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NPR Arts & Life

Forget 'Good Times,' David Sedaris Is Far More Interested In 'Bad Behavior'

David Sedaris' new book of stories covers his beach house, his family and getting older. His best advice for aging well? Try "being rich."
David Sedaris' new book of stories covers his beach house, his family and getting older. His best advice for aging well? Try "being rich."

From intestinal distress to family dysfunction, writer David Sedaris has spent decades sharing some of the most intimate aspects of his life. Still, there are some topics that make him uncomfortable.

"Nothing makes me more self-conscious writing in my diary than if I'm writing about something good," he says.

Cataloging achievements or compliments doesn't sit well with him: "I just think, 'God, if anyone were to find this diary, I would look so bad, congratulating myself here,' " he says.

Instead, Sedaris prefers to write about "bad behavior" — both his own and others'. "Is it my fault that the good times turn to nothing while the bad burns forever bright?" he asks.

Sedaris' new book, Calypso, features stories about family, aging, mortality and his North Carolina beach house.

Sedaris is now 61. "I feel like if I robbed a bank, this would be the perfect time to do it," he says. "Because when the police said, 'What did he look like?' they'd say, 'He had gray hair.' That's all people see after you're a certain age: Is that you have gray hair."


Interview Highlights

On his accumulated wisdom — or lack thereof

I'm giving a commencement address in a few days, and so I tried to put my wisdom down on paper, and I thought, "OK, what have I learned?" And it was really kind of sad, because of the things I've learned is: You really needed to be careful about scented candles. That was like one of my hard-earned bits of wisdom. Another one was to always have a joke tucked in your back pocket. ...

I just thought, "What do I know? What has this advanced age gotten me?" and it wasn't much, really, in terms of wisdom. ... I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm not the smartest person; I'm rarely the smartest person in the room. I have other qualities, but searing intelligence isn't one of them.

On his father aging "quietly"

My dad is 95. I have to admire him because he keeps so much to himself. I mean, I would wager that when you're 95 even your hair hurts and he doesn't ever talk about any of it. ... You'll say, "You had an operation on your shoulder?" and he didn't even tell anybody about it. He just does it quietly. I really have to admire him for that.

On his hobby of picking up trash on the side of the road

I do it anywhere, depending on the season, from four to eight hours a day. ... I go out now again after dinner and I'll go out at 11 o'clock at night for another two, three hours and I wear a head lamp ... it frees up my hands so I can have my bag and I can have my litter picker. I'm out there on busy roads after midnight because there's not as much traffic. ... It can be exciting to me, because I don't know what's next — something else could come along.

On how listening to books and podcasts helps clear his head

If I'm alone with my own thoughts [then] my thoughts can kind of churn ... but then the iPod came along, or the Walkman before that. ... I'd listen to audiobooks and podcasts and so I don't have to be alone with my thoughts anymore.

On trying not to bicker with his longtime boyfriend Hugh in front of guests

I've been around other couples when they're bickering and it just looks so bad and you leave and you think, "Oh my god. That's what their marriage is like? That's what their relationship is like?" And so I don't want people to leave the house knowing the truth. ... I don't think that we bicker or argue more than most people, it's just sometimes you're around somebody and you're comfortable with them and you let that show — and afterwards I pull Hugh aside and say, "That cannot happen again."

On choosing not to get married

We're not married. I wanted gay marriage to become legal and then I wanted nobody to act on it. I thought that would've been perfect — to get the right and then to say, "You know what? We don't want that." ... That's what I want: I want the right not to do it. ...

I like [calling Hugh my] "boyfriend," and I'll take "boyfriend" to my grave, I really will. When people say, "He's kind of too old to be a boyfriend," I think, "Well, if you're not too old to wear shorts, you're not too old to be a boyfriend."

On monogamy

Hugh and I both value fidelity equally. It's important to both of us, so that's something we don't have to worry about. ... Sometimes in a dream I'll have sex with somebody else, and then even in my dream I think, "Oh no! I'm going to have to tell Hugh. I can't keep it a secret from him. My relationship is over!" And I'm asleep. I can't even cheat on Hugh in my sleep.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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