The Mogolog

…but I digress…

I Should Have Done That Differently

(the second in a series of important, or at least self-important, posts)

So, 2013 is also the year that I get serious about something I’ve been meaning to do since I was 5 years old. I’m writing…no…writing AND finishing… a book. Not a novel, like I always imagined (though stay tuned for more on that), but something else.

I’m writing a book on parenting. And it’s funny. Notice the verb tense. It IS funny. This isn’t speculative. It’s underway.

The book is called I Should Have Done That Differently, and it is the antithesis of every other parenting book out there: it is not boring or preachy or self-important. It does not assume that parents have no other interests, or that your child has become the whole of your existence. It does not even assume that you like children, because let’s face it, most people have terrible children. It is a book that acknowledges some key facts about babies:

  • Babies are boring
  • Babies are a pain in the ass
  • Babies ruin your life
  • Babies are, despite this, potentially a lot of fun

Even though I mean what I say in that last bullet point, I intend to focus on the negative, because that’s the stuff that people don’t really talk about much, or don’t talk about with non-parents. The book is comedy, but it also does have one very serious point: I hate the normalization of “perfect” as an expectation in parenting. I want people to know that every parent is either winging it or delusional.

I’ve currently written the foreword and a single chapter, but am BLAZING through the rest. The book may be published as audio first, as the writing style is similar to my shows. It could be, essentially, a subscribable audio book that will, at the end, be available as a complete print or ebook. I’m still working that out. Maybe I’ll Kickstart it. For now, the goal is to write the book.

My tentative Table of Contents:

* Foreword: What Was I Thinking?
* So You Thought You Could Conceive: Adventures in Infertility
* She’s Pregnant! Staring Down the Barrel of a Loaded Uterus
* The Arrival of a New American Citizen: How We Do Birth
* Your Baby’s First Night at Home: The Worst Thing That’s Ever Happened to You (Yet)
* Intelligent Design Refuted: No Intelligent Being Designed a Baby
* One Million Ways to Die: Easy Baby Care Tips
* This Baby is Boring: Yes, I Mean Yours, Too
* My Life Is Over: A New Approach to Managing Your Social Calendar
* Just When You Thought the Worst Was Behind You: Your Baby Attacks at Night
* The Emergence of Personality: Just Another Thing You Have No Control Over
* A Roomba With Feelings and Legal Protections: Your Beloved Child is Mobile
* Expensive Parrot vs. Child: A Case Study in Life Planning
* I Just Bragged About What? Protecting Yourselves From Strange Feelings of Pride
* Feeding a Child: 10 Ways to Needlessly Cause Yourself Trouble (and then serve ketchup)
* Your Child in the Wider World: How Complete Strangers Ruin Everything
* Surrendering Your Child to the Education System: The Alternative to Destroying Them Yourself

This book is happening. Each chapter is essentially a stand-alone essay, about the length of a magazine feature article. Want to know more? Let me know.

Retiring “Dumber Faster” – But Not Quietly

(I said I had some important posts. This is the first one.)

On March 1st, I’m performing Dumber Faster for what is probably the final time. I say “probably” because, really, who knows. If someone wants to book it and the schedule works, I wouldn’t rule it out. But I’m not pushing to book it again; there’s too much else to do. But I think it’s the best show I’ve ever done, and I didn’t want to just STOP. So we’re doing something special with the last show.

First off, we’re running it at a special time: 10 PM, Friday, March 1st. (GET TICKETS) And this time, I’m not bringing a guest storyteller. I’m bringing TWO, and I’m so happy about who they are: the storytellers are Veronica Ades and Josh Gondelman. You’re going to love both of them. Veronica is an OB/GYN who has done some amazing work with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. She’s a talented writer and storyteller and I’m thrilled she could make it to Boston for this show. Josh is quite simply a hilarious stand up comic, and the hands-down nicest guy in comedy. His recent success with Modern Seinfeld is just a tiny bit of what he’s up to, and like Veronica, I’m delighted he could come from New York for this show. Why are they coming? They’re doing it because…

It’s for charity. The show is a benefit for Doctors Without Borders (really, buy a ticket). I first had the idea in the days after Superstorm Sandy, when I was clearing fallen branches in my backyard and thinking about how lucky I was to only be clearing branches. I wanted to do something for an organization that could really help in a way that I can’t, and before I was inside, I had the idea of booking this show as a fundraiser. And that’s where I got lucky in having a great partner in it…

