Writing Wednesdays #1

Okay, so only a few of my friends actually know this, but I’ve been working on a book. It’s a middle grade fantasy novel about a girl and her best friend, a unicorn. Non-fiction, obviously. Here is a photo I took: 

I think I came up with this story idea in 2004 or 2005. My files only go back as far as 2009, though. Anyway, the point is that writing is a quick and easy endeavor. Seriously, though, I started writing this for real in July of 2017 and then for some reason on December 13th, started writing it for real.

I have tried to talk myself into some sort of regular writing schedule before, but the writing was a chore, something that I did because I was trying to reach a word count, trying desperately to prove to myself that I was a “real” writer. Over the past four years, I’ve gotten in touch with my voice, who I am, and what I have to say. I’m also mildly convinced that I have a tumor and have like two weeks left to live. I’ve felt that way for a while.

I deal with depression, too (see last post if you don’t believe me), so although I want to die, like multiple times a day, I don’t want to die without having written at least one book. It’s been my only real dream since before I could read. I always knew that I was a writer, and the only part of dying that makes me sad is the idea that I’ll never get to tell the stories that I’ve been trying to tell for a decade. I know I’m supposed to say I’ll miss my family and friends, but I’ll be dead. I won’t be able to miss anyone. I also won’t be around to care if they miss me, so that part doesn’t really affect me much. I just don’t want to be murdered and I don’t want to die of suicide.

But I digress. The point is, thinking that I’m going to die in two weeks (from today, always from today) combined with my new ability to express myself have given me the push I needed to start writing again. I always wanted being a writer to be like it was in movies — I’d sit down at a typewriter and instantly be transported to another world. It’d be like reading, but better because I’d be controlling the story. Over the years, I’d have moments of that, but so few that I grew frustrated. I got angry at myself for not being able to make the writing experience like that. I got angry at movie writers who would lie to would-be writers and make us think that writing was that easy.

And it’s not. Even though the writing is smoother now, and I get lost in it more, there are still hiccups, still doubts that crowd my mind, especially right before I start writing for the day. But there is a magic to it, and I think that the last four years of working at a comedy club has taught me that magic. The magic comes from being in the moment with my words. I’ve watched, honestly, countless shows, countless comedians do countless jokes.

Comedians often get embarrassed when they do a joke they think I’ve heard before. This makes me laugh for two reasons: one, because I have face blindness and if I have no idea who you are, sometimes hearing a joke you’ve done before helps me remember who you are. And two, because I LIKE watching people do the same jokes over and over (unless I hate that joke). A good joke lives in the moment, never to be told the same way again. They say that you can never cross the same river twice, and I feel the same way about telling jokes. The comedian grows and changes, the audience changes, the joke gets tighter, more tags get added, etc.

If you could Groundhog Day a joke and have the comedian tell the same joke to the same audience a split second later, and then another split second later, and then another split second later, the joke would never be the same, any of those times. The differences would be subtle, but even the amount of time the audience has been sitting in the room affects the reaction. Where the servers are in the room, who gets up to go to the bathroom are factors, too. As soon as one audience member checks out, thinking about the bathroom instead of the joke, the air in the room changes. Stand-up is a very fiddly artform.

My host tonight told me that he made 37 mistakes during the show that he’s going to obsess over and get perfectly next time. I hope he’s joking because, really, imperfection is where the poignancy and beauty of stand-up live. Vulnerability is the absence of structure, and it is the key to not just good comedy, but good art. That’s why people talk about “being in the moment” all the time with stand-up because there is no great stand-up who has ever lived who has performed their bits, completely or even minutely detached from what they’re saying. Urgency is the key to amazing stand-up, not saying your “lines” perfectly.

Similarly, when I’m writing now, I don’t worry about getting the words and sentences perfect. I’m less concerned with writing impressively. I understand poetry, to some degree. I understand the rules for writing well. But I don’t care anymore because I’ve spent four years watching people mess up their own jokes and still manage to connect to the audience perfectly.

So when I’m writing, I keep in mind that even though the words are for someone else later, they’re also for me, now. And when I remember that, the experience of writing takes me from this world to another one, and it feels like how I always thought writing should.

Testy Tuesdays #1

Social anxiety can be a bit of a struggle. Here’s how I dealt with it this weekend: I didn’t show up. A baby shower and a birthday party, both of which I have been planning to attend for weeks, but couldn’t. For the baby shower, I just didn’t show up and I feel like a jerk about that. For the birthday party, I lied and said I had the flu, and I feel even worse about that one. I very rarely lie, and even when I do, it’s generally of omission, not a straight-up lie.

