Lena and David: Alone Together At Last


Lena Dunham and David Sedaris were adorable together last night in their one-night show ”Alone Together At Last.” Zadie Smith was the surprise introducer (not sure who backed out), and there was a joke about the three of them living under the stairs at the New Yorker together. When Lena arrived at the podium she said, “Isn’t she pretty?” and later in the performance David joked that when Lena called Zadie from a cab on her way to the show she offered her $20 to do the intro, and that he was surprised when she actually took it from him in the dressing room.

These are funny people, but as we know they’re also quite serious. They manage to infuse serious topics like suicide, sex, and sibling rivalry with enough wit to cut the edge but with a safe distance from cloying and predictable. Zadie spoke of the “ferocious honesty” that distinguishes both writers, and their Carnegie Hall performance didn’t disappoint.

Lena started with a joke about how scared she felt on stage without her “shield of nudity,” and she talked a lot about nudity but not until she’d finished talking about stage fright, and I loved it because the one time I stood on a stage and told a story I did the same exact thing: I talked about what I was scared about instead of launching into my story while my heart beat in my toes.

Lena read some new essays (from her forthcoming book that sold for $3.5 MILLION dollars…), and said before beginning, “If I mess up a word let’s just be comfortable with that,” and then, before a sold-out audience, on a stage known for outstanding acoustics, a writer started reading. This is amazing in itself, isn’t it?

Lena’s opening essay was called “Sex Scenes, Nude Scenes and Publicly Sharing Your Body.” She told us about how her mother invented the nude selfie, and went into great detail about her mother’s process and costuming.  She talked about the nude sex scenes in Girls and how most professional actors have canned responses like, “It’s no big deal,” or “It’s like being in bed with your brother,” and she said “Because no one has ever accused me of being professional or an actor I’m going to tell you the truth.” The audience screamed and laughed, and when we stopped she did just that.

Then Lena introduced her idol, David Sedaris, and he was the cutest thing ever arriving on the stage in a pink shirt and what looked to be a vintage Liberty of London tie. (It looks an awful lot like one I recently found in my grandfather’s tie collection that spans multiple generations.) He’s on a forty-city tour (he’s a writer, not a rockstar; how awesome.), and he’s ridiculously comfortable on stage, which is good because he started by reading a story that was recently published in the New Yorker about his sister’s suicide and he seemed to need no preparation beyond a sip of water to tell his family’s tough truth.

It’s the kind of essay (read it here if you missed it) that makes writers limp with envy. He does one of the smartest, bravest things you can do: he tells us up front, in the very first sentence what this essay is about and he’s not coy, not even for a hot second, when he begins, “In late May of this year, a few weeks shy of her fiftieth birthday, my youngest sister, Tiffany, committed suicide.”

And then, because he’s David Sedaris, he made us laugh just about a dozen sentences later. He tells us extraordinary details that make us cry and reflect, then he says something that makes people pitch forward and back in their seats because their bodies just can’t contain the force of their laughter.

The essay, “Now We Are Five,” is over four thousand words, yet I don’t think he lost anyone’s attention on the roller coaster ride of emotion and insight. I’ve read the thing from to back twice to myself and once aloud to my mother, and STILL, I was gripped. If you’re not a fan of David Sedaris but are for some reason reading this, please go buy one of his books immediately. Holidays on Ice would be a seasonally appropriate choice, and you can read an excerpt here in an essay called “SantaLand Diaries” about when he was an elf at Macy’s.

Lena and David flip-flopped a few more times on the stage, and at the end Lena asked the audience, “How good is he at reading?” and his response was, “How good is she at thinking.” Planned or not, it was friggin’ adorable.

My mother and I could see every bit of how adorable they were and the subtle expressions on their faces as they read because we were lucky to have front row seats. We had them because I only learned about the show last Thursday, and also because even if I’d heard about the show before the tickets went on sale in early September it’s unlikely I’d have bought them because I’d have told you it was pretty unlikely I’d still be here at the end of November.

But life is funny like that.

If not downright hilarious, life is definitely surprising. That’s one of the themes that wound through Lena and David’s stories last night. Lena said that when we enter into relationships we’re making “a basic human promise to be decent,” but it doesn’t always work out that well. David took us on his family’s summer vacation just a month after his sister’s suicide and he brought us to beach-towel conversations with his siblings and his solo bike rides alone. He was brave to admit that he hadn’t talked to his sister Tiffany in eight years, not since their last falling out, and though he was often near her town and despite his father’s encouragement: he hadn’t reached out.

While talking about her nude sex scenes, Lena said something about bravery, “It’s not brave if it doesn’t scare you.” Lena and David push boundaries, and this I like. I also liked sitting so close to two of my writing idols. Here’s a picture of them, together, on that beautiful stage:



White Girl Problems

The other day I was riding down a ¾ mile boardwalk in a stretch golf cart, sitting next to my friend, Ned, with his girlfriend Kim a seat away. We chatted as the cart whisked us through the mangroves to a long-waited Missoula reunion beach day at the Waldorf Astoria’s beach.

(NOTE: We all miss Missoula. Everyone who ever lived in Missoula and moved away misses that special valley city. We can hardly talk about it sometimes, though we do. When I walked into Ned and Kim’s apartment they were streaming Tracy Lopez on the Trail 103.3. It’s almost enough to snake the wind out of our sails, but with the promise of a $5 Veuve Clicquot happy hour we kept the canvas taut.)

“I’m so happy to be hanging out with you guys today,” I said, “Mostly because I want to see you, and partly because I don’t have to think so much.” I didn’t want to think about writing or where I’m going to live or if I’ll be a gypsy forever. I also didn’t want to think about which beach to go to, where to park, or where to potentially have happy hour, though I never do that because I’m mostly alone which I added to the list of things I was glad not to think about.

