What’s So Damn New About New Year’s ANYWAY?

Disclaimer: I wrote this while on a lunch break AT WORK on New Year’s Eve. I have not worked on New Year’s Eve since Y2K was a thing we weren’t sure we could survive. On 12/31/99 I was right where I needed to be – getting drunk. In a movie theater. Where I worked. While I watched “Man On The Moon.” For the 4th time.
I was definitely NOT working… and the world was better off for it. We survived Y2K, didn’t we? And Danny DeVito has a career again, doesn’t he?
For me, the end of the year is a much larger moment, and one I take the time to celebrate. This year, however, is the first year that I haven’t been off of work for the week between Christmas & New Year’s Eve, and I woefully  anticipated the impacts of that. Usually in that week off, I seem to get plenty of time & space for some self-reflection, which requires reviewing the year being completed, and usually leads to plans for a new year. Reviewing the year completed, I generally start to think the next year can be better – which carries with it the implication that this one was, somehow, less than what I wanted.
But now I want to argue that with myself, based on this year’s status as an anomaly. This year, without all the time & space to analyze backwards & plan forward, I don’t really feel that 2016 is going to be markedly better because of some grand intention to make it so. There’s nothing huge sticking out at me, no giant epiphany or insight that’s leading me to say, “I’m going to make a change for the better.” In the past that has been a reliable pattern, and it must also be a significant one, because I’m noticing that it’s not repeating as expected this year. But is the anomaly this year caused by the lack of time & space? or is it simply correlated? Might the real cause be that 2015 just that good? Or that I am just that non-optimistic that 2016 can be better?
I’m feeling certain that waking up in 2016 will be no different than waking up in 2015. Is New Year’s Day a whole new clean fresh bright crisp chance to start doing things differently/better? Nope. Not feeling it.
That bothers me. Why is this year so different?
The Case for No Space
It’s New Year’s Eve afternoon, and I’m just now sitting and spending some time reflecting. Most years in the past I’ve already spent a solid day or two reflecting, planning, resolving, and am anxiously awaiting the fresh slate of opportunity that comes with that next roman numeral on the calendar. Right now I’m not anticipating anything much at all, except maybe lunch & an afternoon coffee.
I’ve been at work today. And yesterday. And the day before. I was off Christmas Eve & had the good fortune to have off on Monday. Christmas Eve I spent prepping for family visitors, for cooking Christmas dinner & for hosting a small thing on Christmas Eve. I liked all of those activities – and they led to one of the best Christmases I can remember (this year with NO gifts for family members, except for Kate). We had a nice menu, a relatively stress-free cooking session, drank some good scotch, and then played board games for a few hours after dinner. Without the upfront investment of those activities it may not have gone as smoothly, so I think they were worthwhile, but that time might have otherwise been spent walking & thinking, or just chatting with R about the year ahead. We haven’t done that yet because we then spent the weekend with family & running errands, trying to get ready for Kate’s little brother (who is currently at risk of being named Brother), and of course seeing The Big Short instead of Star Wars. Then I went back to work on Tuesday, and just haven’t spent much time simply reflecting.
The Case For 2015 Being Just That Good
Holy moley was it a whirlwind year. Spent the first 4 months finishing the 1-Year Program at the American Comedy Institute. Also started the new job (my first in retail) in March. Then Kate’s 5th birthday & reading SO MANY BOOKS together. Then we’d planned a trip to Turks & Caicos for the family, because we wanted someplace we didn’t know, someplace with water, and someplace with better weather than the NJ summers, and because I wanted to see the crystal blue waters of Vanuatu again without traveling across the globe. July was when we also found out Brother was on the way, and that a few close family members would also go through the pain of a career transition. August was spent getting Kate ready for school & me re-adjusting to not having to go into New York every Monday through Thursday for classes. We also decided to list a house for sale & dealt with the calamity of real estate agents who are bad at their jobs, buyers who don’t do the right thing, and a township that tries to assess for back taxes based on an MLS listing. (Hat tip to R for handling almost all of that with aplomb. Some of it just… well, when dealing with some people, there just isn’t enough aplomb in the world.) Then Hipcycle gears up for another holiday season, Kate is loving school, and I decide to start blogging again. Then Kate gets sick for a week, Renee needs constant ice cream deliveries, and I start having trouble getting my flabby self out of bed & to the gym in the mornings. Then it’s Q4, the closing is happening, then not happening, logistics for visiting family over the holidays are nuttier than usual, there’s a wedding in Chicago that we simply MUST attend, and oh yeah my team accomplishes a giant milestone at work that almost goes off the rails.
I know, I know… suddenly it starts to not sound just that good. But stepping outside the dramatic pace of it all, we accomplished:
  • getting me out of a bad situation that was about to get worse at my old job
  • the completion of the 1-year program, which was really a big freakin’ deal & which I could not have done without Team Hansen
  • an answer to will we / won’t we ever give Kate a sibling, which meant we had to add a spot to the Team Hansen roster
  • a definitive affirmation that Hipcycle is ours, is successful, and is growing into something valued at more than the sum of its parts thanks to Renee’s leadership
  • exploring a whole new part of the world & having a great family vacation at the same time
  • closed a chapter on the house that became more work & weight than it was worth, which greatly reduces the geographical constraints of future chapters
  • having fun, learning & growing, while doing all of the above
That last one’s important, and the main suspect for explaining my lack of anticipation for a better 2016.
The Case For Being Non-Optimistic About 2016
There’s one really big reason that I’m potentially non-optimistic about 2016. And his name is
Donald Fucking Trump.
In an earlier draft of this post, I proceeded from here to rant & rail against what his potential nomination (and the support that potential outcome is garnering, at least according to the media) means for this country and for my faith in it. And while I still plan to stew on that a bit & make it its own post (here or in other venues), I will refrain from that at the moment, largely because it’s a giant tangent from the main thrust of this post, and also because I’ve yet to give any political angles to the stuff I post here. There’s nothing wrong with being political here – but I want to make sure I give that sort of stuff the critical thinking it deserves, and my rant, as I re-read it, was just not up to snuff.
But even without that pompous ass on the dais, there is still something nagging at me about having a blind, calendar-based jubilee about January 1st. Usually, I do. Usually, I see the need to switch to a fresh Dilbert Desk Calendar as ‘just the thing I need’ to make all the resolutions, commitments, plans and improvements I’ve been too lazy to make since last March.
This year’s different though. I actually HAVE been keeping the vast majority of my resolutions. I’ve gotten to a point where I am actually DOING all the things that are important to me to do – be a better dad, be a better husband, stay active enough to feel healthy, and balance life with work in a reasonable manner. And none of those principles, which I committed to in late 2014, have changed, and I haven’t failed at them. So they don’t need replaced, and they don’t really need revised or refined or regurgitated just because it’s January and the upper thumbtack has a lighter load. (A moment to appreciate the oft-overlooked thumbtack…. …. …. thank you.)
So 2016 feels like it will be less monumental, more incremental; less of a leap, more of a hop; less watershed, more woodshed.
That’s not a bad thing either – but the transition from anticipation to <meh> was a noticeable one, and being that the direction of it was not in the hopeful, optimistic, positive direction, I sat up & took notice.
After actually taking the time to reflect on why… it actually cleansed a chakra somewhere & things seem less… clogged. (Is that what a chakra is when it hasn’t been cleansed in a while? do they clog? get dirty? twist themselves together into some sort of chakra Twizzler?) I still don’t have any major resolutions to sally forth & declare here… but it’s nice to understand why. That in and of itself is reassuring – it’s not like I’ve become some sort of New Year’s humbug, some guy that thinks Baby New Year is just another shit-filled diaper.
So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

