Jerry Seinfeld, an Alpaca and David Sedaris — And How was Your 2013?

Any time something comes to an end, is a good time to reflect.  Also to scarf down a pint of ice cream. In one sitting.  And then immediately regret it.  Still, you can’t help but once again reach for the spoon and the empty cardboard container and scrape off every last melted miniscule drop of  it until you are so sad that it’s really, truly over that your heart aches.  As do your teeth and your belly.  (Note to writers: this is not a metaphor for anything.  It is in fact, my ice cream consumption ritual.)

So before placing a “Closed” sign on 2013, here are a few of my highs and lows that may be or may not be worth sharing, but since I went to the trouble of flipping the pages of my Week-at-a-Glance (yes, nerds — it’s a paper calendar) all the way back to January…:

January 16:  “Alan Alda, 2:30 pm”  definitely a high, as I insisted on a face-to-face interview for my cover story in The Saturday Evening Post (vs. a phone chat). He’s one of my favorite actors, but I’m sure Alda regretted agreeing to meet me as soon as I nervously launched into a series of inane questions about his facial hair.  So for Alda, this was an all-time 2013 low.

January 28:  “Urologist, 11 am”  Obviously a low.  Don’t ask.

February 5:  “Guild Hall Essay Reading, 7:30 pm”  This was the very first in a series of readings that I produced in 2013 –”Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat and Fears“.  The treacherous trek way the hell out to East Hampton on that snowy evening was totally worthwhile–it was such a  HIGH to see Alec Baldwin! (Oh, not in person.  A plaque on a wall bears his name and yeah, I got to touch it!)

 

February 6-8:  “Boston” A total high strolling for the first time ever through Boylston Street, just hours before a massive blizzard rolled in and we had to unexpectedly roll back down to Long Island. But since in April Boylston Street and the people standing on it were blown to bits during the Boston Marathon, this actually turned into an unspeakably tragic low.

February 16:  “Wedding, 4 pm”  I was a guest at my first lesbian wedding, y’all!  Guess what?  Except for all the boobs, it was just like every other wedding. Sheer joy. Mind-boggling love. Cake.  So, yes — a high.

March 6:  “Smash, 2 pm”  Remember the ABC show for theater-geeks that began with so much promise and ended in so much snark? I was scheduled to be an extra for a shoot in the Brooklyn Navy Yards but then I was sent the rules and requirements on the colorful email below: show up at the crack of dawn schlepping your own wardrobe, makeup and accessories. Cell phones are confiscated and returned at the end of the shoot, which could take up to 16 hours.  No pay.  Bring a sandwich.  (Confession: I had been watching way too much of Ricky Gervais’ “Extras” on Netflix which does not at all romanticize being an extra so what the hell was I thinking, anyway?)

April 8-12:  “New Orleans” Stuffing my beignethole at The Original Cafe Du Monde? A high and not just due to all that powdered sugar.  There was also lots of my heart being blessed with the sound of music and of course, the kindness of strangers.

April 22:  “Wendy Liebman, 12 PST”  For a Newsday article, I got to talk to Wendy. She doesn’t know this, but ever since I tell everyone we’re close friends.  (Hey, the proof is in the Twitter! She follows me! What more do you need?)

April 30:  “Carol Leifer, 12:30 pm; Jim Breuer 2 pm”  More interviews for that Newsday article on Long Island funny people. Jerry Seinfeld gave me a quote.  Can I get a “What-WHAT?  And then …

May 2:  Alan Zweibel, 11 am”  I had to meet him in person.  (Why? See Jan. 16, “Alda”) Alan, one of the original SNL writers who invented the Samurai sketch, “Cheddar Cheese” and too much more to mention (but if you really want to know and you should know, look here) is one talented and generous mench.  We spent several hours together and I would have followed him home like a puppy.  He doesn’t know this, but ever since I tell everyone we’re close friends (he’s NOT following me on Twitter but shut the eff up–I’m working on it!)

Right about now, this desk calendar flipping is getting really old.  So let’s skip the summer because it’s just sticky and annoying except that I did partake in a superb reading with my essay group at Cornelia Street Cafe and then had close encounters of the first kind with this alpaca in Roanoke, Virginia –

…and then with a racehorse at Saratoga.  (We texted for a while but long-distance relationships never work out).

 

October 20:  “David Sedaris, 7 pm”  This was the year when my literary hero basically asked me to fuck off.  Not in so many words, but I had managed to get a hold of his personal email address and began to gently stalk him. Sedaris sent me a good-natured email asking to be removed from my mailing list — little did he know he was the only one on that list.  Ha, ha.  You know what else he doesn’t know?  That ever since he sent me an email I tell everyone we’re close friends.