When I pitched the idea to Zach Ward and Mike Descoteaux at ImprovBoston, they jumped on it. They aren’t just giving me a primetime weekend spot for a benefit show: they’re canceling the show in the neighboring space to give me perfect quiet for my show. They’re doing this because…

We’re recording it professionally, and want clear audio. Clyde Media has generously agreed to capture the show on video for us. They’re doing this because…

I’m going to make it available as a $5 download (you guessed it, for charity). When it’s available, you’ll be able to go online, give $5 (or more!) to Doctors Without Borders, and then download Dumber Faster.

I’m not making a penny off this. I’m super excited, though, to send the show off in a way that does some real good.

I hope you’ll buy a ticket. I hope you’ll download the show.

 

 

Deciding to change

I’m about to start a series of “important” posts. I’m essentially going to be laying out my plan for the entire year 2013. By doing it publicly, I’m committing myself to accomplishing a few things that I would otherwise—in a previous year, for example—let fall to procrastination.

To do these things, I’ve had to reconcile myself to three things:

1) I’m an adult. Finally, at age 34, I don’t get to claim newbie status in adulthood anymore. I can’t plead ignorance or distraction. Last week, I had a moment at work where I became self-aware in an unusual way, and my thought was, “I’m doing this with a remarkable degree of competence.” It was eerie. I’ve always thought of myself as a kid among adults. Choosing to not see myself that way is important for what comes next.

2) I have to physically take care of myself better. I have to make myself sleep more. I have to eat better. I have to drink less alcohol. I have to work out first, not last. I’ve begun, as much as possible, simply not eating between meals. This goes against every bodily instinct I have: I have a lifelong habit of eating 18-20 hours per day. When the urge is overwhelming, I’m eating fruit and drinking black coffee.

3) This is the most important one: I have to spend my free time working. Not “working” in the sense of adding hours to my professional workday, although I do that as much as anybody. What I mean is that the goals I’m setting for myself in the next few posts each require work, not wishing, and each of those projects that I want to complete is important enough to me that I have to make sacrifices for them. Some, like not playing video games much, if at all, are not an enormous hardship. On the other hand, choosing to spend less time reading is a very strange bit of sacrifice, giving up something that is an unambiguous positive. But in the spirit of “you can’t have it all,” I need to read less so that I can write a little bit more.

Throughout my 20s, I raised a toast on birthdays to my 30s, when I would start getting things done. The 20s were for squandering. I’m nearing the decade’s halfway point. If I’m going to cross into my 40s with dignity, I need to make good on that toast.

It’s hard to change. It had better be worth it.

TC

This might end up being a long post, but it’s got to be that way.

As I write this, my friend TC Cheever is fighting his final battle against pancreatic cancer at Mass General. Word got out late last week that he’d received the worst news, and been told that he wouldn’t survive the weekend. His closest friends flew into Boston to gather around him. So far so normal.

But something started happening outside the hospital. Friends of TC began posting memories and photos, jokes, and videos about TC on Facebook and Twitter. A hashtag #WeLoveTC sprung up. People were changing their profile photos to pictures with TC. On Sunday morning, I went to Facebook and saw that nearly my entire News Feed was TC-related. An email group I’m a member of started a thread, discussing their TC memories. People who’d never met TC, but whose friends had, began to see this wave of happy remembrance pushing into their own news feed. I’m often cynical about social media, but what I saw this weekend was the absolute best thing I’ve ever seen online. The pure outpouring of love for a friend was awe-inspiring.

And in a room at Mass General, TC, with his girlfriend Gillian and his family and closest friends, saw it all. It was as if the room that they were in contained hundreds of people, toasting TC, not just sharing memories and saying goodbye, but pledging to do more to live the way their friend has.

That last thing, living like TC, is at the center of this, I think. The reason for the outpouring is simple: everybody loves TC Cheever. Everybody. TC is among the most relentlessly charming, likeable, encouraging, kind, creative, and funny people I’ve ever met. He’s got the biggest laugh in the world, and having him in your audience when you’re onstage is a blessing. He’s a fantastic musician. A great father. He’s the guy who cheers people up, picks people up, and kicks them in the butt to try again when things don’t work out right. And what people are talking about is being more like that.

