This Could Have Gone Worse: My book is for sale today!

Here's a line I've been looking forward to writing: 

I've just published an ebook! You can get it here! 

It's got a cover!

It's got a cover!

This Could Have Gone Worse brings together the scripts of my last three shows, but it's a lot more than an anthology. I've heavily annotated the scripts with notes on the writing, performances, and jokes. In addition, I've added three chapters explaining how I got started, and how each show came together, good and bad. My director, Steve Kleinedler, has annotated it as well, offering an alternate perspective and putting a check on my worst impulses.  

It's a weird thing to have published, I know. Believe me, I've asked myself a hundred times whether it's hubris to assume anybody would want to read this. I'm not exactly a well-known figure in comedy or theater, whose opinions have been eagerly awaited. This sort of thing tends to come after commercial success, right?

But here's the thing: commercial success might never come, and it turns out that on writing this I discovered that I had a lot to say. The feedback from early readers was encouraging. Sitting on it until some theoretical future victory lap is approved seems foolish. I'm proud of this book. 

For those who just want to read the scripts, go wild. I've made it easy by separating the notes and adding a TOC to skip the chapters, if you choose. If you want to read the notes, I've made that easy, too, linking them to the text for easy back-and-forth clicking.  

In the download, I've included ePub, mobi, and pdf files, so you can read it on whatever device or software you prefer.  

I hope you'll give it a try. If you like it, tell somebody. 

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The 2014 Royals, half an hour later

Now that the World Series is over, I finally had a chance to watch that GWAR video people were posting. It was unexpectedly touching.

The Royals had a hell of a run, and are once again a real (if bizarre) baseball team.

It's not the outcome I was looking for, but none of us saw Madison Bumgarner coming. The words "Madison Bumgarner" mean something different now.

This team I spent half the season berating just barely squeaked into the postseason and then went on an 11-4 run. My heart stopped a few times, but those were all extra beats, anyway. Nobody saw this run coming. Nobody. We thought we'd be seeing Cards/Angels or Nats/Orioles. I'd have been watching, but not like this. It was great.

I wish Game Seven had gone differently. But the Royals are back. Shields and Butler will be gone, and things will be different, but the Royals are back.

Congrats, Giants fans. Pence and Sandoval and Panik and Bumgarner would be heroes on any team.

This was so much fun.

Spring's only five months away.

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Parents Need Friends, Too

Because the Huffington Post will publish literally anything, this morning the world was treated to "10 Reasons You Don't Want to Be My Friend Now That I Have Kids." Take a moment and stare into the dark, narcissistic soul of an American parenting martyr. I'd ignore it and move on except that it just barely overlaps with a slice of reality, and that overlap is sufficient to give her word puree consideration it doesn't deserve. I want to look at and acknowledge the overlap, and then put forward a healthier alternative.

She's right about one thing: it's harder to be a good friend when you have small children.

It's not impossible. It's just harder. Especially when the children are very small, parents (especially mothers) have fewer hours, less sleep, and less freedom to come and go as they please. So we should all pat the martyr blogger on the back here: yes, it's harder.

But the parenting martyr paints this as an end-all-be-all, and that's sad for her. Life is notably worse when you shut your friends out. The fact that she's so wit's-end crazed is partly the result of shutting out adults and friends, of turning herself over to a reality where everything about parenting is urgent and necessary and all-consuming.

Photographic evidence of parents dressed for the outside world.

Photographic evidence of parents dressed for the outside world.

She seems unaware of something basic: your friends know parents have less time. This isn't a surprise, and the world cuts you some slack. Of course you'll probably go out less and may have difficulty with some phone calls, and of course you're going to occasionally be wearing applesauce. That's how it is. The early years are taxing, and your friends know that. If you choose to no longer care about their dating life or you want to make everything about you, that's not because you're a parent, it's because you're a jerk. 

The angry defensiveness of the martyr blogger, lashing out at people for their ridiculous expectations? That says more about her than her friends. They're just calling to catch up, not to hurt her. You don't win a prize for giving yourself over to your kids entirely: you win relentless depression, and your kids never see you at your best. 

Personally, I've been an imperfect friend as a parent, but that's reason to try harder, not to tell people to buzz off. My community is largely theater and improv people, and many of them are parents. The ones who stay involved after having kids are almost invariably happier-seeming. It's because they kept their friends in their lives, kept their interests, remembered how to have fun and have conversations about something other than their kids. 

Ignore the parenting martyrs. They're not living good lives.

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The Slow Take: Royals vs. A's in the Craziest Game I Ever Saw

Yes, this is a blog post about a wild card game that happened more than a day ago, which means my chance at a "hot take" is long past. In Internet time, a game more than a day ago is a game played in the dead-ball era. 

That's fine. I'm a slow take guy, anyway. But if you want the best write-up of the game by a professional, as always, I recommend Rany Jazayerli or Joe Posnanski. They have the luxury of doing it for a living, whereas I had to go to work a few hours after the game and do that job, and then came home and fell asleep early in Wednesday's Pirates/Giants game.

In a way, the delay is a good one. I've had time to think about and savor the weirdness of the Royals' victory on Tuesday. At one point yesterday, riding the train home, I went back to look at my tweets and text messages from during the game, and they made me giddy. Instead of an in-depth recap of the game or a detailed analysis of "what it means," I instead present: The Royals vs. the A's, as told through a revisiting of my slightly drunk, insane tweeting.

Typically, I tweet 0-4 times per day. During and after the Royals game, I tweeted 43 times. That wasn't my intention.

The first was a retweet, at 8:15 ET, just a few minutes into the game.

My darling wife was right (except that it's a Salvador Perez shirsey; my loan to afford a jersey hasn't been approved yet). I was nervous. If I were an unaligned observer, not a fan of one team, I'd have picked the A's to win this game. Their players are selective when swinging the bat, don't give up outs easily, and their starter, Jon Lester, is one of the best guys you can bring to the mound in an elimination game. The Royals, on the other hand, swing wildly, throw away outs with abandon. Fortunately, their starter, James Shields, is also a pretty good bet, especially if he can last six innings and hand the ball over to the Royals 7-8-9 combo of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland, the fiercest bullpen trio in baseball, guys who've collectively given up 4 losses all season.

The 2014 Royals play a type of baseball that causes me panic: they swing at everything, they run fast, they steal and bunt, and rely on an airtight defense because they never put up big offensive numbers. This team does these things not because it's the best strategy but because it's a strategy that works for them. This isn't a slugging team, and it's too late to teach these guys to be selective hitters. It's a precarious, dangerous, unstable path to victory, to try to cobble together runs from speed and lucky hits.

So, yeah, my stomach acid was roiling. James Shields gave up a two run bomb to Brandon Moss in the first inning, right around the time Lisa tweeted this.

The second tweet was a long time coming. At 9:04, I tweeted:

In the hour since the first tweet, the Royals had scored a run, and then ended a promising first-and-third situation in one of the strangest baserunning blunders of all time, as Billy Butler sort of wandered away from first base, got trapped in a run-down, but ultimately led to first baseman Eric Hosmer getting tagged out at home while the Royals best hitter, Alex Gordon, stood at the plate. Weird.

