Thursday, June 5

I Legally Cannot Make This Stuff Up.

Still alive, still super.

Hey kids. Still alive, still super.

On Monday, I'll be posting all of the details on the CDP Worldwide Mix-Tape Exchange #3. The deadline to sign up will be Wednesday the 11th, names will be drawn on Friday the 13th, and the deadline to mail out your mix will be Monday the 23rd. I've only shared the theme of this Trade to two other people, and they both seemed rather annoyed and pissed off, so be prepared for a slightly bigger challenge than last time. You'll love it.

Here now, the reason I'm writing today. I know that I said I was taking the rest of the week off, but I'm a liar. Ironic, considering that today's post is all about lying. Sort of.

David Sedaris, one of my biggest influences when it comes to memoir writing and literary humor in general, was recently interviewed in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. In it, he discusses his new collection of essays, and responds to some recent allegations that he sometimes exaggerates and distorts facts in his stories for comedic and dramatic effect. Here's a direct quote from the article, which you really should read if you want what I'm about to say to have any sort of significance:

"As he's strip-mined his own North Carolina upbringing and subsequent adulthood, how much has Sedaris himself made up? Plenty, he has frequently and cheerfully confessed. But it doesn't matter because he's a humorist, right? The New Republic begged to differ last spring. In an article titled 'This American Lie' by Alex Heard, TNR accused Sedaris of doing more than just stretching the truth. ''With some of his stories, especially the early ones, like in Naked,'' says Heard, ''he's taken every liberty a fiction writer does. It makes the story very funny, but also makes it something you shouldn't call nonfiction.'' Responds Sedaris: ''I've said a thousand times I exaggerate. Why is it news when somebody else says it?''"

When I read this, and I felt a little naive to do so, but I was sort of shocked. At it turns out, the amazing, unbelievable and constantly-entertaining world of Mr. Sedaris was sometimes nothing more than fiction. Sure, the elements of a good story probably resonate from somewhere in real life, but where that line is drawn is presumably unknown to anyone but David. He admitted it, he's exaggerating his memoirs; he's arguably cheating the genre of its credibility, and getting rich by pretending that his life is amazing.

He has over 7 million books in print, so it stands to be reasoned that we should have been aware of this since day one. Agusten Burroughs has been accused of it. James Frey was downright called out on it on national television. All the popular essayists seem to do it, so should it be considered an unfair advantage? Leverage to remain the top storyteller on the block with the most intriguing life? Or is it simply an entertainer doing what they can to entertain? These are questions I've been asking myself, as I have an interest in the genre that the rest of my life sort of depends on.

So, how does Ryan J. Zeinert, American humorist, award-winning blogger and author who happens to be heavily influenced by David Sedaris, stand on the issue of exaggerating essays that are portrayed and marketed as true stories?

Well, right off the bat, you should know that I don't do it. Names are changed, locations are skewed and dates might be incorrect, but this is done simply to protect people and to make it clear that my memory sometimes fails me. Furthermore, I can't be the only one thinking out loud, "If the CDP exaggerated his stories, they'd be a helluva lot more interesting than they are now." It's okay to think that; this is merely my life, and I can only talk about what happens to me. I absolutely hate fiction; I read physics books and autobiographies for fun.

But, what if the opportunity presented itself to reach a larger audience (and subsequently, a larger income), simply by making my life a little more entertaining and unbelievable than it already is? What if I was called into some publishers meeting and offered a huge amount of cash to write my next collection of essays, only to be asked to throw in a fabricated tale of adolescent abuse or a teenage drug addiction?

What would I be willing to do if my dream were on the line?

I can't lie to you; I honestly don't know. Furthermore, none of you really know, either. I already have 20-25 essays outlined for my next book, and they're all 100% true. True, some of them will not be immediately believed, but I didn't get into the business of writing about myself just so I could get popular and start making crap up about myself. There are a lot of people out there that still don't believe I put my foot through a bathroom wall trying to kill a spider, only to fall face-first into a public toilet, so I don't want to press my luck trying to slip fiction under their watchful radar. If something this ludicrous and silly can be taken to task, I wouldn't want to run the risk of actually lying about something that could be researched by bored critics.