Neal Stephenson: Keep Killing My Plants

Neal Stephenson is great. His books are concrete block-dense worlds that are the physical embodiment of that snake that eats its own tail – they can swallow you whole even as you devour them. I’ve read the near-1,000 page novel Cryptonomicon at least 4 times since 2003, and each time I still get so engrossed that my house plants die.

I recently read the cleverly palindromic Seveneves and had my mind blown. So here’s my horribly incomplete & inadequate summary that some super fan will no doubt take issue with.

The basic premise from a layperson – asteroid strikes the moon, creating seven smaller moons. Nerd does math, showing Earth has ~22 months to launch a giant space-faring RV (bigger than this one) before all those mini-moons start colliding with each other & start a ‘white rain’ that will drown human society in tidal waves & steam. All countries of the earth unite to mount an exodus-capable vehicle, each with space for only 2 candidates from each country. They also take a bunch of samples of all living things & store it in a giant cooler for transport & eventual cloning. Once in space, everyone hangs out at an enlarged International Space Station, where there’s a lot of drama & shit starts to get real.

The moon thing & the nerd math take up the first act & get out of the way pretty quickly. He spends some time dealing with the emotional up-fuckery that happens when 0.0000001% of a population leave behind everyone else, though – which keeps it in the realm of human existence, rather than becoming just a space romp. Me likey.

The book’s second act is basically what I think Star Trek really should have been like – a bunch of humans float in space & are unsure, like, what the fuck is happening, and basically trust a baker’s dozen of experts, experts’  robots, experts’  open-source software, not to totally, like, end the whole fucking race with a fat-fingered 1 instead of a 0, or to accidentally create sentient AI. He actually explains the tech they need to rely on, and spends a lot of really interesting sections playing out the failed experiments, the dangers of deep space exposure… and I SWEAR, I think he helped me understand rotational inertia in zero-gravity six-dimensional space-time.

I know, right? Khan Academy it ain’t.

There’s also a Richard Branson-esque dude who, while the rest of civilization grapples with rudimentary interplanetary travel tech, just hops a ride on his own rocket into space to meet these other folks at the Space Station. He’s the most macho alpha-male type in the whole book, evidenced by his actions: he lands at the Space Station, spends all of 17 minutes getting opinions from the experts as to how to make humans space-capable, and then takes off again to the Kuiper Belt with just his two best buds, leaving the rest of humanity behind. He saunters into the story in spurs, and then… Neal basically sends him into space for half the book.

So he can prove his entire life’s work is valuable enough to accomplish a hyper-important mission: to get some ice.

Well played, Neal. On behalf of nerds who have no chance of birthing a unicorn & being able to afford our own rocket, we salute you. There are many, many people I would love to send to get ice.

By the end of that act, it’s down to seven ladies & their various approaches to the world, vying for… viability. Then the 3rd act totally fucks your brain by leaping forward several thousand years, and creates technologies and sciences that even Roddenberry & Lucas are reported as saying, “Whoa… that’s pretty cool.” He depicts a completely interstellar existence, in which humans spend all their resources manufacturing a ring of tiny bubbles suspended in space & fighting through their own class-warfare evolutions.

You know, just like all those poor schmucks from 4,000 years before, except now there’s no real reason for it because all the resources are limitless, and they’re LITERALLY just arguing over who’s nirvana is most morally corrupt/least likely to repeat the mistakes of human history.

Just by arguing about it, though, they kinda seal their doom to repeat them, in my view.

It’s a totally mind-blowing concept to begin with – and then the amount of detail & science that Neal puts into it is just incredible. He exposed me to heavily-researched concepts in astrophysics, women, materials science, mining, more women, fusion reactions, the difference between the Moon’s orbit (Moon Town), low-earth-orbit (Satellite Town), Mars (Snickers City), and then showed how everything beyond that literally cannot be reached AND returned from in a lifetime using today’s travel technologies. Even by women. Oh, and not to mention that the whole idea of the moon being hit by something big enough to shatter it into pieces IS COMPLETELY FEASIBLE and someone at NASA & the ISS is responsible for looking for those things every day. And that’s just the moon – there are an uncountable number of objects out there that could be big enough to ‘kill Earth’.