Incidentally, I have a portrait of Billy Butler on the wall in my house, not being caught in a rundown. Illustration and print by John Holcomb

Incidentally, I have a portrait of Billy Butler on the wall in my house, not being caught in a rundown.

Illustration and print by John Holcomb

But the Woooooooooohooooooo? That was the first excitement in a little while. The A's had two men on in the top of the 3rd, and Brandon Moss, who'd homered in his first at-bat, hit a line sharply to Hosmer, who through to shortstop Alcides Escobar to double off Sam Fuld, stifling what could have been an ugly inning.

Thirteen minutes later:

The Royals rallied! Two runs scored, giving the Royals a 3-2 lead. Best of all, for me, was that the scoring involved hits from both Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who for years, years, have been linchpin members of the dream team promised by the Royals' farm system, but who have struggled in their own ways since coming up. Moustakas, in particular, has faced calls for demotion and whipping for carrying a sub-.200 batting average for most of the season. Legitimately, I was thrilled for these guys to be a part of this rally. It took a long time for the promise of Alex Gordon to become the reality of Alex Gordon, and I haven't given up on these guys.

The fourth and fifth innings were uneventful. Lester and Shields were locked in. The sixth, though, looked interesting. I tweeted at 9:50:

God, if only I'd known. I tweeted this thinking, "if Shields can keep them from scoring, he hands the ball to Kelvin Herrera." What I didn't know was that ALL HELL WAS ABOUT TO BREAK LOOSE.

Shields quickly gave up a hit and a walk, and though he had gas in the tank, manager Ned Yost came out to pull him with Brandon Moss coming to the plate. This was completely understandable in an elimination game. Ned Yost doesn't always do this sort of thing well, more often sticking with a guy too long than pulling him early, so he should be celebrated for the decision.

Unfortunately, he paired a good decision with a bad one, replacing Shields with Yordano Ventura. I love Yordano Ventura. But putting a very young starter in a high-risk relief situation, on one-day's rest, when you have the most effective and fully rested bullpen in baseball? Oh, Ned.

The Oakland A's scored five runs that inning. The Royals average four per game. Even without the two Oakland already had, this was a tough thing to overcome. The Royals were down 7-3, and the commentators began discussing the Royals in the past tense. It was a sad hour that followed. The Royals failed to do anything at the plate in the sixth and the seventh. Royals Twitter was a place of despair, rage, and confusion. The players in the A's dugout were smiling ear-to-ear. Stories were getting filed with newspapers and websites across the country.

And then, at 11:06:

In the eighth inning, things were happening. Though I hadn't tweeted, I'd been texting back and forth with my friend Heidi about the signs of life.  Escobar had singled and stolen second. He'd been batted to third on a ground-out by Nori Aoki. Lorenzo Cain singled, driving in Escobar. 7-4. With Hosmer batting, Cain stole second. Hosmer walked. 

Billy Butler came to the plate. Billy Butler whose portrait is on my wall. Jon Lester was pulled from the game with runners on first and second. I tweeted.

Butler singled. Lorenzo Cain scored. 7-5. Hosmer ran to third. Runners at the corners. And then I retweeted:

Ned Yost sent in Terrance Gore, the fastest member of the Royals, to pinch run for Butler, maybe the slowest person in the division, if not in baseball. Gore is on the postseason roster for one reason: speed.

He promptly stole second.

WILD PITCH. A's pitcher Luke Gregersen let one go, and Hosmer scored. 7-6. Gore moved to third. Gordon walked, and then stole second while Sal Perez was at the plate. Runners at second and third. We'd stolen four bases to reach this point, and removed one of our best bats from the game.

And then Perez and Omar Infante both grounded out. Fizzle.

One inning remained, and we were down by one.  

#RoyalsDevilMagic has been one of my favorite things about Twitter lately. Born from the observation of divisional rivals, fans have taken over #RoyalsDevilMagic. The fact is, the team has won this year by doing EVERYTHING wrong. We shouldn't even be in the postseason. Appeals to #RoyalsDevilMagic to keep the improbably going a little longer, even one more inning, were lighting up Twitter.

I hadn't sat down in three hours. Lately I'd been pacing around the living room with occasional forays into the kitchen to charge my phone and get drinks.

If anyone was awake in the house, I think I would have just made grunting and gurgling noises as the Royals came to bat again in the ninth. They'd allowed some baserunners in the top of the inning, including Brandon Moss, and most Royals fans were descending into madness.

Josh Willingham came to the plate, pinch-hitting for Mike Moustakas. He singled. 

Jarrod Dyson is sent in to pinch run for Willingham. Dyson has the team lead in steals, even though he's had half the at-bats of the others.  Escobar laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Dyson sped to second. RUNNER IN SCORING POSTION, one out. America needs to drop what it's doing and attend to some serious ninth-inning drama.

With Nori Aoki at the plate, Dyson stole third.

Aoki hit a sac fly deep to right field. Dyson scored. 7-7. HOLY SHIT. 

Lorenzo cain lined out, and the inning was over. We were going to extra innings. Three hours and forty minutes into the game, nearly two hours after being turned into road kill, the Royals were very much alive.

SERIOUSLY. It's been 29 years since they played a game like this, and sports fans everywhere kind of love the Royals just for the story. 

Rany Jazayerli is not only a great sportswriter, but he serves as the raw nerve of the average devoted Royals fan. His blog and his Grantland articles perfectly capture the range of emotion this idiot fanbase has experienced, and that night, he was in the park, with a dead battery.

The Royals had burnt through the brand names in their bullpen, and for the tenth inning, they went to the most intriguing new addition to the team, a just-drafted Brandon Finnegan, who four months ago, was a college pitcher, on the mound for the TCU Horned Frogs. Now he was pitching in an elimination game in the majors.

He put down the side on eight pitches, with one strikeout.

Back on offense, Hosmer singled on the first pitch.. Realizing Gore was set to bat, I tweeted:

I was wrong!

But so was a professional (but an Ibanez walk-off would in fact be a hell of a story)! Ibanez stayed on the bench, and we got Christian Colon, another exciting rookie.

I don't think I've ever retweeted the police, even during an Amber Alert.

Colon sac bunted, moving Hosmer to second. Alex Gordon ground out, moving Hosmer AGAIN to third.

Sal Perez, my man, the name on my shirsey, who'd looked terrible all night, was up.

That's not a lie. I was standing in my living room shouting "You don't go 0-for-5. Sal Perez doesn't go 0-5!"

He grounded out. Inning over.

I posted this at midnight exactly. The game was four hours old.

Finnegan was back on the mound. He struck out Coco Crisp, neatly fielded a Sam Fuld bunt attempt for an out, and then gave up a single to Josh Donaldson, the A's best hitter.

Brandon Moss was back at the plate. Brandon Moss, who'd scored 5 of the A's 7 runs on two monster home runs. 

