Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (November / This Is Your Sword)

Here’s what I did in November:

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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (October / Shake It Off)

Food poisoning? To start October off right? You betcha!

At this point, I was taking bad news and maladies as a matter of course. But maybe, in retrospect, it was the best way to start the month, because everything got better from there. Like, a lot better. It was as if my October was airlifted in from another, better year, right when I needed it the most.

Ongoing good stuff: Johnny D’s Comedy Presents was now, somewhat incongruously, an actual thing. Like an event people come to. I started getting superfans, folks who would come every week to see the show, no matter who was on it or what show it was. Stand-ups consistently told me I ran a really fun show and that everyone had such a good time there. By now, my name was a bit of a calling card for good production. I’d done Comedy, America!, Johnny D’s was where it was, and I used to do Sketchhaus at ImprovBoston.

Used to, because I gave up on it at the end of the prior year after two years of success. Another guy, Jake, picked it up and went in a lot of directions I wouldn’t have thought to go in – some I liked, some I didn’t like, at least at first. Then in October, he abruptly announced he was leaving for greener pastures in warmer states. I approached the powers that be at ImprovBoston to see if I could get my old job back. A job that takes a lot of time and energy and doesn’t pay, but something in me was desperate to be at the head of this show again. Sketch in Boston is always a little bit fragile, and it’s always in flux. I wanted to be at the head of things. I wanted to put myself in the thick of it and see if I could put my own mark on it, like I was trying to put my mark on standup and storytelling elsewhere.

I got it. My creative life was in the rebuilding, and it felt great.

One of the things I got handed was another go at Super Gay Comedy Fun Time, a show I’d done the year before to rampant success during Pride Week but had been delayed till November. No big deal … and that in itself was a big deal. I had friends in sketch, storytelling, standup, and improv now. I could book anyone. I rounded up groups and individuals and I gave them places and everyone seemed thrilled at the prospect. More importantly, ticket sales happened almost at once. I was positioning my Super Gay Comedy Fun Time to be an Event, and people were responding to it in kind. At the same time, the new major stage show that Allen and I were launching, The ImprovBoston Holiday Spectacular, had begun rehearsals. The theater side of things was ramping up, and mostly it felt like I was coming back to something that had been missing for a long time. I realized somewhere in the midst of all this that that had been part of my sadness in 2014: stepping away from sketch had caused a void in me. I didn’t know that would happen, or that the void would sustain itself. Now that void was closing, and I was starting to feel whole again.

The first Sketchhaus show happened … and it sold out. Then the second one happened, and that sold out. Not back a month and I was already winning back the small world I’d once ruled. Did I feel vindicated? Yeah, I did. I was good at this. I’d known my whole life I was good at one thing – writing – so to discover this late in the game that I was good at something else was nothing short of a revelation.

I got clearance from Cemetery Dance to expand my chapterbook Chart of Darkness into a real book and got to work at once. Here, again, was something else I’d missed: hardcore research I could spin into words. Nonfiction is slow and hard, but there are so many rewards. Pure research is its own reward – something that was never true in high school but was absolutely true now.

Speaking of writing: I was gearing up for National Novel Writing Month as much as I could. I had the idea in my head – it was a concept I’d been trying to write as a screenplay in my early 20s called Things Have Changed. I was never going to write the screenplay, I’d come to understand, but there was no reason I couldn’t put the cinematic first scene into a novel that would become a lot more internal. I was in the manner of exploring my inside world more and more with my novels, and Things Have Changed would be no exception. I built an outline and waited.

I was also waiting on an agent. I’d sent out a chunk of Roller Disco Saturday Night to a real New York Agent, and she wrote back to me and told me she’d like to see more of the book. That was over two months ago and I’m positive now that nothing will come of this path, but it was one of my best days in October and nothing subsequent is going to change that.

The trips happened: New York City at the Beacon to see my last Drive-By Truckers show of the year. The Beacon doesn’t have a rail, and you weren’t supposed to leave your seat, but I still saw my friends and had fun. Me and Marty, Duncan, Mark, and Jeff didn’t get to Rocky Horror because I forgot that October is sell-out month at Rocky. It was cool. I hung out with my buddies and it was awesome. I had picklebacks for the first time, lost at Tetris to Marty, and found ways to relax.

The end of the month came and I made good on my promise to show my sweetie a good time for our 15th anniversary, which had happened way back in February. His hand had healed enough for him to actually have fun again, and we boarded a plane to Walt Disney World. I know, sometimes, the place overwhelms me and I get in my head about having a good time that my brain works against itself. But this time, I was with my Shawn, and it was the Food and Wine fest, and my buddy Robert was there, and it was nothing but a fantastic time. It’s so rare that I’m completely at ease with myself, and for those five days in Florida, I was. That was cause enough for celebration.

I resist a lot of “generic pop” when it’s happening, only to have it to sublimate my consciousness and own me. It happened with “Roar,” by Katie Perry at the start of the year, and that song ended up being one that made my dedication to standing up for myself in the face of adversity. And then there Shawn and I were in the airport, and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” was playing, and my big thought was that I could do that if I wanted to. I could brush off all the bullshit that had been clogging my life up this whole year and work against being dragged down by it. Yes. That. And when I got home, the new Stephen King book, Revival, was waiting for me, so right there, it seemed my new dedication was working. I could believe the worst was over. I could believe that the rest of 2014 would be smooth sailing.

…I mean, it wasn’t entirely true, but why not let me have my terrific month?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Heave Ho

Being saved at a rock show is nothing new for me. It’s happened with Drive-By Truckers more times than I can count. Ditto Springsteen. Both of those performers bring something new to my life every time I see them. Springsteen usually plays bigger houses – arenas, sometimes stadiums – and for him, that’s what I need for all the bombast and tumult in me when I see him live. There’s no venue big enough to hold all my emotions, and he knows that, and he plays both to the core of me and to the cheap seats, allowing me to scream and explode into a larger world outside my headphones. Eventually I come back to myself, but it’s never immediate, and it’s never without being changed somehow.

DBT are always a more intimate experience. I’m usually right there on the rail, and usually with friends I hang out with when I’m there. They’re louder and more aggressive, and I get that stuff out when I’m connecting with them. We’re often in a small room – the 40 Watt, the 9:30 Club, places like that – and that works for me and them; I can give my energy directly to the band, and they give it right back. It’s major. It’s important.

I don’t quite know where me and Blitzen Trapper are yet, but here’s where we’ve been (without going over the same stories over and over): my year was real terrible until I saw them live in April with my buddy Ian. They were opening for Drive-By Truckers in Washington, DC, and while Ian and I were thrilled for the main event, that first night we’d witnessed the magic of a Blitzen Trapper show and could barely understand the amazing we were witnessing. It’s rare (not unheard of; see IAmDynamite) for an opening act to grab me as totally as the band I was there to see, but it was happening now, and what’s more, I was letting it happen. My mood shifted. My life changed, for the better. And I got lost in a deluge of records and singles and live shows and EPs and …

…and then the band started talking to me. I’m not crazy, shut up. What I mean is that I was posting enough about the band on Twitter (and buying their merch, and telling other people to buy their merch, and records, and everything else) that they started posting back. At first it was just thanks for hyping their band so hard – as I get older, I’m noticing that the bands I like aren’t on the Springsteen level of ubiquity; whether that’s a consequence of who they are, who I am, or how the music industry is, I don’t know – and then it was just talking. And that was new to me. Growing up, my two big heroes, Springsteen and Stephen King, were just too huge to start up a personal dialogue with me. This year, Patterson Hood of DBT added me on Facebook and we’ve talked, but fleetingly. It’s never not a thrill when your heroes treat you’re both regular folks.