Three things that have changed in my life as a result of reading this:
1) I’m now glad that Bruce Willis is not dead, and that Ben Affleck still has a career, and that nukes are still a thing. (Previously I was ambivalent about Mr. Willis, and very much anti-Affleck / anti-nuke.)
2) Elon Musk don’t look so batshit crazy now, does he? (BTW: kudos to him & the SpaceX gang for the vertical booster landing in Florida. It’s kinda a big deal.)
3) I’m open to reading things called “space operas”. Previously I was quite anti-opera of any sort: Italian, space, or soap – didn’t matter. But I am now solidly in the “I can learn from space operas so they must have some value” camp. We have our own t-shirts. They’re HYPERCOLOR, tie-dyed, and awesome.

I love books like this. Books that expose me to new concepts, and then back them up with the actual science from which they’re extrapolating. Books that create a just-outside-the-believable-spectrum world, show me how they think it would work, and explain why along the way.

Books that give me a great cop-out when asked why all our plants die. “It’s dead because I was too busy reading about the end of the Earth, MOM! Geeeez!”

Buy it or get it from your library (I know, who needs help finding a library? … well, millions of people still spending money on books, I guess. Although to be fair, I will soon procure my own copy of Seveneves in my very small home library. Right, Santa?)

What are you reading these days?