I could have said I wasn’t feeling well, which was true, but that’s such a weak excuse. A broken arm, a car wreck, an actual illness are all acceptable reasons to not show up for people. Depression isn’t. Anxiety isn’t. I could have said that I felt like all of my skin had been scraped off with a potato peeler and the idea of being around anyone else in that condition was too much, but I didn’t.

I think in general, we’re all coming around to accepting depression as an actual obstacle that we have to work around, but we’re not there yet. “I’m too scared to go to your party” isn’t going to cut it. “I need three days to sit at home and recover from the severity of my own self-loathing” doesn’t work either.

I should have called into work sick on Saturday but “being a person” isn’t an illness, even if it feels like one, sometimes.

I was agoraphobic from the ages of 17-27, and to be honest, it started before that and it has never gone away, even though people like to declare that a full-time job and having friends means I’m “cured”. When I was 27, I came to a point at which I decided I wouldn’t let anxiety rule my life anymore. I struggle with it every day and I usually win. I hate that it beat me this weekend. I hate that it turned me into a liar and a lesser version of myself. But I don’t know a way around it.

“I can’t be happy that you’re alive because I’m too sad,” is a shitty thing to say to someone on a regular day, let alone a day that is set aside to celebrate that person’s birth. Being happy that someone I love was born, on a day when I’m depressed, is like looking out at the ocean, my gaze following the prismatic rays of sunshine from the heavens, down to where it glimmers and glitters on the floating, frozen bodies lying in the ocean above a sunken Titanic.

On a good day, I can keep my eyes on the Heavens. On an okay day, I can see the light and the death and find a balance there. On a bad day, all I can see is the death and the mourning and the loss of our greatest treasures. All I can see is the infuriating fragility of life and hope. I wonder what the point of celebrating our small victories is when our defeats are so much larger and more devastating and relentless.

It’s like the first flower that grows after an atomic bomb explodes. Most people see the flower as a symbol of regeneration, the circle of life, life finds a way and other bland cliches, unhelpful philosophies, and conventional wisdoms. I look at the flower and I think about all of the people who died immediately and the poor souls who died slower and more painfully. I think about how irreplaceable each and every one of those people were, and I look at the flower and I think, it’s not enough. Who could ever think that could be enough?

The only thing I can really do is hold on to this experience and use it to allow me to be kind to other people. Sometimes, when I go for long stretches in which I feel strong and smart and capable, I lose my empathy. I get very judgemental. Letting down the people that I care about is always humbling but it makes me kinder. I remember that people don’t fail me because they want to. It’s because they’re human and people aren’t perfect.

Minstrel Monday #1

The reason why I know too much about Dan Fogelberg is because my mother was convinced that he was her soul mate. I grew up thinking that he was going to be my dad someday, so learned as much as I could about him (mostly from my mom) as a kid could without an internet (Wasn’t invented yet. I know, I’m old.).

I have a terrible memory for melodies and songs but I can sing along with about 90% of his songs, and a few of my favorites I can sing at least partly from memory. He’s rarely an option at karaoke, though, except for his bigger hits like Longer, Ald Lang Syne, Leader of the Band, Power of Gold, Run for the Roses.

I like Longer and I loved Leader of the Band before I heard it about a zillion times. Power of Gold still hits me with its gorgeous composition and is as emotionally manipulative as any classic Queen anthem. I didn’t like Run for the Roses when I was a kid, although I have more and more of an appreciation of it as I age.

My current favorite Dan song (it changes every few years or so) is The Reach from the album, The Innocent Age. The Innocent Age is currently my favorite album, as it consistently has, song for song, the prettiest compositions and the most vivid imagery of any of his albums. There are a couple of songs on The Innocent Age that I don’t like, but Ghost, Nexus, and In the Passage are all the best in lyrical poetry. And Hard to Say is just a straight-up awesome WTF-is-love ballad.

A few years ago, I had my heart broken pretty severely and I had to choose a new favorite song. It couldn’t be a love song, and I didn’t really want it to be a bitter song, either. I wanted something nice to focus on. That left out Tucson, Arizona (Gazette), even though it’s not a love song. It also left out Sutter’s Mill, another clever and kind of funny, but ultimately depressing song.

