I went to see ‘An Evening with David Sedaris’ on Sunday. For those who don’t know him, he’s an American, gay, Anglophile, litter hating, observational anecdotist cum raconteur. He’s also very funny.
As I absorbed his thoughtful humour and sharp observation and wished myself as perceptive as he, he began to read from his journals. He’s been writing these for forty years – I’ve managed ten. He recounted how, as he’s aged he finds himself sharing – perhaps over-sharing – his increasing problems with urine. Namely his inability to completely empty himself when peeing with the inevitable dark patch on his pants (probably meaning both the British and American senses of that word). He ended with a ditty seen on a rest room wall somewhere in North Carolina (not sure if there’s a relevance to the geography – perhaps my American readers can enlighten me)
You can shake it all you like
You can do a little dance
But the last three drops
Are always in your pants
He received the laugh expected and several wry looks and nodding heads – the audience was d’un certain age.
I’d already noted how his partner and his family appeared regularly in his stories – no sanitised names, nothing the protect the innocent and now he shared something very intimate. He wasn’t embarrassed; he told it for the joke and it worked and no one went away thinking him rude, cheap, grubby or whatever else might be thought. Neither did we pity him.
And I thought – I tell stories about me and (some) of my family and often I play the stories for the humour I can find. And sometimes for the underlying message. Or to highlight a topic or thought or issue. But I also keep my counsel on a lot too.
And in telling the stories I do, I re-imagine scenes. I add dialogue and description, sometimes from decades ago. And, of course, I am not transcribing those conversations or remembering exactly what someone was wearing. I describe the essence of my memory – a core image from that time – and I embellish it.
As I imagine does David Sedaris. And all of us. And the temptation, in that colouring in of the back and white sketch, is to round off a corner, add a little bridge, change a character to improve the humour. And gradually the photograph becomes an impression and maybe even a cubist interpretation.
And is this ‘honest’? Am I being ‘honest’ with you?
Yes I think it is and, within limits, I am. We write what keeps us comfortable (and in my case, married). We write only as far as we are prepared to offend. We bare only those parts of ourselves we are prepared to do. And if we allow a narrative to develop from a seed to amuse and entertain in ways which shine a light on the past but through the prism of embellishment, well no puppies were killed in the process. And if we let it lie, as a truth, as an imagined version of the event, even when we know it wasn’t the version of the event, well, so?
But while I will continue with my own version of honest writing, I doubt I’ll be writing about any waterworks issues just yet (not that I have any of course). But I might tell some funny penis stories sometime.. like the time I caught mine in the kitchen drawer…