I thought that connecting with Blitzen Trapper so much might diminish the power their music had on me, but instead it’s had the opposite effect. The songs seem more direct now, more important. One afternoon, I was rediscovering their album Furr and I thought to mention it on Twitter. The band (mostly Michael Van Pelt, bassist) opened up about the record, talking about how it came to be and what the studio was like. I got to discover the band in real time with the band’s help. This was utterly unique to me, a thing that never occurred to me to want and which simply couldn’t have been possible at another time. I’ve heard it said that social media is actually fracturing interpersonal relationships, especially when you only have 140 characters to communicate. I’m the poster boy for that not being the case.

I’ve been thinking about a Blitzen Trapper tattoo for awhile now, because when I love something I always want to inject it into my skin forever. The problem was that Blitzen Trapper doesn’t really have a single iconic figure. Sure, the lightning bolts are cool, and the cover of Furr has a sort of heavy metal font set in woodgrain, which looks great, but I knew I didn’t just want the band’s name on me. It took me some months of planning and listening to the band to hit on what to do. Most of it came to me while I was riding my rented bicycle on my last day in Denver, with the Rockies off in the distance and the song, “Wild Mountain Nation” in my ears. I fucking love that song, in part because it describes a part of the country I’ve never visited and had never really thought about. It’s exotic to me, in the way that Los Angeles is exotic to me. And the phrase itself – wild mountain nation – is so damned evocative, calling up all these images of caves and deer and rivers and things utterly foreign to my city boy life. It hit something deeper in me, something primal. You know that wild mountain nation’s rising up and going home, lead singer Eric Earley sang, and he would find no disagreement from me.

I wanted that phrase, but not that album cover. But what about the first record I ever bought from them, American Goldwing? That was a kick-ass album cover, with a night highway straight out of a Springsteen song, especially “Open All Night” with its talk highways as lunar landscapes. If I took the astronaut out of the picture, I could even fit in an approximation of the Furr font. Yeah. Yeah.

My tattooer John had moved back home to Michigan, and my next guy was a guy named Joe, who will feature in the narrative of my life at some point, I’m sure. But my Dad decided to give me a tattoo for Christmas – the only thing I really asked for from him – and it was becoming more and more important that I get this idea on my skin before the year was out. Shawn wondered time and again why it was so important that I get it done so quickly, and before the year was out. Then he stopped asking. He’s not as into signs and symbols and markers as I am, but I think after almost sixteen years together, he gets what they mean to me.

There’s a Blitzen Trapper song called “Big Black Bird” that starts off with the words, “heave ho.” It opens up into something of a nautical song – we all know how much Kev loves nautical songs – but those words keep repeating. Earley does this thing sometimes, usually when he’s saying “yeah,” when he’s using words as addenda, as punctuation, and there’s something about the internal “heave ho”s that feel like inevitabilities, shrugged off thoughts because it’s easy to toss away the stuff you don’t need. And sure I’m conflating, of course I am, but what’s music for but to find yourself in the songs? It’s been a … fucking difficult year, guys. I’m ready to get rid of it and do something awesome with my fortieth year on earth. Heave ho.

I went to Chameleon because I always go to Chameleon, and when I discovered Joe was attending a convention on the other side of the planet, I asked after Matt. I’ve been getting ink with Chameleon for over a decade, and I’ve done plenty of research into all the artists. I knew from his portfolio that Matt was good at what he did, and I had confidence that he could do for me what I needed. I consulted with him and he drew it up and a week later, I was lying down in his studio. I thought it would feel weird being under someone else’s tattoo machine – especially in John’s old office – but Matt has a great tableside manner and a steady, swift hand. The pain… Well, the pain was about a 5 on my tattoo scale. Where Moose was about a 2 and Barenaked Ladies was definitely a 10. Especially up near my collarbone. But Matt had me breathe and I laid as still as I could with him, and we were done with the new work in about an hour.

I stood in the mirror and looked into my reflection and that highway stretched into the distance. I wasn’t just on that highway; now I was that highway. The future stretched out into something warm and inviting. I was in a windless place on the edge of space, and I was ready to get moving toward my next amazing self. I know it’s ridiculous to think the calendar changing means a changing of life, but I’m willing to be a little ridiculous to wrap my mind around this year. I’m ready to be me again. I’m ready to stop being sad. I’m ready to move on and let go.

Heave ho.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (September / Get Hurt)

Day one and I’m drunk at a rockabilly show. My friend Allen occasionally plays in a band called Old Hat, featuring my other friend Andy who I have a thing for, and I just knocked back some bourbon and I’m starting to feel it. And then I’m starting to not feel it. Or anything. It’s a good thing I’m not a drinking man, because it’s been a hard summer and I know my troubles aren’t over, but I’m feeling too loose now to care.

Of course, the world came back in a rush an hour later, because I get drunk easily but I don’t stay drunk, not usually, and my life is insistent. Shawn’s hand was still broken, my other friend still had a weird virus and still needs me to come to the hospital a bunch, and I had a show every Monday night at Johnny D’s and a World of Hurt showcase run for which to prepare. Because that wasn’t enough, I got called in to pinch-hit produce the big Best of Boston Sketch show. I threw myself into that with a fervor that surprised me; I was still trying to prove myself, still trying to make people think of me as a go-to producer that got stuff done. I got stuff done. And then I found more stuff to do.

I was still feeling my losses, you see. Writing for had been a dream come true, and working that second job that made me temporarily rich-ish had made my life easy. And my novel was done. Oh, I still had a mess of edits ahead of me, but the fact is that I’d glommed onto Panic Town with the same fervor as I was approaching all my creative projects. Now it was over, the main thrust of it anyway, and I was adrift. On the other side of Panic Town, I was desperate for ways to pass the time that kept my mind off of those things, and Shawn’s hand, and my other friend’s illness, and my own existential struggles with identity and gender and my constant battle of being a good person who does bad things versus being a bad person who does good things.

I launched into editing My Agent of Chaos, the novel I finished before I wrote Panic Town. I got to have conversations with my past self about my tense changes and character shifts, and I was having fun doing it. I clung to my gym routine and my Saturday night routine – writing or editing in the early evening, then Mainstage and Face Off at ImprovBoston, then Rocky Horror before a bike ride home – with such an intensity it worried even me. After my bumpy August, with its existential crises and real-world issues, the need to return to something approaching my normal seemed necessary.

That’s when I got sick.

Like sick sick. I’m talking lying on the couch for hours just staring ahead into the void sick. I’m talking, drug me out and make me not feel because all feeling hurts sick. I forced myself to go to rehearsals and my Johnny D’s shows. This got me sicker, especially when I forced myself to ride my bike. I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to slow down. I knew I had to, I knew that my doctor asking me how much rest I got in general was in itself a sign that I was doing too much … but you know how it is with Type As. I didn’t have strep, thank God, but some sort of lunatic viral infection, partially caused by my lack of sleep and rest. You’d think I’d learn. I never do.

Add all this to the fact that I was suddenly having a knock-down drag-out fight with a friend I was not prepared to be fighting with. All of it added up to me getting low and staying low for half a month. I didn’t leave the couch much, unless I had to produce or rehearse something. Meals fell by the wayside. I felt useless.

Because I listened to my body instead of raging against my uselessness as I usually do, I started feeling better mid-month … just in time to go to my first Boston concert in a long time. The Gaslight Anthem was playing the House of Blues, and though I had balcony seats, I found myself on the main floor. Groups of people were pushed together and talking excitedly about the opening band – a group called Against Me!, who I knew about mainly because the lead singer was once a man and was now a woman. A couple of bro dudes behind me were talking about this very thing, and I kept expecting to hear a whole host of homophobic and transphobic missives. Here was the conversation:

“I used to really dig Tom as the lead singer, but Laura’s pretty good.”

“Yeah, the new album has an agenda, but it’s good, so who gives a fuck, right?”

“Want another PBR?”

And that was it. It was kind of a revelation.

Then the moshing started. I stayed out of it, mainly because I didn’t know anything deep about Against Me!. Plus, I mean, who wanted to jump in and maybe get hurt? I’m 39. I’m well past moshing age.

