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Is This Thing On?

The worst part about “public speaking” during a pandemic is you can’t see the audience. Facial feedback is crucial in determining whether what you just said made any sense and without it, you’re left in an echo chamber of your own thoughts.

Before this “new Zoom normal,” of public speaking to no discernable audience, David Sedaris used to test new material out on book tours to see how the audience reacted. He told Masterclass that he works out different story endings, new jokes, and alternate story openers on new audiences in each city. And he has a system for determining what lands and what doesn’t:

“People coughing is deadly,” he says, “That’s the audience telling you that if they were reading this on paper, they would be skimming now.”


That’s the book equivalent of being “marked as read.”

I wanted to know more about these “drafts” he was testing so I did some digging and found out he tests story drafts from his diary. As in: he reads directly from his diary to a crowd of strangers and iterates from there based on their reactions.



My diary – ahem “journal” – is littered with self-indulgent cross-examinations between the voices in my head. It’s mostly a cathartic way to release my insecurity, anger, or confusion about what’s going on in my life. Like bloodletting. GET THE POISON OUT!

There is nothing in my journal that resembles a full sentence. It’s mostly half-thoughts written in a secret shorthand in case of death (well, in case I can’t BURN them before I die). And it’s overwhelmingly negative. Gratitude is in there but it’s mostly me solving problems, which, I guess, is not so much negative as it is boring, especially since I rarely update the journal with the resolution of the problem I presented on the page.

There is no “right” way to journal but I’llbedammed if I wasn’t going to use Sedaris’ method as a stick to beat myself with. WHY DON’T YOU JOURNAL BETTER. MORE COGENTLY!?! WHY CAN’T YOU BE NORMAL.

The irony that I was using David Sedaris as my bar for normal was not lost on me. The man who creates eloquent prose around themes of “items men shove inside themselves and later have to go to the emergency room to have extracted” is not exactly The Paragon of Normal (but perhaps it should be?).

In the midst of my pity party, I noticed how badly I wanted to be both normal and different at the same. I want mainstream adoration and acceptance, but of my “unique voice” and “original perspective.” It makes no sense. The two, by definition, are inherently contradictory.

[I’ve written about this . ]

To be “different” is to embrace your humanity. Because the heterogeneousness of the group is a myth (I heard a geneticist put it nicely, “there’s more in-group difference than between-group differences”). It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, none of the pieces are the same – which is how they click together.

In my experience, most of us don’t know ourselves that well or feel shame about who we actually are. Even and especially when it comes to the seemingly insignificant things, like, say, how we journal.

You don’t become a pioneer because you act and sound like everyone else.

You are a pioneer because you don’t.


PS: Yes, today you were supposed to get a new episode of #HAMYAW, but, alas, pandemic, scheduling, and audio-problems got in the way, so here are a few of our fan favorites from the vault for you to binge while you procrastinate on doing work today: