Tag Archives: Frank McCourt

What David Sedaris Teaches Us About Middle Age

My husband and I went to see David Sedaris on Friday night.

He was doing a reading of his work at Cadogan Hall here in London. (The last time we went to Cadogan Hall it was to see Garrison Keillor. I think you know you’re middle-aged when you start spending your weekends attending events headlining NPR personalities. Must add it to my list…)

If you aren’t familiar with Sedaris, have a listen to Santaland Diaries – a diary of his Christmas spent working as an elf at Macy’s – which catapulted him to overnight fame. When it was first broadcast, this essay generated more requests for tapes than any story in Morning Edition’s history except the death of veteran sports caster Red Barber.

If you are familiar with Sedaris, then you’ll know why we jumped at the chance to hear him perform live.

He didn’t disappoint.

He was funny, engaging, self-effacing and gracious.

He also told a bunch of off-color jokes. Apparently, during his recent book tour in the U.S., he started asking people who came up to have their books signed to tell him a joke. He has now collected some of the best ones he’s heard and uses them as part of his routine. He even asked our audience to tell him some raunchy gay jokes. (Sedaris is gay.) He feels like people are too abashed to tell him any.

Above all, however, it was really inspiring to watch someone who is clearly having so much fun in his chosen profession. At one point – while reading a new piece he’s written about why traveling to China has made him hate Chinese food – he actually cracked himself up and had to stop for a moment to regain his composure before carrying on with the reading. I loved that.

When author Frank McCourt died, I wrote a post about the joys of old age and how McCourt’s life is a great example of how it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Sedaris achieved literary success in his early 30’s, but somehow he’s never quite lost that air of the up-and-coming-guy who’s still shuffling around cleaning other people’s apartments and working as an elf over the Christmas holidays because he needs the extra money.

In short, he acts like someone who’s still waiting to catch his big break. And therein lies his genius and his charm. You get the sense that this is a guy who still doesn’t take anything for granted. Rather, he lives life by being a careful observer of it: by drawing out the humorous and the touching in the million little particles that make up every day, and by and finding never-ending ways to make himself laugh as he does so.

What a treat. We should all be so lucky.

David Sedaris by WBUR via Flickr from a Creative Commons license.

The Way We Are: What Barbra Streisand Teaches Us About Adulthood

I woke up Friday morning in a very good mood. For I knew that at 9 pm that evening, Barbra Streisand was going to be interviewed and then perform live on the Jonathan Ross show here in London.

Let me to preface all of this by saying that I’m not a huge Streisand fan by any standard measure. I don’t own any of her albums, and I’ve only seen a handful of her movies. But I still find her tremendously inspiring.

And she’s inspiring in precisely the same way that author Frank McCourt – who passed away recently – was inspiring. In McCourt’s case – and as I wrote about when he died – he reminded us that 66 isn’t too old to pursue your childhood dreams. That’s the year he published his break-out hit, Angela’s Ashes. In Streisand’s case, she reminds us that 67 isn’t too old to keep on pursuing your childhood dreams. She just released her latest album, “Love Is The Answer,” and performed live at the Village Vanguard two weekends ago for the first time in 40 some years.

I know that some people aren’t wild about Barbra. They don’t like her politics. They don’t like her personality. Fair enough. But here are just a few things to remember about Streisand before you diss her:

1. She is the top female recording artist in American history. Wow. I had no idea.

2. She doesn’t read music and can’t really be bothered to do warm-ups or vocal exercises.

3. She’s the only person to receive an Oscar for both acting (Funny Girl) and song-writing (A Star is Born).

4. She’s got star power. Even Stevie Wonder was obliged to do the standard Jonathan Ross show where he appeared alongside two other guests. Barbra got a solo interview. Unheard of.

Me? I could watch The Way We Were every weekend of my life. The way it ends with that bittersweet reunion between Streisand and Redford’s characters on a busy New York street and all the longing, regret and acceptance built into that scene? In a word: adulthood. And I also loved The Prince of Tides – which Streisand directed. (Dysfunctional family, decline of American South, personal journey towards self-hood, plus Jewish New York Therapist all rolled into one? What’s not to love?)

If you’re still wondering how you feel about Streisand, listen to this You Tube clip of her performing Send in The Clowns. Devastating.

Oh yes. And stay tuned for Wednesday’s post for more life lessons from Barbra…

*****

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, do check out my post on PoliticsDaily.com about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s newest secret…he’s Jewish!

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Image: Barbra Streisand by Nadwork via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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RIP Frank McCourt: The Promise of Old Age

I was very saddened to hear that author Frank McCourt died yesterday at the age of 78. McCourt’s best-selling memoir of his poverty-striken childhood in Ireland – Angela’s Ashes – received the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and stayed on the New York Times Best-Seller’s List for 117 weeks, including 23 at number 1.

But the most inspiring thing about McCourt was not just that he overcame an objectively “miserable childhood” – featuring an unemployed, alcoholic father, a life-threatening illness of his own and the death of several siblings – to achieve international literary recognition. What’s inspiring about McCourt is that he published this memoir when he was 66 years old.

I remember once reading an interview with McCourt back when the book first came out in which he admitted that while he’d sat down to tell his life’s story several times, it was only at age 66 that he finally found his voice.

And he’s not alone. Increasingly, old age seems to be a phase of life when people not only discover new talents or take on new hobbies (on that note, be sure to visit my favorite jokes website), but actually flourish professionally. I recently got an email from a friend who told me that her mother – a scientist  – who recently died felt that she’d done her best work in her sixties. Then there’s architect Frank Gehry who just celebrated his 80th birthday and is still going strong.

A recent study by the Pew Research center on aging in the United States found that most adults over age 50 feel at least 10 years younger than their actual age. Older adults also said they had experienced the negative aspects of aging — including illness, loneliness and financial difficulty — far less often than younger people anticipated.

As I begin to feel those creaky aches and pains and watch as both my kids crush me in Monopoly, it’s tempting to conclude that I’ve reached the beginning of the end. But people like Frank McCourt remind us all that there’s always more life ahead.

Thank goodness for that.

*****

If you’d like to hear my rant about that newest American rage – the all-pet airline – head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.

Image: Frank McCourt by Irish Philadelphia Photo Essay via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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