But then Gaslight Anthem took the stage and launched right into “Stay Vicious,” so hard and dense and rocking, and one of my favorite songs from the new album. The first time I’d heard new Gaslight Anthem this year was on my last day in California. Josh had dropped me off and I was missing him. My flight was delayed and delayed and delayed, and while I waited, my email told me that if I preordered the new album, Get Hurt, I could get the first single, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” right now. My flight eventually came an hour late, but already I’d listened to the new song six or seven times. The rest of the record came out months later and I fell inside a lot of it, especially the title track and the song “Selected Poems,” which went:

And all I seemed to find is that everything had chains

And all this life just seems like a series of dreams

Selected poems and lovers I can’t begin to name

And all in all I find is that nothing stays the same

They crashed into that song midway through their set – not really the kind of hardcore moshing – and I felt isolated in the middle of the floor, pinned to my spot with tears flowing down my cheeks, wanting to stop feeling useless, wanting to stop feeling like shit, wanting to be alive again. My year was one of upheaval, and here we were in September and nothing was as it had been the year before. I was sad a lot more, I was feeling a lot more tired, and maybe – just maybe – I was feeling a little bit old, too. 39 is young enough, but it’s not twenty.

Except … except when Gaslight Anthem blasted off into “Rollin’ and Tumblin” next, I didn’t hesitate. I threw myself right into the middle of the mosh pit. I screamed, “I’m almost forty!” Elbows bashed me. A knee jammed into my leg. Sweaty men and women on either side jostled me and I jostled back, and there was energy in it, and aggression, but no malice. A trangender teenager looked at me warily for a moment, then threw their hands in the air and screamed with wild abandon, then they were up above my head, and I was helping them surf.

Maybe I came here to get hurt, but I got healed, too. Just a little. Not enough. But I was learning that this year really was a series of dreams, and I had to keep waking up.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (August / Knock Yourself Out)

And now we come to the rollercoaster of intensity that was August.

There’s a song that came out years ago in 2004 as part of the I Heart Huckabees soundtrack. It’s by Jon Brion, and it’s called “Knock Yourself Out.” When I was going through my hard year of 2005, I listened to it a lot, constantly. The whole song is great, but one line – “And you’ve gotta find a way to be okay” – kept rising above the rabble of my brain. I discovered it again in August, and I put it into a lot of my new playlists – ones featuring new music by Drive-By Truckers and Blitzen Trapper and Springsteen, and one-off songs by Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Buried in the middle of everything is something telling me – commanding me – that it’s not a choice. That I have to find a way to be okay. It’s not a choice. It’s not an option. Maybe you can’t always hit terrific. Maybe you can’t always be your best self. But you have to be okay. You have to be okay. But sometimes it’s so damn hard.

Shawn injured himself, that was the start of things…

Well, no. The start of things was that I was having a really bad day August 1st and I don’t remember why. It’s all over Facebook. I was having a terrible day and even though I was working out and writing and putting on shows – doing my routine – and none of it was helping. It was just my brain being my brain. Part of it was because someone had read my article about putting on a woman’s comedy show on the sly and being told it didn’t mean shit because I was a man. I’ve had a little more time dealing with this, and talking with women, and getting some input, and I’ve come to some conclusions. I did the women’s comedy month and didn’t tell anyone it was a women’s comedy month and then wrote an essay about why it’s important to feature women in comedy, and how I went about doing it, and why the status quo should be all different comedic voices at all times. Most of my response, from men and women, had been very positive, but all it takes is one negative. Someone telling me that I should feel bad because I have a dick.

Now, look. I get it. The world would be awesome if either I was a woman, or a woman had made manifest this comedy experience. And maybe the thing I was doing by writing an essay about it – one that might have come across as “see what happens when a man lets the women talk?” – was gloating or reveling. But … okay, goddammit, I did a good thing, and it was something other people weren’t doing, and I wanted to be an example. Selfishly, too? Yeah, I wanted credit. Sure I did. Not as a man, but as a booker. As a producer. As someone who came up through the ranks in comedy and finally had the power and the means and the will to enact good, positive change. I felt – and I guess I feel – like I deserve some credit. Maybe that makes me a bad feminist. Maybe this is the definition of “mansplaining.” But my essay tried to underline my flaws, my questions, my nervousness at dipping my fingers into potentially volatile waters. But what I come away with after all this is that I, as a human, did something I thought was necessary, and it benefitted a lot of other people who felt the same way. I’m never going to apologize for doing it, and while I probably shouldn’t be all, “look at me, world, aren’t I awesome for doing it,” I’m not going to feel sorry for feeling good about doing it, or for talking about it. I’m not a damn saint. When I help an old person across the street, I tell people I did it. I also tell people that I threw a brick through a synagogue window when I was eight. I live a live wide open, and if I’m going to own up to all my shit, I’m going to take credit for the good stuff I do, too.

So, the good stuff I do: a friend of mine got a rare virus (not AIDS) in August, the day before a big work trip to Denver. The emergency room called me at 10:00 at night because he’d been found on his floor, unable to get up or call the ambulance. I got on my bike and drove the five miles out to the hospital, where I stayed with him until he was conscious, and answered all the doctor’s questions. After I got back from Denver, I went to the recovery center every other day to check up on him, and bring him stuff, and try to make his life better.

Of course this was when Shawn hurt his finger. For most of the summer, he couldn’t use his hand. It fell on me to do all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the chores. The cooking was a big deal for me. I decided I didn’t want Shawn to get bored with the same old food I’d been making lately, because at home, the kitchen is usually his, despite the fact that I’d shown something of a flair for French cooking a few years hence. Now, though, I could jump back into things. The kitchen became my domain, and I didn’t stay French. I decided to go worldwide, finding interesting recipes from countries all over the world and serving them up, trying to keep Shawn engaged and happy and not bored with things.

In the midst of all this, I went to Denver, for my big work trip. There, I skipped out on the baseball game everyone else went to, and I finally – finally – met up with my friend Beemer, who’d been my buddy since the heyday of LiveJournal, but who I had met only fleetingly, at a Panda Express near my office like 7 years prior. A little tentatively before my trip, I’d asked him if he’d be into driving up to Estes Park, about two hours out from Denver, so I could fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing The Stanley, the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. Literally a lifelong dream. I’d wanted to visit The Stanley since I was fourteen and read the novel for the first time, then read all the backstory on it. I could picture Stephen King and his family in the lobby in 1973, being the last guests of that hotel, and King looking out at the Rockies as the winter came on and getting the idea for the novel all at once. The story and the story behind the story have been inside my DNA since I was a teenager, and with Beemer’s help, I was going to see it.

Of course, I was nervous that he and I wouldn’t get along, or that the conversation would dry up, or that I’d annoy him with my fanboy lunacy. But the best thing about knowing people through LiveJournal first is that they’re already used to your weirdnesses, and are prepared for an onslaught of you. I met Beemer like an old friend, and that feeling never went away. We climbed up and up into the Rockies, talking and growing closer and better, and slowly the hotel of my dreams and nightmares made itself visible on the horizon.

We did the ghost tour, of course, and it was fine, but mostly it was cool because it got me going through the hotel more. I’d been on Stephen King tours in Maine before, and they were all fine, but for the first time ever, it really felt as if I was wandering the hallways of my writing hero’s imagination.

Home awaited me, of course, and all my old and new responsibilities. And it was hard. I don’t mind saying it was hard. And I don’t mind taking credit for doing all of it, either, because maybe I am a good person, okay? That’s a thing I’m learning to be okay with this year. Maybe I am a good person, but maybe I’m not a selfless person, because good people can have bad stuff in them, and questionable morals. I’m not the best person, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have to be. Sometimes in the past, I didn’t live my best life because I didn’t want to be all prideful about doing the best I could. That’s … maybe that’s fucked up.

