This may sound obvious, but sometimes I reread things simply because I want to feel a certain way. When it comes to Sedaris, my go-to piece is his short story, “Repeat After Me” from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I’m happy to say the story is available for free online both to read and listen to, and I recommend you take ten minutes to check it out if you’ve never come across it before. As a writer, Sedaris is well-known his sense of humor, but I’ve always found his work to be more in the vein of tragi-comedy than anything else, and this story in particular wrecks me every time I read it.
He’s not the person I go to when I want a good laugh; instead, I seek him out when I want to think about what it means to be a writer and a sister and a flawed individual all rolled into one. So much of his work is about his family or his personal life, and it’s painful to witness. Sure, I can laugh at some of it – he’s damn good at what he does – but more often, I sink into melancholy .
All the best comedians are capable of manipulating me that way. The people I find the wittiest are also the sharpest and meanest and stupidest when it comes to the people they love. Those that choose humor as a career are often damaged and in need of a little extra care, and I love that about them. There is something remarkably powerful about a person so vulnerable who is also brave enough to stand up and declare himself a fool. It’s a gift to be able to spin pain into laughter, but it’s even more impressive to do it while retaining more than a shadow of excruciating truth.
I still remember the first time I read this piece, back in 2007. I had borrowed the book from a friend and was flipping around from story to story (which is very unlike me – I’m a linear reader to the last). “Repeat After Me” caught me completely off-guard, and I reread the last page of the story over and over again. That last paragraph buried itself into my heart like a hatchet, and no amount of tugging has ever loosened it from there. I read it at least once a year now just to see if I can look into that moment without flinching. I don’t know what I expect to happen, or if I even really want the feeling to change. I just know that I have to look…
For more about David Sedaris, go here.