Then I laughed, “I really have some white girl problems, don’t I?” Ned suggested a sitcom based around my WGP, and it didn’t sound like a bad idea. I have a good life. It hasn’t always been easy, but a lot of the complications, difficulties, and quandaries I’ve encountered have been of my own creation, which have been mostly fueled by a fear of boredom.

Fear of boredom is a real thing. I Googled it, just a second ago, because I highly doubted it could be a real thing. But it is and it has a name: Thaasophobia. And a definition: fear of boredom, fear of being idle. It’s real, people.

Now, I don’t have a full-blown version of this phobia—I don’t actually have heart palpitations and sweating and shortness of breath—but I don’t exactly sit idle much. I manage my phobia by keeping my brain and/or my body in constant motion. The idea of a movie marathon makes me nervous, and I can barely sit through a television program (unless it’s HBO’s Girls) without doing something else. Folding laundry, filing my nails, anything but just one thing.

There’s just so little room (or excuse) for idleness in our modern lives. While waiting anywhere from twenty seconds to five minutes we do not have to just sit and breathe. We can facebook, text, email, check weather, check stocks, and shop. We can plan, punch items into calendars and plot the next umpteen years of our lives. We forget to just Be. Here. Now.

I have no tattoos, but I’ve thought that if I were going to get one that’s what it would be: Be. Here. Now. (My mother is one of the biggest fans of this blog, and I know she’s among the first to read this, and I will say that so far I’ve abstained from getting that reminder on my person but if I was going to it would be at the top of my neck up around my hairline. We’ll just have to pray (if I got it) that I won’t go through a head shaving stage or get cancer and lose my hair during treatment. But seriously: if I lose my hair to save my life I hope that a tattoo will be the biggest WGP that we have.)

Anyway. Here’s the thing: I’ve never been bored. I attribute this mostly to intrinsic loves of reading and observation. I started reading early and I’ve never stopped. A boyfriend once teased me for traveling always, everywhere, with a book and a booklight. Now I have an iPhone and an iPad and I will never, ever run out of things to read. People watching is one of my favorite past times, and I’ve never been much of a bird watcher but I’m not dead yet.

There’s just no reason to be bored. But there is a damn good reason to stop all this multi-tasking and perhaps find more joy and value in uni-tasking. I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD, but I have a lot of the symptoms and also managed to unconsciously develop some of the coping mechanisms.

I can do a lot and I can also do it fast. When I worked in office environments a million years ago I usually was able to get more work done than was expected in half the time, and that left a lot of time for emailing friends, shopping, and chatting with my favorite co-worker of all-time behind the closed door of our office where we worked as researchers. When the door was closed folks knew we were busy “researching” and/or discussing marriage, the absence of, and places we’d traveled to and still longed to see. We ate apples and did squats and we laughed; we were very busy. Massage was a great career choice for me because there are no shortcuts: an hour massage is an hour massage. Simple. Plain. Coping.

I wrote a 96,000 word book-baby in three months, and now I’m working hard to edit that baby into having some walking legs, and I think there’s a good chance there’s been a bit of a post-partum situation going on so I’m doing something new: I’m being gentle with myself.

Today I announced on Facebook that I was going to reward myself FIRST by going to the beach, and then could write later. Of course I couldn’t just sit on the beach (!!!) listening to the mullet fish bodies slap the water. I couldn’t just watch the egrets and sand crabs. I tried, then I Googled “Do egrets burp” because I swore I heard it and the answer was yes.

What I did do on the beach was read. I read in my chair but was *this close* to a shoulder injury so mostly read tummy down on my towel and have the stinging back to prove it. And the reading made me feel okay about the writing break because, as Stephen King said in his seriously awesome book ON WRITING:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Perhaps and I could have or should have gone to the beach sans phone, sans book, with only a towel. Maybe one of these days I’ll give myself a true break. Maybe I’ll go to Thassos, the northernmost Greek Island. It’s in the Aegean Sea, geographically part of Macedonia, and once ruled by the Turks.

The wiki on the island lists the communities that have over one hundred inhabitants, which leads me to believe that there are lots of small towns where a girl like me could enjoy a cup of coffee, a book, and some people watching. The island produces honey, olives, olive oil, wine, and goat/sheep products. {I could live there.}

The beaches sound delightful. Some have lots of pines, some white sand, some turquoise blue swimming holes. There is camping as well as restaurants, bars and nightclubs. There’s quiet and there’s life. There’s honey and wine and goat cheese. {I could live there.}

There are monasteries and archeological sights and a folklore museum. Painters, poets, authors and scholars lived there. Hegemon of Thassos is from there. He “transformed the sublime into the ridiculous” by slightly altering the words in poems; he’s known as the inventor of parody. I mean…seriously…I love him. And don’t make me say it again, but don’t try to stop me: I could live there.

Or at least visit. The island is rich in history, resources, and minerals. For goodness sakes they mine calamine there, which has been the official skin soothing lotion of my life what with my allergic reactions to bites and the poisonous vines and pretty much anything that can sting and/or inflame the skin. It’s occurred to me on more than one occasion that perhaps my highly reactive skin is a symptom of my overactive brain. It’s a possibility for sure, and let’s just say: my skin isn’t nearly as reactive as it used to be.

In the meantime I’ve poached a picture of the Giola swimming hole on Thassos, and will go for a sunset run with Lucky dog and dream about international travel. I’ll ponder the possibility of going for a run without music, just to hear the sound of our feet and breath. Just to Be. Here. Now. without ink on my skin to remind me, without the thumping of bass in my ears to keep me going (and pretending that I’m still a teenager). And that, today, will be my biggest White Girl Problem.