I want the credit. I want to be recognized for a job well done. I want people to like me for being good at who I am, what I do, how I help. Does that suck? Maybe it does. But this is me, being me. I’m tired of pretending I don’t care if people know I’ve done something good. I’d be a terrible superhero. Daredevil and Buffy never wanted a standing ovation for saving the world, and here I am wanting people to say how awesome I am for making chicken cordon bleu because my husband broke his hand. I don’t know what kind of person that makes me.

One final thing: I finished Panic Town. Midway through the month, I finished the first Wayne Corbin book in over five years. It was my nineteenth novel, and I wrote it in three months flat. I got some of it right, some of it wrong, some of it bloated and some of it too compressed … but it was finished. I’d given myself until October to finish it and managed to get it written in five months flat. It was the fastest I’d written a novel since the mid-2000s, when I wrote an 80,000-word book in under a month. And I was proud of that too. It needs editing and it needs more editing, but that first draft is always the most important. Being able to stand with your art and say, “this is something I did, this is a thing I made that didn’t exist before,” that’s something.

Writing is something, and helping is something, and being a good person is something. And it’s taken me such a long time to get to the point of this, because I have so much doubt in my own abilities, and so much anxiety about being good, and so many problems with the man I am and the man I was and the man I will be. But I think, after all this time, I’m learning how to be okay with it all.

You gotta find a way to be okay. You gotta.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (July / Team)

One of the ways I’ve been writing these things is by going through my Facebook for the month indicated to sort of jog my memory. I tend to document my life pretty thoroughly in the perpetual present; Past Kev has been really helpful in getting Present Kev up to speed.

Something I’ve noticed in July is how many comedians decided to add me as a friend in July. People I book regularly now, folks I talk to and put on stage and work to make visible and awesome – we became friends in July. If nothing else, that serves to remind me that the big stuff that happens always starts off small; sometimes someone clicks “add” and then we’re all on stage together and laughing until we can’t stop.

Speaking of comedy: I put up a new storytelling show called Hook, which was all about music and stories and it was a moderate success. World of Hurt continued with “Return Engagement,” and I acted on stage again, and it’s apparently something I enjoy doing. I put up a musical comedy show at Johnny D’s as a way to honor Keytar Bear, a local busker who performs in a full on bear costume who got beat up for no reason. That became something of a turning point show: a lot of people came to my night because Keytar Bear is popular, and a lot of those people just kept on coming. My little comedy night had forged its own identity and it just kept doing it. Comedy, America!, the show I produced and co-created with my comedy partner Allen, came to its rousing and sold-out finale, and it ending left a void I was desperate to fill.

I decided, late in the month, to stop thinking of comedy as a hobby, as something I dabble in. It became obvious midway through the year that it was actually a calling, something I was as fully invested in as my writing. Like my writing, it was a passion that didn’t pay much, but I was going to keep doing it anyway. Because I loved it. I keep loving it.

I kept writing. Panic Town had caught hold. At first, I was frustrated because I found I could only write at night and only about 1,500 words a day. Then I was pushing myself to 2,000. Then 3,000. One day I wrote 7,500 words without breaking a sweat. The book decided it wanted to live, that was all. It wanted to live and thrive and be real. And who was I to stand in its way?

On the writing topic: I found all the fanfiction I wrote. All of it. The angsty slash. The genfic. The bonkers wingfic. I threw it all up on a page called The Kevidence and called it good. I was fully invested in owning my fiction again for the first time in a long time. The year before, I’d written my first novel in four years, My Agent of Chaos, and it was a troubled and troubling book that was sort of oddly constructed and was mainly just me masturbating about my adolescence (unlike all my other novels, ha ha ha), but it broke through a wall and now we were on the other side of that wall. I wrote poetry. Or songs. I never know which is which.

My pop culture loves hit some milestones; this doesn’t seem personal, but only if you know how deeply entrenched in my life the stuff I love is. Born in the USA turned 30 and I wrote a series of posts about my Top 20 Springsteen albums. Also I listened to Born in the USA on a continuous loop for about seven hours. One of those things you learn as you get older is that just because something is lunatic popular doesn’t mean you can’t have your own intense personal reactions to it. Also, Archie died. Not the Universe-1 Archie, but the alternate future Archie from Life With Archie, which actually hit me harder because that was the one I earnestly loved the most. Of course, everyone on the internet sent me their condolences (or, sometimes, just confused shrugs wondering why Archie was still a thing, because that’s cool), but it was another one of those headline-grabbers that everyone was aware of, but which actually hit me pretty hard. I wrote a whole thing about it, because I was getting used to writing everything out again.

And I turned 39.

For my birthday, I booked a screening room at my friend Tom’s theater and screened a couple of movies: John Carpenter’s Christine and the MST3K episode “Werewolf.” My friend Jeff came down from New York for his first hangout in Boston with me, and we did Rocky Horror (because that’s something I do with my New York and New Jersey friends, pretty much always), and the day he arrived, I rode my bike (my bike!) to the local Super Fancy Cheesemonger and bought a hundred dollars worth of artisan cheese, because I’m weird. In the theater, I set it all out on tables and labeled it and there was tupelo honey and cherry jam and, like, raisins. A whole passel of friends came, some I didn’t expect, and they heckled Christine, which I was apparently perfectly okay with. My friend Paul had sent me some panniers for my bike (my bike!) and I made use of them pretty constantly. Jeff and my buddy Dennis lost it at “Werewolf,” and Shawn didn’t leave in the middle of things, even though he was clearly not into MST3K. We make sacrifices for each other’s birthdays, sweetie.

The next day, I took Jeff to Chameleon and I got me engraved: for my final tattoo with John, I got myself a Disney Cruise Line tattoo. Yes, it’s a corporate logo and that’s a little weird … but I got it because taking a cruise with Jeff the year before had been so fun and relaxing and thrilling for me, and I like tattoos that commemorate my friends and the great times we have together. Plus, because it was John’s last tattoo with me, it was sort of a bittersweet bon voyage. He played me Springsteen. That was good.

I spent a lot of bike rides listening to the song “Team,” by Lorde, but performed by Postmodern Jukebox with Puddles Pity Party, a nearly seven foot baritone sad clown. It’s supposed to be sort of ironic; a sort of swinging, jazzy version of Lorde’s dark pop, but that’s not how I took it. I rode that bike down Mass Ave, the wind in my face, my music turned to the precise volume where I can totally hear the road sounds but I can still rock out. My bike rides were almost always solitary, but I was often going from one place alone to another place with people. Whether it was from Starbucks to ImprovBoston, or to rehearsal, or to Rocky Horror, or to meet Shawn for comics, I was usually going to a place with people who liked me and who welcomed my presence. It began to strike me that I had a life all over the city, places I could go where people knew me and thought well of me. I was a buddy, a booker, a host, and a producer; a director and a brother and a fan. And I wasn’t alone. I didn’t have to be alone unless I wanted to be.

Did I want to be? Yeah, still, sometimes. And I was learning to be okay with that, too. That impulse to not always be surrounded by people, even as I was learning that I could be surrounded by people, any time I wanted to be. The hardest thing in this world is discovering people like you … and that it’s okay to be okay with knowing that, instead of always having to make them prove it.

Trying. I was trying. And succeeding more than I thought I would way back in January, when everything fell apart. Success is hard, though. You can’t coast. It’s not the endgame. You have to keep working at it. I kept working at it.

I keep working at it.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (June / Natural Light)

It’s a wakeup call, of sorts, to realize that one of the things making your life suck is you.

I won’t go into the whole history now, but a few years ago, I decided to create an alternate Twitter account specifically for my Disney thoughts. At some point, that concept turned sour. For hours a day, I’d find myself trolling Disney websites and Disney Twitter and Disney everything and finding angry, terrible people spouting their angry, terrible bullshit about this company I love, and I would make fun of them for it. Rampantly. Joyously. I sunk myself in the muck of their toxic lives and tried to make something positive/snarky out of it. For awhile it was really fun, because calling out idiocy and hypocrisy and false rumors is always really fun. For awhile. After awhile, though, it started to just get difficult. It made me difficult. Personal attacks on me mounted, because duh. You don’t ever want to think of yourself as the troll, especially when you are convinced you’re doing the wrong thing for the right reason.

