Hey, humans. Been a couple off weeks here, as other things have been going on in my life (mostly good). I’m what is commonly called “okay,” generally happy and alive and solvent and treating people well and more than a couple steps from crashing, and that’s either all you need to know or more than you need to know, depending on who you are.
(It’s a little weird sometimes thinking of the spectrum of who reads this newsletter and how closely or distantly I know them. Some things are harder to share with closer people, some harder to share with outer circles, and also I’m theoretically sharing this with the entire internet, though in practice it’s a few dozen readers–my obscurity is a big part of my security right now.)
Despite the audience problem, I never feel all that much embarrassment around aspects of my personal life being out there. Once I’ve decided to write about something, I’ve usually demystified it in my head, chalked it up to just being human, and I have no truck with people who are going to put someone down for being human.
But I worry a lot about what I’m doing as a writer, which is a more active, personal, and (in its worst cases) embarrassing choice. I know I’m not actively one of the worst people; I’ve seen what people do, and, people, it gets bad. But I’m choosing and wanting to be a writer, and there’s no limit to how bad I might be, sometimes without noticing. Bad patterns in my writing have been pointed out to me; bad patterns are baked into my self-expression and the way I see myself. Am I pushing my emotional work onto readers? Am I making them feel bad or weird? Am I generally being a hack who has no sense of style or structure or originality? Am I writing myself out of the good graces of people who respected me as a person, by being petty or defensive of self-serving? Am I pushing my emotional work onto readers? Am I under-delivering to people who expected something of me (especially those who paid me at my own brash request)? Am I creating a record of an embarrassing level of undeveloped personhood I’ll want nothing more than to erase in a year or an hour? Again, am I pushing my emotional work onto readers?
I haven’t really learned to work through and improve the genuine answers to these questions, which I think is really what one should be doing more than voicing them. One thing I’ve been doing as a step toward that end, which is both helpful and scary, is watching people whose work I admire and seeing what they do right. It’s helpful because I pick up some tips; it’s scary because I really see the distance from myself and the work I would love to do (Point: “Who cares what you’d love to do! Just do what you’re goddamn good at!”) (Counterpoint: “When push comes to shove, you’ve gotta do what you love, even if it’s not a good idea!”)
A month and a half ago, when Kiese Laymon came to town, I saw him voice almost word-for-word another one of my worries. (I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember the way it resonated.) He was worried that he wasn’t supposed to be writing the things he was writing, he was supposed to be going to therapy. He said he needed to go therapy. He put his fingers on his chin and said “I need to go to therapy” again and his eyes got teary and he trailed off.
Now, let’s be clear: Kiese Laymon definitely should be writing. But that vulnerability, by someone who was that powerful in his expression and self-knowledge and personal abundance, hit me pretty deeply. And it was oddly inspiring to hear from someone 44 years old that he hadn’t started therapy, almost in the same way it’s inspiring to hear about people who took a long time to publish their first novel (not the form I’d choose to write, by the way – short stories, TV shows, jokes, and maybe essays or plays from this guy, depends how much funding you’ll throw at me). At some point, early on, it felt like there was a stigma around going to therapy. Now, in certain circles, it feels like there’s a superiority culture around how early you’ve started, that people who haven’t gone to therapy have no right to talk about or explore their feelings, have less claim to their own pain. With Kiese talking so honestly, admitting that it was something he suspected he needed but hadn’t done yet, it cut through that more modern layer of mystification around it; it felt like something anyone could do at any time, that great people could or could not have done. It felt normal.
I haven’t gone and seen a therapist yet, though it’s a goal for the New Year, which is when my new, more expensive ObamaCare plan kicks in (I’m picking up more hours at my second part-time day job, which boosts my income but invalidates my Advanced Premium Tax Credit), though I might start with a modestly priced public clinic anyway. I don’t know yet exactly what I’ll be asking, beyond ways to deal with all this worrying I have. But I’m beginning to get comfortable realizing that therapy won’t invalidate all the work I’m doing as a person outside that room.
It’s not that I think I need to be anxious to write; it would definitely be more helpful not to be, and fuck my writing anyway. It’s that I’ve always been suspicious there was a “stop worrying and love the bomb” element to therapy (as Kiese put it, his friend told him not to go to a psychiatrist because they would give him pills that would make him feel “real white - you won’t give a fuck about anything!), and it always rankled me the way some people would use “go to therapy” to push mental health discussions out of people’s lives and work and everyday being, the way it seems sometimes to be a status symbol or trump card, especially in New York. But one thing I’m learning is that just because I don’t like the way people talk about something doesn’t mean it’s a thing I have to avoid entirely, and that I can’t base my whole life around spiting vague ideas.
I give a shit about my mental health; I spend a lot of time thinking about it and working on it, and structure large parts of my life around it. I don’t think therapy is all it’s cracked up to be. It sure ain’t the sole arbiter of repairedness or brokenness in people, if these things are even real ideas at all. But, if you’ve got the means and the motive, why not pay a modestly priced professional to play a role? It doesn’t, apparently, have to cost an arm and a leg, and I’m living a little farther from the margin right now, easing up on the throttle in some ways (scary! how can I survive in a cutthroat city and industry, already being spread so thin between various interests, without constantly outworking everyone!?) and I’m seeing some breathing room where maybe I can give up $50 and a couple hours (many people never fucking can, a lot of those scales have to slide a little farther!) for this kind of thing (I remember thinking “What do I have to give up? Takeout food? I have to cook more? Does that mean I have to clean up my kitchen and give up even more time? Does that mean my apartment is A Problem I have to deal with on top of all my other shit? Does that mean I’m slipping even farther? Does therapy through insurance mean I’m tied even tighter to each day job I can get ahold of? What happens when my plan changes again, as it has damn near every year?” I remember thinking that shit pretty recently, but I guess it’s a new day.)