I don't really know what Moss's face usually looks like. I don't see him bat enough to know if he always looks that way, but in my 11th-inning hyper-vigilance, I thought I saw a loss of swagger in the early pitches of the at bat. IMMEDIATELY after tweeting that, Moss struck out. On to the bottom of the eleventh.

This whole thing was incomprehensible. This team that shouldn't be able to win was forcing their way deep into the morning with rookies and speed and singles and luck. 

At 12:19, with Omar Infante ON THIRD BASE, with two outs, and Jayson Nix at the plate (he'd come off the bench as a defensive substitution), I thought, "Huh, Jayson Nix. I like Jayson Nix. He could be a hero here tonight. That would be very Royals." 

He struck out. 

In the top of the 12th, the A's scored. Finnegan walked Josh Reddick, and Jed Lowrie moved him to second on a sac bunt. Jason Frasor came in to take over for Finnegan. The batter, Alberto Callaspo, singled off Frasor, scoring Reddick. 8-7, Oakland.

Callaspo used to play for Kansas City. I didn't know what would happen in the bottom of the twelfth, but I didn't feel fear or dread like earlier in the game. Now, ANYTHING could happen. One run. Sure. The Royals can do that.

I glanced at the roster: Cain, Hosmer, Colon, and Gordon. These guys could do anything.

I'm not superstitious at all, but hey:

I said I wouldn't say anything, but I didn't say I wouldn't make weird noises without hashtagging them. Eric Hosmer had hit a triple with one out. MAN ON THIRD. AGAIN.

Too excited to remember to hashtag. Embracing a lifetime of ignored superstition. I'd do anything.

Christian Colon hit a weak little thing at third base, and Hosmer had SCORED. 8-8. They could win, or they could send it to 13, but they weren't going to lose this inning. We could be here ALL NIGHT.

Alex Gordon just popped out. Two outs. 12:49 AM. SALVADOR PEREZ IS BACK ON THE MOUND.

This time, the pep talk was a little louder, though I'm still not hashtagging, because me and Sal needed to just keep this a little private.

Fine, shirsey. Fine. I'm just saying, I'm invested a bit in this man's success. It's a childish thing. But he's at the plate in the TWELFTH INNING OF AN ELIMINATION PLAYOFF MATCHUP WITH THE WINNING RUN IN SCORING POSITION because CHRISTIAN COLON stole second on a passed ball.

Sal Perez hit a game-winning single to left field. Colon scored from second. I made a bunch of weird noises. My wife came downstairs, tired by very happy for me, revealing that I'd been watching VERY loudly for the past 40 minutes or so, and she'd been able to track the game by my cries.

For real.

Oh, this post is too long to explain SungWoo Lee, and why I'd tweet a stranger in South Korea about a Royals victory. Just Google him. This season is crazy, and SungWoo Lee deserves a million tweets of congratulations.

I keep being seized by fits of wonder. 

This is the most KC thing I've ever tweeted. They say people from Kansas City are very nice. 

If the game had ended in nine innings, ALL we'd be talking about was the disaster of the sixth inning. I hadn't though of it in at least two hours. Ned Yost went from "certain to be fired" to "coaching in the ALDS" and we all are along for the ride.

DELIVERED.

The next morning, I awoke, sitting upright on the couch with the TV still on. I don't think I've done that as an adult. It is not my style: I like beds. I had apparently been sitting, just watching the celebration, watching Pedro Martinez tear Yost a new one, watched Eric Hosmer preach, listened to a lot of talk about what speed does on the basepaths, and just kind of been dazzled. 

But my toddler was crying, so I got a bottle, got the kid, played with him a bit, went through the standard morning things, and even though I was exhausted, I was so happy. That game was like nothing I'd ever seen before.

It's a stupid thing, to be so invested in something so unpredictable and dumb and so utterly beyond your control. But man, baseball is the best thing.

Just before 8am, I tweeted one last time about the game:

Seriously. Anyone who wants to be a Royals fan can watch with me. I'll have snacks.

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The Royals are going to the Postseason

It's happened.

Tonight, the Kansas City Royals guaranteed themselves a postseason game.

Maybe it's just one game they'll play. Maybe it's 4, or 8, or 12, or 15, or 20.

Here's George Brett on the topic:

The Kansas City Royals haven't made the postseason since I was 7 years old.

When the Royals won Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, I was laying on my stomach on a red rug in the living room of my house in Prairie Village, Kansas. I was 7 years old, and it was a blowout. The Royals won so completely, so convincingly, so overwhelmingly, that they were surely the best team that ever played. They won 11-0 behind Bret Saberhagen, who was the world's biggest celebrity. 

I was 7 years old and I didn't know anything about baseball.

The manager, Dick Howser, soon died. He had a brain tumor, and during the 1986 All Star Game, he started messing up the signals. When he died the next year, I learned of it in my neighbor's living room, where I vowed to never step foot in the hospital where he died. 

The team's owner, a Kansas City legend, Ewing Kauffman, died a few years after that. Kauffman did legendary things in baseball. He's one of the few figures old school fans and sabermatricians agree on. He was both unconventional and deeply traditional. He built a team that nobody else would have built, but created a classic baseball atmosphere that the city dreamed of. He poured his heart into it. When he died, the team lost its mast.

In the last years of Kauffman's ownership, just a few years after the World Series win, my mom owned a bookstore, and there was this guy, Dan Quisenberry. He'd been the closer on that Royals team that won, and he came and signed his poetry books, and I thought, "Oh my god, he was on that team." A big league pitcher, reading poetry that he'd written. I knew that wasn't normal. I was just a child, but I knew I was seeing someone extraordinary. First off, he was from TV, and was very nice to my parents. But moreover, here was a guy defying expectations, and making me completely confused in the best way. I was an awkward kid, not a natural athlete, who saw an indivisible line between being into sports and being into books, and here was a guy doing both in a serious way, which seemed in defiance of the rules of the universe. Dan Quisenberry died of brain cancer when he was still young. I was in college when he died. I didn't know him, but I'd met him, and he was important to me. It seemed weird to be upset about a pitcher's death, but I was. I bought a paper the day he died, looking for his obituary. I think it's one of the only papers I bought in college.

When I was still little, my dad had these tickets. I don't know whose tickets they were. I was a child. Children don't know where the tickets come from. We were behind the Royals dugout, just a few rows. The team had just been World Series winners. Brett was still on the team. A win could happen any night. They could win everything again. 

Dan Quisenberry passed away 16 years ago. Ewing Kauffman passed away 21 years go. Dick Howser passed away 27 years ago. I was a kid when these men were with the Royals. Since then, the team was mostly a joke. Thousands of words could detail the depth of the joke. Cutoff man Ken Harvey got hit in the back of the head with a throw from the outfield; that's a decade right there. 

I lost the faith. Honestly, I did. I started hating sports as a rule, but then I was living in Boston with Nomar and Manny and Pedro, and oh god, I was here with 1999 and 2000 Pedro Martinez who is to this day the best baseball player I've ever seen. BASEBALL was back. I could hate sports but not baseball. The Royals were so bad... I mean, they were terrible. And cheering for the Red Sox was awesome. If you didn't see 99/00 Pedro, you missed something. 