The second of the trips I’d paid for with my rich-person job was the one where I took my friend Joe to Disneyland. He’d been a Disney World park goer since, and I’m quoting myself here, “he was a zygote,” but had never made the jump to the park that started everything. I thought he deserved a just me and him trip, so when I had all that money, I made it happen. Because when I have ludicrous money, I like to spread it around. Is it because I want people to like me more? Is it because I spent a lot of my life without friends and I want to guarantee them in the only currency everyone understands? Is it because I’m actually a nice guy but I feel like I have to justify that? Maybe let’s not get too deep. Joe and I stayed in the Disneyland Hotel – a first for me – and we had a very, very nice time.

But during that trip, my friend Dave got us all drunk and I brought up some silly controversy that had Disney Twitter up in arms. And Dave, who works for theme parks, explained about long-term thinking and big-picture ideas and the reason why all this stuff is happening, beyond the solipsistic viewpoints of echo-chamber armchair imagineers who know nothing about how theme parks work. Another bit inside me unraveled. A tension that had been building for so long – one that wasn’t allowing me to enjoy the parks the way I wanted to, needed to, because I was letting the snark and the rage and the anger get in the way. It never occurred to me that I could just, yes, let it go. When I got home from the trip, I embarked on a new journey of positivity on the Twitter account … and then I deleted it, permanently. Because giving into my own worst nature is so easy, and far too frequent.

Have I backslid? Sure I have. Someone on the Internet is always wrong. But the point is that I’m trying. Is that the point?

I also spent some time at the base of the Hollywood Hills with my wonderful friend Josh, who lives out in West Hollywood. We hung out, and one morning I went wandering around WeHo alone, listening to “Santa Monica” by Everclear because I’m sometimes obvious, and wishing as I do when I’m out here that I lived here, that I was a person who lived in Los Angeles. Boston’s my home and I really don’t want to be anywhere else for the rest of my life, but there’s a part of my soul that Los Angeles owns, and I’ve never been particularly good at figuring out why. It has something to do with those palm trees, and those hills, and the fact that it’s so far away from where I am and who I am. I’ve built up a mysticism and a romanticism of the city that the actual city should disprove when I’m there, but it never does. I don’t have that kind of brain. If I’m chasing the dragon, I will always be chasing the dragon. And that’s how I want it.

My show opened. The one Allen – who I now thought of as my Comedy Partner, which kind of was a big deal for me – and I had worked on for months had a big splashy opening with press and a full house. I was stuck backstage most of the time, but the laughs were there and the cheers were real. This was something I helped make, and in more ways than one: in the middle of every show, there was a Disney sketch that I wrote, that people performed in and took seriously and laughed at. Allen told me it was not only one of the strongest sketches of the show, but one of the strongest I’d ever written. That’s a high you don’t get every day.

With the help of Dave, I discovered the novelist Rainbow Rowell, who helped me understand that I often wrote young adult books, even though I had never thought of them that way. And Patterson Hood, a personal hero and one of the lead singers of Drive-By Truckers, added me to his Facebook. Around the same time, I took my friend Marty to his first DBT show, in Asbury Park, NJ. We rocked out and Marty seemed to why I was breaking down to “Women Without Whiskey” and “Natural Light,” and he broke down to “This Highway’s Mean” and they played “Adam Raised A Cain,” because this was Springsteen’s house. Then we beat the street back to New York to see Rocky Horror with Duncan, because my New York trips aren’t for rest.

I kept proofreading. I kept producing Johnny D’s Comedy Presents. Things were good. Okay? They were good. And one of the things I’m remembering more and more about this year is that it started off just terrible and there were terrible moments inside it … but it wasn’t all bad. There were whole good months. So that’s interesting. That’s pretty interesting indeed.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (May / That Is All)

It’s karaoke again, and this dude’s rendition of “Simple Man” is the second worst thing to ever happen to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

April had turned out not so bad, so I’m rewarding myself with a good meal and some singing at East End Grill’s karaoke night. Little do I know that the night won’t be around long. The glory days of the Asgard are getting harder and harder to recapture, and the gang – without a guaranteed hang at least once a week – is sort of splintering. This is the maybe the harshest of my growing-up truths. Just as I start realizing my friend really isn’t going to come out to Rocky Horror with me any longer, I discover a new ongoing social thing … then that goes away. I used to think when I was small that when I became a grownup, I would settle into a series of patterns and those patterns would never change. But they change constantly, to the degree that my childhood now seems like the bastion of stability. Which it absolutely wasn’t, but distance and time makes you nostalgic for the darndest things.

Speaking of Rocky Horror, I was back in full swing. There’s a documentary being built called Rocky Horror Saved My Life, and one late night in May, I was interviewed, sticking to my theory that Eddie is the most important character in the film. Eddie was the most important character in my life, of course; finding out at 15 that chubby guys could be gay, or at the very least bisexual? Changed the course of who I was. I was wearing my horns and my 30 Odd Foot of Grunts mechanic shirt, because that’s what I used to wear in my 20s when Tracey and I used to go to Rocky weekly and it was the most important part of my week. I own every 30 Odd Foot of Grunts album. These are things you need to know about me.

While we’re on the subject of transgender-based musicals, I hopped a bus to New York City midway through the month and spent a night with my awesome buddy Jeff taking in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. I immediately pre-ordered the soundtrack and listened to it throughout the year, alternating between that, every Blitzen Trapper album, English Oceans by Drive-By Truckers, High Hopes, by Springsteen, and the new Gaslight Anthem album that comes out near the end of the month. It’s called Get Hurt, and … look, I’m never going to stop identifying with music as a simple means to get to the heart of how I’m feeling. It’s called Get Hurt and I fall in love with a lot of it, especially “Selected Poems,” which goes “All I seem to find is that everything has chains / and all my life just feels like a series of dreams.” That’s how most of 2014 has felt to me: a series of dreams. Some good. Some bad. A lot that’s felt out of my control.

Look, maybe a lot of this is irrational. More I know a lot of this is irrational. My comedy night I built from the ground up at Johnny D’s has been going gangbusters. My May 5th standup show (which I titled Cinco de Microphone, because I enjoy punning on cultural traditions) brought in a standup that had been on television, which meant that we got a pretty hefty audience. I got offered to run someone else’s show. I appeared onstage in a format called The Shatner (half monologue, half karaoke). I kept doing naked comedy. My newly reformed sketch group, World of Hurt, had their first shows at Sketchhaus near the end of the month, and the reception was pretty damn good. My book, Panic Town, was going very well. And yet … and yet, my depression was back, and I didn’t know why.

I know depression doesn’t have to have a reason. Sometimes it just is. One thing came from what should be a good place. The new Stephen King book came out and it was great. I raced through it and wrote my review … and didn’t send it anywhere. Didn’t get paid for my insight or my thoughts. Another reminder that a giant conglomeration bought my company out and crushed the freelancers. That’s never the happiest memory.

Some of it might have come internally. I was spending a lot of time on Disney internet, reading lies and complaints and eyerolls and all this stuff that happens on the internet when pundits think things should be the way they want them to be without doing a thing to make their own art or effect positive change. I tended to get mired in these discussions, often because I felt like someone should be the voice of positivity. But the anger I carry with me, like my time-bomb gluten allergy and the sciatic pain in my leg, had begun to win, and the sadness that came with my anger began to win. I discovered a song by Slobberbone called “That Is All,” which goes:

And every version of me I tried so hard to retain Gets swallowed and sweat out and pissed on down the drain There's just no easy way to say That everything you thought was right was wrong today Move along, 'cause you can't stay. No way.

