Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Ink Journals

The why, where, and how of my body art.

1. Bear With Me (May 10, 1999) - Bear Claw

2. Stand In the Place Where You Live (November 13, 1999) - Stephen King's The Stand

3. Man Without Fear (October 4, 2004) - Daredevil

4. We Can Make It If We Run (September 24, 2005) - Bruce Springsteen Sneakers

5. Boldly Going (February 18, 2006) - Star Trek

6. My Flirtation With Obscure Punctuation (April 8, 2006) - Interobang

7. Howl (November 8, 2006) - Cycle of the Werewolf

8. Red and Blue (January 29, 2007) - Blue October

9. Pinch Me (February 18, 2007) - Barenaked Ladies

10. Thou Mayest (July 19, 2007) - Timshel

11. Sorry, But Our Princess Is In Another Castle (January 28, 2008) - Super Mario

12. Lucky Thirteen (June 9, 2009) - Anchor 13

13. If We Can Dream It... (July 22, 2009) - Horizons

14. A Bear Can Rest at Ease (April 2, 2010) - Baloo

15. The Pepper Engine (July 20, 2010) - Steampunk Dr Pepper

16. The Eagle Has Landed (August 2, 2011) - Bob Seger Eagle

17. It's Great to Be Alive (April 14, 2012) - Drive-By Truckers

18. I'm the Wind, Baby (July 31, 2012) - Tom Servo

19. Hardy & Arbuckle (March 29, 2013) - Comedy & Tragedy

20. Don't Panic! (July 5, 2013) - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

21. Dream Baby Dream (August 22, 2013) - Irving + Springsteen = Sketch

22. Like a Grand and Miraculous Spaceship (December 18, 2013) - Spaceship Earth

23. My Unending Fury (February 8, 2014) - Christine

24. For the Love of Moose (April 12, 2014) - Moose Mason

25. Flying Over Water (July 19, 2014) - Disney Cruise Line

26. Heave Ho (December 30, 2014) - Blitzen Trapper

Friday, January 2, 2015

Trying to Be Okay In a Year That Isn’t: 2014 in Review (December / Love the Way You Walk Away)

And here we come to the end.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite Starbucks. Playing Barenaked Ladies because they’re what was playing at ImprovBoston, as I finished my year.

December: I started the month rewarding myself for the trials of the rest of the year. There’s an inherent danger in that sort of reward, and I knew that going into it. You can put too much on the good thing you’re felt you’re owed. You’re chasing a totem, a talisman, something that underlines and underscores that the stuff you lived through and the shit you’ve swum in and the absolute hell you’ve managed to make your own life needs some reward. That’s the way fiction works. It should be the way life works. But life isn’t a book. It’s not a song. It’s not a play or a sitcom or an hourlong drama. It’s life, and sometimes life is hard, and sometimes you don’t get what you want or need. Sometimes you do, because that’s reality, too.

I took in my final Bob Seger concert as December showed November the door. I say last because Seger isn’t doing for me what I need concerts to do for me. I love him, and he’s meant a lot to me over the last few years, and he still means a lot to me, but it’s not what Springsteen or Drive-By Truckers or Blitzen Trapper do to me when it’s live and you’re right there. I had great seats to a pretty good concert, and Seger played all the hits I wanted to hear (except maybe “Still the Same”), and played stuff from his new album I never ended up connecting with. “Hollywood Nights” transported me and that was great, and “We’ve Got Tonite” was moving, and of course “Mainstreet” and “Night Moves” thrilled me. It’s probably not the music. I could blame it on the venue if I hadn’t seen Barenaked Ladies or Springsteen there and experienced the verve and the joy that I need to get from these shows. It’s not necessarily that he’s older. It’s maybe that new album thing. I keep finding stuff to love on all of Springsteen’s new records, and he plays the hell out of those new records in concert, and it feels like a dynamic, rich experience. This was good. This was fun. But I don’t want to go again.

A day later, I was on a plane to Disney World for my longest trip in a good long time. I was meeting my buddy Jeff for a night at Magic Kingdom, followed by a four night cruise on the Disney Dream, followed by four more nights at Disney World. This was what the whole year had been for. This is what I get for living through all of it.