A lot of my friends here in Boston had deep personal roots with the Sox. Grandparents who'd died waiting. Memories of 1986 and 1975 and probably 1918. Weird personal memories they'd each tied to the team. I had memories of 1996 through 2004: not the same. I didn't feel guilty, but I saw what was happening in Boston and knew my attachment to the Red Sox wasn't the same as theirs. What I needed was a Royals win. That's where my weird attachments were.

In 2006, I redevoted myself to the Royals. Oh, that was painful. Look that team up now, if you're bold. They lost 100 games. That was an IMPROVEMENT. They scored 757 runs, and gave up 971.  They were a terrible team. 

I'll save you the eight seasons since. I spent many hours trying to convince people this was the year. But nine seasons is nothing. It's 29 years since Saberhagen, Quisenberry, and Brett won a World Series. The team haven't won a World Series since, or anything else. They haven't played a postseason game. Every other team in baseball has made the postseason.

And now they've got a Wild Card. The Kansas City Royals will play a postseason game for the first time since I was 7. I am 36. If it happens again this way, I will be 65 when they're back. 

I hope it's not so long. But if it is, that's all the more reason for me to lose my mind right now, while the Royals—whatever else happens—after their final two games of the regular season, are guaranteed to play one more: game 163 of a 162 game season. 

I'm excited. Couldn't you tell?

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The more you write, the more you write

Guys, I'm failing at my goal of daily blogging, and that's fine because it's for the best reason: I've been too busy writing. No exaggeration, I've been writing several hours every night, and sometimes in the morning. I haven't had ideas for posts, but I've had no problem making progress on one of the books I've long been holding off on. 

One of the reasons I did this daily-blogging thing was the theory that getting the daily practice would spur the daily practice. I can't say for certain the two are related, but they're surely concurrent, and if making progress on the book means failing to make good on my blogging pledge, I am FINE with breaking my word. My plan is to blog a lot more than I had been, so in the long run, I'll get those posts out, but they won't be forced crap like that list of six words the other day. 

Daily blogging is a stupid goal unless you have some business need to do it. I'm not selling ads. I don't need page views. I need personal focus, and I've got that enough right now to not set an artificial goal. 

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I need some teaching advice!

Friends, I've run into a teaching conundrum.

Whenever I cover the riots of 2034, my students have trouble understanding what motivated so many human citizens to descend on Washington. The whole thing, to them, seems silly. Why would human Americans violently protest the inclusion of corporate Americans? To them it just seems mean-spirited and backwards. They didn't experience the days of barbarous anti-corporate bigotry. They've never known a world without Senator Home Depot or Chief Justice Buffalo Wild Wings.

I try to explain it first in political terms (forgive the summary, but I'm wondering if I'm taking a wrong step in what I'm covering, even. Let me know if you see something fishy!). I'm basically just telling the story we all know, that it goes back to 2020, when a storm of Democratic scandal gave the Republican party solid majorities in both houses of Congress and a fresh start in the White House. First among their accomplishments was the 2021 Corporate Rights and Personhood Act, which solidified and extended hard-fought corporate civil rights that until then had only been granted by the courts. By 2022, the Supreme Court had a 7-2 pro-corporate/corporaphobic split, with Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor routinely penning discouraged dissents brimming with anti-corporate bigotry. The challenges to the new law were quickly dismissed by the Roberts Court, in a decision that opened a door few had until then considered; in an aside, Samuel Alito asked, seemingly rhetorically, why a corporate citizen should not enjoy every benefit of American birthright, such as the ability to hold elected office. 

The students are with me, so far, I think. I mean, I don't expect them to remember the names, but there's nothing complicated about the basic political history. They have more trouble with the court history, though, and that might be my fault as legal arguments aren't really my area of expertise. Anything wrong with what I'm presenting? I basically say:

Corporate-rights champions, seeking to remove the yoke at the necks of beleaguered American corporations, saw in Alito's language an invitation to create the test case, and knowing they'd be stopped, attempted to run Consolidated Cardboard Works, a hardworking American success story headquartered in Tulsa, for an open House seat. The Oklahoma Secretary of State refused to add CCW to the ballot, saying elected office could only be held by a human citizen of the United States.

(My students have no patience for the intricacies of our court system, so I skip the early rulings and appeals, and go to the end). The dispute over CCW's candidacy ended up with the Supreme Court, which ruled in Consolidated Cardboard Works v. State of Oklahoma that (recognizing the already-established rights of personhood due to any corporation) an American-headquartered corporation comprised of a majority of American citizens was deprived of its citizenship rights if it was denied access to the ballot. Provided it had been incorporated at least 25 years earlier, the Court ruled that an American corporate person such as Consolidated Cardboard Works meets the requirements for the House. Naturally, the ruling applies to any other elected office.

Some of the students get upset that I appear to be making rationalizations for equal rights, when it should just be manifestly the fact that corporations are people to. It seems that my making the argument in some way suggests that the equality made real by the Court is somehow contingent, and that upsets some of the more principled students. I explain that I do not personally rely on Samuel Alito's logic to find Pepsico equal to myself, but that a study of history is important for seeing how future struggles might be won. 

Inevitably, here, a student suggests that equality hasn't been achieved, and as evidence, points out that we've still never had a corporate American President. This is where the class almost inevitably breaks down. I'm wary of getting into the identity politics, and I'm not sure I believe the arguments that it's because it takes time for a historically-brutalized population like corporations to build a political base. Part of me wants to say that while we have equality on paper, we haven't yet achieved it culturally, that there are still strong vestiges of anti-corporate bias at work throughout our society, and that the students themselves likely harbor some human-centric instincts they wouldn't be proud to have exposed. But, they're only in the seventh grade! It seems a bit heavy a burden to lay on them. 

What I've been doing is pointing out that Goldman Sachs is polling really well among Republicans in New Hampshire, and Yahoo! is a respectable fourth in the Democratic polling (with surprisingly little name recognition). Maybe next year is the year. I'm not going to share my politics with them (I adore AT&T, ever since its brave stance on college sports deregulation). 

So, I turn to you: anybody got any good classroom activities on this? Holograms I can load up? Anybody ever bring in a corporate guest speaker to address the issue of anti-corporate bigotry head-on?

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OK, Let's Talk About Gun Rights

So, yesterday, I wrote about wanting to take a turn towards comedy that's about something. It just so happens that I did exactly that at last night's Fine Line Comedy "Swiftly Tilting" show in Jamaica Plain. For the show, I wrote something new, taking on something tough: guns.

I felt it went very well. I won't preface it anymore except to say that I tried to read it completely straight, and only broke into a laugh when Hannah Foell holler/whimpered "noooo..." at one point.


