This has been a challenge to sit down and write. A lot has been going on in my little world, and it's preoccupied my observations of the larger one as a whole. Usually, the month of October is the worst for me, but for the first time there haven't been any major catastrophes, just a lot of time to think.
I came to a point at the end of September where things slowed down, and now things are right back at their scheduled chaos, but I've run into a problem; I'm stuck. I am frustrated, and I don't know if there's nowhere to go or just no room to. I have a lot of ideas and they aren't moving forward; I hit the bottleneck.
This is a weird thing in Denver comedy that I imagine everyone begins to notice once they're where I'm at. People don't want to take risks on you. There are a lot of talented people, but we all tend to give stage time to people that we see other people give stage time to. There's a hierarchy, which is fine, but not a lot of people look to promote anyone within that hierarchy, we just adhere to it. We're effectively a caste system in terms of stage time; there's open micers, openers, features and headliners. Nobody goes up or down, not far anyway. Your only leverage is if people can get something out of you. Since I run a show and I'm a woman, I have two things regardless of how funny I am. I have a spot I can offer you and I make your show look a little more diverse. Both of those are bullshit criteria but I'd be lying if I didn't say I think that's a huge part of why I get what I get.
We all build up inside the bottle, perfecting our spots. We get good at the places we're at. Once in a rare while someone sneaks through the neck of the bottle because someone took a risk on them and everyone noticed. Denver in particular puts a lot of stock in the comedy competitions which I think is ridiculous, but I'm likely biased given that I don't do well in contests.
I felt very lost after San Francisco. I'd gone out there with a purpose that didn't really work out. I wasn't upset about the opportunity loss, I just didn't know where to go from there. I'm very goal oriented. At the beginning of the year I made a commitment to try and figure out how to make (some) money doing comedy, which I guess I've started, but I needed somewhere to go from there, I just haven't figured out where that is.
I thought I was being patient, but patience can teeter dangerously on waiting for things to happen when it's my job to bring them about. Waiting is something I reserve for when I don't know what I should be doing. That's where I was at when things slowed down. Things were slow and I was okay with that, but I didn't want to wait for something to happen. I just needed to know what I should be doing so I could start.
It's taken me awhile to work it out, but I think I have started the answer; I have to make something here. Traveling is great, and you make a lot of connections (with people or concepts), you experience, create and explore. Now that I'm home I see myself as stuck, but I don't think darting around the country will get me anywhere. I need to be looking at this place. My problem is not unique. I need to break the fucking bottleneck.
I'm guilty of this too. I run a show that I care about and I always want to see do well, so I don't take a lot of risks when it comes to who I book. I'm contributing to the problem I'm experiencing. I'm going to make it a point next year to change that. I'm pretty experienced with risks, now I need to start taking those chances with people. If I'm lucky that will start being reciprocated.
I didn't get my cartoon up for the first Wednesday, which felt like a little failure. That was one of my goals this year, to add those twice a month, and it sucks a little to know I couldn't do it, but at the same time, it was certainly an indicator for me. I try to do a lot of things at the same time, and things that aren't prioritized or particularly special to me fall off the edges. Learning how to manage those things has been a huge process. I don't take that kind of failure as hard as I used to. I push myself and look for edges so I know where they are, and apparently, I hit one. This one appears to be the amount of things I can accomplish by myself.
I feel like I'm at the point where I've done all that I know how to on my own. For awhile I was frustrated that there was no sense of leadership, that I had no one to look up to in order to figure out what direction I should be going. I'm realizing that maybe that's the incorrect way to look at this, it goes against dancing to presume there's a shape to it. I can't do it the same way as other people and they're not going to be able to do it my way.
What I'm hoping to do now is to work with other people. I suppose it's a lateral approach. I'm not really sure how to work upwards but I'd like to work with people I know in order to see if we find places to go out of it. I've always held to an idea that a sense of community/connection with people is a huge problem solver. I was planning to look into it and use it as a springboard for this big project on homelessness I'm working on; some stuff about neotribalism but hopefully you'll get a really cool article about that later.
I've been wanting to do a little more with the articles here. They've mostly been my own thoughts backed with just enough research to make sure I wasn't completely mistaken about anything. I've covered a lot of my own basics and now a lot of what I'm writing about is stuff I'm learning about at the same time, and they're becoming bigger puzzles. It's pretty interesting, we'll see where that goes. I'm getting more of an idea of what I'm doing by writing them in the first place. When I first started, I really had no idea why I was except for that I liked to. I didn't have any great sense of purpose.
I just realized that as a person, I'm a microcosm of that big project. I have been wanting to do more. Every time I see a large system I realize that the flaws in it are easily reduced to the same flaws in an individual; you can turn almost anything into a metaphor for itself and that approach makes things more understandable and therefore more fixable. I've been looking at this big social problem and it's ultimately because it's the exact same problem I have on a very small scale. I am interested in homelessness because I have no place to go.