Steve Carell

It’s late on a Monday afternoon when I catch the train; I’ve got a great date night planned ahead of me – a quick dinner, a glass of wine, and two seats for a one-time-only show in New York. Except I’m the only one on this date, and my head is heavy with chagrin about how much I’m looking forward to this. My wife is not with me; she’s at home in NJ taking care of our 5-year-old daughter, and the show she convinced me to get tickets for starts in 2 hours.
How could I do this to her, you ask? Because she told me to.
Four days ago I’d gotten an email letting me know this show was going to happen, and that tickets would go on sale at 1pm on Thursday. At 1:05pm, I called, hoping I could still get two tickets; it went something like this:
Can I still get two tickets for Monday night’s taping?
“Sure, we can do that.”
Great! How much do they cost?
“Well, sir, each admission is granted for a donation of $100.00.”
Wait, what?
“We aren’t selling tickets, but we’re giving tickets to donors in exchange for their $100.00 tax-deductible donation.”
So… for a price of $100, I get a ticket?
“Yes sir.”
And that’s not selling tickets?
“Sir, would you like to make a tax-deductible donation or not? Other donors are waiting.”
… I’ll call back – I’m a little chagrined by this.
“Okay sir, keep in mind this is a very popular show & grants for admission are going fast.”
I appreciate that, but this is chagrinning.
As most real men do when chagrinned, I called my wife. I’m not entirely sure what this is about – a donation at a set level in exchange for entry? How many other arts institutions operate like this? I’m very comfortable in sliding scale & pay-what-you-will sorts of shows, but this was my first run-in with this type of potential moral turpitude in the arts, and I struggled long and hard with the ambiguous patronage.
I told her those details, combined with the difficulty of Monday night child care services & the time requirements – the ‘granted admission vouchers’ had to be picked up from Will Call at 6:15p – were all leading me to conclude that the costs of this whole thing were huge, and it would be hard for the benefits to outweigh them. What time could the sitter be there? Could we get into the city by 6? What about dinner? Do we have an accountant?
I was ready to bail. But Renee was committed to the idea of this event, and wasn’t about to let questionable write-offs stand in the way of a cool experience and a solid date night. So she convinced me to call back & exchange my patronage for admission vouchers.
But of course, the childcare plans we intended to make never materialized. In-laws unavailable, and since the show had no determinate endpoint, we can’t let the sitter be waiting around on us until midnight.
Damn! I knew it was a bad decision! See, honey? Too spontaneous. This lack of foresight & planning just cost us $200, and I’m certain I’ll have to explain our ‘donation’ on Form-1040WTF! It’s all your fault!
Because she’s awesome, instead of wailing the woes of our lives of parents & cursing the logistics of living in the suburbs, she gracefully, thoughtfully tells me, “You should still go. Call a friend & find a date. I’ll watch Kate.”
Because she’s awesome, I’m here on the train headed to Pace University to see the live taping of Inside The Actors Studio with Steve Carell as the guest.
Botched date night notwithstanding, I’m ecstatic about my dubious donation because Michael C. Scott is one of the best comedic characters I’ve seen on TV, because Stephen v. Steven was one of the best-executed sketches I’ve seen on cable, and because the same guy that played in both of those roles ALSO became the creepiest low-key psychopath rich guy I’ve ever seen on a screen in Foxcatcher. It’s my personal opinion he should have won the Best Actor Oscar; Keaton was also amazing in Birdman but in large part he was just Keaton, and while I didn’t see Theory of Everything & have no idea what Eddie Redmayne brought to life as Hawking – but I saw Steve Carell create a complete character with a lot of complexity in Foxcatcher, and I think they ended up giving weight to the more prominent physicality of Hawking.
In any case, for the range I’ve now seen Carell operate in, with such a high level of commitment, I don’t think there’s an actor out there that I’d rather attempt to emulate. So when life emailed me the opportunity to get inside his brain alongside James Lipton, I was in – shady ticket sales or not, I “donated” the money for two “grants of admission”. Charming date with my wife or not, I intended to make sure someone else got to enjoy that second grant.
On Saturday I emailed 18 of my (geographically) closest friends, certain I’d find a taker within hours & could continue trying to figure out where to grab dinner in the Financial District without having to buy sheep’s clothing. But out of 18 people asked, I only got five responses, and of those five, three people of not-insignificant means tell me that the donation of $100 was too rich for them. Two of them, from fellow actors, included the classic “saving my extra cash for Christmas gifts because I just quit my day job”, the urban “don’t have the extra benjamin lying around”, and the third (from a corporate bigwig at a firm of bigwigs that gets hired by lots of other bigwigs) was along the lines of “$100 is a lot of money to part with, no?” I assume the other 13 non-respondents had better plans already, because assuming they didn’t respond because they just don’t like me hurts more.
To my chagrin (which at this point in the story is at near-record levels), perhaps I valued this particular experience much higher than my peers. Saturday passed with no takers.
Was I out of line? Could I really not find a taker for such a unique opportunity to see a really cool dude talk to an older but almost as cool dude? (Lipton is one interesting cat; if you haven’t read Inside Inside yet, I highly recommend it.) HOW WAS NO ONE AS EXCITED ABOUT THIS AS I ALMOST WASN’T?
Sunday is the Lord’s Day, so everyone must have been catching up with The Big Guy, because no one emailed This Guy. I went to work Monday morning, still hopeful.
Monday at 3pm I still had no solid leads. Chagrin rising… RISING… maybe this was The Big Guy paying me back for capitalizing myself as ‘This Guy’ in that last paragraph.
So I dropped my price. For the price of just dinner & drinks, a former colleague agreed to buy the ticket; as I don’t have tax-exempt status, or a lawyer, I couldn’t rightly call it a donation. My colleague’s great people, and at 90 minutes to show time, I was quite happy to think she was as excited to do this as I was – all she needed was a little discount. So we met for a quick quaff & a bite, and headed to the theater, looking forward to a great show.
As we got seated & settled in, with the stage crew bustling about like shadows of a fluttering flame, she turns to me and, in all sincerity, says “So what’s this Inside The Actor’s Studio?”
My chagrin exploded everywhere.
Not only did I take a hit on the price of the ticket, but I had managed to give it to the ONE person I’d invited that HAD NEVER SEEN THE SHOW BEFORE.
Touche, Big Guy. Well played.
As schadenfreude-edly funny as you may find that (it’s okay – I too would laugh), I’m happy to report that was not the funniest part of my evening at Inside The Actors Studio.
Exceeding my expectations, Carell was whip-smart, spot-on with his timing, and amazingly, genuinely self-effacing. The parts of his life, career & philosophy that he divulged over the course of the next 3 hours rang quite true with this particular audience member. In short, by 10:30pm, if they had given me a mic to ask him a question in the classroom section, the only serious question in my head was, “will you be my adopted father?”
Maybe many actors have this ability to ask others questions that are really more about them, and have issues with their pater familia, but I’m certain mine is a rare hybrid. Here’s why, after less than 3 hours of hearing from the real Steve Carell, I was ready to call him Dad.
The interview started as it always does, and it seemed to me that Steve was fine talking about family & growing up to the extent that Lipton felt it warranted, but it seemed like a witness on the stand – whether the subject matter or his interrogator, Steve sat still, answered questions, and continued sweating. It wasn’t until they reached the beginning of his performing career & his all-too-close brush with law school that he appeared willing to dig in; he tossed off his too-hot, poorly-chosen blazer (the blazer was wool & intended for a 30-degree New York December evening, not the spots & fill lights of a stage) and really seemed interested in explaining to Lipton that it was as much luck as effort that brought him to where he was that night.
The first note he hit that resonated so crystal clear with me was when they landed on Steve’s improv background, where Lipton elicits from Steve that what that foundation gave him was “freedom to fail”. Aside from being a great thing to learn, it also happens to be the greatest thing that I’ve learned from improv, and is the one lesson that has enabled me to do EVERYTHING I’ve done artistically since 2006. My first improv class, at Bay Area Theater Sports (BATS), had me celebrating failure in the first 10 minutes of class, with a simple game called “Ball!” Basically you volley a large beach ball around the circle of improvisers; when someone misses a return & the ball hits the ground, you’re all asked to celebrate – literally, “Wahoo! We Failed!” – and just pick up the ball & start again.
It’s a simple game, with a simple lesson – but that’s not to underscore its significance. Steve Carell himself just said that freedom to fail was the biggest lesson he learned – and this guy’s movies have grossed >$1B at the box office, and he’s been nominated for Oscars & won Emmys. Simple or not, he let that willingness to embrace failures lead him to great heights. Mainly, this is because the low points, like Evan Almighty & having The Dana Carvey Show canceled after only one (and a bit) season, didn’t fall on him as weights. They fell in front of him, as steps toward the next thing. Pick it up & start again.
Another mind-tickling moment came up as he discussed his start at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Interestingly, he almost walked away from The Daily Show when he was asked to join it in 2000. When he was first on that show as an assignment reporter, his segments were interviews of folks with somewhat-askew realities. He described one of his first assignments, interviewing “someone that thought aliens had invaded one of the underground lairs at Disney World,” but said that the tone of that segment was making fun of “people who clearly aren’t well.” My spider-sense tingled then when he described himself as someone who “tends to over-empathize with people”.
You may not know this about me, but I get choked up with joy watching an Olympian set a new world record – but I also get a wee bit weepy just watching the end of Home Alone (when Old Man Marley hugs his no-longer-estranged son as Kevin looks on from his window). Gets me every time. I get so caught up in what I imagine the emotions are for that person – good or bad – that I tend to become a blubbering mess. So I tend to run away from conflicts, because I’m not interested in feeling my own empathy about the pain coming from the other party – including the mild discomfort that can arise when I’m on stage doing a stand-up bit that goes too far or too dark.
This level of empathy makes it nearly impossible to stand & ask for what you want, by the way. For me it works something like this:
1) I want something different than what’s in front of me – I want to tell jokes that get a little angry at life, for instance
2) I imagine that in order for me to get what I want, someone else has to give up some piece of what they have/want – audiences might not be up for that level of anger; they want jokes about boobs, babies or bacon
3) I realize that they probably don’t want to do that, because if they did, they already would have done so – I’d already be famous if people really liked angry life jokes
4) for me to ask them to sacrifice something will cause a bit of difficulty for them while I get what I want – they’d have to filter through all my crap & worry about whether I’m funny or just angry, which is not why they came to a comedy club
5) more often than not, I decide that empathizing with their pain is a higher cost than I’m really willing to pay for what I want – in our example, this is where I realize that convincing them I’m okay while still being angry is WAAAAAAY hard, and even if I succeed with 80% of them, the other 20% will be upset… they might even send me a mean tweet.
6) I run away, looking spineless, AND not getting what I want AND I feel bad for having asked – I say something like “Stand-up is hard, let’s just talk about you now.”
When Steve Carell was doing those not-so-nice segments, he almost ran away too, going so far as to talk to his representation about considering his options if he bailed; luckily Jon Stewart, who had just recently taken over the show, started charting a different course at that point. Jon & the writers decided they could keep the segments going, but they would “turn it around and make [Steve] the butt of the joke,” which made it all the funnier, and kept Steve Carell interested in doing the show.
Had he not gotten lucky with Stewart’s intervention, we might not have seen his turn as Evan Baxter in Bruce Almighty, someone else would’ve played Anchorman’s Brick, and we might have ended up with a fake CG version of the chest-waxing scene in 40-Year-Old Virgin. Oh… and Michael C. Scott might have been played (brilliantly, perhaps) by Ben Falcone or Alan Tudyk.
This is why empathy is good, but while you’re busy preventing someone else’s chagrin, you might also be busy preventing your own success. (Go ahead Jon Kabat-Zinn, email me for the rights to that one.) You need people around you that are willing & able to prevent you from fucking up your own destiny. Good people. Like Jon Stewart. Or my wife.
There might be many other actors & comedians who’ve learned the freedom to fail, and there might be plenty who empathize in a deep way, but to be in the middle of that Venn AND to have managed to achieve the level of success that Steve Carell has without an inflated ego… well, if there’s a pedestal, he’s earned a spot on top of it in my book.
That pedestal has been empty for a while. It may have cost me some chagrin, it may have cost me some moral quandaries about ‘donating’ to the arts, and it may or may not ACTUALLY be tax-deductible, but I’m lucky my wife intervened & made sure I didn’t let this opportunity pass me by.
If the IRS comes for me, tell them it was all her idea.