Then again, Sedaris has sold millions of books, and I've sold a couple hundred, so who's really the dumbass? Ignorance is bliss, and if I started making the life of Ryan J. Zeinert a little more interesting and entertaining for the fans, who is it going to hurt? The readers are happy and entertained, the author gets paid and the book is ultimately better, right?

Beats me, but I won't be finding out this time around.

I'll have you know that I don't blame David Sedaris for exaggerating his memoirs. This is hard work when your life becomes a job, and to be expected to have nothing but bizarre and hilarious things happen to you, day-in and day-out, is an impossible reality. Furthermore, to be able to construct a hilarious essay out of each and every event to satisfy fans that want continuously more and more entertaining stories... well, it stands to reason that at some point, it becomes easier to live well and just make crap up.

A guy like Sedaris has so much pressure on him; from his fans, from his publishers, from everyone around him. He's expected to constantly document a bizarre life in a humorous way, even though he became rich and relatively well-adjusted years ago. He can't write funny stories about flying First-Class and living in Paris, can he?

I could, just to let you know. At least, I'm willing to try if given the chance.

I'm a logical guy. I know that the interesting stories that shape my life and entertain dozens are finite and limited. I have about four or five more good essay books in me, and then it's going to be time to go back to school and become an accountant or something, because I'll be finished. The pressure to stretch the truth and keep your spot at the precipice of humorous essayists must be incredibly fierce.

There's an extremely good chance that I'll never find out what it feels like, but when it does happen, I'll try to remember why I got into this business in the first place. When every last demon has been exorcised, when every last interesting thing has been shared, when every last point has been made, your work is done.

My work isn't done yet (hasn't really even started), but I hope I have the good sense to know when it is.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. I love every one of you damn ghouls.

Comments:
What's your favorite physics book?
 
The Stephen Hawking stuff makes my brain melt, so I try to stick to physics reference guides and other things that attempt to teach Science to idiots.
 
This post had a lot of something. I'm trying to put my finger on it...

Oh yeah. Words. It had a lot of words.
 
I found it quite therapeutic at midnight last night. In my state of looming subconscious, I didn't seem to realize that most people don't care if an essayist makes stuff up or not.

It was just weighing heavily on me, and this is what I do to deal with things that are on my mind.

We then had the mother of all thunderstorms ravage our street at 4am; the lightning was never more than one second apart. It sucked.
 
You know what? Never mind. This essay is important. It presents a moral question that can be logistically argued from both sides, and it directly effects almost everyone that reads it. I'm glad I wrote it.
 
The big twist about this post -- the CDP is actually all for essayists making stuff up. The post about not being for it, was just made up to make for more interesting reading.

:-P

My two cents -- I'm with you. I just can't do it, either. I can't lie about events just to make them funnier. If was going to do that, I'd just write fiction that's inspired by true events.
 
Right. I started doing this in an attempt to make sense of stuff and entertain people in the process. There would be no personal gratification in pretending my life was more messed up than it already is.

Everyone knows what liberties I take in order to enhance a story, and in that regard, everyone knows where I'm kidding for the sake of kidding.

The furthest that I ever stretched a story to accommodate my needs was when I took two similar events that happened a year apart and made it appear like they both happened in one night. Even then, however, the events remained 100% true.

I'm not tellin' which story it was, though.
 
For what it's worth, Ryan, I thought it was a good essay. I saw Sedaris interviewed on the Daily Show the other night, and I remember thinking "Man, that guy sure has a lot of crazy shit happen to him." And then I paused, and thought, "That's silly, he must exaggerate a lot of it."

Once a person puts out a certain critical mass of personal essays about wacky things that happen to them, I think it becomes reasonable to assume that some of it is either exaggerated or wholly made up.

Frankly, I'm not a fan of when people publish things like that under the auspices of non-fiction. Write fiction based on true events--that's way more honest. But if you're going to attempt a true story, leave out the falsifications, eh? I understand when it becomes hard to remember exact dates, and when it becomes necessary to change names, and when a tiny detail might be misremembered. But that's it. A level of honesty in one's work is important, in my opinion.
 