OK, Let's Talk About Gun Rights

Thank you for coming here today. Before we begin, I want to acknowledge that there’s a lot of anger and frustration in the room. Passions are running high these past few days. I share a lot of those emotions with you all, and I’d like—if we could—to maintain some order and civility.

Since the alleged shooting at Pinecrest Elementary on Monday, there’s been an awful lot of speculation in the media, much of it greatly amplified by misinformation and partisan noise. We’ve seen calls for increased gun regulation, more attention to mental health care, and to a lesser, though quite vocal extent, concern about government overreach.

In the immediate aftermath of such an alleged event, with cable news saying things like “40 dead” or “child massacre,” people tend to vote with their gut, not their reason. We shouldn’t be making policy under such circumstances. The first few years after such an event are better spent cooling off, not acting rashly.

But we can’t change reality. People want to talk now. They demand it. So we should talk. But if we’re going to talk, we need to look at the situation comprehensively, and not just replay that clip of the children hiding in the cafeteria walk-in refrigerator. That’d be like setting energy policy while showing footage of polar bears scrambling up the sides of collapsing glaciers, or of Al Qaeda on the march. There’s just no there there, right?

So yes, let’s talk about gun rights! Please, settle down! Settle down. We’re going to have to address this sooner or later.

As you know, our organization has been taking the lead on developing innovative legislation on gun rights, and we’ve seen some real progress in several states. Look to Florida, Indiana, Texas, Kansas, and Arizona. Stand Your Ground laws were a good first step! They gave gun owners greater legal clarity about the actions they could take to use their guns to protect their guns. In these progressive states, a citizen who fears for the safety his gun may use that gun to drop an anti-Second-Amendment attacker.

But that, in our eyes, is not enough. Gun rights exist on a slippery slope. It’s great that those with a conceal carry permit are able to protect their guns’ rights, but until such time as guns are able to fire themselves, the vast majority of legal guns can have their rights violated at any moment. Gun opponents like to play identity politics. OK: I defy them to find a more defenseless and despised American population than America’s guns.

Critics of liberty challenge the idea that guns need protection, but I remind them of the indisputable historical evidence. The Second Amendment clearly states the necessity of guns for the establishment of militias, and militias were the cornerstone of American safety and security. No militias, no security. No guns, no militias. These guns are Constitutionally REQUIRED, every bit as fundamental  as our courts and Congress. To not defend them would be equivalent to letting a foreign army seize the White House.

Further, our Founders enshrined gun rights in the Second Amendment, immediately following  protections for speech, press, religion, and assembly. The Founders described gun rights before almost any others, signalling a priority. Could it be that gun rights trump our freedom from quartering soldiers? From self-incrimination? From unreasonable search and seizure? Surely the answer is yes, for it is by the use of our protected guns that we ensure no soldier sleeps on our sofabeds.

These rights, though, they are under assault. Not only are we told they must be restrained by safeties and locks, we are told they must not be handled by even reformed and repentant criminals or worse, by the mentally ill—regardless of the documented therapeutic benefits of riflery.

And now, we are now told that the police will buy back guns from the general public, that we will all be safer with these guns “off the streets.” OFF THE STREETS. Oh, you know how this goes. “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, for I was not a Socialist.” While I admit I’d have a hard time shedding a tear for a Socialist taken before his time, I would speak for that Socialist because I believe in the Constitution, and also I know that the Socialist is a human shield standing between a tyrannical regime and my gun. When they come for our guns, there better be someone here to speak for those guns.

But. The BUYBACKS. Let’s talk about this program the police like, these “buybacks.” The buybacks are always trotted out in moments like this, a program that seems so inoffensive. No, these buybacks are deeply offensive, a crime against the Constitution, and should be our focal point going forward.

Let’s start with the word “buyback,” because it lies three ways. Three lies in only seven letters! First, the “buy,” as if this represents some sort of free market, and not a government power grab. There is no market at work here - this is an intrusion of the police state, offering you a nonnegotiable gift card in exchange for your Constitutional liberties.

Then there’s the “back,” as if the state sold you this weapon in the first place. The state does not sell you your gun! That the state fails to recognize its dependence on your weapon, that it would seek to take that weapon away, is a symptom of a sick state, one willing itself to ruin.

And last, the failure of the word “buyback” to describe the real program. A program’s name should make clear its real objective, and buyback suggests that this is a program to in some way facilitate the circulation of guns in the economy. But, no! These guns are not purchased for responsible use, distributed to those in need of guns, those who could care for these guns and give these guns the freedom they deserve. No, monstrously, these guns are DESTROYED.

Yes.

The horrible truth of our state is that they are collecting these guns for destruction.

It is another Holocaust, guns taken for “public safety,” and then, when nobody is looking… INFERNO.

The masses, they are distracted with a shooting, a petty crime, and meanwhile, they are missing an intolerable crime that is happening in our names.

So now, we want to talk about gun rights, and they shout us down, tell us about where the bullets have recently gone, and I say, “WE WILL NOT SPEAK OF BULLETS UNTIL SOMEBODY SPEAKS FOR OUR GUNS.” The guns, they cannot speak for themselves, and so we must.

Following on the examples of Arizona, North Carolina, Indiana, and Kansas, state legislatures must take up the issue of these genocidal “buyback” problems and FORBID FOREVER the destruction of any weapon. If we cannot defend the defenders of our liberty, we are already lost as a nation.

I urge you, call your representatives, your talk radio stations, and your newspaper columnists. Tweet a thousand times on the hashtag #speak4guns. Do not let us lose an existential battle to those PR-savvy savages who cry “school shooting” to distract our fellow citizens from the crime that is being committed against our precious guns every single day.

Thank you, Americans. I will now take questions.


If you're interested in the pre-sausage, this whole thing is based on real legislation

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Serious Comedy

For reasons that may soon become clear, I've spent a decent amount of time in my last three scripts lately (There Is No Good NewsDumber Faster, and Eating My Garbage), and I've confirmed something I've been saying for awhile: the shows accidentally formed a thematic arc, becoming a de facto trilogy. They charted a course of growing skepticism, a refutation of certainty. (And they were funny. Really.)

I've known for awhile that I can't continue in that vein. The next step would be nihilistic, which would be dishonest. I have been working toward the next show, and have some inkling of how it's taking shape, but I've never been right before, so I'm assuming by the end of the year, it'll be something else entirely. But I think it has to reflect some certainty.

The other night, I was reading a George Scialabba essay cheerily titled "Only Death" (from a quote in the book he's reviewing), and his opening paragraph hit me:

"Man was created a rebel," Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor admonished the silent Christ in his prison cell, "and how can rebels be happy?" The burden of freedom, the responsibility of finding—or creating—one's own purpose and meaning without the guidance of authoritative inherited creeds and values, is too heavy for all but a few. The rest of us cannot endure for long the tensions of uncertainty. We must, at some point, stop questioning, quiet our doubts, turn away from moral and metaphysical inquiry and toward life. Untrammeled skepticism ends in paralysis.

My wife walked in and asked what I was reading, and I told her. I then said, in complete sincerity: "I think the next show has to be about the limits of skepticism."