It was the perfect soundtrack to my rebounding weirdness. April had been cautiously optimistic and now … now, everything I thought was right was wrong today. I shut off Facebook for a week. I got internal. And I didn’t hide my sadness. I didn’t tell everyone that everything would be all right. I just hoped it would be and waited. Eventually, the fog lifted. The bike had something to do with it.

I’d been using the bike share called Hubway ever since summer of the year before. It’s great. I still use it. But the closest station to my house is about a half-mile away, which makes it somewhat inconvenient for riding home at 2:00 AM after Rocky Horror, especially when the station near my house is full and I have to park a mile away and then do the extra long walk, because my happiness makes life complicated.

Then my friend Marty wrote to me. “Hey, my Dad had this bike he bought and rode twice and never rode again. Do you want it?”

I blinked at the email. Blinked again. What. What?! Did I want it? I’d give my eyeteeth for it, especially because eyeteeth sound like a creepy thing from The Dark Half. Marty and his roommate Brian packed up the bike and drove it down all the way from New Jersey in a single afternoon. We went to some bike shops and picked up accessories and then went to Friendly’s and had some ice cream, and then, ceremoniously, I lifted the bike off the rack and took a spin around the parking lot. I wanted to close my eyes and feel what it was like to move so fast under my own power. Being a pedestrian isn’t the worst, and having a subscription to a bike share, especially in cities like Boston and Cambridge, makes life amazing. But to have your own bike, to be able to go everywhere, just when you want to? That opens everything up. Nothing is the same.

My depression and I had reached something of a détente with one another. For now. It was a draw. I could live with a draw.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (April / Shit Shots Count)

April’s supposed to be the cruelest month, and maybe it usually is, but since early January I’d been slogging through a swamp on fire and I was finally starting to see a way out. My depression at least temporarily cured by discovering Blitzen Trapper in concert, I forced my former drive and ambition back to the forefront of my mind and my experience. See, when you’ve been dealing with depression for any substantial length of time (a phrase I immediately regret, because being inside depression it all feels like a substantial length of time), there’s stuff you’ve done, or left undone – real stuff that you have to contend with now that you have the tools.

In January, I’d dissolved my long-term sketch team, Duct Tape Revolution, after a lot of bad blood and scary implications. When I told non-comedy people about the breakup, they invariably said, “Aw, well that’s a shame,” and then moved on. When I told comedy people about it, they shrugged and said, “Well, you were around for three years. Most sketch teams last two, so you did good.” In both cases, that is absolutely not what I wanted to hear. What I wanted to hear was that people understood how devastated I was, and how much the absence of the team had left a void in my life. I hated that DTR ended; I hated how it ended; I hated that I wasn’t sure how to move on from it ending.

Then two things happened:

The first was that my comedy partner and former Duct Tape Revolution head writer, Allen, and I hit on the idea to create a show at ImprovBoston, a new splashy summer sketch show to capitalize on all the good we’d been doing in the world of sketch. We pitched it, called it Comedy, America!, and got it off the ground. I wrote sketches. There were song meetings. Starting to feel like you’re in control again after freefalling for so long is its own reward … but man, the show was shaping up to be something fantastic all on its own.

The second thing was that I decided to get the band back together. I reached out to the people I’d worked with before who I was interested in working with again, and added one new person Allen recommended. I rebranded the group after both the name of the sketch one-off show I’d put up the year before and the Drive-By Truckers song that seemed to describe my year thus far: World of Hurt. Our first meetings were used to air shit out. And then we got to work.

I got a new tattoo from John – my first representation of Archie Comics on my body. I went with the 1950s version of Moose Mason, mainly because his jaunty hat always made me so happy.

My publisher, Cemetery Dance, perhaps recognizing that the Comcast buyout and the subsequent “no freelancers” policy was kind of terrible, took me on as a freelance proofreader. I must have done an okay job, because once the door had opened, it never really closed.

In other comedy news, I decided to make April a women-only comedy month at Johnny D's without announcing that it was a woman-only month. I was interested to see what the reaction would be. The most interesting reaction was no reaction at all: people didn't riot, no one freaked out, I got no death threats saying that Women Aren't Funny. I wrote about the whole thing here, if you're interested in the scoop.

Helping things was that I was cycling again. The winter was officially over and I could bike everywhere – well, everywhere there was a Hubway station. I loved the bike-sharing deal that Boston had going on, but every Saturday night, after I left the theater downtown from the midnight Rocky Horror, I was reminded over and over that I couldn’t just ride the bike all the way home. The nearest Hubway station to my house was about a half-mile away, and at 2:30 AM, that’s a bit of a walk. (Not as much of a walk, say, than the 4.5 mile walk I used to take on when I walked all the way home from downtown, but still.) I started to wonder how much a new bike would be, knowing that in the year following my lucrative-job layoff I could never afford something like that.

Shawn and I went to Record Store Day, a concept that was foreign to him, and I picked up the new Bruce Springsteen EP and the new Blitzen Trapper single and it was so warm and pleasant outside. I proofread. I hosted comedy. I performed comedy, in a panel show called Interesting Points and in a storytelling show called Bare and in a naked standup show called The Naked Standup Showcase.

And I wrote. I wrote like hell. My book, Panic Town, had caught fire and it wasn’t letting me go. Every day I sat down and worked on my book for two hours. Then three. Then I couldn’t stop. It became addiction. I wrote 7,000 words in one day just because I didn’t want it to end. I’d told my Kickstarter supporters that the book would probably be finished by October. That seemed unlikely now. I was aiming now for late summer. When had I last written a novel in five months? Had it been in the mid-2000s?

The hiatus from who I was seemed to be over. Things seemed to be moving forward; difficult, sure, but worth the difficulty. More, I began to feel like I'd earned this. The terrible of the preceding three months had set me up for a success that I wouldn't have felt as keenly if I hadn't gone through it. A small but very present part of my mind whispered that it couldn’t last. That May was coming, and May could be bad. Because a year is a long time, and there are all these pitfalls, and one good month out of four didn’t mean the shit was over.

But let’s leave it here for now, when things are okay for a little while.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (March / Feel the Chill)

The way of change is incremental. Most of the time, the changes in our lives are never as dramatic as the way they are in the movies. Especially when it comes to depression, the clinical kind that lurks at the back of your mind, even when you’re doing normal reality stuff like working out or hosting comedy shows or writing. A lot of people don’t understand that that’s the nature of depression sometimes; you can function in the world and still be mired in this unshakable malaise that won’t go away, and you need to listen to stuff like Nebraska or, like, “Solsbury Hill” eighty times in a row to make some sort of identification for how you feel.

But occasionally – and this seems to happen to me with at least some regularity; not annually, but maybe every three years – seismic shifts happen to change your life all at once. It’s rare when that happens, and I think it’s rarer still when you’re aware of it happening.

I lost my depression at a rock show, everyone. We’ll get there.

But first, a detour. One of the things I’d spent a good portion of 2013 paying for was a trip to Disney World at another deluxe resort - my first monorail resort, at the Contemporary. Jeff, Paul, and I shared a room - not inside the A-frame, because sometimes dreams are too rich - but still a 15 minute walk from the Magic Kingdom. It was a trip almost entirely without incident (read: Kev's anxiety attacks were not on display, not even once, and no one could tell I was still rampantly depressed, which was great) and we hung out with local friends and Robert was there for most of it. In the middle of my trip, I got to meet someone I’d been friends with for over a decade and had never met face-to-face, a fellow named Drew Slone I met online when everyone was on LiveJournal and Facebook was a silly maybe no one really thought about. I hugged him very long and very fiercely, and met his family, and sometimes people don’t disappoint you.

Also, Robert got me a private meeting with Baloo, so everything was coming up Kevbot. Thank you, past job that paid way too much. You’re still paying dividends.

The trip went off without any major hitches, except for the fact that Marty and Joe and I decided to stay up all night on the last night, and then go to Waffle House at 4:00 AM before they dropped me off at the airport. What a fun idea, for people in their twenties, which we aren’t now and will never be again. I clambered aboard my flight and immediately started making everyone around me keenly aware of my bizarre sitting-up snoring, which sounds like a twentieth-century blender in a dystopian future anthropologist’s office struggling to behave according to its machinery and never making it.

