LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
David Sedaris bought a beach house. And it's called the Sea Section. This would normally not be a thing to hang a book of personal essays on. But this is David Sedaris, and so it's about a lot more than vacations. In 2013, Sedaris's sister Tiffany committed suicide.
DAVID SEDARIS: (Reading) Why do you think she did it? I asked as we stepped back into the sunlight, for that's all any of us were thinking - had been thinking since we got the news. Mustn't Tiffany have hoped that whatever pills she'd taken wouldn't be strong enough? And that her failed attempt would lead her back into our fold? How could anyone purposefully leave us - us of all people? This is how I thought of it. For though I've often lost faith in myself, I've never lost faith in my family and my certainty that we are fundamentally better than everyone else.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In his new book "Calypso," he talks about her death, his family, aging and how he picks up trash in his spare time while wearing a Fitbit. Those last two are not unrelated. David Sedaris joins us now from New York. Welcome.
SEDARIS: Thank you for having me, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess I'd like to start by saying the Sea Section is a great name for a beach house.
SEDARIS: Well, we just bought the house next to our house because what happens is people tear down the building. And then they build what they called sandcastles. I guess you'd call them McMansions. Anyway, so we bought the house next to our house. And that has a pretty dumb name, too, so we want to change it. And so I came up with some things. And then I was at a reading one day. And I said, what do you think are some good names? And a woman wrote and she suggested Canker Shores...
SEDARIS: ...Or the Amniotic Shack...
SEDARIS: ...Both of which are great beach house names.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Those are great beach house names. Have you chosen which one yet?
SEDARIS: I go back and forth because the beach houses used to all have pun names, like Crabba Dabba Doo and Clamelot, right? And a lot of the new ones - they have names like Dolphin Song or, you know, God's Promise. So I just thought it was much better when they were pun names.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This book is many things. As I mentioned, it's a meditation on aging and on loss and family. But as we mentioned, hanging over it all is the suicide of your sister. Can you tell me about Tiffany?
SEDARIS: Well, she was my youngest sister. And she committed suicide just before she turned 50. And - but she was the only one in the family really who sort of backed off from the family. And the rest of us - we all came home for Christmas. And we all came home for summer vacations. And - but Tiffany was the only one who - well, I have to work. Well, something came up. I can't come. And, you know, she had a lot of, you know, mental problems. And she didn't want to take her medication, so she didn't. And then her life just got more and more out of control. And then she committed suicide in 2013.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Were you surprised when you heard?
SEDARIS: I was surprised when I heard. But then she left behind some notebooks. And when I look through the notebooks, I think, well, gosh, if that was my mind, if that's the way that I thought, I can understand wanting to put yourself out of that misery. Her thoughts were so disjointed. And even the note that we eventually found - the suicide note that she left - it was just so convoluted and so - it didn't make any sense. When you thought, well, gosh. Why would a person commit suicide over that? So - and I hadn't - she was a very difficult person. She had a lot of very intense friendships that would end with a restraining order.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are some very funny segments in this book, of course. But the one that I really liked was when your sister Amy goes to a psychic and contacts your dead sister. And the message that she brings back struck me so true of siblings. Basically, even from beyond the grave, the message from Tiffany was irritating. She was (laughter) - you were irritated by what apparently the medium had said she was saying.
SEDARIS: Right. The message was basically, I forgive you. When it's like, you forgive me? Like, I'm the one who is supposed to be forgiving you. But then the psychic said - I mean, I don't believe in things like that, right? But Amy has a pretty open mind. So she went to this psychic. And the psychic said that Tiffany had been trying to contact me, right? And she said, have you had a lot of - has your phone been acting up? And I said no. And then she said, have you seen a lot of butterflies? And it was shocking to me because our house that winter was loaded with butterflies in the winter. And what happens is on the second floor of our house in England, there's a big, tall loft ceiling. So butterflies come in at the end of the summer. And they just sort of hibernate up there. And then when you turn the heat on in the winter, they think it's spring. And they come and they bat themselves against the windows. But they were - I don't know. There must have been - there were dozens and dozens and dozens of butterflies in our house. And...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And a psychic knew that? Or said it?
SEDARIS: The psychic said that that was one of the signs that Tiffany was trying to contact me with these butterflies. And I don't necessarily - I still don't believe in the psychic. And I don't believe in anything that she said. But I hate it when you don't believe in something and then something makes you wonder if maybe you're wrong. I'd just rather...
SEDARIS: ...I would just rather close my mind against something and just have it settled.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wrote, though, in your book that your sister and your mother visit you in your sleep.
SEDARIS: I don't believe in ghosts. But I do believe that dead people can visit you when you're asleep. I mean, I have had visits with my mother. And again, I don't believe in ghosts. But - and my sister Tiffany, too. And I have to say it's so comforting. And it just makes you feel like, you know, caught up and makes you feel loved. But I look forward to visiting people after I'm dead. And not to say, where's that money you owe me?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was about to say, what were you - you want to visit with them to reminisce? Maybe not...
SEDARIS: Just to catch up.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Another theme in this book is your own aging. And you write, it's just a matter of time before our luck runs out, and one of us gets cancer. Then we will be picked off like figures in a shooting gallery, easy targets given the lives that we've led. So that's cheery. Do you feel guilty for having had a great life?
SEDARIS: No, I don't, as a matter of fact. I mean, I know people who do feel guilty. And I'm not one of them. So no. I mean, that line, though, pertains to, like, my brother and my sisters. I just - gosh. That's going to be - I don't know how I'll live with that. You know, I - it's odd when a sibling dies. And to this day, people say, oh, how many kids are in your family? And I say, oh, six. And I don't say five - there used to be six - because then you don't want people to feel weird. And in my mind, there are still six. But I can't imagine, like, when I say, oh, two. There are two left. Or, oh, I'm the last. You know, when you meet people, and they're the last of their siblings, I don't know how you carry on. I really don't. But when I look forward like that and I try to conceive of that - of life without my siblings - life without my boyfriend. Yeah, I'll take it. But life without my siblings is just unfathomable to me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's David Sedaris. His new book is "Calypso." Thank you so much.
SEDARIS: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.