Now don’t you go warning author and New York Times columnist Joyce Wadler!  In November she agreed to be a special guest essayist at my group’s 2014 kickoff reading on Jan. 10th at City Winery.

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And so, that’s more or less my year.  Lots of other stuff happened in between, of course, but right now I’ve got a pint to suck down.

My Week with David Rakoff

David Rakoff

Much like David Rakoff’s starry fantasy of befriending Bette Midler on a film set, returning to “her rambling apartment.  It will be the maid’s night off and we’ll eat leftovers from the icebox: cold chicken and pie.  Milk from a glass bottle….” (“The Satisfying Crunch of Dreams Underfoot,” Half Empty), I harbored a similar fancy last summer.

I had applied for and in April been accepted into the Stony Brook Southampton Writers Conference, a week wherein aspiring authors and essayists are immersed in workshops and lectures given by esteemed literary faculty — Susan Cheever, Jules Feiffer, Mary Karr, Roger Rosenblatt, Meg Wolitzer … David Rakoff’s name popped out at me.  He was teaching a personal essay workshop for a week in July and while the cost was in the thousands, seven days with Rakoff would be heaven, I thought. 

Workshops were touted as smallish and intimate, so naturally, all of May and June my daydreams revolved around elaborate scenarios wherein on the first day of class, David took immediate note of my pithy comments and wry observations. Following his first class assignment — to write an essay about our earliest memory — David would scour the room, then point in my direction and ask me to read my piece out loud. Pleasantly surprised by my skill, he’d laugh heartily at my witty phrasings but would also nod in approval at the depth behind my cleverly chosen verbiage.

Then he’d pull me over after class and whisper, “What are you even doing here? This workshop is for amateurs!”

“I really just wanted to meet you,” I’d confess sheepishly.

Then we’d go to lunch on campus every day, but sit huddled together, just the two of us, sharing tunafish sandwiches while we exchanged gossip about David Sedaris and Ira Glass. Really he had all the gossip; I’d listen raptly, enthralled by his hilarious stories; stuff he’d never shared with his friends but knew instinctively that he could trust with me — only me.

After that week, because he was notoriously generous and kind, David Rakoff would offer to be my mentor and introduce me to his agent and editors, as his protegé.  We’d have weekly lunches at the Stork Club and I’d be the envy of every single nonfiction writer in New York City. And beyond.

But none of this was to take place.  And not only because it was a ludicrous flight of my imagination.  In early July of last summer, I received an email from Stony Brook stating that due to advanced illness, David Rakoff had to pull back from my workshop.   They found a substitute teacher.   I asked for a refund and scolded myself for entertaining pointless notions about us.

Still, I thought, as I unpacked my suitcase with a heavy heart, I had been this close to being in his presence…and that would have to suffice.

Have Ink, Will Travel! My Essay Reading Tour is About to Commence…

I’m producing a series of essay readings, a la David Sedaris, with a group of talented writers.  For details, take a look at the press release below and check out the sidebar here for upcoming event dates and locations.   And away, we go!

WRITERS GO ON TOUR FOR ESSAY READING SERIES

“Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat & Fears”

New York, NY (January, 2013) – A group of accomplished New York-based writers is banding together for a year-long original essay reading series that  kicks off on February 5th with an event at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

Themed, “Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat & Fears,” the reading series brings together a diverse group of professional writers who will read their works to literary audiences throughout venues in New York, Brooklyn and Long Island.

Taking a page from book readings, which usually involve an author reciting directly from a published chapter, this unique series features writers taking turns at the microphone, each reading an original essay.

Jerry Seinfeld, who still does stand-up comedy, was recently quoted in The New York Times Magazine about the need to perform for live audiences,” said the event organizer and writer, Claudia Gryvatz Copquin.  “He said, ‘We’re craving the non-digital even more these days, the authentically human interactions,’ a statement that is extremely on-point, particularly for writers who typically work in isolation.”

In addition to Copquin, a New York Times and Newsday contributor and the author of three books, participating writers in rotation include New York Times “Modern Love” writer and memoirist Paula Ganzi Licata, award-winning NPR humor essayist David Bouchier, two-time New York Emmy award-winning writer Iyna Bort Caruso, speechwriter and essayist Robin Bernstein, and Friars Club historian and head writer Barry Dougherty.

Some essays have been previously published in magazines and newspapers while others are never-before-seen.  “The topics run the gamut of the human experience — humor, relationships, love, death…And all offer a unique point of view that we know audiences will relate to,” Copquin added.

The group’s first reading event is on Tuesday, February 5 at 7:30 pm at Guild Hall’s Naked Stage, in East Hampton, NY.  Admission is free (guildhall.org).  Upcoming readings will be held at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor (April 6), The Half King in New York City (April 29), Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington (April 14), The Nassau County Museum of Art (June 2) in Roslyn, and other venues.

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