The Connecticut College art department and the adjacent Lyman Allyn Art Museum have teamed up for a provocative exhibit exploring how faculty members conceptualize and create their work – and how teaching influences them.
Inspired by the Pimsleur Method language-learning programs, humorist and best-selling author David Sedaris said he has thought about creating a language program of his own.
It would be for foreign business travelers visiting the United States and would start with the airport news stand.
Laying a magazine upon the counter, the Sedaris program would warn travelers, you will be asked by the cashier, “Do you want some water to go with that?”
“This will be asked as if the two things should not really be sold separately, as if to really properly read a copy of Us Weekly you will have to rinse your eyes out with a $4 bottle of Evian.”
The sales technique of “top selling” or “upselling,” aimed at getting customers to spend more money, was just one of the subjects satirized in essays Sedaris read during his Daniel Klagsbrun Symposium on Creative Arts and Moral Vision appearance on the Connecticut College campus in October.
The meek-sounding writer and spoken-word performer, who gained fame on NPR in 1992 with his “SantaLand Diaries” about working as a Christmas elf in a department store, also read an essay about growing up as a shy and athletically challenged youth.
Sedaris, 56, recalled his nervousness at going out to play softball for the first time, which happened during gym class his first day in junior high. As he stood in the outfield, he said, he found himself thinking back to the time in second grade when he wet his pants in class.
“There was a john right there in the classroom, but I guess I was too shy to raise my hand and ask permission to use it.” As his teacher wrote on the blackboard, he recalled, “the urine overflowed my scalloped seat and began to trickle over the edge.”
“There were a hundred things that might go through a person’s mind at such a moment. But what went through mine — and I remember it like was yesterday — was, ‘If only I had a fan.’ The idea was it would dry my trousers and evaporate what was now pooling at my feet and spreading out toward the desks that surrounded me. But that could have taken days. If you’re going to engage in magical thinking, why not wish that everyone had wet their pants or that you could go back in time?”
The anecdote was part of an essay Sedaris said he was working on, “Move On Up a Little Higher.” He said he was reading it to an audience for the first time, and as he read he made notes on the text. Later, in response to an audience question, he explained that this was the first of 40 planned appearances promoting his latest collection of essays, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls,” and that he would be making adjustments to the piece after each reading based on audience reaction.
As is customary with the College’s Klagsbrun Symposium, Sedaris met with students earlier in the day and was interviewed about his writing method and career. Sedaris’ essays blend wit with gentle social commentary. He said he is always grateful when something bad happens to him because it gives him material. He told the aspiring writers, “I generally feel like the most embarrassing thing you can say is the thing most people can relate to.”
Now in its 16th year, the Klagsbrun Symposium was established by the Klagsbrun family as a memorial to Daniel Klagsbrun ’86. The event has brought to campus an array of famous authors over the years, including Saul Bellow, Adrienne Rich, Elie Wiesel, Sandra Cisneros, Joseph Brodsky, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Cunningham, Dorothy Allison, Tobias Wolff and Art Spiegelman.
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