There is an interesting exchange in Marc Maron’s entertaining WTF interview with David Sedaris when Maron compliments Sedaris on his ability to avoid writing about topics that are so dark he can’t get out of them. Sedaris pauses before responding with something like, “That’s a kind way of putting it.” I can’t say for certain what Sedaris is getting at with his reply, but it strikes me that both men see what Maron is describing quite differently. Maron, a stand-up comedian by trade, would consider it a problem if, in a routine, his material got so dark that he couldn’t make his audience laugh again. Sedaris, on the other hand, comes from a more literary perspective. It’s not that he is unconcerned with being funny, but he gets his laughs in the pages of The New Yorker, not on a comedy stage. It seems to me, then, that Sedaris understands how Maron’s observation hits on his limits as a writer.
While Sedaris is perfectly capable of offering certain kinds of insights, they occupy a territory that is surrounded by a dark terrain that it seems he knows he is unwilling or unable to penetrate. Either way, it bespeaks a writer who cannot sound out the depths of life. I don’t mean to imply that truth, and the wisdom that arises from it, only comes from suffering and darkness. People can come out of suffering as unwise as they went into it. But suffering and darkness are part of life. Without being able to get to the place that really hurts, that is miserable and awful, or at least unsettling, and bring some of that back to one’s reader, a writer is only making partial excursions into life. It’s this timidity, I suspect, that Sedaris understands characterizes his writing.
Before I’m accused of being a pessimist, of being told that life is so much more than
suffering and darkness, I want to state what I think is obvious: I’m quite aware that life contains joy and happiness. In fact, I think it’s just as debilitating for a writer to dwell only in darkness. Life is fuller than that. Writers need not dwell in one extreme or the other, nor do they need to dwell in some kind of twilight, either. Rather, they must be willing to travel, however uncomfortably, from one realm to the other, crossing the border between them when necessary, and bringing back what they find for us to experience in their writings.