Anyway, enough about me and my goddamn therapy I haven’t even started yet. Just give me a little space on this, say hi when you get a chance, maybe hang out and create some stuff, and know I’m generally doing an assortment of stuff that’s good for my life, even if you don’t see ol’ boy putting numbers on the board in a career sense right now. Or fuck off, it’s a big world and there’s a lot of choices in life.
Here’s some things that are good in the world
THIS TWEET THREAD BY LUX ALPTRAUM
Yes, I’m a bit of a Lux Alptraum stan, and maybe just subscribe directly to her newsletter instead of reading this one. Throw in Kiese, Zeynep Tufekci, Owen Ellickson, and Danny Ortberg and you’ve got about 67% of my content in better form. But this was a really good articulation of something I struggle with, and here’s the complete text:
I woke up thinking about how the dominant way we talk about career paths is by highlighting people who are committed to a medium: people who, say, just want to write for TV or do journalism or act, and are happy to do whatever projects so long as they’re practicing the craft.
But I’m the opposite, in some ways: I have never really cared if I was writing or performing or teaching so long as I was doing work that was in some way connected to my mission (namely, helping to destigmatize sex).
Which both means I have a very weird career path and also that I often feel like something of a fraud in professional spaces. I used to shy away from calling myself a journalist because I thought a *real* journalist would be able to write about any topic.
Which, of course, is a natural outcome of promoting this — totally wonderful if it’s for you!! — way of developing in your career as the default. It’s easy to get the idea that if you won’t do *anything* related to the craft you’re not really devoted to it. But... eh.
Anyway, I don’t really have some grand conclusion here aside from saying, “There are many ways to be a person” and also “I am very bad at giving straightforward career advice”
And I’m not saying it’s the same thing I’m going through; she’s got a clear, unified purpose in a way I don’t. But, like, don’t be so damn hidebound about what constitutes a career, and your lessening of your foolishness will help a lot of people. Even if I did have more purpose and focus, a lot of people would miss what I were about.
THIS TWEET BY SANDRA NEWMAN
Nothing to say about that besides that it’s 100% true, and that “genius” is a really dumb idea (I definitely ain’t one, but also there are definitely people dumber than me who are dumb enough to think they’re geniuses).
TWO COMEDY PILOTS BY GEORGIE ALDACO
I had the privilege of reading some of Georgie Aldaco’s work in a writing group last year, and it is uniquely voiced in its humor and stellar in its heart and soul. I’m in a pilot workshop right now that is all about structure which is not the stuff I really give a shit about, even though I understand the purpose. When I think about the kind of work I want to see on TV, I think of Georgie’s pilots. Is this blowing up someone’s spot talking about work that’s not published? Should I have asked? Whatever, shit takes too long to get through the system, and nothing wrong with promoting good work, so here’s her website to hire her if you’re a rich person, and I know some of you are even if you’re not directly in the TV biz, let your agent friends know.
THIS BOOK BY R.O. KWON
I’m only a few chapters in, but this writing is alive, and I know when things are live or not. I see some people on Goodreads are harping about the plot and characters, and you know what, I don’t know, maybe it turns out that way, but there’s a thousand books out there that can deliver you that bag of tricks. Read stuff that’s alive and new. Fuck tepid stories wrapped up neatly and shit. Leaf through it and see if it’s for you or not, I don’t know who you are. It’s poetry-like, and that’s polarizing. Try some Paul Beatty too.
We’re weirdly shifting away from the old terrible way of doing things, where sharing basic human vulnerabilities was some kind of scandal or social/career suicide, and oscillating around the new terrible way of doing things, where constant public performance of your life is considered necessary. Interesting. I think the general problem here is that people get pushed into performing their public life in one specific way, rather than us just trying to look at and accept different ways of seeing humans.
A JOB APPLICATION
Hire me to retool Brooklyn 99 into an anti-cop show as the gang goes rogue and turns into a hardcore civil disobedience cell/investigative journalist outlet, sort of like a combination of ACT UP and Pro Publica in spirit but solely focused on anti-policing and with a twist of “pros take down their former industry” which I can’t place from fiction or life right now but definitely has to be precedented. By “retool” I mean just demanding this happen and relying on better writers to figure out all the difficult problems, then coming in and adding a bunch of puns.
What’s not to love? Same great characters (with more of a focus on Linetti/Holt as the core duo), same procedural story engine (civil disobedience for the field ops, investigative journalism for the detective angle), less police state indoctrination, and much more mass civil awakening. We’ll need to shoot indoors because the LAPD and NYPD will be a lot less cooperative with this version. Also I refuse to go to Los Angeles, or at least that’s my starting position. They can probably negotiate to me flying out for a single day to fire all the cop consultants and pro-cop writers, because I think it’s fair to do that face to face. Maybe we can hire Frank Serpico, generate some buzz. As long as I’m in LA I might stay a few days and see my cousins, have some good ceviche and boat noodles. I’d like to go to Chengdu Taste again, too, with my massive Brooklyn 99 showrunner payroll.
This could work.