She, of course, laughed at me and said, "OF COURSE IT DOES" in history's most sarcastic tone. This was the correct response. That was a dopey thing to say about a comedy, and I need to be kept in check.

What I have in mind is to continue focusing on making these things funny end-to-end, but I want to start making them more constructive. Despite the large amount of my opinions that have been loaded into those three hours—all these hints about where I stand—there's hardly a whisper about what I actually do believe. Part of that is just a consequence of what I wanted to do with those shows, and where I was intellectually and comedically.

But another part of it was fear. I don't like conflict. An attack on certainty appeals to everybody who isn't a fanatic. But a solid claim, a moral stake, even one delivered as comedy, is divisive. Clearly, I've looked audiences in the eye and said things many of them didn't agree with, but it was always a joke along the way to saying, "We're all in this together, and we're all idiots." To state and stick to a real claim about how we ought to live, that's a different thing. But it's the thing I'm setting myself to.*

But don't worry. I'll continue to swear plenty, and we'll have completely unintimidating conversations about body hair foibles, medical misdiagnoses, and my inability to navigate even the simplest social situations without embarrassment. I think that's our implicit contractual agreement when you sit for my shows, and I wouldn't violate that agreement. 

 

* I recently saw Mike Birbiglia, and was going to cite him here, but I see the joke isn't online anywhere, and don't want to be the one to ruin a punchline in his current show. Go see him, listen to the "peanut allergy" bit, hear the conclusion, and say, "Oooooh. Yes, I see why David wanted to include that, but I'm glad he didn't, because it would have reduced my enjoyment of Mike Birbiglia's (very good, hilarious, highly recommended) show."

 

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My son hurls only the finest literature

Four-and-a-half years into parenting (still a rookie!), I regularly grapple with a fundamental thing: my complete powerlessness over almost everything my children do.

This has come into focus for me over the past few weeks because of my son's new hobby: he's a year and a half old, and his favorite thing in the world is to climb up onto the couch beside the bookshelf, and one-by-one, pluck my books from the shelf and hurl them around the room.

No exaggeration, my response is INSTANT RAGE. I hate seeing my books thrown. Jackets are torn, pages are smushed and folded, covers crinkled, spines contorted. I see the books, and I look up, and he's staring right at me, laughing and smiling so big, and I yell, "NOOOO! NO NO NO NO NO!" and I run over and pick him up and carry him away. I could carry him to the moon, and he'd amble his way back, climb onto the couch, and resume throwing books, looking right at me as he does it.

There are a few ways to understand this. First is the easy one: he's torturing me for his own pleasure. My child is a sadist. Fortunately, that seems unlikely. He's a pretty nice kid.

Second: He likes climbing, he likes throwing, and he likes my attention, and this combines all three. My instant rage is what perpetuates this, not because he likes the rage, but because it makes me drop whatever I'm doing and pick him up. Maaaaaybe.

Third: It's just a phase. At one-and-a-half, he's only slightly more than a wild animal. He's not committed to civilization yet, and as he picks up more of what it means to be human, he'll cut it out. There is not a single thing I can do to accelerate this. Ahhh, that seems right.

It could be any of these, or something else like "testing boundaries" or "extreme illiteracy" ("Mr. Mogolov, if you'd just observed the clear warning signs he exhibited at 18 months, we could have taken steps, but now, at 15 years old, we're sorry to say that your son is so illiterate he actually blurs texts around him to make them less readable to others"). Because there are reasons, I should be able to alter my reaction accordingly. I should be able to just chill out, or take practical steps.

For example, I could force myself to not respond with rage. I could look at his big smile, and put on my own big smile and say, "Is that fun? Is that fun? Here, let's go have fun in the yard," and I could scoop him up, just like I do when angry, but carry him to play with shovels in the dirt. Unless sadism is the explanation, that should make him happy, and—bonus—wouldn't train him to associate his happiness with my rage. 

And I'm going to try to do exactly that. But notice, it's nothing to do with what he's doing. All I can control is my reaction. I can't do anything—short of gating off the room or never setting him down—to keep him from destroying my books. I can reorganize the shelves to put my favorites out of reach, but that won't change his behavior. All I can do is change myself, bite my lip, try to model better behavior, and wait.

I hate this. I want to fix things, to change things, to control things. I'm a parent. Isn't that supposed to come with control? Hell no, it doesn't. My wife and I can't get our four-year-old to stay in bed at night. We can't get our son to not wear oatmeal as a hat. And forget shoes: both kids cast off shoes like cats shake off water. We're less rulers of their world than indentured servants who have to keep them alive.

I should just be grateful he hasn't discovered joy in hurling e-books.

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The All Star Game

I love baseball.

I'm pretty hesitant to declare myself for anything, but I'm unambiguously, unembarrassedly, pro-baseball. My team is the Royals. My fantasy team is the Army of Bunters. I was a quasi-bandwagon Red Sox fan for awhile, something I've written about before and will dig for a link to later (Short version, I moved to Boston with Nomar, got to see Pedro be the best ever, and naturally got super, legitimately excited from 1999-2005. Then I remembered I'm a Royals fan. There's some future post about religion in this parenthetical). Sometimes I start mlb.tv and just watch whatever's on. Padres/Diamondbacks, Reds/Brewers, whatever. Something about baseball massages the right part of my brain.

But it's All Star week, and I don't care about baseball. The Home Run Derby is the single most boring thing I've ever seen. I saw 45 seconds of it last night, and it was the spiritual equivalent of touching absolute zero. My brain cells stopped moving. I might have been clinically dead.

The All Star Game itself used to be something I kind of enjoyed, but then Bud Selig made the winner of the All Star Game the home team for the World Series, and my commitment to a world of decency and intelligence was tested and prevailed. I had to expel the All Star Game from my world, because making the winning league the home team for the World Series is an indecent act of moronic impulse (and history is on my side on this). Because Bud Selig couldn't ride out a media cycle in 2002, we've had twelve years of stupid, and counting. May his successor find the strength of will and bedrock intelligence to undo this as his first act.

That said, I love the All Star roster. I love the voting. I love the whole premise and history of it. If  baseball would undo Selig's stupid imposition of consequence onto a day that should have none, I'd love it. It's like an early bizarro-world Cooperstown. Looking back at All Star rosters is to see mostly a Who's Who of stars alongside a small Who's Who of "Who?" Occasionally, there's a poignant or fun goodbye, like Ripken tearing it up. Tonight, Jeter.

 I hear it's also Selig's goodbye. Eh. OK.

My favorite thing about the All Star break is its end. Baseball, in its boring, steady relentlessness, punctuated by a Yasiel Puig outfield miracle or an Aroldis Chapman vicious strikeout, is so much better than baseball reconfigured for excitement. The All Star break is an American Idol finalist standing next to Freddy Mercury. SIT DOWN, ALL STAR GAME. FREDDY'S GOT THIS.

 

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Zucchini: the Art Garfunkel of vegetables

Nobody's favorite vegetable is zucchini. 