The Reach is about generations of sailors and their relationships with seasons and the ocean. The lyrics are haunting, and the composition still makes my heart ache and stomach clench at certain parts. But don’t take my word for it — now that you have a fully biased opinion in your ear, listen for yourself:

Stand-up Sunday #1

Alright, look at me being all consistent for a day-and-a-half. Stand-up Sundays! I just got home from work, I’m tired, cranky, and not entirely sober. Let’s talk about comedy!

Yeah, I’m going to let my first comedy post be a bitchy one. Deal with it.

If you’re booked on a show and you’re NOT Jerry Seinfeld, you: 

  • Show up on time, and by “on time”, I mean 30 minutes prior to show start. If you’re hosting, it’s 45 minutes.
  • If you’re running late — and don’t be running late — call the club so that we know what the hell happened to you.
  • Stay for the whole show.
  • If you DO decide to bust out early, DON’T call the booker’s attention to the fact by finding and shaking her hand in the middle of someone else’s set.
  • Be nice to the staff. I got a complaint about a comedian from a staff member yesterday and I won’t be booking him for a while, if ever again.
  • Do your BEST material or a reasonable facsimile.
  • If you ARE doing brand-new material, don’t announce it to the booker or the audience or both.
  • No notes on stage.
  • Don’t run the light.
  • Don’t run the light.
  • Don’t run the light.

There’s also something else I should mention before I forget: DON’T RUN THE LIGHT! Ugh, I was trying so hard to not write that list in all caps, I just couldn’t hold back anymore! So many people violated multiples of these rules this weekend. Most of the time, I’ll overlook it, but bad manners just ran rampant this weekend and I wanted to scream.

Okay, that was me being negative. Here are some DOs that people did this weekend that pleasantly surprised me: 

  • Comedians supported other comedians and came to watch the shows. (By the way, I do not count the DBs who come in only to watch his/her friend’s set and immediately leave. I’m not going to get into why here, but I might in a future Stand-Up Sundays post.)
  • Grow As a Comedian: This weekend and last weekend, there were comedians that I hadn’t seen perform in a while, and they blew me away! This makes me SO happy, more than you can understand.
  • Be a Better Comedian Than I Thought You Were: This sounds like the same as the last thing, but the truth is that you might be a great comedian and have had a terrible audition or a just-okay tape and those were what you were booked from. A few people pleasantly surprised me this weekend and I will be doing more with them in the future.

Honestly, I wasn’t my best this weekend either, and that has an effect on the other comedians, the staff, and the audience. And I know that I’m not the end-all, be-all of whether a show goes well or not, but I’m a component. That’s why I get so mad when a comedian comes in and is too cool for the room — because one jerk with an attitude can take all of the air out of a room. We all affect each other whether we like it or not.

Sadness Saturday #1

 

First, let’s address the question that everyone asks when I express any type of sadness: why? And the answer? Who the hell knows, really? Was it a tough day at work? Sure. Was it a great day at work? Sure. Yes. Every day is terrible and wonderful and that is what life is. So it doesn’t matter why. I’m sad a lot, there are smart and dumb reasons why. Why isn’t important.

Why is a question that only makes me sadder because it means that the person asking it thinks that there is a solution. If you are sad because a) then you can cure your sadness by doing b). No. No matter how hard I dream, I still wake up me and I have to be me all day and then I have to go to sleep and be me again tomorrow. And me is sad. Sometimes I think that sad is all that me is, ever has been, will ever be. Usually, I think that when I’m sad. I generally don’t think that when I’m not sad.

The second thing that bugs me when I say that I’m sad, and honestly, I don’t say it much anymore because I’m so tired of hearing: get over it. Move on. Oh, okay. Wow, why didn’t I think of that? Just don’t feel. Don’t have a natural reaction to pain. I could, and honestly, I’m tempted to, justify my pain, really lay it out there, tell you all of the terrible things that have ever been said or done to me, and if I did, you would give up. You would say something like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know it was that bad.” And then you would go about your life, still thinking that I should get over it, except you wouldn’t say it out loud to me because you wouldn’t want the argument.

The WORST thing about being sad is when I have to argue it, justify it. Here is my why? Why? Why do I have to prove that I have a right to be sad? Why do I have to paint a picture so horrific that you’ll finally stop arguing with me? I didn’t ask me how I was, you did. My only crime was answering honestly.

Here are two things I do to combat my natural inclination to make sure that others are okay with my sadness:

    • I don’t answer why. I just say, “sometimes I feel sad” and that has to be enough for them because I’m not giving them anything else.
    • If someone gets upset that I’m not justifying my sadness, I get over it.

These suggestions sound snarky, but honestly, it kind of works.

