Posts Tagged ‘David Sedaris’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

On Monday, I made the short trip from Chicago to Milwaukee to see one of my favorite musicians, Frank Turner. As with many of my favorite singers/bands, he was playing a mid-sized venue (this one being the conveniently named Turner Hall) packed with several hundred devoted fans.

I arrived a few hours early so I could eat before the show. As I left the parking garage next to the venue,  I saw Frank walking back to his tour bus from the next block over and then hanging out with a handful of people, either crew or band mates.

I did a double take, but mostly this didn’t strike me as unusual. As a fan of several lesser known artists, I’ve had countless sightings like this one, because these artists don’t need to hide backstage from rabid, adoring legions. Rather, I’ve seen them by their tour busses, or watching the opening acts with the crowd, or having a drink at a nearby bar after the show.

And I have a policy to not approach them.

Frank Turner

My point-of-view at Frank Turner’s show.

I was heading in the direction Frank had just come back from, but I walked past with no fanfare and no acknowledgement. A few hours later, I would be right near the stage being a fan: singing, dancing, taking pictures. But for now, I treated him like any other stranger on the streets of Milwaukee.

I almost always make this decision about celebrity close encounters, but I’ve never thought out why I act this way.

Until now.

1. Remember – celebrities eat lunch, too: As a teacher, I can empathize with celebrities in one small way: some people in our audience (the students) forget that teachers still exist when not “on stage” in class. We aren’t chained to the lectern; we eat lunch, we have friends and family, we need sleep. Likewise, maybe Frank was relaxing pre-show or coming back from lunch on the same street I was heading toward. He didn’t need me bugging him. Our time for interaction is during the show.

2. Respect, but don’t idolize: A decade ago, I saw comedian Lewis Black at the small Zanies Comedy Club in Vernon Hills before he got famous and started headlining theaters. Afterward, he was at folding table in the back selling his CD. No one was approaching. As I exited past him, I paused to shake his hand and said, “Great show.” He smiled and said thanks. I didn’t orchestrate some attempt to go talk to him, and I wasn’t being a fanboy looking to repeat my favorite punchlines back to him. I didn’t want pictures or autographs. We were in proximity and I quickly acknowledged that I enjoy and respect his work. End of transaction.

3. Do I honestly have anything to say?: One of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, packs theaters for hilarious readings of his works. Before and after his shows, he signs books and meet fans. Oftentimes the line is hundreds deep. The one time I saw him at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, IL, he was sitting alone at a table by the front entrance when I arrived. I could have walked directly up to him, but I didn’t. This is a man whose work I adore, whose writing I try to emulate, whose literature I teach in my classes – yet still, I had no pressing questions or statements for him. So, what was I going to say? “Hey, I love your writing.” No kidding – I’m at the theater, aren’t I? Likewise with Frank or any other artist, do I honestly have anything of value to say to them that they don’t hear from hundreds of other fans at every stop on tour?

4. What if they suck?: Normally, I separate my feelings about an artist from my feelings about their work. But with my absolute favorites, I am nervous. What if they are mean or rude or dismissive? What if they say something stupid that I disagree with? What if they are generally unlikable? I fear that would ruin, or at least severely harm, my ability to enjoy their work in the future.

So, after a truly Wisconsin meal of a bratwurst, cheese curds, and some brews, I headed back to the venue and took my position at the foot of the stage. When I saw Frank this next time, it was a far more fitting situation for our interaction.

by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

“Frank Warren is the creator of The PostSecret Project, a collection of highly personal and artfully decorated postcards mailed anonymously from around the world, displaying the soulful secrets we never voice. Since November 2004, Warren has received more than 500,000 postcards, with secrets that run from sexual taboos and criminal activity to confessions of secret beliefs, hidden acts of kindness, shocking habits and fears. PostSecret is a safe and anonymous ‘place’ where people can hear unheard voices and share untold stories” (Source)

I first heard of PostSecret in 2007 while I was an Adjunct Instructor at another university. A student introduced me to the books, because they fascinated her and she wanted to talk about them. I was instantly fascinated, too, for a number of reasons: the ingeniousness of Warren’s original idea, the secrets themselves that range from funny to sweet to shocking, and the somewhat-voyeuristic pleasure readers get from hearing all the secrets.

My student also tried to convince me to let the class make their own postcards as an assignment, but I wasn’t clever enough to think of a way to give credit to students for anonymous work. “Alright class, remember to put your names in the upper right hand corner of your anonymous secrets and pass them forward!”

Her request, however, spoke to one of the most interesting effects of PostSecret: when looking at the postcards written by others, it’s almost impossible not to question, “What would I write on my own postcard?”

That we stop to ask that question tells me that PostSecret is proof that we all A) carry secrets and B) in some capacity or another, deal daily with self-disclosure and self-censorship. Each person has their own boundaries, but no matter how expansive the boundaries may be or what those boundaries do or don’t contain, they are still there.

Take for example one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, who is best known for his hilarious and revealing stories about himself and his family. At times, what he is willing to reveal seems so private that it appears he has erased all boundaries in favor of telling a good, funny story. But that’s not the case. During one of his readings that I went to at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, he did Q&A to end the show. Someone asked him if his family ever gets mad because of the personal stories he tells about them. To paraphrase, Sedaris said, “No, because I know what stories my family wouldn’t want me to tell, and I don’t tell those.”

All of us have a wealth of stories, experiences, information and even some secrets. In both our personal and professional lives, we have to deal daily with what bits are appropriate or inappropriate, helpful or damaging. We have to make complex choices in a hurry about what to let out into the world and what to keep internalized.

I sometimes give off the appearance that my boundaries aren’t there. If a personal story fits within the context of a discussion – be it with friends, family, students or colleagues – and I think telling the story will do more good than harm, I go for it. As a freshman in college, I gave a speech about my struggles with clinical depression, anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. The feedback from my classmates and professor was that I was brave to be so open and honest about something so personal. I didn’t feel that way at all, because that information didn’t fall outside my boundaries of what is open for public consumption. But, for them, if they were in the same situation, that information would have been outside.

Given that we all have different boundaries, it can sometimes create the illusion that a particular person has no censor, no boundaries. It’s not the spoken – but rather the unsaid – that reveals our boundaries. By that measure, I feel most often like a scene from my favorite movie, Chasing Amy. Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) reveals a secret that surprises his partner-in-crime Jay (Jason Mewes). When Jay asks why he of all people never heard that secret before, Silent Bob responds, “What you don’t know about me I can just about squeeze in the Grand f’n Canyon.”

Whenever I offer up a personal story that seems particularly revealing to my audience, whomever they may be, I think to that “Grand f’n Canyon” of information that few people – or maybe even no one – knows about me. It may seem like I’m revealing “secrets” but my secrets are safely in the canyon.

And PostSecret shows how we all establish our own boundaries and that we all have our own “Grand f’n Canyons,” though they all vary in size and content.

With that said, what would you write on your PostSecret postcard? Leave your name, e-mail address, and response in the comments section.