Since working at Random House, I’ve rediscovered my past as a voracious reader. When I was a child I used to devour books – anything that was put in front of me – and in my house with a family room wall completely covered in bookshelves, that was a lot of books.
In college I began to get back into reading, stimulated by inspiring professors, poetically inclined friends, and the general need for escapism. I began to appreciate the work of David Sedaris especially, and preferred above all his and other short, realistic pieces rife with sharp, dry wit, and self and outside-of-self reflection. For these reasons I fell for authors like Dave Eggers as well (thanks to my lattice for the suggestion), but I never developed quite the fondness for him I had for David Sedaris. There are obvious issues of style and tone at play, but feeling like the voices in my head are one half Sedaris and one half Eggers, there’s no reason I should prefer the tone of one over the other. I think the reason I particularly favored Sedaris and other authors like him is that he writes short stories. I became very fond of the Best American Non-Required Reading and Short Stories collections (a creation of Eggers benefiting 826 – shameless plug to get familiar if you aren’t already), because they contained a compilation of – you guessed it – great short stories.
College was when I started my blog as well, and you can probably tell that I idolize these authors as I try (in vain, I know, but I am still young) to mirror their styles – picking an event or an idea, picking it apart with wit and introspection, and dissecting it meaningfully for my reader. Asking questions of myself and the world – and then answering them. All in a few hundred words. That’s the thing about a short story – maybe it’s 500 words or maybe it’s a few thousand, but either way, a few pages is all you need to have a complete and meaningful event. The end of this short is punctuated – the end of a Sedaris story is the crossing of some ribbons and the tying of a bow. A catawompus, slightly peculiar bow, which gives Sedaris his charm, but the ends are none the less tied together.
I like short stories because you can finish them between your classes or before boarding your plane or while your host is in the shower or whatever. They’re the Reeces Pieces of literature, the fun sized epic, the little niblets of delicious wisdom. And at the end, they make sense.
I want my life to be a series of short stories. And I want to believe I can write my way into that. Give me a few hours or a couple days to reflect on an event – a book club, a hurricane, a happy hour, a project at work, a trip to the park – and I’ll be able to tie a catawompus bow on top of it all. I’ll be able to tell you what it means, and more importantly what it meant, and how that shaped me and my life. I want to know who is going to mean what in my life, who I should really be investing in, and what moments are going to be the moments that define my life. I want to know what matters, and I want to know right now.
But that desire is built on faulty logic. You can’t understand what something means or meant until you see what comes next. David Sedaris wrote a lot about what things meant for him, but his best work is what he wrote about his childhood and younger years. He’s had decades to figure it out.
The other day we had I hurricane. Maybe you heard about it? Two of us were holing up in the apartment – we had a piñata, scotch, pirate booty, bubbles, glowsticks, candles, water, and a couple of hardcore flashlights – we were ready for anything. The wind teased the curtains in the open window, the rain spit droplets on the pane, and I was sticking me head out it, tapping my fingers on the frame feverishly. I wish it would just come already – if it’s going to knock us all on our asses that’s fine or if it’s just going to blow over and be something we laugh about that’s fine too, I just can’t stand the waiting. I just want to know how it’s going to be. He laughed and replied, in a tone that was both west-coast calm and profoundly unwavering, You don’t have any choice but to wait. You might as well try to relax. Pretend no one told you this was supposed to be a hurricane, and think of it like a weekend lounging around the house. He looked at me calmly, and began to string up the piñata.
At least if I have to wait and see, I might as well be smashing a piñata while I’m waiting, I thought.
Since I’ve started working at RH, I’ve started to appreciate novels again. A few like The Night Circus, Middlesex, and Norwegian Wood have captured my heart and made me adore them, and I’m beginning to get over my fear of investing time in that which can’t be wrapped up in a one-way subway commute.
That wasn’t meant to be a bow, not even a crooked one. I’m not good at waiting, I won’t ever be, and no amount of metaphor writing will change that. But the fact is that I have no choice but to wait. I might as well try to relax. Pretend no one told me, and it never occurred to me, that this might become a hurricane.
And I might as well be smashing a piñata while I’m waiting.