Here’s something else I do: any time someone tells me that they’re overreacting to an upsetting event that happened to them, I tell them that they’re allowed to be sad, that sadness is a natural reaction to a sad event. I figure, if I allow other people to be sad, they will allow other people to be sad, and eventually, maybe we won’t all walk around expecting ourselves and everyone else to react to pain like sociopaths.

via GIPHY

Pay the sadness forward, everybody! Have a good weekend!

 

Blogging While Humaning

I’d love to have prepared something special for my first real blog post. I did a quick Google search and there were a lot of “not to-do” articles that I didn’t click on, but I did see one piece of advice that said, “share your expertise”. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m not an expert on anything but I am proficient in a lot of things:

  • sadness
  • anxiety
  • face blindness
  • Dan Fogelberg
  • writing
  • drawing
  • stand-up comedy

That’s seven things! So I’m going to dedicate one day of the week to each of these things and give the best tips I have for all of these subjects. If I become proficient at anything else,  I may have to change the format at some point, but we’ll start with these. Because this is my first official blog, I’m going to do the first week in one post and give a tip for each subject, so that you can judge from one post if I have any credibility on these subjects.

Minstrel Monday
Dan Fogelberg Fact: Dan Fogelberg had a boat named the Minstrel, therefore, Mondays have been nicknamed Minstrel Mondays!

Testy Tuesday
Okay, I couldn’t think of a word for anxiety that started with a “t” so we’re going with Testy Tuesdays. A tip for dealing with anxiety: Anxiety is about feeling out of control, so the best way to combat that is to pull your focus into what you can control, even if it’s something small. Write a one-page story (it doesn’t have to be good), draw a thing (it doesn’t have to be good), pick up your socks off the floor (leave the empty water bottles). If you’re focused on what you CAN do, you’re not focused on what you CAN’T control.

Writing Wednesday
This one was easy to name. This is something I did for my writing, recently:  I joined a Facebook writing group. It’s going well so far. Yes, there is the temptation to just play on the page instead of write. However, being able to see and talk to people for whom writing is also super important is very helpful.

Drawing Thursday
Yeah, I totally gave up on the alliteration for this one. A tip for drawing: start out crappy at it and get better by doing it crappily a lot. It’ll get gradually less crappy and before you know it, it’s actually kind of good.

Face-Blindness Friday
Again easy to name! Face blindness is called “prosopagnosia” and it is defined as, “Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces…Depending upon the degree of impairment, some people with prosopagnosia may only have difficulty recognizing a familiar face; others will be unable to discriminate between unknown faces, while still others may not even be able to distinguish a face as being different from an object.”* Tip for Dealing with a Face Blind Person: if you’ve met someone a few times and they still don’t recognize you, it may not be a lack of respect, it could be a neurological condition, so don’t get all butt hurt, just introduce yourself again.

Sadness Saturday
Ooh, my favorite! Honestly, I could make this every day, but what a bummer of a blog that would be. A tip for dealing with sadness: Google “I am sad” and see what pops up. Generally, it’s kittens. I like to Google my sadness away because it reminds me that it’s part of being human. Everyone deals with sadness, I am not a freak for feeling sad sometimes.

Stand-Up Sunday
The perfect follow-up to Sadness Saturday. I work at a comedy club, so I’ll probably spend Sundays reflecting on something I learned or saw that week, or a joke I heard, or something that pissed me off. This week, the Wednesday audition was really nice. We had like, four first timers (comedians new to the club) but in general, it was a low turnout, and mostly regulars. But before the audition, I asked David Dorward if he’d do one of my favorite bits. I requested one of my favorite Kimberly Clark bits from her, too, and then spent more time chatting with the few people who showed up than I usually do.

Usually, at auditions, the regulars get up and use it as an open mic with mixed results. But on Wednesday, David was one of our first regulars up, and he brought it. Kimberly did too, and so did all of our regulars. I think there were two things that happened yesterday: one, I showed an interest in the comics, rather than just checking them in, which made them feel special before they even got on stage. And second, even the comedians I didn’t chat with were jazzed and inspired by David and Kimberly and they all did their best, too.

David and Kimberly are two of my favorite comedians who drop by auditions regularly, and they always do well, but I think that going in knowing that they were not just watched but seen and heard, really helped. It COULD have backfired, and I won’t be doing that a lot, but my requests were spontaneous and genuine, and they responded to that. I think we all got to remind each other that we all love stand-up, which oddly enough, sometimes gets lost in the grinds and gears of comedy as a business.

* https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Prosopagnosia-Information-Page