I started March off with dental surgery, which I’d had to postpone first because of my sinus infection and then because of my eye infection. That sentence makes me feel like the damn Little Match Girl, but this was my reality. March roared in like a syphilitic lion. I was ordered not to go to the gym for four days, or do any strenuous work, which was great, because the absolute best thing for a depressive state is lying around the house unable to use your normal ways of combatting it. The only course of action I had was my writing, which was back in force again after a four-year hiatus.

The year before, I’d finished my first novel in four years, a somewhat nice, somewhat nasty little book about identity and recovered memory called My Agent of Chaos. It was a shaky first draft, but it was complete and not half-bad. I decided I wanted to write an all-new novel again, which is scary in the way writing your second novel is scary. You can do it once, and that’s always an achievement, and doing it a third time is sort of expected; twice is the hardest, because you don’t know if you used up all the weird magic that makes a book in that one drive toward the end. I decided the only way to make sure I finished the new book was to do it as a Kickstarter.

For those unfamiliar: Kickstarter is a funding source for art. People donate toward your cause and you create something unique and then give it to them. I’d used it twice before to rewrite old books to make them publisher-ready. Because I wasn’t working with traditional publisher models, I used the Kickstarter money as a contracted writer would use an advance; I put it toward the five or so months it took to devote the time and energy to completing my book, treating writing as a legitimate second job for which I had gotten paid. This year it was especially important; after losing two of my three jobs and being sunk in this damn depression for so long, I needed the boost.

The book I decided to write was a risky proposition. In the 2000s, I’d busily crafted a mystery series about a tubby private eye named Wayne Corbin. I did a fairly neat four-book arc, knowing what was going to happen in book four before I even started book one. Ever since, I’d been trying to figure out what happens next. Several attempts had turned out badly. But I knew I wanted to write it and I knew I needed a push to do it. I offered to write poems for people who donated and off I went.

The thing was a success, which surprised the hell out of me. I was in that time of my depression when I just expected things to go badly; in fact, a part of me now believes that I did Kickstarter specifically because I expected it to fail and I wanted another reason to feel bad. It didn’t fail, though. The money I needed for about four months of writing came in, and one day late in the month, I sat down and wrote the first line of a book I called Panic Town: “The guy was tall.” From small things, big things one day come. I went the John Irving route and knew my last sentence before I wrote the first sentence. All I had to do was get there.

And still that goddamn depression lingered. How can I have this success with my writing, and in my comedy – Johnny D’s Comedy Presents was still getting new audiences every week, and I was meeting so many great, funny new people – and still be unable to shake this sense of doom slithering inside me?

Then came the good news: Drive-By Truckers were playing in Boston mid-March, preceded by a band called Blitzen Trapper. I knew a couple songs by Blitzen Trapper – “Furr” and “Black River Killer” – but not enough to make me really excited. Opening acts don’t normally grab me and shake me and demand I buy their stuff, I Am Dynamite and St. Paul and the Broken Bones notwithstanding. I was intrigued but not clamoring. And here’s the other good news that was also bad news: I also had, absurdly, bought tickets for Patton Oswalt that night. They were on at the same time across the city from one another. Goddammit. Goddammit.

This was my decision: I was going to be flying to Washington DC the next day to see the same lineup with my friend Ian. I was only ever going to see Patton once on his tour. So I chose to give my DBT/Blitzen Trapper ticket to someone who’d gotten shut out and see Patton Oswalt instead. Ever since that night, I’ve wavered about whether that was the best or worst decision of my year. Patton was great and I laughed a lot, and I’m sure the DBT show in Boston was amazing … but none of that’s why. Here’s what happened.

I flew down to DC – my first time there – and met Ian at the airport. We grabbed some dinner and hung out and then headed right to the 9:30 Club. We’d seen DBT once before, and Ian was totally fine with going right up to the rail and standing all night and hanging with my DBT friends. Tonight, he was also fine with getting to the club an hour before the doors opened to make sure we had those spots at the rail. I do concerts a very particular way, which is why I normally go alone. When you meet someone who can approach a rock show the way you do, go to rock shows with that person. Ian and I have almost always had an easy camaraderie and that benefitted us here.

“Have you ever heard of Blitzen Trapper?” I asked him in line.

“Didn’t you put one of their songs on a mix for me once?”

I thought hard. I was really into “Furr” for awhile, but I’m really into any songs about werewolves. “Maybe?”

We entered. Met up with my friends. Some of them remembered Ian from Boston the year before. One of the coolest things about this show is that it was the first one I was going to see structured around the new album, English Oceans, which had come out recently and which we both loved absolutely. In this way, Ian and I were both on the cusp of a brand-new thing. I go to way more shows than him, but we were going to see this new species of show together for the first time. In that way, I was sort of happy I didn’t have the one up on him from Boston the night before.

The opening band took the stage. A few of them were mega sexy and so they earned points right there. Right away launched into a song called “Fletcher.” It bounced along for the first verse, the words washing over me … and then the chorus hit. Three of the singers joined in on mics, singing all together, and the easy rhythm and the direct delivery sunk into me. The drums crashed. The piano banged. The guitars and bass swelled and fell, floating along like an insistent promise. It took me three minutes but I was already in love. Between the first and second songs, I stole a glance at Ian and saw he, too, was transfixed.

“Did you know they were this good?”

“I had no idea they were this good.”

More songs hit us, all of them degrees of terrific. Then they steered the night into a song called, “Love the Way You Walk Away.” Music is different at a concert. The melody hits you first, the instruments; usually it takes a few listens for you to really hear the words. But I caught a bit of that first verse: “When you find what you’re looking for, you want it less.” Tears pricked my eyes. Something inside me crumbled. Then that three-part harmony in the chorus again and something inside me broke. I clung to the rail like it was a life raft. Ian was on one side of me and my Drive-By Truckers friends were all around me, and that was necessary, because I was all at once in emotional meltdown. All the real pain I’d been living inside for the past three months just fell away. I felt it go.

Look, it’s maybe trite to say I was reborn at a rock show. But there’s something to that. The rest of the show was great – they played the two songs I knew and a host of other songs, and that was before DBT came in and rocked my face off. But the next day, Ian and I raced around to record stores and bought as many Blitzen Trapper albums as we could find (there weren’t a lot) and the next night, we were in line two hours early, to guarantee that we were front and center to experience that again. The difference now was that the nagging voice in the back of my mind, the one that wanted me to think about the worst outcomes and the failure of my life at 38 and the fact that no matter how many novels I wrote, I was well past the time I could be a bestselling writer? That voice wasn’t there.

It wasn’t everything. It was just most everything. My depression would come back during the year – a few times – and I’d still have some anxiety attacks and at least one major panic attack, but things were on the road to being okay for the first time since my Whole Night Out.

I got on the plane from DC to Boston five hours after the rock show ended that second night, exhausted but with the album American Goldwing in my ears. April was going to be better. It had to be. I had a place to start from now.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Trying To Be Okay In a Year That Isn't: 2014 In Review (February / Roar)

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (February / Roar)

I turned to Adi, my only accompaniment on this cold night of karaoke with in walking distance from my house. Adi insists on calling it “the ’roke,” and I never correct him. “I want to sing ‘Roar.’”

“The Katy Perry song ‘Roar’?”

“Yeah. I mean, I used to say I hated it, but it’s been helping me out lately. I know it’s a little trite, but the whole ‘I am a champion’ thing is, like, making my brain want to stop eating itself.”

“It’s not trite if it’s helping.”

“Yeah, but the sneaky thing about Katy Perry is that she has an oddly dynamic range and I don’t.”

“There is that. Do you have a backup?”

“‘Solsbury Hill,’ by Peter Gabriel. There’s that line in there that goes, ‘I’m never where I wanna be.’”