Now, maybe you’re getting the impression that I’m a close friend of TC’s. I’m not. I’m just one of a horde who adores the man. I’ve known him since 2001, when I met him in the lobby of a basement theater in Boston, where one of his childhood friends was directing a show that another old friend was acting in. We spoke for maybe two minutes, and if I’d never seen him again, I’d remember TC as the center of that room. It’s been that way ever since. I’ve spent a decade in the ImprovBoston community, and in that decade, when TC is in a room, he’s been the room’s center. It’s not just that everybody seeks him out: he seeks everybody else out. He loves conversation, he loves checking in. He doesn’t leave if there’s a conversation left to be had. You don’t pass through the lobby when TC’s there. You stop and talk with TC, and it’s not a duty: it’s the best part of being there.

I only have one personal story about TC that others couldn’t tell better. In March of 2009, our friend Peter died. Peter’s husband Steve is one of my closest friends, and Steve asked me to spread the news among our friends at ImprovBoston. I spent the evening on the phone, calling everybody whose number I had, initiating a phone tree I didn’t know existed. I talked with dozens of people, and then late in the evening, I called TC. He’d heard the news by then. We talked for a couple minutes, and I asked him for a few phone numbers of people I still needed to call. He told me he’d call them himself. We said goodbye and I hung up. Five seconds later, my phone rang. It was TC, calling me back. He said, “I forgot to ask. How are YOU handling this? This can’t be easy to make these calls.” And you  know what? It was really hard to make that call over and over. I mean, I don’t regret it and am not complaining about it: making those calls was really important and I’m gratified that I could be helpful to Steve and everybody else. So nobody needed to ask me the question that TC asked, but he was right: it wasn’t easy. And there was nothing to be done about it but to keep making them. But that TC asked was such a kindness. It was such a TC thing to think of at that moment, and I’m so grateful to him for it.

This morning, Rod Begbie told us he was going to run the Disney World Marathon next year, literally following in TC’s footsteps. Before I knew what I was doing, I did what TC would do. I said I was going to do it too. Minutes later, a team had formed. Next January, we’ll be running in Orlando in TC’s name, raising money, I hope, to fight pancreatic cancer. I’m in no shape to run a marathon. But it’s gonna happen. And if TC weren’t the one where TC is now, he’d be running with us. I know he would.

So, TC is leaving. He wasn’t supposed to make it through the weekend, but as of right now, he’s still here. And when I look at Facebook, I see that he’s still the center of the room.

Reread #4 Wrapup: Bee Season

(New to this? I’m rereading my favorite books that I hardly remember.) Also, it should go without saying that these posts are rife with spoilers. I’m not even going to try to conceal something.

I CLEARLY HAVE ADVANCED BRAIN DAMAGE. There is no other explanation for my failure to remember so much that is so central to my good feelings for Bee Season. Let’s start with the basics: I wasn’t wrong about a single thing I wrote in the post setting this up. However, if I’m to be judged by omission rather than by what I got right, I failed, and failed woefully. What I forgot about Aaron, Eliza’s brother, is enough to write thousands of words on, and that would look like a pamphlet compared to what I’d have to write about Miriam, the mother. As I read, the details started to come back, and my wife inadvertently blurted out a major Miriam spoiler one night. I was reading the book while brushing my teeth, and she walked in, saw the book, and said, “Have you gotten to the part where the wife turns out to not be a lawyer at all, but spends her days…”. And I shrieked, and she stopped. That moment was particularly humbling, because my wife remembered without ever having read the book. So, I think it’s time to officially declare that I don’t remember anything about any book I read more than, let’s say two years ago. But I can sing you the commercial jingle for any toy manufactured between 1986 and 1992. You don’t get the brain you choose, it turns out.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about Bee Season. It doesn’t just hold up, it’s better with the passage of time. Having aged a decade, had kids, and put more ideas into my brain, I’m sure I got more from it and put more into it that I did before. But, there, that’s about me again. Two things most surprised me about Bee Season this time through: First, Myla Goldberg’s immense gift not just for writing complete characters, but for making the relationships within the family so much bigger than the words on the page. There’s this scene on page 90, where Eliza sits down beside her brother, who doesn’t want to talk, and she asks him why he no longer plays guitar, an activity that sat at the center of his relationship with their father. She knows the attention she’s getting from Saul comes at Aaron’s expense. By asking, she’s bringing up a topic they’re both fixated on, but won’t raise directly. This moment, in most hands would be either thin or melodramatic, but Goldberg’s dialogue is perfect, and the final two short sentences of the scene set both children on the course they’re bound on for the rest of the novel. It’s so calmly momentous. The other thing that surprised me was her ability to render each character fully and then through later revelation and development, undercut and strengthen those characters again and again. Often I find that when a novelist is withholding details about a character there’s a screaming void there, some action or behavior that doesn’t fit, but Goldberg’s characters seemed to arrive complete, which made later revelations much like learning something about an old friend that was always there under the surface. I had a question about Miriam’s finances from very early on, but it wasn’t a question about her character. Goldberg does this all so well, it seems easy. It’s not at all.