I don't know what it is I'm going to start. It's still new and shy and hard to see through the logistical thicket. Here's hoping that somewhere in there it gives us a place to belong.
I hate confrontation.
Most people aren't fond of confrontation, it seems too close to conflict. Someone's feelings could get hurt, and we all avoid that. People know me as a low key person, and that's true, I'm very nonconfrontational. The exception being if you’re someone I know on a deep level, or you’re a complete stranger that I don’t plan on seeing again. Maybe that’s one of those “all extremes are the same” things. In either case, you’ll get to see my anger problem.
An anger problem, at least in my case, isn't just an anger problem; it's an expression problem, and it affects all of my emotions. Anger is just the quickest to identify when it goes off the rails. Expressing anger is a healthy part of being human. Learning how to do it in a way that’s healthy, however, is very, very tricky. If love is blind, then anger is blind, deaf and mute. It has no interest in reason, being proactive about your situation, or doing damage control. When I’m angry, I want heads to roll.
That’s the reason I avoid confrontation. Even if I’m right and have perfectly valid, rational objections to what’s going wrong, the words I'll pick are pure emotional bile. It’s a phoenix in the fireplace. For the most part, that beast is contained and can even be wielded in my favor, acting as a kind of makeshift confidence I use when my own sense of self worth is lacking. Every once in awhile it blows out of control, then shrinks to ashes while I’m left to sweep up the pieces and rebuild.
It’s not a matter of if, only when, I lose it.
The world is full of complex people with problems of their own, and I'm not breaking any boundaries by having them myself. For the most part, we keep our emotions within socially acceptable range, but once in awhile, something or someone gets under our skin.
That's where I am now. It is a small and insignificant situation to anyone other than myself. For me, it's a frustrating waste of my energy. I find my own behavior childish, and despite the fact that I know better, I simply haven't figured out how to *be* better. There's an interesting correlation to being and behavior; one showcases the other. Having an intellectual nature doesn't stop you from being human or having human emotions. I haven't figured out how to bridge the gap; I can know how my actions differ from my rationale, but I can't align them. When I try, I feel more like a liar than when I'm genuinely lying to someone, does that make sense?
Maybe that goes back to the idea of belief; that a liar wants the victim to believe it. I don't really care if you believe my lies or honesty. I had to come to that in order to deal with my own life. But to try and behave in a way that doesn't align to the way I am as a human being, that feels like a dishonesty I want you to believe; that I want to believe. I haven't reconciled that yet, so that's just going to hang here.
I’m emotionally reactive about everything. If laughter is spontaneous and involuntary, so are my tears and insults. I think I come off as a relatively placid person because I have spent so much time trying to smuggle my time bomb around casually and leave before it goes off.
I only really started noticing this boiling behavior when I looked at it in terms of depression. Depression can keep you in a kind of stasis for a while, and likewise, you can contain it. Much like our firebird, that tidal wave can only be dammed for so long before it spills out into everything.
The only benefit I've ever had from having anger is that occasionally, it becomes a powerful motivator. My first ex told me I wasn't funny. For that matter, so did Jay. Friends of mine who I can't (or don't, to be fair) talk to have had all sorts of opinions about me and what I'm capable of, what I look like, and so on. Being competitive with my older brothers taught me how to harness those criticisms and make them an advantage.
There's other sources for that advantage though, namely encouragement.
So here's the thing about motivation from either source. Self awareness plays a pretty big role, as well as having a pretty good grip on how people perceive you. In terms of spite, you're proving people wrong. In reacting to encouragement, you're proving them right. Whether or not the person talking to you understands that is completely on them. How you handle it is on you.
About a year into comedy, I had hit the point that I think every new comic does where you start doubting if anyone is going to notice you're there. There's a lot to say about that, but I have to save it unless this post wants to turn into a novel. What I will say is that I had encouragement, not flattery. I had a comic I respected tell me I was "consistent". That doesn't say anything about how funny my material was, but it indicated that my efforts weren't being wasted.
There's nothing wrong with telling someone that they've got this if they keep trying. You don't need to blow smoke up their ass and say that they're already great, or that they're ahead of their time, that kind of bullshit. You don't even have to lie and say you like something that you don't, or tell them they have potential if you're honestly not sure they do. In fact, don't do that. You're hurting them more than "hurting the scene" because they can't get better if they're going off of purposeful misdirection in order to spare their feelings.
I highly recommend aiming for encouraging someone to be better over getting them to change out of spite; it's just more constructive and has a much lower risk of negatively impacting someone who's suicidal, which is very common in creative fields if not especially in comedy.
