DUMP IT ALL IN THE DIARY

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

Your new book, Theft by Find­ing, is a digest of your diary en­tries from 1977 to 2002. I take the ti­tle to mean you ‘‘find’’ things of value that other people have dis­carded: their ob­ser­va­tions about them­selves, their thoughts, their di­a­logue?

The other night some­body told me a story — oh, it was this woman who was driv­ing me. She was talk­ing about her mother who lives in east­ern North Carolina and she had to get up re­ally early, and her mother said: “I hain’t even rolled over good.’’ I just thought: “I’ll take that!” It was so beau­ti­ful and so un­ex­pected, and of course I put it in my diary. I’m not go­ing to pre­tend I in­vented it but I am def­i­nitely not for­get­ting that. You’ve also made a mini-ca­reer out of pick­ing up trash in your area. Where do you find more in­ter­est­ing stuff: your diaries or trash?

I think my diary, but then, like the trash, my diary is a lot of the same stuff over and over. Writ­ing that I went some­where and ev­ery sin­gle per­son in the room was on their cell­phone — that’s the equiv­a­lent of a Red Bull can, an empty potato-chip bag. It’s like: ‘‘I’ve seen this be­fore. How many times have I seen this?’’ But still, I write it in my diary. That wouldn’t mean I’d put it in a book over and over again.

There were a lot of things that I put in the diary that my edi­tor kindly in­formed me weren’t as in­ter­est­ing as I thought they were … To me ev­ery turd that’s not in a toi­let is in­ter­est­ing … It’s in­ter­est­ing if it’s in the dress­ing room of Ba­nana Repub­lic [or] on the ground out­side of a Star­bucks. But some­body else might think: “Oh, my God, that’s dis­gust­ing, we don’t want to hear about that.” You’re re­mark­ably can­did in your diary — not just in your ob­ser­va­tions of other people but also about your­self. What’s the most un­flat­ter­ing de­tail or rev­e­la­tion?

I’m usu­ally not afraid to make my­self look bad. Some­body came up to me re­cently and said — I wrote it down ex­actly be­cause I’d never heard any­body say it, and I wasn’t hurt when she said it; I just thought: “Oh, that’s in­ter­est­ing” — ‘‘I think part of your charm is that you’re kind of a [ex­ple­tive]. You’re not a com­plete [ex­ple­tive], but you’re kind of one.’’ I think you would take that stuff out if you were that con­cerned with your im­age, but when you leave it in, then most people will think: “Oh — he’s like me.”

I just give the il­lu­sion of ex­pos­ing my­self. I mean, you have no ev­i­dence I have ever sat on a toi­let. I haven’t given ev­ery­thing away.

Oh, yeah. People get sick of you — well, not sick of you, but some­body comes along to re­place you, and I al­ways thought that would be hor­ri­ble. What I didn’t re­alise is that you get to be a cer­tain age, and then it makes sense. Has know­ing that you’re go­ing to even­tu­ally pub­lish your diaries changed the way you keep diaries now?

In 1986 I read some­thing out loud from my diary in my paint­ing class and people laughed, and it was val­i­dat­ing. That’s what changed the way I kept my diary be­cause then I re­ally started tak­ing care of things that seemed re­mark­able to me, be­cause I would think: “Oh, this could work in front of an au­di­ence.”

I’m al­ways sur­prised by things I’d been telling my­self for years had been other people’s fault, but then I would look in my diary and re­alise it was com­pletely my fault. But I think that’s a re­ally good as­pect of a diary — your life is just writ­ten down and on pa­per, and some­times you read it and you’re just ap­palled by your judg­ment or by your jeal­ousy or your pet­ti­ness. It’s OK to be re­minded of it ev­ery now and then and think: “Oh, right, I need to keep that in check.” Usu­ally you keep it in check for, like, 15 min­utes. But I’ll take 15 min­utes.

David Sedaris

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