There’s so much to love in this book. Because it’s right there in the title, and gets main focus, the spelling bee/Kabbalah training between Saul and Eliza is what I remembered best, but Aaron’s story is equally compelling. This poor family. On finishing the novel, I can say without hesitation that it deserves to remain on my list of favorites. Maybe I’ll start hand selling it again.

 

 

A handy document

I’ve created this for everybody’s use. Feel free to send it to that friend who needs to log out, or at least lay off.

Maybe you have one friend who just needs to cool it a little? (click to download in Word)

Get it by clicking the image or by clicking here.

Creative Work, 2012

Taking a cue from my friend Ryan Walsh, who compiled a list of all his creative accomplishments in 2012, I’m going to do the same. Please remind me if I’ve forgotten something!

* I performed at one of my favorite shows, The Kerfuffle, three times, and did three very different types of comedy: The Dating Psychic, “Let Off Some Steam, Bennett“, and whatever it was that I did at the Running With the Devil show.

* Blogged every day in June (and generally much more, all year, including the Rereading series, which I need to post to ASAP)

* Wrote and debuted a new show, Dumber Fasteropening it at FringeNYC

* Had Dumber Faster published by Indie Theater Now (There Is No Good News will be available there soon)

* Wrote over 100 UNAUTHORIZED FACEBOOK BIOGRAPHIES and created a site to house them

* Worked with five great guest performers to bring their stories to ImprovBoston for Dumber Faster‘s Act One

I feel like I’m forgetting some things.

The best thing about making this list is the projects I can’t put on it because they’re underway. I know next year’s list will be at least as good.

Handwritten copy of a script in progress, spring 2012.

Handwritten copy of a script in progress, spring 2012.

 

 

 

Best week, worst week

Last Tuesday, my wife gave birth to a perfect and perfectly healthy baby boy. He’s great, and she’s doing well. Our daughter, almost three, loves her new baby brother, and we’ve been hunkered down in our house teaching a tiny person how to eat, and we’ve been sleeping as much as we’re able.

We’ve not turned on TV news, not even once. We can’t do it to ourselves. We know enough from the internet about the suffering in Newtown. Video of that suffering would be too much. When I told my wife about it (the news broke while she was getting a desperately needed nap), she broke into tears that I’ve never seen the like of. Children. It’s… we still have no words.

(I will interrupt myself here and promise you that this post has no resolution or wisdom in it. Nor am I attempting to equate our experience with anybody else’s, to claim exceptional suffering or exceptional joy. I’m just writing about a moment as honestly as I can.)

I’ve been online, silent, watching the facts emerge, watching the incorrect facts emerge and dissipate, watching the arguments break out, and have just barely contained myself. Why can’t you people… No sentence that starts that way makes anything better. I have no good words, except for my Congressman, who received about 500 of them.

I’ve been online, silent, watching people express their love and support for one another. I’ve seen them reach out in horror, with nothing but kindness and sympathy. It is some solace, I’m sure, but. But.

My family’s direct contact with the world this week has largely been messages and calls from people sharing their joy and excitement over the birth of our son. That experience would lead us to believe that the world is an inherently good place, filled with generous people who care.  I’m not naive enough to think that the other vision of the world doesn’t have truth to it—a place of irreconcilable differences, of people eager to show their teeth—but that world has no place in our house this week. I simply can’t go online and fight the Westboro Baptist Church or the militiamen. I can’t argue with people who don’t have their facts straight, or the people who can’t stop to grieve before they start throwing accusations at the people they blame for everything. I can’t.