But even if encouragement is ideal, that doesn't make anger, spite, or negative drives disappear. I’m not really sure how to release my internal squall so it doesn’t consume me, but I think the healthiest thing to do with my anger is actually to force confrontation. The trick here is only to be confrontational when I also have empathy for the other person. If I can genuinely feel for the other person, even if I believe they’re in the wrong, I’m much less likely to go for their guts.
This has been a learning process, and I often miscalculate. I don’t realize how mean the words coming out of my mouth sound until they’re circling in the air like vultures. I’ve never been physically intimidating, and when I was bullied as a kid, I learned how to come up with words cruel enough to weaken a fist. I learned how to be the loudest not in volume, but in impact.
When I tried to stop that drive to insult as an adult,I forced myself to wait things out until I figured out how to say what I wanted to. Putting things off led to me not wanting to say anything at all, because I’d burned out for the time being and didn't feel like it.
Someone told me to express my feelings when I had them even if I didn’t have words to, which is both the best and most difficult advice I’ve ever tried to apply in my life. Verbal talons are only one side of having an anger problem; ironically, the other is the difficulty of expressing myself with words at all. It’s tough to formulate a calm, rational argument when there aren’t words in your head, just little pictures of explosions and war footage you’ve seen.
There is no “right time” to say you’re upset, and it makes very little sense to finally verbalize it when you don’t feel it. I get that this conflicts with the idea of “cooler heads prevail”, but cooler heads may not care, or diminutize the issue, or worse, dismiss it entirely. If you never address your anger, you’ll never really be controlling it. The misguided advice of “just let it go” is a platitude people tend to use without realizing that if you want to let an experience go, you have to experience it.
Sometimes I can’t do better in the moment than closing my eyes and telling the other person, “I’m Upset.”
I consider that basic sentence a huge leap forward from being able to look someone dead in the eye during the same rage and coolly saying, “Even when you’re trying your hardest, you’re still a fucking failure.”
I’m no longer looking to attack people when I confront them, and I think that’s why I’ve grown more comfortable doing it. As a result, even if it ends up being a long conversation, uncomfortably public or otherwise inconvenient. The opposite of Anger is kindness, but kindness doesn't mean you have to be nice.
Kindness comes from the root words for "kinship". The roots for "nice" are similar to that for "naive". Being kind to an angry person is expressing patience, not putting up with their bullshit.
I’m convinced that feelings are, and will almost always be, inconvenient. That’s sort of why they pop up, it’s your way of expressing your “being” in the moment. You have to recognize what it means to express yourself and attempt to be aware of why. Asking yourself why will teach you a lot. Trying to be more confrontational is my way of tending the fire. Maybe if I take care of it consistently, it’s less likely to blow out and leave ashes where some of my friendships used to be.
I might be screwed.
I quit my job, unceremoniously and in a way I regret. I had reached whatever breaking point I had felt coming for awhile and simply didn’t know how to verbalize. This culminated in a drinking session that I also quite regret, which left me vomiting blood and anything else in or near my stomach for the next couple days. I knew I’d been depressed, and I knew that for me, depression was the big red flag meant to block out everything from view until I figured out what my problem was.
Maybe I lack self discipline. I feel resistant on a very primal, physical level when faced with something I don’t want to do. I have an uncanny work ethic and drive when it comes to something I love, like joke writing, this blog, whatever, but my fight or flight kicks in when I’m bored, unhappy, feeling underutilized over overwhelmed. I could sneeze the wrong way and feel the need to drop all and run.
Likewise, stability is a tough concept for me. I recognize it and I’m sure I need it, but I’m incapable of creating it for myself or sustaining it for long periods of time. I don’t know what that means about me. I don’t know if that’s self fulfilling prophecy; what I do know is that my bouts of reckless behavior usually leave me feeling released from whatever tomb of depression I’ve been buried in. Currently I’m enjoying a peace of mind I haven’t had for months. High risk, taking chances, those are things I feel comfortable with. Maybe I should rephrase that; I’m not likely to gamble if I don’t think I can win, although that certainly seems to be waning given I have to figure the fuck out how I’m going to support myself now.
Since I’ve had plenty of time to do nothing but think, I’ve given the idea of jobs a good once over. I know why I hate them, and can’t sustain them. I also know how difficult financial security is going to be for people like myself; a job is what people can get out of you.
That’s the difference between a job and a hobby, regardless of how serious you are about one or the other. A hobby is something you do for self fulfillment; it’s the reason I struggled in art school and ended up flipping the whole thing off. It’s also the reason I have no idea what to do now. If I sit down and genuinely think about it, what do I have to offer? What can people get out of me?
I guess the other part of this idea, of what I have to offer, is that I’ve hit a point where I don’t throw it all in, I’m going to have trouble attempting to later. The day job has become less of a life raft and more of an anchor at a point where I’m not happy. Trying to balance it with what I feel driven to do was also taking me to a very dark (and very drunk) place. Quitting my job is just following the same emotional road map that’s led me to where I am and where I feel the most content.