People like it fine. Some really great dishes rely on it. It's exactly the right flavor to make other flavors shine. With the right cooking methods and seasoning, it can be almost delicious.

My CSA delivered a ton of zucchini and summer squash the past two weeks, and opening that box was like opening a birthday present that's almost what you wanted. "Thanks. I guess Marshalls had these on sale, huh?" If Marshalls had a produce section, it would be full of zucchini.

Art Garfunkel is a zucchini. There's nothing wrong with him. He's a vital part in one dish that many people love, and I guess he's fine on his own, but nobody's got him as their desert island pick. Nobody comes home from a rough day, determined to block out the world, and puts on their Art Garfunkel album.

Nobody ever stress-ate their way through a tray of zucchini. 

Zucchini is one of the only things that comes out of a deep fryer and still looks just OK.

Once, a student told me he roasted a zucchini for dinner. I thought, "Maybe that's the secret!" I roasted the zucchini. It was OK. I think I ate a second dinner later.

Zucchini bread is the least versatile bread.

The only reason the internet is full of 5-star recipes of zucchini gratin is the "gratin" part. You can substitute cardboard wafers for the zucchini, and it'd only knock the dish down to 4 stars.

Zucchini arrives at the same time as strawberries. Poor zucchini. That's like going through school alphabetically seated beside a beautiful genius who doesn't know your name. 

Zucchini. I've got so much of it.

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Eating My Garbage: a postmortem

This past week, I unexpectedly performed Eating My Garbage in a Cape Cod living room for a small audience of theater people. I'm thrilled to have gotten the opportunity. It was a strange hour. Three weeks since last running the show, and having set no expectations for myself, the performance was loose, far from the script, nervous, fun, and strange. Because it was mid-afternoon in a sunlit room, I had unprecedented eye contact and audience feedback. It went well. It made me want to do the show a thousand more times, twelve audience members at a time.

However, it was probably the final performance. Given the opportunity, I'd gladly stage the show again if it doesn't mean taking on a production role (seriously, get in touch if you want to see it). I love the show, and think it could have a much longer, richer life than I've given it. My thoughts on actively pursuing that are complicated, though. 

For the work that went into it, performing it only seventeen times seems a ludicrous thing. If I were a smart, ambitious person, I'd want to take this show around for a year, push it into the ears and eyes of every person I come across. That's what successful people do, I gather: they're persistent. 

It may work for others, but I'm not sure persistence with a particular show is the best course for me right now. As much as I'd love for more people to see Eating My Garbage, I just can't make it my focus. The show is ready on short notice if I'm invited somewhere, but I'm not going to be knocking on doors with it. 

WHY? WHY WOULD I MAKE SUCH A BAD DECISION?

1. Negative reason—Producing it again in Boston would be financially irresponsible and personally draining. This is an expensive city for staging theater. Booking, promoting, and producing a show is costly, time-consuming, and exhausting, even when you've got really good people helping you. I don't do this for money, but I can't ignore financial reality. I have thoughts on alternative ways of approaching this next time, and I'll get to that below.

2. Neutral reason—There are alternative ways to get the show into the world: script; audio; video. Video is unlikely, given the expense of producing it well. Script is a certainty (an early version is already available at Indie Theater Now, and another option will arrive soonish). Audio, maybe. Whatever conclusion I come to, though, it's a certainty: Eating My Garbage will be available in some way, regardless of whether I appear onstage performing it.

3. Positive reason—My brain is already firmly attached to the next three projects. I'm working on a bunch of stuff I want to focus on, and I can't spare the effort.

SO, THEN. WHAT DID I LEARN FROM EATING MY GARBAGE?

Oh, so much.

1. My friend Ryan (get every album) has on several occasions told me to take my shows to grocery store aisles and parks and such. I'm not quite on board with that, but I think I now see the wisdom in what he's saying: asking people to come into a theater or club to see something unusual is a big request. I'm not famous. There's no good single word for what I do. It's hard to get out, to commit to doing something, unless somebody makes it easy or makes it nearly a guarantee that it'll be worthwhile.

What have I done that would make a stranger commit to coming out to a show? Very, very little. I'm not saying this to be self-effacing, or to solicit pity. I'm very proud of what I've accomplished, and I'm enormously grateful for the opportunities I've been given by those who've seen my shows and invited me to do something.

But honestly, to grow an audience, I can't pop up every 18-to-24 months with an hour-long show and expect people to gamble their night and their ticket money on it. That's foolish. I know that's foolish, because I WOULDN'T SHOW UP

So, lesson #1: Give people a reason to show up, and make it easier for them to do it.

2. There are an awful lot of people who want me to succeed at this. 

I know how hard it is to convince people to take a chance on something, to vouch for something. I'm astounded at how often people turn up with friends, or send word of the show to friends in other cities when I'm coming. It seems like an easy thing, but I know it's not. How much of what you see or hear do you recommend to others? You put your credibility on the line when you recommend something. Recommendations have made a huge difference for me. I sometimes ask people to help me get the word out, and I'm grateful when people come through. I can't repay them by giving their friends a crappy show. 

All of the growth I've seen in audience has been from word-of-mouth. I'd love for an avalanche of good press to bring me huge new audiences, and I got some GREAT reviews that will help next time, but realistically, next time I'm back with a show like this, I'll be calling on recommendations from friends and supporters. If the press comes, that's fantastic, but it's not a sensible way to plan. I want the next thing to surpass the expectations of those who have them, not of those who've never heard of me.

So, lesson #2: Rely on friends and supporters, but only when you'll do right by them.

3. I need to stop trying to fit myself into an existing order or method. Renting a theater and producing a show like I'm a theater company is a goofy thing to do. Trying to position my shows as standup will only irritate the audience that does show up. 

There is certainly precedent for what I do. Spalding Gray, Mike Daisey, and Mike Birbiglia come up in 50% of reviews because in various ways, the comparisons are apt (though I need to do a lot of work to earn those comparisons more fully). It's absolutely conceivable that in a future world, I'm produced in theaters by people who know what the hell they're doing, just as those three have been.

But that's just a possible future. It's not an immediate one. Theaters are under tremendous economic pressures, and I am not an obvious answer for those pressures. I can't credibly ask them to take a chance on me. I have almost zero profile as a working artist, and I need to bring more to them than a good script: there are a TON of good scripts out there.

I think I want to launch the next show entirely in living rooms, bars, and online. I need to combine lessons 1 and 2 productively: meet the audience I have and the audience I want in a way that asks the least of them and delivers something they want to recommend. I'm not going to build a reputation for good work by being the 15th-most popular show on a given weekend in Boston. I need to just do my own thing as well as I can for whatever audience I can reach, and stop trying to package it as professional theater.

So, lesson #3: Stop thinking of it as theater. Theater isn't helping the show, and the show isn't helping the theater. 

WHAT'S NEXT?

I've learned my lesson about over-promising. I'll just say this. I'm collaborating on a musical. It's looking good. I'm working on another solo show. It's looking good, if very preliminary. Work on the book continues at a good pace. I hope to publish some small pieces this year. I have a plan for using the last three shows' scripts in a fun way.