Actor Steven Seagal Not Dead. Also, Not An Actor.

You know how they say a key step to having a successful blog is to write haphazardly & on a catty-wompus schedule for several years, and then go COMPLETELY DARK for almost two years while you go off and actually live a more interesting life? And then when you come back to the blog you’ll try to write about the goings-on of the extended hiatus, but then you’ll sit down and have no clue where to start? And that this all makes your blog the Most Awesome Blog?

You know how they say that, right? They do. I heard ‘em. They talk loudly in small spaces.

It works just like in the movies. They do an amazing first run of something, then go completely silent with no rumblings of ever coming back … and then, when they surprise everyone with a sequel, it will be even more amaze-balls (to wit: Rush Hour 2, City Slickers 2, Look Who’s Talking Too, You’ve Got Mail (c’mon, that was basically Sleepless in Seattle 2: Sponsored by America OnLine)… but somehow the sequel ALSO makes the first one that much more enjoyable?

So… welcome to Most-Awesome-Blog: Back From Action And Back In Action!

… we’ll be right back, after we’ve written a decent treatment for what may sort of be good enough to at least be the first eleven minutes of the first act, including one exciting incident.

Let’s All Go To The Lobby!

Psssst… you just missed the exciting incident! Now it’s all just exposition & deep background! Hope those nine dollar Twizzlers were worth it!

As I was saying.

I spent 9 months in action, completing the exaggeratedly-named One-Year Program at the American Comedy Institute. Over the course of those 9 months, I finally did stand-up. Several times. I co-wrote & co-starred in a pilot for a web series. I co-wrote & produced a spec episode of a late night talk show. I performed in three scene nights & three improv shows, and a sketch comedy showcase. I learned audition techniques. I learned on-camera techniques for commercials. Oh… and did I mention that all of this took place outside the ol’ day job? and in New York City? while also still being a decent-but-with-room-for-improvement father to a five year old & husband to a three-peat entrepreneur?

In short, while the hiatus was long, it was nothing if not action-packed, and I’m certain this is the place to return to for an in-depth analysis. Like when Steven Seagal took a hiatus from being Buddhist – he made a shit-ton of amazing (for their time, for my adolescent perspective) action films with the perfect amount of gratuitous nudity, but when he was done, Buddhism was so glad to have him back. Buddhism was like, “Okay, did you get all that out of your system? I sure hope so because your pillow is getting cold & the monastery needs a good sweeping. Yes, yes, we all want to hear what you learned, but you’d better have a push-broom in your hand the whole time, Brother Ponytail!”

Over the next umpteen posts, I’ll try to explain the what & the how of all that action, as well as try to summarize it in some scholarly fashion so that my kids (both of them – R is due in Feb with a baby boy) can learn from it before my still-nascent-but-looming dementia robs them of the whole shebang.

But for now, let me leave you with this: I spent a year exploring various comedic pursuits, and while I still don’t know what the future ahead will look like, I do know that it’s highly unlikely that any one thing, role, or job is going to define that future. The number of people that can fill a lifetime being only one thing is ridiculously small… and the ones I’ve met that have relegated themselves to that goal are mysteriously unfulfilled and SHOCKINGLY UNINTERESTING.

Along the way I’ll try to weave in other source materials – as much content as I’ve created since my last post, I’ve also consumed a whole bunch – to fill in some holes & round out some analogies. In essence, then, the blog itself will cease to be ‘just’ a door found on your way down a rabbit hole, but it will become a rabbit hole itself.

… Okay, okay, I hear the pretense. I’m just saying there’s a shit-ton of stuff that I’m going to shoehorn into your peepers, so if you’re here with the expectation that this is the same blog it was two years ago, well, think again, Watson. More info, more insight, but still the perfect amount of 90s pop culture references and 80s-level gratuitous nudity.

Because boobs.

But up next will be a post on tonight’s show at the Schimmel. I will be in the audience. Will you?

I Made This About Bras

Comedy’s not really where my head’s at right now.

This is still hard for me to do regularly, as you can tell, but it feels good when it happens.  I let it all out in writing so much easier than I can do it in speech, or when I’m worried about comic intentions or being hilarious.  It’s nice to return to this format.

