I wrote. I wrote until my tendons ached and my fingers hurt and my eyes burned so bad I could barely stand it. I wrote to the exclusion of real life. I wrote so hard and so fast that sometimes I thought I would go insane with writing. I kept looking at the word count and seeing myself pass a thousand-word mark, and thinking, I could get another thousand out easily. Take it in increments. Eventually that count marker will pass the hundred-word mark, and that means you’re close to 500 words, and when you hit 500 words, you’re over the hump so it’s just easy to hit another 500. You know this. Keep writing, Kev. Keep fucking writing.
It was National Novel Writing Month. I’d been looking forward to November first for months. For the uninitiated, here’s the conceit: you write a 50,000-word book in one month. It doesn’t have to be done, you just have to hit that 50k mark. The first year I tried it, I wrote an 85,000-word book called Welcome to Bloomsbury in the month’s time. Since, my ambition clashed a bit with my drive. I’ve successfully hit the 50k mark on three other books, but only two of those became actual novels. The one I was working on now was an old screenplay concept called Things Have Changed. I first thought of it when I was in my twenties and living in my old studio apartment, but never wrote it. The book was going to be one about identity and death and trying to figure out who you were as a person – some good jumping-off points for a good book, but nothing I could really handle back when I first started writing novels.
You could argue that that’s the trend I’m in now. Roller Disco Saturday Night was another one of my teenage novels, but the main thrust is my characters all trying to figure out who they are and where they’re going; discovering that that’s what my main character, Ruth, was missing in my first draft tied the book together. My Agent of Chaos is all about uncovering your past and realizing you used to be a whole different person than the one you turned out to be. Panic Town was picking up characters I haven’t touched in six years and figuring out who they were now, and how they had changed in the real-time years – and in the story-time seven months – I’d been away. So Things Have Changed, with its triplets and double identities, fit right into my explorations. Just after midnight on November first, I launched in and didn’t stop till I hit almost 4,000 words. The next day I woke up early and started writing at once. I nearly hit 10k on that first day. 10,000 words in one day. This novel wanted to be born.
I wrote feverishly for two weeks … but that pace isn’t really sustainable. I know that. For me, the start of a novel almost has to be a huge initial push, to get enough words behind me so that the architecture of the book has a good foundation to stand on. There are exceptions. My longest novel, The Legend of Jenny McCabe, started humbly, only 2,000 words a day, and ended up a thousand page book. Maybe there’s not just one good way. All I knew was that I was having fun. Intense, obsessive-compulsive fun, but fun nonetheless. I attended some NaNo meetings. Did some write-ins. A gaggle of my ImprovBoston friends tried their hand at NaNo so I organized a Facebook group to try to help inspire them to go further and support one another.
I hit 50,000 words halfway into week three. Had myself a little chai party at Starbucks. Rested for about a half hour. Then bent back over my keyboard and got back to work. My pace has slowed. The book is now around 72,000 words, but I’m deeper inside it now, exploring things I never thought to explore when I was racing. I’m intrigued to see where this is going, because I’ve strayed from the outline, and I only have the vaguest idea of how to end this thing. It’s my twentieth novel, you see, and I want it to be good. I want it to be excellent. I want it to be worthy of being my twentieth novel.
But the rest of my world didn’t end just because I decided to give myself over to a fictional music reviewer and two women who shared a name. I finished the new Stephen King novel, which is the first to actually give me nightmares since The Regulators. At Johnny D’s, I tested the limits of my power and put on the Spank Bank Comedy Hour, a standup night featuring only comedians I thought were sexy. Every single one was a straight guy. If I was a straight guy, I would almost definitely not be seen as quirky and fun for stuff like this.
