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David Sedaris on Keeping a Diary, Impractical Fashion and Cheating His FitBit

The bestselling author on flushing the toilet and staying in budget hotels. (Warning: Contains partial nudity.)

David Sedaris

Hometown Raleigh, North Carolina

Home Base West Sussex, United Kingdom

Claim to Fame Writing blockbuster memoirs, like Me Talk Pretty One Day

Current Project Touring to promote his latest book, Calypso, a collection of personal essays, which came out earlier this year

Next Trip Norway and Finland. “I’ve been to Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, so I’m finishing off the Nordic countries.”

You address serious topics in your new book Calypso, like your mother’s drinking. How come?
I’ve wanted to write about drinking for a while – about loving somebody and struggling to be loyal – but I had to get a certain distance from it first. I can’t tell you how much mail I got from people with similar experiences when that essay first came out in The New Yorker. I never think of my writing helping people, but it struck a chord.

You’ve kept a daily diary since 1977. Why is this process important for you?
I think it’s a compulsion, but most days, what I write in my diary is not of any interest to me or anybody. I know it will come in handy later though. When my sister Tiffany died, I typed her name into my digitized diary and all the highlights about her popped up. Some of my siblings had forgotten the memories I’d documented.

Any souvenirs of note from recent trips?
In Tokyo, I bought myself a pair of black sequin culottes and a pink sequin shirt that cost $500. The washing instructions are: “NO.” You simply cannot wash it.

How do you find inspiration on the road?
When I’m in a crummy hotel, I often leave with a story. One night, I came back to my hotel late from a book-signing and there was a guy in the hallway, naked except for a T-shirt. Did he lock himself out of his room? Was he kicked out? I think about him all the time.

What’s the first thing you do when you get to your hotel?
Flush the toilet. You do not want to find out too late that the toilet doesn’t flush. I learned that years ago.

How do you approach difficult subjects with humour?
I don’t mind getting heavy, but I don’t want to sit in front of a few thousand people and just hear them coughing. One of the new essays that I brought on tour is about guns and shootings. I went to a firing range where they sold products to conceal guns and there were boxer briefs with a built-in holster. I’ve written that I would call them “gunderpants.” It’s so funny to me and it really works with the audience. I want people to laugh in the more serious stories, too – it’s like letting the pressure out of an overheated radiator.

You’ve written about studying other languages. How does it affect your personality?
I am totally different in Japanese and in German. The online Japanese program that I study with uses a level of politeness that a store clerk would use. Instead of saying “I want a ticket to Shinjuku Station,” I was taught to say, “If it’s not too much trouble, I mean, if you don’t have a lot of other things to do, I would like a ticket to Shinjuku Station. Again, it’s up to you. Actually, I’ll just walk.” In German, I’m the super enthusiastic older gentleman. I’m not fluent, so I have no right to be the chatterbox that I am, but I love speaking German. You cannot shut me up.

In one essay, you discuss your obsessive relationship with your Fitbit. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to reach your step goal?
I need to destroy my Fitbit friends’ steps every day, so if I have to, I’ll cheat. Once, my flight was cancelled and I had to drive eight hours to get to my next tour stop, so I couldn’t walk much that day. After the show, a woman came to get her book signed and I said “What are you doing now?” Maybe she thought I was going to invite her to dinner, but I said “Here’s $20. I want you to put on this Fitbit and I want you to walk around for an hour.” And she did it!