Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Funny vs. Family

“I instinctively reached for the notebook I keep in my pocket and she grabbed my hand to stop me. ‘If you ever,’ she said, ‘ever repeat that story. I will never talk to you again.’

In the movie version of our lives, I would have turned to offer he comfort, reminding her, convincing her that the action she’d just described had been kind and just...In the real version of our lives my immediate goal was simply to change her mind... ‘Oh, come on,’ I said. ‘The story’s really funny, and, I mean, it’s not like you’re going to do anything with it.’

Your life, your privacy, your occasional sorry—it’s not like you’re going to do anything with it. Is this the brother I always was, or the brother I have become?”

(Sedaris 155)

In class, we’ve discussed how, when reading Sedaris, you can go from amusement and laughter on one page, to serious contemplation on another. This moment, for me, was one of the times when I was really moved by the poignancy of the pain and conflict in the author’s life. He is making a living by sharing embarrassing (and often painful) stories about his family. Yes, he writes embarrassing stories about himself as well, but that’s something he does not have to ask permission to do. Reading this part of the story made me realize that members of his family probably hate seeing their stories on the Bestseller list. We started to touch on this topic in discussion and we seemed to be trying to reconcile this truth for Sedaris. This passage is both disturbing and comforting for me. The fact that the author is perfectly aware of what he’s doing, and that he is truly conflicted by it, is somehow reassuring: “Is this the brother I always was, or the brother I have become?” We have talked at length about how humor and what we joke about and laugh at can teach us a lot about ourselves, our roles, and our society, and I think this is what is happening for Sedaris, here. Through writing, he’s realizing that he has outgrown the “certain roles” his parents had assigned him, and that’s he’s done so partly at his family’s expense (143). It’s almost as if, as he looks back on his experiences, writes about them, jokes about them, and reflects, Sedaris is able to identify the boundaries between his career and his family. Where is the line? What is okay to share? The fact that he does not write out the entire story that Lisa implores him not to share really says a lot. He seems to be developing a way to continue his hilarious work while maintaining a respect for some sacred aspects of his family life. We learned during Tuesday’s presentation that he decided not to turn his book into a movie, and I think that’s pretty significant.

There was a question on Tuesday about what aspects of Sedaris’s life are unique, and what are universal. I know this is a memoir so it is by nature unique to its writer. No one else lived this exact same life (or the 97% that is true). But I think a lot of people have lived parts of this life, and that’s why it can be both so funny and so painful. That’s also why I think it is acceptable for him to write about it. He’s writing stories about his family, but he’s writing stories that countless others can relate to as well. This is also why I don’t think it matters if the book is considered fiction or nonfiction. What fiction is somehow not based on some kind of universal theme or human experience? Even the more fantastical piece of fiction has some kind of human connection, or we would not want to read it. Whether or not these events happened, we can relate to them. They make us laugh, cry, think, and learn about ourselves.

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