I recommend listening to Sia’s “Breath Me” while reading this post. Go ahead, click on it. Dramatic, right?
I think drama is unavoidable today, since, as a finale, the desire to reflect and tie things up is irresistible. I’m a little nervous and also listening to “Breath Me.” Please keep those things in mind while reading.
A year ago this past September, I quit my job in marketing at The New York Times to focus on stand-up comedy and writing. It’s a trite and privileged decision, abandoning the comforts of corporate American to pursue one’s “art.” It’s bold and romantic, I guess, but hardly unique – especially in New York City where one can eavesdrop on similar stories of “bravery” at any cafe on any given Tuesday at noon. While turning my back on one stereotype, I was frightened of becoming another.
I worried about quitting. If I never responded appropriately to the discipline of a real job, how could I possibly do anything when deadlines were self-imposed?
For the first 4 months, I talked a lot about what I was going to do. “I’m going to put together a set for Conan.” “I’m going to finish the screenplay with Peter.” I felt productive committing to things, then angry when I failed to follow through. I would quell that anger with a promise to infuse more energy into my next commitment, only to fail again. I was lucky and thankful to be spending so much time with my wife and kids, and to this day, it’s been the best part of the experience, but I wasn’t supposed to be retired. I needed to build a structure that excuses couldn’t topple.
I thought of it like this: The differences between dieting and getting sober are vast. Dieting means eating less, and you’re constantly tempted with morsels of your addiction. Being sober – though difficult in practice – is an easier concept: never drink again. I made a similarly unambiguous commitment to writing. If I tried the diet method, committing to three blog posts a week, the temptation to procrastinate would undermine the much needed routine.
I told everyone willing to listen, that I would write something every day for a year. I had no other goal but to write and self-publish each day. There was no expectation of success beyond that. I believed I would do it, but was also haunted by my awful track record of promise keeping. The first few posts were filled with self-flagellation and doubt.
Excerpt from Day 1:
One of the things I wanted to do when I quit was “blog about my daily progress (progress toward what, I’m not entirely sure). This is the first post. I could pretend like this is really day 1, but I think the fact that it took me 4 months to even do the first post teaches you more about me than 120 posts ever could. I spend all my waking hours disappointing myself.
What few readers I had appreciated the honesty. Some even reached out to offer encouragement. One of them said, “You won’t make it past April,” but he meant it in a loving way.
By week two, I was still punishing myself for past failures.
Excerpt from Day 14:
This is the first thing I’ve ever done for two weeks straight besides penicillin.
But I was also beginning to have fun, and see hints of my voice coming through. In the same post, I wrote about returning to Brooklyn for the first time after having moved to New Jersey,
It’s amazing how we can romanticize our past. We went to our old coffee shop, remembering how amazing it was. When we walked in I thought, “Wow, I forgot that everyone brings their dog in here.” The coffee is great and you can’t get a decent coffee in New Jersey, but lord can hipsters make a family uncomfortable without even trying. Hey dude with the macbook, wingtips and bulldog, you aren’t even looking at me, but I can tell by your hair that my kids are annoying you.”
It wasn’t long before my commitment to the blog began to mirror my sobriety; I’d done it for long enough that the idea of starting over provided all the fear I needed to keep going. Missing a day would be like having a drink. It was also now a household ritual that even my 3 year-old understood, “Daddy, are you going upstairs to write your blog?” My wife’s support was tireless, and still is, fifty two weeks later. In addition to emotional support, she reads every single word before I send it out.
At the beginning of the third month when I published Really Fugazi? I started to feel like I was a writer. It was premature, and I still squash that self-congratulatory identity when it makes its way past my weak defenses. I’ve written 600 words a day for a year, which only means something if those words are good ones. Some of them are, but not enough yet to call myself a Writer. I read Dave Eggers, T.C. Boyle, Jonathan Ames, or David Sedaris and feel the same way about writing as I did about stand-up the first time I saw Patrice O’Neal. “Wait a minute, I have no idea what I’m doing.” At that point, you can either quit while you’re behind, or dig in and do the hard work it takes to shrink that gap. A quote from Ira Glass explains this best. Here’s part of it:
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
At least I could blame my self-doubt on the burden of having good taste.
The blog wasn’t my only creative project. My friend Jeff Glasse and I were writing a 30-minute comedy pilot for television titled Making Good. It’s about a father striving, and mostly failing, to maintain a job, a career in stand-up comedy, and a happy home life. I was more focused on the success of Making Good, than I was http://jasongood.net. Most of my days were spent tweaking and rewriting the script, while trying to squeeze in a quick blog entry sometime around lunch. I wanted to be a TV writer.
After completing that project, I entered a week-long trance during which I wrote another comedy pilot, called “Kustard Kings” about an economically divided town awkwardly drawn together when the family of an idealistic Marxism professor inherits the local ice cream truck business. I’m proud of it, and looking back now, I’m not sure how I did it.
Shortly after clicking “save as” and typing “Kustard Kings draft 1_complete,” everything changed.
In a 20 minute flurry, I listed what I thought went through my 2 year-old son’s head over the course of 3 minutes. I was glad to have gotten that day’s entry out of the way so quickly. When I showed it to Lindsay and my mom, they each laughed so hard they cried. I should mention they’d been drinking, but still, it seemed like maybe I’d created something special.
You might need to replay Sia’s “Breath me“ by now. Go ahead. You know you want to.