We’ve been thinking a lot.  And talking a lot.  About everything.  We still don’t KNOW anything… which seems to be particularly uncomfortable for us, as Type A humans, but we’re spending more time with that sort of feeling & trying to get comfortable with it.  In fairness we’re a lot more comfortable in that discomfort than we were 2, 3 or 5 years ago.  So the thinking and the talking is where it’s at.  And we’ve been doing so much of it together that my need to do it here, alone, is not nearly as chronic as in the past.

Now, though, I’m approaching the meta state.  So much talking & thinking is going on that I feel the need to think & write about all the talking & thinking.  Why?  Because, in all honesty, I think we’re really pretty frikking great at it, and no one else around us seems to have it buttoned up quite the way we do.  Yes, that sounds very braggardly… but honestly we may be the Kim & Kanye of Dealing With Ourselves in a relationship.  We’ll name our next kid Yeezus as a result.  Or at least Kate’s first dog.

There are some more experienced couples we know that are good at this – a few may even be better at it than we are – but we’re coming up on just our 7th anniversary, and I feel like we’ll never have something we can’t talk through.  Most of the professional counselor contacts we’ve talked to give us a lot of praise, in a surprised tone, for the way we handle our marriage at “such a young age”.  I put that in quotes because I don’t really feel it’s a justified classification.  We’re adults, and we’re only a decade away from being middle-aged adults… so how is that “such a young age”?  If they’re talking about the age of our marriage, I call statistical baloney – the median length of a marriage for men & women in the US is only eight years, per Wikipedia.  Even if you control for idiots that keep the Vegas altars in business (funny how none of the non-Vegas altars are viewed as participants in business, but for all the marketing religions have done), I sincerely doubt it doubles to 16 years, so we’re probably approaching at least the median age of a marriage.   So while I doubt you’d look at someone who’s uber happy by age 39, at half the average life expectancy in the 2010 census, and say they’ve figured out life at such a young age, alas, they applaud us for being so damn good at this, and are surprised when they meet us in person vs. hear our stories over the phone or in writing.  Apparently they picture Warren Beatty & Annette Bening without knowing any better.  (That is one side-by-side I can live with.)

Let me clarify for those of you who will wonder at what I have wrought:  we are fine.  We are great.  But many, MANY, of our friends & peers & Twitter followers seem to have challenges in this area.  So I wanted to create an on-demand resource, borne out of the conversations we have during which we try to give our advice on a piecemeal basis, that might save a few marriages around the interwebz.  That’s all.  No big whoop.

So in complete ignorance of the typical capitalist habit of somehow protecting a patent on a productive partnership, though I’m sure others have tried, let me break down how this shit works.  Below are the details of our… habit, I suppose, is the least controversial noun – less so than “practice” or “method”, which I feel are being usurped by advertisers & those schilling their wares.  A habit is still negative enough to be outside the sphere of copywriter opiates.  It’s a set of circumstances, which usually arise in something of a sequence/cause-effect chain, in which each step generates an action & each action therefore generates the next circumstance.  That, in fact, is all anything really is.  If you want to understand why your boss/spouse/child/vegan soy vegetable soufflé isn’t treating you the way you want/listening to you/rising in the oven like the damn paleo diet ebook said it would, sit down & understand these basic elements of circumstance, action & reaction.  Newton, Leibniz, Fermi, Fermat, Fibonacci… all the other F guys… the so-called “natural philosophers” knew what the hell they were doing.  Observe, Analyze, Report, Repeat.  You do that for your marriage, then you create a positive relationship & can keep it moving in a positive direction.

How To Create & Maintain Positive Momentum In Your Marriage

(Like how I’m expressing that in copywriter opiates?  Blech.  Practically screams SEO Google AdWords.  I’ll bet it asks you to click it later, after that third drink.)

STEP 1.  Be honest about what you’re actually thinking / feeling / doing.

STEP 2.  Communicate that clearly & then stop talking.  I read recently that you should spend 3/4 of the conversation listening to the other person, and 1/4 of the conversation talking.  Mathematically, when you both stick to this rule, it can’t possibly be a one-sided conversation, because you’ll both shut up before you feel like you’re getting to 50% of the talk time.  I am summarily disgusted by things that don’t make mathematical sense, such as fad diets, skinny jeans, and Fox News, but the numbers here would lead to a satisfactory outcome, so I won’t quibble.

STEP 3.  Listen to what the other person is saying, in an active way.  Meaning try to ignore the voice in your head that is talking while they are talking.  You’re not in a rush here… unless of course you are in a rush, in which case you invoke The Emergency Rule, below.  You need to hear the words and then think about them – they are talking about their feelings & what you should DO about the circumstances, so if you want them to do what you asked them to do in step 2, you have to listen the fuck up & figure out what you’re going to do about THEIR concerns & circumstances.  Our own nature works against us here – instead of listening to their side & figuring out what we can do to help them, we listen to their side & never stop thinking about how we feel about it, so that when s/he is done we can talk more about our feelings to get what we want.  However, if you both want the conversation to take you to a place that is better than the one wherein you started the conversation, you will have to do both actions: a) Listen & Decide What To Do In Regards To Their Needs; b) Listen & Decide What Else To Ask For In Regards To Your Needs.  (The Capital Letters Are Important.  No They’re Not.)  This takes more time than the current socially-acceptable normal conversation with most people – i.e. you don’t have this amount of time when you’re telling the barista how many pumps of mocha it tastes like vs. how many pumps of mocha you really want it to taste like – but unless you’re Oprah you’re probably not in a deep life-altering partnership with your barista.

STEP 4.  Repeat the above steps until all your shit is aired out, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, unless invoking The Emergency Rule.

THE EMERGENCY RULE:  If you aren’t in a place, physically or mentally, where you can make every honest attempt at engaging in each step repeatedly until your conversation is over, this is how you handle it:  “{Personal Moniker}, I want to continue to keep moving through this discussion to get to a better place that meets both our needs, but the circumstances we need  are not what we have right now, so let’s come back to it at {Set A Specific Time, Preferably Before The Next Sunrise}.”  Make sure the Personal Moniker isn’t a loaded term – i.e. it shouldn’t be overly saccharine, nor should it be placating & of course not demeaning, and, if you ever want to have oral pleasures again, avoid anything sexually playful, i.e. Sugar Tits, Mr. Big, Lena Dunham, etc.