My show Super Gay Comedy Fun Time premiered at ImprovBoston … and sold out. It sold out. This was the third Sketchhaus show and first SGCFT show that sold out since I’d taken back control of the night, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. We turned away people at the door. Turned them away. I wrote this short piece about why the night was successful:
I have to say - I had my doubts about a gay comedy event at ImprovBoston. Last time I did this, it was in June. The weather was warm and it was happening during Pride week, so it seemed like an easier sell. We're edging into mid-November here, and I'm still not sure what the "gay comedy scene" is like, if there even is one. Comedy changes fast, and the umbrella definition of "gay" changes faster. When I was young and there was gayness, it was always either homo dudes or lesbians, and bisexuals were rumored but not necessarily real. Now there's this whole diversity of fluid sexuality, shifting gender identities (or non-identities), a whole new awareness and embracing of trans folk and genderqueer people. And most of them - most of us - don't want to be defined by our sexuality/gender/personal interpretation of who we are. Sometimes we just wanna go on stage and make people laugh at our funny jokes.
There's a lot of reasons why Super Gay Comedy Fun Time was a success last night, not the least of which because we sold out so hard we had to turn people away at the door (it's cool - we have another show next Thursday at 9:00!) We throw around the word "diversity" like it's an eyerolling thing we have to put up with, but wow, that changes when you see all the viewpoints and interpretations on display at a show like this one. Two lesbian standups went up right after one another and had two completely different takes on the world. We had two sketch groups with straight allies who got hit on by dudes. Bisexuals, trans performers, gay guys, standups, musical performers, sketch groups, storytellers, performance art. All of it funny.
Diversity: sexual. Identity. Format. Comedy. We win because being GLBTQ isn't the only thing about us. It's the jumping-off point. What defines us is how fucking hilarious we are.
I began to dig on a song I’d bought early in the year, one from Springsteen’s latest album, High Hopes. Maybe not his best album or his most cohesive, but it’s one of those that continues to find deep pockets in me, music that fills in the hollow areas where you need music the most. When the record first came out, I responded most to the studio recording of “Dream Baby Dream” – a recording I’d been clamoring for since hearing it in concert during the Devils & Dust tour – and “Frankie Fell In Love,” because I love Springsteen’s pop side. But a vaguely Celtic song called “This is Your Sword” had been rising in my estimation, because it champions hope and ambition and love above sadness and cynicism. “Should you grow weary on the battlefield,” Springsteen says, “do not despair, our love is real.”
It was the message I needed to cling to. More rehearsals for The ImprovBoston Holiday Spectacular and my anxiety was ratcheting up. Would this be a good show? Would we have the type of success that we had with Comedy, America? Shawn and I went to visit my father and new stepmother at their dance symposium and saw Hunger Games and listened to Blitzen Trapper and everything was great until I had a full on panic attack.
I have an idea of what the panic attack meant. The keyed-up Kevin who was throttling through Things Have Changed had relaxed a little and could focus on the big show, which could not fail. I was broker than I had been in a good long while, and I had a long vacation coming up. I’d anticipated having more money than this going into the trip, but the holidays were upon us and everything was only adding to my anxiety. I didn’t know that work was planning on paying us a little early next month, and I didn’t know I’d be paid for a proofreading project, and I didn’t know if money was coming from any other sources. All I knew is that I had a nine-day Disney trip coming up at exactly the brokest point of my year, and that fact was settling into my brain. One night at a pretty inopportune time, I got deep into my skull and started ruminating on all the worst possible outcomes to every decision I’d made. At some point, I knew I was being silly … and I couldn’t stop.
Eventually, with Shawn’s help, I climbed out of myself, and began thinking seriously about medication to help with these issues. They don’t happen a lot, but when they hit, they hit hard and mercilessly. November had been a pretty terrific month, and here I was at the tail end of it, having trouble breathing and believing earnestly that the world was worse because of my influence on it. Did I mention it had also gotten a lot colder?
This is how I leave you going into December, which has almost exactly the opposite footprint as November. You’ll see. Spoiler alert: things end up not so bad. But we’ll get there.