8 Jul 2017

David Sedaris: 'I'm a desperately needy person'

From Saturday Morning, 10:08 am on 8 July 2017

"I think I peaked in 1988, and it's all downhill now. How awful, to decline this way. What makes young people young is that they see themselves going up, up, up. Not me, though. I'm old now" – a diary entry David Sedaris wrote when he was 35.

David Sedaris

David Sedaris Photo: supplied

American writer David Sedaris is famous for his self-deprecating and highly personal essay collections which manage to combine funny and sad in equal measure.

His latest book Theft by Finding is a compendium of his diary entries from 1977 to 2002.

In the diaries, which begin when he is 21, Sedaris doesn't go the usual route of describing his feelings because he has never really cared about his feelings, Sedaris says.

"Or else I knew that they were so subject to change."

They focus instead on things he saw or overheard – which could be some competitively priced chicken or the death of his beloved mother Sharon.

They also cover the period in which he gave up drinking. Like his mother, Sedaris was an alcoholic.

Addiction is sometimes in the blood, he says.

"You're an alcoholic or you're a drug addict and you're a child for a while and then you find your drug and attach yourself to it."

Now that he doesn't drink, people sometimes tell him he's boring.

"But they didn't know me when I was on drugs. I think I was more boring then than I am now."

Infusing even the saddest situations with absurdist humour is not a choice as much as something he can't not do, Sedaris says.

"Everything I write, in terms of an essay, I read out loud in front of an audience – and I don't want to get in front of an audience and just hear silence. Because I'm a desperately needy person I need to hear their laughter."

He recently turned down an invitation from National Geographic to write about giraffes, which are now an officially endangered species.

"I can't see myself reading out loud a 12-page essay about giraffes and if I can't read it out loud I don't want anything to do with it."