That’s it.  That’s the big damn secret.  Notice that nowhere am I explicitly saying any of them are easy.  Much like other lofty goals such as maintaining good nutrition, raising a child to be an upstanding citizen, and unhooking modern-day bras, knowing what the steps are, and understanding how to follow them in a sequence, is the easy part; actually doing it is where the magic is.  (Seriously with the bra thing:  show me one other piece of clothing that has that many impossibly tiny & implausibly strong hooks, and I’ll bet its intentions are much less innocent than simply keeping the girls covered up.  Talk about over-engineering safety for one guy’s mistake… can you imagine being the guy responsible for the bra?  Like, because of you, all of the remaining boobs, all of them, forever, all of them had to be covered up?  And by such a medieval device?  I want to know what he did to two boobs that was so bad we had to lock up all the other ones with tiny metal locks and elastic fabric that stretches unnaturally.)

HOW’S THAT FOR A CHANGE IN TONE AT THE END OF AN ESSAY??!??  Take that, Comp Lit Majors!  Enjoy your no job & weird spices & braless girlfriends!


That is all.

Advice, Guerilla-style

I received an email about a comment on “And Now For Something…“.  After finally logging in this AM to approve it & respond, it is nowhere to be seen.  The interwebz are eating my followers.

In any case, I did record a response.  The comment was posted more than 2 weeks ago, and it said this:

Your Name CC
Email (ablated for saftey – and because I like to ablate things)@hotmail.com
Website http://
Message Brian, I just found out last Saturday that the man I thought was my dad, isn’t. I’m 54 yrs old, and my dad died when I was 4, but I remember him and loved him. I have 4 siblings that all look alike, but nothing like me. I am numb and still in shock. Please talk to me, no one around me understands how I feel but you do. I read your blog.  HELP

So in response, and as inspired by The Monday Morning Podcast, I posted this on YouTube as another episode of BTYT.

Pontifications welcome.

In other news, I’m currently reading “The Path Between The Seas” by David McCulloch and am ABSOLUTELY ENTRANCED by it.  It is one of the few history texts that I can say I’ve enjoyed… and I’m only about a hundred pages in, with… a lot to go.  Like, a thousand pages I think.

I’ll be back soon with more, but I felt like an ass – CC asked for help almost 3 weeks ago.  Hang in there!  *KITTEN ON A BRANCH*

What Do Rappers Drink These Days?

Being on CNN.com should have been a bigger deal.  And it’s not that it wasn’t a BIG deal; I’ve gotten a lot more traffic here & gotten a few people contacting me directly and commenting on the post from 3 years ago.  But for those that are sitting & waiting for something amaze-balls to happen to them & thinking that being featured in a CNN article about celebrities, Sinatra & paternity might actually stoke that fire, here’s an update from someone who’s done it:  the President hasn’t called me, I still haven’t gotten an RSVP for the Halloween party invitation that I sent to Kate Middleton, and my Twitter feud with Barbara Streisand is more heated than ever.

So it hasn’t exactly changed my life in amazingly celebrity-based leaps & bounds… but it has helped in smaller ways.  It feels good to have gotten my story out even further than this blog.  It feels good that a few comment-dwellers have gotten something out of the story.
Those are the good parts.  The weird part is, I haven’t told anyone that I actually know.  I told Facebook (not a real person) about it once on Tuesday, but given that the half-life of a status update or tweet is 3 hours, that barely counts.  But I haven’t mentioned it to any of my colleagues at work… even my cube neighbor, Sal, hasn’t caught wind of it.  Mainly, that’s because I figure it would go something like this:
“Hey Sal.  Hey, did you see I was in a CNN.com story?”
“Really!?!  About what?  Did you get choked by Wayne Brady?”
“Is that a Chappelle Show reference?”
“Nailed it!”
“No, Wayne Brady & I are simpatico.”
“So what was the story?”
“Y’know how they’re saying that Mia Farrow didn’t have sex with Woody Allen?”
“Are they saying that?”
“… I don’t know.  But this CNN reporter did a story about something going on with Mia Farrow’s kid & how he just found out he might be a Sinatra offspring or something.”
“Wow… wait… who’s Sinatra?”
“Oh… sorry, I forgot you’re twelve.  Sinatra… Sinatra… well, imagine an attractive Tony Soprano with bluer eyes and less fat, and now imagine he could sing really well, in between sleeping with attractive women of multiple ethnicities.”
“You mean like Adam Levine sing? or Michael Buble sing?”
“Buble.  Definitely Buble.”
“Shit I love Adam Levine.  So are you… are you telling me you’re on CNN.com because you know a lot about this Sinatra guy?”
“My new high score though!”
“… Fine.  Asshole.”
“The story was about how finding out something like that can totally shake the foundation of who you are.”
“Yeah, I hear that.  Did you know that J-Lo and Ben Affleck never really loved each other?  When I read that on TMZ  I cried for days.  It was such a big part of my sophomore Prom.  My buddies & I did costumes, and I went as Jenny From The Block and my buddy Rico went as Ben Affleck from Gigli.  That movie was AWESOME but I can’t frikkin’ believe it wasn’t real.”
“That sucks but can you bring it back to me now?  I’m trying to tell you a fucking story about my life that has nothing to do with the cinematic merits of Gigli.”
“Chill, man, chill… you brought it up.”
“Okay okay… get to the point.”
“Goddamn you.  *sigh* The reporter included me in the story because I also don’t know who my real father is & when I found out it totally shook my sense of identity.”
“… Wait… what?  You don’t know who your father is?”
“Correct.  Welcome to The Point.”
“… Um.  Wow.  I mean… wow.”
“So… what do you want me to do with that information?”
“I dunno.  I just… I thought maybe you’d want to read the article and maybe you might have questions and we could, y’know… talk about it.”
“Uh, yeah, sure man, I’ll read it.  Hey, did you hear about that girl in HR?”
“No, what happened?”
“She got lippy with her director… totally got a few demerits I think.”
“… mmkay, we’re done here.”
See what I mean?  I have this perception that telling more ACTUAL people – people that I know & that have faces & names in my universe – about this story will not really do any good for anyone… but at the same time, having it out there for the figurative masses has somehow benefited some small portion of society, as evidenced by the comments section.
Say what you will about media, but this type of separation between the circles (the first containing myself & those I know, the second containing myself & those I don’t know) … well, it’s powerful, at least in this instance.  I don’t have to deal with how circle 2 denizens will take it… and they get to hear my story without any emotional investment or risk of being made to feel awkward.  To them it’s just words on a page.  To those in circle 1, the people who know me, it’s some real shit we’re talking about & the social contract between us says that it is unacceptable for them to not know how to deal with real shit.  (For the record, that embarrassment is self-imposed as far as I’m concerned; I don’t exactly know how best to deal with this shit either, so why anyone would think that I expect THEM to know how to deal with it is straight-up wacko.)