“That’s sadder than ‘Roar.’”

“But just as apt.”

It was early February and I was busy as hell trying to show another me. Things bounced back a little in February. On the first, I got me engraved: a 1957 Plymouth Fury, all red and white, appeared on my forearm thanks to Master Inkslinger John Meredith. I dubbed 2014 The Year of Christine, and set about making plans for my birthday, for which I would rent a theater and show the John Carpenter movie and offer cheese.

I began making more appearances onstage; my niche appeared to be storytelling about my weird sex life. Sometimes I was naked. Sometimes I was clothed. I also acted in my friend Allen McRae’s show; literally acted. It was the first time I got actual real pointers on how to act in a certain scene and not just be me but louder. One time after a storytelling gig, standup guy Justin P. Drew said that my set at the Middle East Restaurant was “my funniest ever,” which I appreciated, even though I was in the grips of a terrible, unending sinus infection.

Little by little, my new comedy show at Johnny D’s was taking off. I was attracting new and recurring talent. Audiences had begun to show up. My show was in the process of becoming a modest success, in part because I had finally figured out how to promote myself and in part because I’m a nice guy who wants people to succeed.

But damn, did my depression have a way of sticking around.

I’m not sure how much my diet – basically, no snacks and one chai a day – affected that. Probably a lot. I started a new cardio routine at the gym that involved burpees and sidebends and kettlebells and I wanted to die most mornings. I went out and bought things to make myself feel better, because more debt always helps. I got new jackets, new glasses, cut my hair a new way, and got the aforementioned Fury on my arm. None of it really dug me out.

One of the highlights of my month – my year? – was flying down to Athens to see my friend Joe and the Drive-By Truckers, playing their Homecoming shows in Athens, Georgia. There’s nothing quite like the thrill and the buzz of being pressed up against that stage, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley inches from your face, as they scream it all out and you scream it all back, sweat pouring off of you, whiskey churning inside, and you know all the words, all of them, and they debut new songs because their new album – the first since you got into them – is coming out soon and you are amped, amped, because you’re finally in on the ground floor and you finally know what it’s like to be there at release day, and this show is so good, so fucking good, and you never want it to end, ever, and that ringing in your ears is the price you pay for transcendence.

Also, I was able to give Joe the heads-up on something I set up before I lost my big money job: an all-expenses paid trip to Disneyland that spring. When I have money, I spend it on the people I love. Also me. But them too.

I wrote several major articles for, including one that looked ahead to a really great spring for Stephen King fans. Unfortunately, Stephen King writers were SOL. Because Comcast bought FEARnet and one by one, all the freelancers went abracadabra, bye. For those of you counting at home, that’s two paying jobs I lost in the space of as many months.

I took a cheese class. I discovered I had a gluten intolerance. I bought boots so I could look more like Patterson Hood. I shattered my phone on the same day that I got an eye infection. I beat A Link Between Worlds.

And because rollercoasters of emotion are what this year decided to feature, I spent a quiet, lovely fifteenth anniversary with my man, Shawn. We had Indian food and watched the mostly terrible but also mostly amazing film Knightriders. Fifteen years is a pretty good run, and in what was turning out to be a difficult year, I was glad – as always – to have Shawn at my side, helping me navigate the choppy waters.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Trying to Be Okay in a Year That Isn't: 2014 in Review (January / Greatest Motherfucker)

January 2014

Greatest Mother Fucker

Last year, I sat down to write my year out in mid-December. Things were going swell. 2013 was a banner year for me. My sketch team was tops. I finished my first novel in four years after taking a hiatus to focus on nonfiction. I was working three jobs – one of which was paying me absurd gobs of money that allowed me to bank trips to Disney and Athens and make everyone’s Christmas insanely good, and one of which allowed me to write reviews of books I’d have read anyway. I had a comedy night I built from the ground up in a dive bar, and had begun actually getting some pretty great talent in. I was gaining a reputation for being a nice guy in the world of comedy, something I didn’t know was rare. It’s not that I didn’t think my life was unbreakable – nothing is unbreakable – but every indication was that things were going to keep getting better. I had no reason to doubt that.

Then things got worse. Then things got much worse. Then things got worse than that.

It’s mid-December again, and I have to preface this twelve-part study of my 2014 by saying that there are bright spots, and that there are some truly amazing, fantastic things that happened this year. And the baseline is great, too: Shawn and I are still together and very much in love. I have my day job. Mostly my friends are still my friends, with relationships that deepened and grew roots. We still have a home and both my parents are alive. I know what my blessings are. I haven’t forgotten them.

Last year’s posts were titled, “The Best Year of My Life,” and it really was. I wouldn’t go so far as to say 2014 was the worst year of my life – not in a life that contains beatings and junkies and the movie Reign of Fire – but holy hell was it a challenge.

And the thing is, it started out so nice. I got invited to perform at 100 First Jokes, which was particularly gratifying because I’m not really known for being a standup comic. (The joke I told, a risqué thing about child abuse and Freud, didn’t get laughs so much as uncomfortable groans; win?) I did something called Whole Night Out, where I went to go see my two favorite Saturday night comedy shows – Mainstage and Face Off – then went out to Rocky Horror, THEN went to MIT, where they were showing MST3K: The Movie at 4:00 AM. I listened to the song “GMF” – for “greatest motherfucker” – by John Grant, and I felt like the kind of the world. I put the whole thing on Vine and I hashtagged things and it was great.

Then things got sour.

There’s a Warren Zevon song called, “The Indifference of Heaven,” and one of the lines goes, “I had a girl / now she’s gone / she left town / the town burned down.” It’s so devastating it’s almost funny, but it wasn’t the funny part I kept returning to when that dive bar at which I booked and hosted comedy had a fire, then water damage because of the fire, then the owner had a stroke, then they lost their liquor license, all in like two weeks. It’s one of those moments where you feel just so terrible for the person directly affected … and feel so guilty for being all, “Why did this happen to me?” But I couldn’t stop feeling it. My comedy night was just taking off and things were going well, and now this.

Such predicaments I must forge ahead: I spent a week feeling sorry for myself. Then I wrote to the owners of a new bar called Johnny D’s Uptown and said, “Hi, do you want a weekly comedy hour? I do comedy.” And almost immediately they said, “Um, yes. When do you want to start?” So that worked out. I had my first show at the end of the month and it’s only gotten bigger and better and more awesome. And people still think I’m a nice guy.

Of course, my comedy life can’t just be unbumpy. For three years, I’d been directing a sketch team called Duct Tape Revolution. I had big plans. We were gonna spend the year doing festivals, and then we were going to set our sights on television. Fail or succeed, the fact that we were doing great sketch comedy and always improving was the point.

Then the group imploded. Shit happened. Shit kept happening. Personalities clashed, rash decisions were made, everyone was unhappy. Everything fell to pieces and I had no way of putting them back together. Well, not yet, at least. Not yet.

My favorite actor, Philip Seymor Hoffman, died. I got sick. Like really sick. Like not leaving the couch for three days sick. I had to take time off from my second job, the one that paid so much, to recover. I hate taking time off. I got back to work feeling slightly better and slightly more rested, and that’s when they told me they were letting me go. Apparently, when you temp at a place longer than three months, you have to either go full time or get let go. Or something. I don’t know. All I know is I was making serious bank for five months, and then I wasn’t. At all. It happened overnight. One day I’m rolling in cash and laughing it up with my favorite comedy friends, and then I’m broke and my group is gone and, as an added bonus, my doctor informed me that I had developed a sensitivity to gluten. To gluten.

She left town. The town burned down. It’s funny until it’s you.

Well, at least I still had my freelance reviewing job at, right? Right!? THIS IS FORESHADOWING.

I have some really, really great memories of this year. Big stuff and little stuff moved me, changed me. I made discoveries, both internally and out there in the world. I made friends. It was in no way all bad. But sweet goddamn, did it start that way.