Spoken like a true journalist and a good person. I like you, Emily.

Don't worry about me, though. I haven't even scratched the surface of personal material. As I was going down the list of potential Book #2 essays, I almost couldn't believe the complete and utter dysfunction of my childhood. Luckier still is that most of it is really funny.
 
It's unfortunate that cockups like Frey et al are making it harder for honest people in publishing.

There was a big round of discussion going on in the publishing blogosphere a month or so back, concerning "Should publishers be factcheckers on memoirs?"

The almost-unanimous answer was: "Sure, if you want a book to cost $100."

Keep with being honest. Maybe you won't be riding the moneytrain to cashville, but when you do, you'll know you deserve it, and that no one can take it away :)
 
How do you fact-check a memoir, pray tell? At least he admits he exaggerates, as opposed to Frey.

I do believe the story about the foot through the bathroom wall. It's so bizarre it has to true

I'm anxious to hear the next theme for CDP Mix v3.0. You know I'm in, and I'll make myself fit for the challenge.

The hardest challenge, however, will be finding the time to put it together. The day job is going to be killer this month -- so much so, it will reach into the night. Arrgghh.
 
MORGAN - Indeed. In a world where 'reality' shows are just as scripted as fiction, it's hard to keep track of what's fabricated (or if anyone seems to care), so it all comes down to the vision of the creator, I suppose.

And when I say 'creator,' I'm referring to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Or me, the CDP.

Yeah, I'm definitely referring to myself, there.

HOSS - The second I washed my arm off, I started typing the Bathroom Spider story. I was almost happy that it happened to me.

The theme for the Trade is a tight one, but I think people will be able to have a lot of fun with it.
 
The second I washed my arm off, I started typing the Bathroom Spider story. I was almost happy that it happened to me.


Hey, at least you were able to quickly find the silver lining in an otherwise completely humiliating situation. That takes skill. :)

Also, I just wanted to point out that the photo in this post makes you look a little...crazed. Like maybe in addition to flexing, you also just made a dookie in your pants. Just sayin'.
 
Damn, if I was unable to recognize silver linings so quickly, I would have slit my wrists to ribbons in 1993.

I always look slightly psychotic. I'm physically unable to smile with my mouth, so I bizarrely smile with my eyes. Most photos of me are like that.
 
Hi,

I just voted for tuor blog for Bloggers Choice Awards.

Could you return the favor at:
http://www.
bloggerschoiceawards.com/blogs/show/21620

Thanks,

SpEdLaw2
 
This blog post makes me hungry.
I'll be right back. I've got to go see if I still have any "Cup of Noodles" left.
 
I'm not sure if I'm going to enter the Mix-Tape trade this time round. I've been listening to alot of heavy/death/prog metal, and if any of you react to it like my friends do, I'll lose many valuable cool points. I need those.

In other unrelated news, I'M GOING TO SEE FOO FIGHTERS TOMORROW AT WEMBLY STADIUM!!! w00t for me!
 
I read a lot of fiction - I average a book every 2-3 days, normally, and I'm usually reading multiple books at one time. But I also read memoirs and autobiographies from time to time. It just has never really occurred to me to question what people put into their "non-fiction" (non-academic) writing, but if it comes out that an author fabricated the events that they're passing off as factual, to me it tarnishes their credibility.
So kudos to you for attempting to retain a personal ethical standard and not sacrifice the truth in exchange for dubiously achieved success...and piles of dirty, evil money.
 
ah, I now have a new favorite essay involving theCDP and an insect/arachnid. Keep on trucking, Buzzy, but you just can't beat poop water and drywall.

Sometimes, it would really just be easier to spice up your real life. Cause, come on, who would want to listen to me about how I fall asleep during 9th period.

Actually, that could be slightly hilarious *goes to look for a pad*
 
JIM - Thanks man; I appreciate it! I'll give your blog a look-see.

CAVEMAN - My work is better appreciated while masticating. At least that's what I think Kenny told me.

I miss you, Kenny.

DUFF - Whatever works for you, man. I think that the quick deadline and theme choice will make for a smaller group this time around. We have about 15 people signed up already, and I think we had close to 30 total last time.