In the meantime, I want to keep guesting on friends' shows, working with others on new ideas, blogging, getting better with video, and generally spending more of my hours writing and performing, and doing more of it in public. I don't expect anything major to hit a stage in 2014, but I expect to be very, very busy, and sharing a lot of progress along the way.

When the time comes, I may start asking about your living rooms. Maybe run the vacuum sometime before then?

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A list of things that I could have - for some reason - gotten worked up about at some point, but can't be bothered anymore

  • Most styles of hats
  • The Yankees
  • Jeff Foxworthy
  • People like me walking into art museums and talking about art as if we know what we're looking at
  • Andy Capp 
  • Rush
  • Barenaked Ladies (the band)
  • Bad improv
  • Mr. Holland's Opus
  • Football
  • Arianna Huffington having the nerve to sell a how-to book on blogging
  • The Olympics (and nationalism, more generally)
  • Most economists

Things that still make me irate:

  • People slowly walking shoulder-to-shoulder on narrow or busy sidewalks
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Other people having expectations

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Let's talk about writing tools

Wednesday morning, I was sitting with another writer-performer type, a man in his 50s. I am in my 30s. We both had laptops. I mentioned that mine was borrowed, that I'd realized a few days before this writers' retreat that I didn't own one anymore. He was stunned I didn't own a laptop. Then I told him that I do a lot of my writing on my phone. He was double-stunned. He said, "Now, that's generational."

I'm sure he's right, but I'm an unlikely example of "what the kids are doing." The main reason I don't have a laptop is not because the phone meets my needs. Far from it. I don't have a laptop because I still primarily use and prefer a desktop computer, and for some work still prefer writing longhand. It just happens, fortunately, that I'm also very comfortable typing with my thumbs, which means I can write a first draft anywhere. As a result, I do a lot of writing on my phone on the train. Last year, I figure I probably wrote 30-50,000 words on my phone. While there are times I do think it would be handy to have a laptop, it would never be my primary tool; I get by with the other stuff (though a cheap Chromebook seems a likely next step).

We began talking about writing tools. I was thinking at the time that I must chose my tools based on what I'm trying to achieve. For brainstorming large projects or writing fiction, I often get out a paper notebook and pen, sometimes start at the computer, but never go to the phone. On the other hand, for something I think is a blog post, I almost always use my phone or computer. When I have a joke I want to write down, I almost always write it as an email to myself or a note in Evernote; it's been years since I was looking for a scrap of paper or through a notebook for a joke.

But then I realized I'm wrong. The tool isn't based on the task: the tool is based on the moment. I write with whatever's convenient, and the correlation between tool and task has more to do with when I approach the tasks. I don't turn my brain to long work if I don't have the time for it, and if I have the time, I set myself up with a notebook or sit at the computer. Ideas for quick things and jokes might occur anywhere, so I grab the phone. Now, the app I choose or software on the computer depends on the project, of course. Am I working collaboratively with people? Google Docs. Drafting a blog post? The blogging app, the site itself, or Evernote? A joke? Email or Evernote. Large project like a book? Scrivener, probably. 

It's quite possible that some of this is generational: my comfort switching platforms and applications might be a factor of my age. Maybe the tools just became usable around the time I had something I wanted to say on a regular basis. On the other side of the equation, 20 years from now, I'll likely be set into a particular way of being productive, and less inclined to mess with it by bringing in whatever becomes the successor to the smartphone. The generational aspect may be not just about openness to technology, but about strength of habit. 

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Celebrity scandals TMZ refused to cover

I had dinner with former TMZ producer Scott Scuggs, who told me that his time with the site and TV show was marked by constant editorial debates about "how far is too far." By way of example, he told me of the following items TMZ didn't cover, either because they were too small, too personal, or just because they made the reporters uncomfortable.

  • Brad Pitt has a false leg.
  • In 2011, Justin Beiber is reported to have smuggled three stolen fifteenth-century Cambodian statuettes into Canada. Seized by customs, the statuettes were discovered to have been hollowed out and filled with clippings of racy lingerie ads.
  • The entire Arquette family are slavers.
  • Katy Perry refuses to step foot in New Mexico, as there's a warrant out for her arrest on what the prosecutor refers to as "best intention" arson charges. She's said to have willfully left a campfire burning so the next campers could make s'mores upon arrival.
  • Morgan Freeman lives a double life, operating a custom rubber-stamp shop in Cherry Hill, New Jersey as Allen Morgan. They also sell wind chimes.
  • In 2010, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are rumored to have thrown away several trays of perfectly good sushi after learning that the sushi chef had previously worked for Billy Bob Thornton. Asked why, Will Smith reportedly said, "That man is tainted."
  • Cher dumped as many as twelve heavily-mutilated bodies in a fountain on Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade.
  • Neil Sedaka made a deal with a shaman, and at the age of 60, his soul passed into another Neil, Neil Patrick Harris. The soul occupying the body of Sedaka is 34 years younger, and pissed off.
  • Reese Witherspoon reportedly forgot how to read.
  • Zach Braff ran over 48 fans of a Motorhead cover band when he got distracted behind the wheel. He's said to have been pouring a cup of tea from an heirloom tea set.

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Vacation Lane

I'm currently on Cape Cod, and on the drive out, I passed a road called Vacation Lane. I immediately thought, "What if one of those houses is just where somebody lives? What would it be like to grow up on Vacation Lane?" I realize I know people who grew up in vacation destinations from Guam to Martha's Vineyard, but I've never thought about what it means to live in an essentially one-season town, where your day-to-day life is everybody else's escape, where your neighbors are rarely there and have an entirely different existence you only see glimmers of. Your town, a perfect destination, sucks as a place to live: it's a part-time ghost town. The schools, infrastructure, and financial decisions driven largely by the needs of the part-timers.

It'd be a fabulous setting for something.

I didn't get to investigate the real Vacation Lane, and I'm glad of it. The reality would have been disappointing. There are probably only rental properties, or it ends with a fabulous library and performing arts center, either of which would be the envy of any non-tourist town. 

I have a strong urge to be factual, when what I ought to be is truthful (this is something I've been thinking about a lot, as I'm at a writer's retreat, working on a project rooted in fact that will not in the end be factual, but must present a compelling truth). If I'm going to imagine a place called Vacation Lane, it doesn't matter what any actual Vacation Lane is like. It doesn't matter if its residents like, hate, or remain ignorant of my version of the truth. Would it matter more if I knew them? Maybe. Maybe. Then there's a loyalty factor, but in this particular instance, it's mild.

So, Vacation Lane. I probably won't get around to doing anything with it. Run with it, if you like. 

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Programming note

I promised to blog every day in July. I'm currently at a writers' retreat, which you'd think would be the place from which to make good on such a pledge. Irony! It's easier to do such a thing in your normal environment. I'm moving the goalposts: I will post for every day in July, but  not necessarily on each day. And no, this one doesn't count.

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