Day 215: Approximately 3 Minutes Inside the Head of My 2-year-old quickly went viral. Probably half of you reading this now originally discovered my site as a result of seeing that entry elsewhere. Facebook “likes” were growing at a rate of 5 per minute, and when The Bloggess tweeted it to her 200k followers, and Joanna Goddard posted it on her popular blog, my site crashed. It took a few hours to get it back up, and when we did, the flood of traffic continued.
The vast majority of people read that one entry and left, but there were enough who stuck around, poking through other entries, that I was beginning to build an audience. I was receiving emails from strangers thanking me for explaining their toddler to them. “It’s like you’re living inside my house.” I liked it. Parenting is hard, and I’d enjoyed writing about my kids so much already, that I decided to do more of it.
A Toddler Rite of Passage, The Saturation Failure, and Great Jobs for New Parents all seemed to speak to fellow child rearers. Though I was sharing the very specific details of my own experience as a father and husband, it was that specificity which drew people in and, honestly, made many of them feel sane again. It’s ridiculous, funny and complicated to be so in love with tiny people who are often frustrating and unpredictable.
A month after posting Approximately 3 Minutes Inside the Head of My 2 Year Old, I received an email from an editor at Bloomsbury publishing. She’d come across the post in her Facebook feed and asked me if I’d be interested in making it into a children’s book. After cleaning the drool off my desk, I responded with a polite, “Oh, I think that’s a great idea.” The book is due to come out in 2013, with two more to follow, the topics of which are yet to be determined.
As you might imagine, I got a great boost of confidence from the recognition. Yes, that attention was coming from a list of thoughts I wrote in 20 minutes, and not from one of my more writerly entries, but it didn’t really matter. I felt like I was on the right path.
A few weeks later, after hooking a literary agent, I was approached by a different publisher to do a gift book for new parents – something you might see on one of the tables at Urban Outfitters, for instance. We passed on that offer in hopes that my first “real book” might be something more significant. Whether that was the right decision or not, I still don’t know.
I had written cute little entries for six months and was turning down a goddamn book offer. I was told that if I wanted a career writing books, I should “start how you want to finish.” In other words, if I’m going to write books, make sure the first one sets me on a path I’m interested in taking.
But I didn’t even know if I wanted to write a book at all, much less what kind of book. I still wanted to be a TV writer. People were reading Kustard Kings and liking it.
I had also started to connect with some of the more memoir type writing I was doing. A piece about my father-in-law titled, The Blue Blazer, as well as the two about my grandfathers, The Pinewood Derby, and Edwin Good, felt right and real. I was getting more comfortable seasoning my acerbic voice with some tenderness. Considering how uncomfortable I am with that last sentence, I still have some work to do in that area.
At the same time, I was also connecting viscerally with chronicling my daily life. Lindsay, Silas or Arlo would do something funny, and I’d write about it the next day. I was keeping a journal, really; taking snapshots in my brain and expanding on them the next day. Those posts will provide far more emotional value than any picture or video.
A big chunk of my sense of humor comes from criticizing and making fun of myself. I’ve painted my life in this blog with that set of brushes. It’s easier for me to make light of poor choices, honest mistakes, moments of panic, and times of frustration, than it is success, happiness, serenity, and cuteness. The picture you have of my family might be one of four people run amuck – of an ear picking, foot rubbing husband struggling to enjoy life; a wife who never sleeps and can’t remember simple words; and their two young children who stomp all over them. If I could tackle the amazing stuff head-on and make it funny, I would. I hope, though, that through the harsh realities I communicate about my life, you see that I’m lucky, and thankful; that my kids are amazingly perfect, and my wife, the strongest most giving person I’ve ever met.
You probably need some more Sia. I know I do.
I’m still deciding what I want to do. In fact, I think that might be the key to happiness: Spending your life trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.
I’ve blogged now for 365 days in a row. In the grand scheme of things, that’s hardly impressive, but considering where I was a year ago, I’m proud. I didn’t build 40 houses for Habitat for Humanity, or sail around the world in a boat I built from driftwood. I simply created and followed through on a long-term promise which I knew would get me on a path to feeling productive and in charge of my life.
I’m still not a Writer, and I’m ok with that. I want to be one though, and whether I’m writing books, or TV scripts, or both, I’d be happy. I still enjoy performing stand-up, but have honestly lost the desire to pursue the business side of it – the phone calls, emails, auditions, and ass kissing. I usually accept offers to do shows, but seldom pursue them. The response of my readers is almost as good as the laughter of a room full of people. I’ll always need that immediate reaction of a comedy club, but I realize now, that I’m never going to be a career stand-up comedian. I think I’ve known that for a long time, but only recently have I been willing to admit it publicly. I could always change my mind.
I will continue writing this blog, but feel it’s engrained enough in my routine that I no longer need the unambiguous commitment of daily entries. I can take weekends and one weekday off without everything falling apart and asking for my job back at The New York Times.
As this blog has become more important to me, the entries have taken up more of my time. I need days where I can concentrate on one project without thinking about the post I have yet to write.
This might be the series finale, but it’s not my final entry. There will not be a post tomorrow, which will be very strange for me. There might be one on Monday, and if there is, it won’t have “Day 366:” in the title. I hope you all stick around to see what happens over the next 365 days (and probably around 200 posts.)
I set out to change my life, and all of you helped me do that.