No Time to Avoid Embarrassment

David Iscoe weekly update #16

I’ve been writing this newsletter for about four months now, and I really enjoy it. I get to write humor pieces with a lot of structural freedom, and have an outlet for serious thoughts that I don’t feel qualified to send out for publication. It helps a lot to have deadlines, to have cause to carve out space to do something I enjoy and care about.

But along with joy, it causes me a lot of embarrassment. I talk too much about those feelings but look, folks, it’s bad. At least twice, I’ve gotten feedback about how my writing comes across that’s made me sick, made me immediately need to lie down and sleep several hours early, made me not be okay for days. Often I imagine that more of that is lurking out there, except that people are being too nice, seething against me silently as all my worst traits come through in my writing, that eventually it will drive everybody away. I’m embarrassed to bring up this newsletter when talking to people who read it (“You think that’s writing?”) or people who don’t (if they already like me, they might read it and decide otherwise). In reality most people are just like “nice newsletter, I like it” or they don’t mention it at all but still are friendly to me, which I take as confirmation that I’m at least okay.

It’s not good to be a bundle of oversensitive fucking nerves, especially because I’m happiest with myself in those arenas where I’m tougher and bolder, which feels like my free and natural state. Being secure is generally pretty easy when I’m dealing with people I don’t trust yet, bad-faith actors, people I fundamentally disagree with, and people who don’t want me around, since society affords me some license to push those people away and get contextualized as a “lone wolf” or “straight shooter” without being too hated for it. But the flipside of this is that I’ve really underdeveloped my instincts for dealing with vulnerability, which leads to a range of cowardice-based actions from hiding feelings to constructing overwrought analyses of them to uncomfortably spilling them because I don’t have healthy outlets.

In other words, I’m basically a man in the process of growing up, which isn’t such an unusual thing. There’s nothing special about this journey, and nothing uniquely mine about this type of embarrassment. Those kind of realizations help me a lot, knowing that the world has already contextualized these things, people have a way to interpret it and laugh at it and put it in its proper place and provide some guidelines. I need to get better, but I’m not the only one.

One thing I’ve noticed for a while now is that I feel the most shame not from my behavior, which is mostly standard-order human failings, but from those times when I’m in denial, or trying to distance myself through apology, or some other type of bullshitty defense mechanism, instead of taking my lumps. These “embarrassment” preludes can be a form of that cowardly behavior, and hopefully you’ll see them fade out as time goes on.

When I’m in the thick of that shit, it really helps me to know there’s a lot of work to do. I have to get healthier. I have to do my jobs. I have to get paid. I have to develop my writing, the core of it, not these preludes and self-analyses, plug into my heart and mind and really tap into what’s in there. I have to be there for people. Have to really connect for myself. We have to organize political power. We have to be good people to each other, help people, lift them up. This shit sounds corny, but doing the shit itself isn’t corny, it’s work, and if you build shit off real work you can say what you want or not say it all because you don’t have to. For now, embarrassment is a problem, but whatever, just another thing to work on.


Just watched Solo: A Star Wars Story while getting some work done. It’s not a great movie, way too long, not really a strong core to it, there’s a clumsily-executed “droids rights” thing that it doesn’t fully think through, but the movie is pretty fun and there’s a real, simple, broad-strokes critique of imperialism which is good to see. When you have these non-specific ideas of “bad guy” things – fighting foreign wars where you aren’t wanted, roughing up innocent people, splitting up families, stripping locals of their resources – you can teach people fundamentally to recognize when they’re becoming “the baddies.” It’s not that only one group does these things, just that whoever’s doing them at the time is doing something bad.


This happened a few years ago now, but I just got word of this “wall that pees back,” which is being installed in San Francisco apparently. I got a low-tech solution for the “public urination problem” - a goddamn toilet that people can use if they don’t have access to one! (I wrote a column about it once).

This made me think of a future where everyone’s dying of cancer, and someone complains “people keep dying of cancer in our beds” and a tech company creates a very slippery spray that you can apply to the bed to make it impossible to lie on, and thus impossible to die on, and everyone is ecstatic about that solution. Of course the spray itself raises the risk of cancer, but it’s no longer a problem because the cancer patients won’t be dying in your beds.


While some people have already referred to this newsletter, which has an overpriced pay option, as a “Patreon,” I now have an actual Patreon account. Most options are comically high, basically as a way to say “look, this is a band-aid,” and the best deal is to give me $100 to give to a lot of other writers who do more important work and need it more, and I’ll throw in $10 of my own money on top. It’s capped at 10 patrons, which means I could pay out $100 of my own money a month, which would definitely be worth it to sponsor $1,000 worth of work.

I would definitely love for someone to give me $15k a month to write them a late night show, though.


Going on Wednesday to this forum for the public advocate candidates at the LGTBQ center. Jumaane Williams is the candidate endorsed by most of the groups and the activists I trust. He’s been really well-rooted in activism, effective on the council, is a firm negotiator with good stakeholders, has a great staff and overall message… buuut he has a past where he wasn’t strong on LGBTQ and reproductive rights, in part because he came from a religious Caribbean background. Over the last few years, he’s both evolved personally and done really good work on those fronts, including introducing (and successfully passing) the “boss bill” to protect people in the workplace who need abortions. I think he’s got the will and skills to make the most of the strange position that is NYC Public Advocate and help people. But I’d feel better after seeing him answer directly to the LGBTQ+ community. Should be a good event, tickets are free.