Better Than A Meth Habit

Meh… I don’t have any excuses.

What I have are strong feelings.  Strong feelings usually accompany big events or changes.  In the last 2 months, I’ve moved, I’ve found out my office is moving (not closer), I’ve spent more money on housing & repairs than ever before, and in general have thrown everything in life up in the air.  For funsies.

Oy.  It’s just been a long … year, I guess.  Lots of great things, but lots of big things.  Let’s be clear:  almost all of them are great, and even the ones that aren’t great aren’t that bad.  So I’m NOT complaining.  What I’m doing is processing all the horse shit feelings I’m having as we try & deal with all of it at once; it would be much easier to process if I had a meth habit, methinks.  Lemme get back to you on that.

What is really striking to me in everything that’s going on is how inefficient we FEEL, especially related to the move, even in spite of the sheer volume & crazy-short timelines we’ve been working on.  I think that feeling has to come from just bad expectations.  (Some of it, admittedly, is because a few things have not lived up to the most basic expectations we had – like lawyers breaking contract laws.)  Because we didn’t really know any better, we just sort of expected everything to be fine as we moved into a completely-rebuilt 1950s ranch home.  And we really didn’t prepare ourselves for being stressed out for doing the move in the middle of our busiest two months of 2012.  In September, we all went to Southern California for a working vacation.  Then I went to Chicago for work.  I came home on a Thursday & then we closed that Friday.  Then 2 weeks later in October we went to Ireland for a week with a 2.5 year old toddler.  And now we’ve been back for 10 days and feel like we’ve literally made zero progress since we moved.

It’s a completely irrational feeling, but that’s how we feel.  We have, in reality, put Kate into a great preschool, hung curtains, met neighbors, bought a rug, consulted landscaping, chimney & roof contractors to deal with water issues, unpacked 80% of the boxes, purchased a washer & dryer, and shopped for a shit-tonne of furniture.  (Our only real success on that front was a $75 queen box spring I bought from an Indian guy on craigslist, which was a great price considering it came with a free cumin smell & cricket jumper.)  That’s not a short list, nor is it an easy one.  But because we aren’t 100% settled, even feeling 99% effective feels completely unacceptable.

We suck at expectations, I think.

Anyway… this ended up being a bit of a therapy session for me.  Thanks for reading; may not have been the most interesting post ever, but it IS better than a meth habit.  If you’ve got any thoughts or consoling words, I’m all ears.  And penis.  I still have a penis.



I Know, Right?

Where the hell have I been?

Short answer:  really frikkin’ busy.  An excuse? Not a good one.  But I will say the one I have is probably the best of all possible excuses.  All of my creative energy has been going into entertaining the Nugget.  She’s such a little sponge; everything I throw out there she soaks right up, and then quickly gets bored & wants to go back to watching Cinderella or Lion King – which she can soak up repeatedly, apparently without EVER getting bored.  That fact comes with the implication that maybe I’m the one getting bored with my own Nugget-specific creations, or at least bored enough to not want to repeat the same material over & over… but then I remember that I’m not a DVD & it’s actually normal to want to keep things fresh.  So all my fresh stuff, which is in high demand by my highly loyal audience of one, is 1) skewed very young; B) performed live and not captured on video; and 4) usually accompanied by a slight poop odor (usually hers).

I’m also in the middle of consuming the “Song of Ice & Fire” series by George R.R. Martin.  If you’re not familiar, it’s currently a five tome series, of which I’m almost done with the third, with each tome weighing in around 850 hardback pages.  This is also the series that HBO has turned into “A Game Of Thrones”, an awesome new drama series titled after the first book in the series.  Political intrigue, war, dragons, sex, incest, dwarves, wolves, accents… this series really does have it all from a fantasy perspective, but I’m almost done with #3 and there really hasn’t been a whole bunch of wizardry or supernatural involved; shapeshifting, dragons born from rocks, yes – but Martin isn’t really elaborating on those as vignettes.  He spends more time describing each character’s garb than I’d like, and I also suck at visualizing gates & keeps & towers in castles, so he doesn’t rank in the top five of my sci-fi/fantasy authors list… but this is still a FANTASTIC series, and I spend whatever free time I have reading it.  I’ve been swimming through Lannisters & Starks’ family trees since Christmas, and probably won’t grab a towel until Cinco de Mayo when I climb out to swing drunkenly at a piñata, inevitably miss, and hit my own nuts.

All this is to say I’m sort of intentionally quiet with Shower Sandwich, which, when I return to MAKING things, will be my primary channel for distribution.  I’ve had a few strangers post a few comments, and plenty of folks watching, so I feel like it’s not a complete failure; hence I’m not discouraged, I’m just … distracted, as I mentioned above.  Also – thanks to all of you who’ve watched & given your honest feedback.  It’s a process, but the process doesn’t get me very far without the commentary.

Now… back to the nerdery.


Well, I should finally put it up here:  http://www.youtube.com/user/ShowerSandwich

That’s where you’ll find most of the stuff I’m up to these days.  Takes the steam out of my actual writing, honestly, so just head over there, at least for now.

That’s all.