Moreover, I can’t because all I can think of is those kids and those parents. Our son is beautiful, and to think of what happened in Newtown is agony. We just brought a boy into the world. To think of… we still have no words.

I wish those families in Connecticut every comfort, kindness and joy that their future can provide them. I don’t know how they can do it.

The Royals have fans, and the fans have (existential?) problems

I’m a Kansas City Royals fan. It’s a big day in this tiny world of Royals fans.

Last night, the Kansas City Royals traded Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields, Wade Davis, and the always-celebrated Player To Be Named Later. Across the internet, Royals fans howled in wounded disappointment. Rays fans howled with laughter. Teams in the AL East looked at the location of their outfield walls.

I did a little of the pained howling. There are a lot of names in that trade, but the one that matters most is Wil Myers. The Royals fans were primarily howling about the departure of Myers, who, yes, is a prospect, but he’s as close to a sure thing as there is out there. Minor League Player of the Year. Major-league ready. Would be under Royals control for 6 or even 7 years. If he is what people think he is, this is a player to build a team around. A Longoria/Mauer/Pedroia/Braun kind of player, brought up from the team’s farm system ready to start leading. The Royals farm has been praised endlessly for several years now, and Myers is indisputably our 4H grand prize winner. The only people talking him down were the folks trying to lower his trade value. He’s just a prospect, they say.

On the other side, you have James Shields, “Big Game James,” a workhorse pitcher in his prime who any team would be excited to add to their rotation, and Wade Davis, a truly very good high-upside pitcher who I actually like more than I like Shields. These two guys plug into the formerly woeful Royals rotation and immediately make the team a contender, especially paired with the earlier acquisitions of Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie. Shields was not going to play in St. Pete this year. Every team was looking at him, knowing the Rays were trading him somewhere. So now the Royals have him for a year with an option for a second, and they have Davis for 4. No lie, these are very good pitchers. I have concerns about Shields based on his road numbers and the sheer number of innings he’s thrown (and Kansas City’s eery arm-shredding statistics), but nobody can deny these guys are real additions that make the team viable right now.

So why are Royals fans largely apoplectic or at least glum?

For starters, we all suspect that Royals owner David Glass is less-than-forthcoming about the true profitability level of his team, something JJ Cooper of Baseball America documented very well (check November 27th for @jjcoop36‘s running analysis), leading many to wonder what we could have achieved on the free agent market. Anibal Sanchez couldn’t have cost much more than the combined salary obligations to Shields and Davis, and wouldn’t have cost the team a prospect who is likely to be one of the most exciting players of the next decade.

Then, there’s the fact that our GM is on the ropes. He’s in his last viable year before he’s fired. If the Royals weren’t in “win now” mode, Dayton Moore had to be. So that’s worrisome.

Then, there’s the fact that this looks, to almost every single analyst, like a robbery. The Rays dumped salary, got rid of a player everybody knew they wanted rid of (for his contract), got an extremely inexpensive potential superstar, got THREE more legitimate (OK, one legit, two interesting) prospects, and really only gave up Wade Davis. Even if the trade benefits the Royals mightily, it’s hard to look at the other side of the trade and not feel like you got mugged.

But I think the main thing is a little less obvious, and only partly rational. For at least six years now, Royals fans have been conditioned to look to the future. The farm will provide. We’ve been able, year after year, to believe that we were a year away, or two years away. We’ve told our friends, and been convincing, at least to ourselves. We’ve invested an enormous personal stake in these players we see coming up. We’ve learned strategies for saying, “Winning season this year, playoffs next year, World Series the next year.” We know it doesn’t always work out. Part of our makeup now is to say, “we’re getting better, but this wasn’t the year.” So now, after years of this, we get a double shock: We’re told that waiting is over. We’re not allowed to be cautious, to be hesitant. And we’re told that the player we’ve invested the most hope in, the one we built our future Royals, our dream Royals, our contender Royals around, is gone. That is deeply weird, and I’m not sure we’re up to it. It’s easy and comfortable for your primary plan to be a backup plan.

Our new backup plan is lousy. But Plan A looks, well, if you can forget everything that came before, Plan A looks… it’s too early for a Royals fan to say this, but… Plan A looks like a Plan A.

I wish I was happy about it.

The most important resource on the internet

I forgot to post this here!

Unauthorized Facebook Biography

I’ve posted every biography to date. Please make it your default homepage.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Background here.