And it started out that way. That first night with Jeff was amazing, and the cruise turned out to be as relaxing and fulfilling as the last one. No one noticed my Disney Cruise Line tattoo, but whatever. One night on the ocean, Jeff and I got dolled up in our finery and sat down to a seven-course dinner at Remy, the ship’s signature French restaurant. I didn’t really feel out of place in my suit and tie, and our waiter was cute and explained everything, and they kept bringing out plate after plate of six-bite delights: tomato soup balls, actual ratatouille (I surprised myself by trying a lot of the tomato and onion dishes, to discover to my actual amazement that … well, that I could be a little adventurous and still not like tomatoes or onions), pigeon, duck, three desserts; exactly the type of restaurant experience I’ve wanted for years. And it was all easy, you know? It didn’t mess with my head. I brought my book into a hot tub once and read awhile. Jeff and I did spa trips and got massages (good) pedicures (amazing) and facials (oh my God, no no no no, never again, no, stay away from my eyes). We rode the Aquaduck water coaster and waded in the warm Atlantic just off of Disney’s private island of Castaway Cay, and I rode a rented bike around the paths and played Darkness on the Edge of Town at top volume from the basket of the bike. It was wonderful. Top to bottom wonderful.

Recently, one of my favorite writers, Lawrence Block, relayed a story about him taking a five-week cruise and writing a whole new novel. That concept thrilled me. The idea of being able to do a five-week cruise thrilled me. Getting my sea legs and keeping them. Writing on the high seas. Making real my imagination in a place with no land, and few responsibilities.

With these thoughts, we disembarked and soon found ourselves in Disney World proper again. And it was great. I need you to know that it was great. I rode Space Mountain probably eighty or ninety (or five) times. I hung out with some great friends, including Paul, and David and Toby, and amazing local Robert. I got to ride Spaceship Earth and casually wander around Epcot and get my last glimpse of the Sorcerer’s Hat. And then … then it all got too much.

Folks, we all have our triggers. Mine come in different guises. I don’t want to go into what triggered my meltdown at Disney World, but much of it was that I needed some alone time and some routine, and that I missed home. I hadn’t written, I hadn’t gone to the gym, I hadn’t had much time to myself at all. Add that to the ethos of pure relaxation I’d been inside for nearly a week, and … well, you know that Stephen King novella, “The Langoliers”? There’s a part that talks about when someone who is used to pressure – who thrives on pressure – is finally pressure-free. Those people tend to explode.

One night, it came to a head. All I wanted was to be home. I called the airline and tried to book a flight, but it was just too expensive. I shut down. All I wanted was to be alone, just for awhile, like Greta Garbo.

Of course I bounced back, but it took awhile. And I hate myself a little for flipping out on vacation, and for putting my friends through the worst of who I am. It’s never my intention to get internal or get overwhelmed. I don’t want to be sad. But sometimes I am, and maybe it’s okay to be sad sometimes, even in the place I go to to be happy. But maybe I need to strike a balance with Disney World. I don’t want to get blasé about it, but making it the panacea to my bad moods is never going to make it the most easygoing place to be.

I’m taking most of 2015 off of going there, in part because I need to reset my longing, in part because I need to figure out what the place means to me and why I like going, and in part because I need to set the Disney Twitter part of my life on the backburner for awhile, and let the negativity drain off fully.

The big show opened. The ImprovBoston Holiday Spectacular launched to a mostly polite (if sold out) Dad audience, and then kept getting bigger and bigger. We ran for eight shows, and only one didn’t sell out (and that was only by eight seats). Audiences responded mostly well, which was a boon for us, because the show was unusual in structure (sketch, improv, and music) and content (we deliberately avoided any holiday clichés and occasionally got weird). I was in the theater for most shows and laughed right along with everyone else.

My Sketchhaus run took off. I was worried (terrified?) that doing “regular” shows after the event stuff would diminish audiences. But the shows kept either selling out or near-selling out. Either the acts were bringing them in, my marketing was going better than expected, or word had gotten around that I was a pretty good producer and that I knew what I was doing. I would love to believe the latter. I also hooked up with my friend John Serpico and standup superstar Kelly McFarland to produce a new experimental variety show called LaughterRisk, starting in January. And my Johnny D’s nights just kept on keeping on.

