since his sister’s suicide, Sedaris creates a scene that is familiar, yet personal to convey the details of the family’s grieving. The beauty displayed in his metaphors are unmatched in their ability to accentuate the duality he feels over his sister’s absence at the family gathering.
“How were you able to read such a personal story aloud and not cry?” asked someone in the audience after the reading was over.
“Because I didn’t like her very much,” Sedaris responded, a statement drenched in conflict.
Humor and grief meld into one. Sedaris’s rendering of his experience articulated how when adjoined humor, people can better reveal the depth of a situation to then create a greater understanding between people. Sedaris sees how we can translate our experiences to each other by seeking to become more personal, less afraid, and unrelentingly honest.