That's simply awesome about the Foo Fighters. You just try not to cry like a little girl when they play 'Everlong;' I freaking dare you.

MAUS - Indeed. I'm sure I have a price, though. :)

BIGREDMUSIK - You know, I've tried to build this aura around myself that allows for people to resonate ideas and shared creative experiences through me in a feeble effort to somehow unite us as one, but when it's all said and done, people laugh the hardest when I'm getting owned in the most embarrassing ways.
 
Totally off the subject . .

I think the CDP needs to visit this place and report back. It's in Madison, it's more than a little off-kilter. I want to know if it's really that insance.
 
Ahh yes, the miniature taxidermy museum in the basement of the Cress Funeral Home. We had been planning to go for years now, but never seem to remember when we're near the place. I can assure you that when we finally pop in for a visit, you'll get a full report.

The funnier backstory is that the current owners of the funeral home hate the museum and can't wait to toss everything out, but the old, eccentric, previous owner has some sort of stipulation that the miniatures get to stay open to the public until he dies. Therefore, a fully functional funeral home has become a tourist attraction. Hilarious.
 
I could have sworn I read in my most current oddities book that you're not allowed to go in there anymore. They had so many people wanting to go in that it just got to be too much. I might be wrong, though.

so who got to know the subject of the mix trade? It wasn't me. :(
 
Ryan, you look a little "Special Like Me" in that picture.
 
I guess I should go ahead and out myself.

The JT you have come to know and love? The drunken Southern guy who pulls stunts?

I'm an 87 year old lady from France, and I'm a parapalegic non-drinker.
 
I've been saying it all along.
 
HATHERY - I super stwong! I lift house with power of stwongness!

(Note to self: No more funny pictures; you lose significant credibility.)

I had a sneaking suspicion that they closed that museum, too, but you never know. We should call them and find out.

JT - Hell, that's nothing. I've been bedridden for 16 years.
 
I don't know what everyone plans on doing this weekend, but I cannot tell you how excited I am about When We Left Earth. This is going to be incredible.

Watch the trailer. Seriously.
 
Wow. WAY more nudity in a NASA film than I was expecting.
 
You've been DickRolled!
 
You know, I've tried to build this aura around myself that allows for people to resonate ideas and shared creative experiences through me in a feeble effort to somehow unite us as one, but when it's all said and done, people laugh the hardest when I'm getting owned in the most embarrassing ways.

You know, in the interest of being a uniter and not a divider, I'll ask/share this: have you ever managed to split your pants right down the ass? By virtue of simply bending over? Because I have, and it was amazing.
 
I thought that only happened to fat guys at wedding receptions, and you are certainly neither nor.



Pics or it never happened.
 
I don't know what everyone plans on doing this weekend, but I cannot tell you how excited I am about When We Left Earth. This is going to be incredible.

I, for one, do not want to be home while you watch this Leaving-Earth show. I don't want anything to do with another WWII vs. the Moon Landing debate.
 
Pics or it never happened.

Happily (for me), no one but me knew that it happened...until I started telling everyone about it, that is.

I was working at Giant Book Megachain, hauling massive stacks of Oprah's "O Magazine" out to the floor, and when I bent over to put them down, "crrrrrzzzzap!"

Amazingly, no one else was around, so I slunk back to the break room, covering my shame with a hoodie tied around my waist.

What's even more amazing is that I had an extra pair of pants out in my car, which was not the norm, so I was able to change and save some amount of face.

But I still knew. Such shame, such shame.
 
HATHERY - I can assure you that no such debate will take place; I'm really looking forward to the awesomeness of this miniseries.

EMILY - I don't really even know what to say to that; imagining it makes me laugh pretty hard, and there's probably an Oprah joke buried in there somewhere.
 
Crush from AMERICAN GLADIATORS may be the hottest chick on TV right now...what do you guys think?

http://www.nbc.com/American_Gladiators/video/#mea=258326

Watch her on AMERICAN GLADIATORS on Mondays at 8/7c on NBC
 
Thanks for the comment, robotic spambot!

No human being with any regard for their personal health and well-being would call Gina Carano a 'chick' to her face.
 

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