I hung out with my Dad a lot. Ever since I became a real adult, my relationship with my Dad has been kind of awesome in every way. We drove up to visit my Grandma and Grandpa one weekend before Christmas, and my only regret was that I lost my really nice expensive headphones on the journey. The following weekend, Shawn and I went up and had our nice Christmas dinner and gift exchange with him and my new stepmother Donna. I gave my Dad a book featuring lady superheroes in fetish situations and he got me a tattoo. We’re basically the Waltons.

Our Christmas Eve tradition continued with Tracey and Liz, where we go over there and spend time eating all of the food, all of it, and give each other awesome presents. Early in 2014, I decided to call it “The Year of Christine,” given my Christine tattoo and the movie I showed on my birthday and re-reading the novel. The Year of Christine officially ended when Liz unveiled my big gift – a framed poster of Christine, the film. I could have wept. (For my part, I did make Tracey weep with my intuitive gift of a book of Louisa May Alcott’s letters to her husband. Sometimes, I still have it.)

Christmas, often a tense time for me because Shawn’s friends come along and we have Many Plans involving food and movies and gifts and everything, worked out pretty damn well. Shawn gave me Guardians of the Galaxy on Blu-Ray and a Daredevil action figure (and eventually a new Springsteen live record and my Zelda calendar), and my grandparents had gotten me a Starbucks and a Disney gift certificate and things were good. Easy. I was easing into the end of the year.

The last night of the year, I spent chugging comedy at ImprovBoston, and at the stroke of midnight I kissed a straight bald comedian on the head, because I do those things. It was great, but the capper of the year came three days earlier, when I went to Chameleon Tattoo and met with tattooer Matt, who had never inked me in the past, and got myself my long-sought Blitzen Trapper tattoo – an amalgam of three of their album covers. I wrote an entry about it and took pictures and everyone (including the band themselves) proclaimed it awesome.

I’ve been talking a lot about Blitzen Trapper a lot in these entries. More than Springsteen and more than Drive-By Truckers, both of whom gave me great records and great experiences this year (DBT’s might be one of their best albums, near flawless and a great way to jump into new material after being into them for years), but for myriad reasons, Blitzen Trapper really defined 2014. They were a major bright spot, a reason to believe in being creative in the face of adversity. They broke my depression in half. They were half of the best rock shows I saw this year, and the fact that I could see them with a wonderful friend who had moved far away was even better.

My favorite song this year is one that came out in 2011. It’s a song called, “Love the Way You Walk Away,” and much of the reason I latched onto it was because of a line that goes, “when you find what you’re looking for, you want it less.” It’s a melancholy line, because it describes so much of how I interact with a lot of my life. I can get blasé about the stuff I’ve worked for, and I can get overwhelmed with the places I go, and I can be petty about my victories and sore about my losses. Sometimes when I grab hold of the things I thought would make me happy, it turns out that happiness is as elusive as smoke, as illusory as false memory.

But as I reflect back on the best memories of 2014, another line from the song rises up. In 2014, I rode a bike around Denver with the Rockies in the distance. I saw the Overlook Hotel – the real one – for the first time, with my friend Beemer. I rebuilt my sketch team, constructed a night of comedy out of thin air, took back a different night of comedy, and became the kind of producer people ask for by name. I took a cruise with one of the best friends I’ve ever had and looked out at that giant ocean and had one of the best meals of my life. I learned more about cheese. I went to Disney World with my sweetie and we celebrated fifteen years together. I went to the 12-hour Halloween Horrorthon. I got my own bike from one of my other best friends. I took another friend to Disneyland for the first time. I got free Chuck Taylors and got Shawn an art showcase for his paintings for his birthday. My book of short stories was announced as a paperback. I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for a novel I finished, and did NaNoWriMo for another novel I’m in the midst of writing. I got big at the gym. I got a new iPhone. I got some. It wasn’t the worst year ever. It just sometimes felt like it.

The other line of the song is the one I want to carry into this new year, the magical, mystical, science fiction year of 2015. It ends the last chorus: “it’s a sign or a symbol for the things in store.” I want to hold onto those good memories, the bright shining spots in a challenging year that helped me be okay and not totally lose myself. 2014, I survived you, but I love the way you walk away.

Let’s go.