How I Met My Writing Idols in College

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What surprised me the most about David Sedaris’ handshake was its gentleness. I don’t know why this was a revelation to me. It wasn’t as though the persona his works embodied ever appeared masculine or strong-boned. But for someone who crafted the works that helped ultimately define me as a writer, I foolishly thought he’d have a firmer grip.

I’m a journalist by trade, but I don’t consider myself one. I don’t say this with some false earnestness. I mean I always saw journalists as those risk-seekers rushing to crime scenes and busting their feet through unwanted doors to get the “scoop” on what happened in their area. That was a role I never saw myself in.

In fact, I probably was the only journalist at Ohio University who didn’t rush down to the center of town to cover a disastrous fire in the middle of Athens. I didn’t go on account of laziness, but rather I was asleep during the whole shebang. Immediate journalism skills never entered my system I guess — even during senior year.

In that regard, I saw myself as just a writer, one who fell into journalism as something of a happy accident. I did look up to select journalists throughout my youth, especially ‘00s pioneers in the field I considered great like David Carr. But as someone diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at six, I don’t believe any psychiatrists would say a career relying on steady communication, direct contact with people and earning trust of others were in my cards. I suppose my future shall tell me whether this was irony or a blessing.

With that, I never really looked up to the AP Stylebook or Woodward and Bernstein as inspirations. No disrespect to either, it’s just they weren’t what I was looking for in a career. I looked more into writers and journalists who had something bold and personal to say, which is why writers like Ebert and Carr were ones who made more of an impression on me. Perhaps that’s what fascinated me about Sedaris and Chuck Klosterman so much.

While the former never entered journalism and the latter defined himself more with his books than page-one articles, both were major cornerstones in my writing career, and still remain as such. Both had raw, kinetic, yet wholeheartedly funny and engaging voices that made them the first writers to truly speak to me on a personal level.

That’s not to discredit the obvious classic greats like Ernest Hemingway, but their distinct, intelligent and endlessly entertaining views of reality and pop culture were, at the earnest risk of sounding pretentious, a vibrant and unforgettable awakening for me as a writer.

Even though I found solitude in writing before, they made me understand writing didn’t have to be subsided to any individual thinking, subset or specifically crafted style. Whether Klosterman described Tommy Lee/Pamela Anderson’s sex tape and its social merits in Sex, Drugs and Coco Puffs, or Sedaris reflected with heart and dry humor on his life in Me Talk Pretty One Day, both communicated to me in a career-changing manner which changed how I wrote and appreciated writing forever.

Writing was what you made it, and if you did it well enough, you’d find an audience. I never found a professional message as powerful as that.

I’m not sure whom I should directly thank that I not only met and spoke to both of them in four years’ time but also got to interview Klosterman. Many sources for gratitude are there, I’m sure. It was my freshman year that I got to meet Klosterman, when he agreed to a guest lecture position spring quarter. On account of an “unmissable” lecture, I couldn’t attend the whole event. But what little I did catch was just as humble, hilarious and genuine as the author’s best works.

I wasn’t too concerned about this, because my aforementioned interview came days before. At that time, I was involved with my local student paper but didn’t hold a firm position. Perhaps a mix of passion and hutzpah got me the interview, but somehow I found myself with the e-mail address to one of my writing gods.

There’s a weird sensation that comes from interviewing one of your idols. I can’t quite pinpoint it between hysteria and giddiness, but there’s no richer satisfaction than when said influence writes back in earnest. I’d like to say the eventual interview was filled with life-changing, career-starting advice. Truthfully, though, it was just your average, impersonal college newspaper interview, aided with funny asides and good quotes.

The same goes for the eventual interaction, where a sweet-natured Klosterman treated me with a moving mix of admiration and sincerity. I’d be ignorant not to think this is blinded, at least partially, by nostalgia. But on account of my similar interaction with Sedaris just a mere couple months ago, I believe anyone who writes at the pinnacle of pop culture nomenclature disperses great gratitude onto their fans.

My eventual interaction with Sedaris was less grand, but just as fulfilling. In similar fashion, Sedaris spoke at my university and, while I didn’t get an interview, I did meet him afterwards where he signed my copy of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, we talked and he gave me the best quote I’d ever place in an article.

“I don’t ever read anything written about me. So you can write whatever you want about me. I won’t read it.”

Will is a senior journalism major at Ohio University. He writes for, Southeast Ohio Magazine and The Watching World. He also writes the weekly entertainment column "Lights, Camera, Ashton" for his college newspaper, The Post, where he also co-hosts the podcast Post Pop. When he doesn’t write spend his days writing, he enjoys watching and talking about film, listening to rock and folk music and enjoys a drink or two at his favorite pubs.

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