Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When In Doubt (see page 290)

To be honest, until our class discussion on Tuesday, I wasn’t sure whether or not I should take Amy Sedaris’ recipes in I Like You seriously. It feels strange to say that now, because after all, the recipes are the most straightforward and no-nonsense things about this cookbook, but I just kept thinking: Look at all the ridiculousness surrounding these recipes! Does she really mean for me to cook this? Or am I going to start heating up a skillet for sautéed spinach only to find that I’m missing one vital ingredient: weed.

What I found, however, is that the advice Sedaris scatters, apparently obliviously, throughout this book truly does carry weight. The chaotic layout of the book, the wholly dysfunctional and inappropriate references all enhance the realistic words of wisdom. My favorite piece of advice, by far, came in the form of Paul Sedaris’ Fuck It Bucket (see For a College Graduation, p. 189 & 290). “When shit gets you down, just say ‘fuck it’ and eat some mother fuckin’ candy” (290). Okay, so it’s vulgar and, yet again, probably inappropriate (although the way some of the sixth graders I’ve been teaching speak to one another tells me otherwise) but it explicitly and concisely sends Amy Sedaris’ message. Besides “I like you,” she seems to be sincere in the belief that things go wrong, that life is pretty much as messy and ugly (and delicious) as her jumbled recipes. When a party, or a relationship, or a Breathalyzer blows up in your face, it’s best to laugh or cook your way out of it… or just say “fuck it” and move on. Eat the candy, massage the rabbit at your feet, and stop worrying so much. I like that message. I like the whole Sedaris family, too, apparently.

Additionally, I think we’re meant to return to the issue of rules, of those standards of perfection to which we’re meant to rise. And we’re meant to ask ourselves: Why go to Bath & Body Works and pay $25.00 for bath salts when you can fill pantyhose with herbs and run bath water through it? Sedaris balances, in her clumsy-graceful way, on the divider between ridiculous and realistic, practical and pointless, intelligent and just plain stupid. What’s more, I think she makes it look a heck of a lot easier than it really is. Reading the book in its entirety, I’ve noticed that while Sedaris questions the boundaries we impose on our social lives, she also emphasizes certain social courtesies as well. The difference, I think, however, is that the courtesies she asks us to consider (seriously) are ones that only serve to strengthen bonds between people: good food at parties, a gift for someone opening his or her home to you, a little less worry and a little more laughter. All of these social elements strengthen relationships and create that solidarity we hope to find with people.

In light of this fact, I think the combination of recipes, ridiculousness, humor, and advice in this book is evidence of the kind of authenticity that seems pretty rare these days. It speaks to the fact that sometimes we do things simply for ourselves, but many times we do things because our actions promise us closeness with others. I’m not convinced that Sedaris was trying to make us laugh, necessarily. I really do think that this book illustrates her actual personality, her actual manner of speech (“I know that when I hear the words ‘It was a freak accident,’ I immediately think ‘I need to roast a chicken” p. 122). So, I think her humor is effortless and intelligent because it serves as an invitation for us to include ourselves among her friends. Sure, we don’t actually know her personally, so her references to certain people and places seem obscure. But the fact that she makes those personal references says that she’s not trying to hide.

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