Maybe that’s a cynical way to think about passion. I pursue mine simply because I see no alternatives. There’s nothing but death in compromise. Gambling is literally my lifestyle. I’d rather take odds, get hurt and blow things out of proportion. I don’t know where it comes from, but I behave this way because there is something intrinsic in every part of me that firmly believes that I’ll be fine. Maybe all that means is I have a very low standard of “fine” and since I don’t require much, I’m reasonably confident I can maintain that base level.
Millennials and the subsequent Generation Z are faced with a peculiar economic condition. Tons of jobs are being outsourced, and now freelancers can piggyback on outsourcing by offering native speaking labor for less than what they’d be paid at a corporate gig, but with the benefit of more freedom. It also seems like we’ve become a customer service society. The bulk of jobs that are available semi-cater to this more flexible, less stable lifestyle that arguably most of my generation prefers. The caveat? Can we really be sustainable as an economy at large if most of us are driving each other around or making food? In some ways, we’re returning to a community based economic system, which is small scale and many ways my ideal, but I’m brought back to that question, what do we get out of it, what do people get out of us?
For a creative person, I’ve always been somewhat pragmatic; I struggle with what would appear to be inherent narcissism that comes with “trying to make it”. I wonder if it becomes a vicious cycle in which the mentally unstable consume themselves given the volatile and emotionally unstable nature of show business. We are trying to make something that fulfills us that matters to other people. When you realize how big and difficult that is, it makes sense that it could take a lifetime to achieve.
I really don’t know if people get something out of this blog, or my jokes or anything else that I do, because in that respect I know I’m hopelessly biased, just like most comedians. I have to believe they do because I do, and if I didn’t think anyone else did, I’d have to stop. I’d have to get a day job. I’d have to figure out how to not kill myself by doing something that other people want that I can only force myself to do. This logic applies to my feelings on most grand institutions, like marriage, school, family. I only see what other people would get out of my choice to pursue those things. There’s no part of me that thinks I’d feel fulfilled, and I’d be forced to look elsewhere for that sensibility. Given how much time those things require, I don’t know how I’d manage to do both.
So I’ve spent this unintended sabbatical thinking very honestly about what I have to offer. If I am brutally honest: Not a lot. I can write, and I can write quickly. (Not counting this sentence, this article spans 931 words typed in about 20 minutes.)I like to learn, and I can compile research and take notes. I’m funny, but if I’m being realistic I still have a lot to learn before I could do consistent performances longer than about 20 minutes. I don’t really know what the practical application of that skill is, but that’s probably the best one I’ve got. I can draw, and produce simple illustrations quickly. I’m not really sure where to go from there. How do I make those things valuable to other people?
I’ve hit some kind of point of no return but I can’t see what’s in front of me. I’ve been in this situation before and I’m always calmer than I think I should be. I guess finding a job is a lot like finding a place to sleep when you’re a stranger; you just have to figure out where it is and who will let you. Here’s hoping that answer floats down towards me soon.
I don’t know if the feeling I have right now counts as writer’s block, maybe it’s just down time.
This is the feeling anyone creative is familiar with. It’s expansive and opaque, and feels a lot, I assume, like you’ve stuffed your skull full of laundry. Affectionately known as writer’s block, drawing a blank, the creative wall; it’s the end of a road, for one reason or another. A brief trip to the planet Google suggests that people have broken down writer’s block into no less than ten categories. In short, calling a lack of creativity a writer’s block is about as thorough as diagnosing a pounding headache as sickness thumps.
According to the sources, these are the different forms of writer’s block, more or less. I cherry picked these lists to give you the ones I come across personally.
1. Having no idea what to write about.
2. Not knowing where to take an idea
3. You don’t have the words to say what you want, or you don’t know how to say something originally.
4. You get distracted by friends, kittens, or a burning desire to knaw your toes off.
5. There’s too many ideas in your head, but they’re not sustainable.
6. You feel unmotivated.
7. Nothing you write seems good enough, which, similarly, leads into a feeling that…
8. You’re afraid you’ve hit your creative peak a long time ago and now you’re slowly spiraling down into a pit of mediocrity.
Now, I’m writing about writer’s block because that’s what I’m experiencing right now. My dog is trying very hard to regain my attention by throwing a piece of rubber that used to be a soccer ball in the air. Poor dude works so hard to rip my attention away from this computer screen. That last sentence proves how uninterested in what I'm doing at the moment.
So what you’re seeing, by the end of what you may not be able to call an article, is my attempt to push through it. I'm not sure how well it'll work, but I need to know that I can force my way through it like a boxer with blood in his eyes. I’d like to attack the problem more psychologically; the internet is drenched in snake oil cures for creative loss. Let’s face it, the fear of never finding that spark again is terrifying, because a lot of us creative types are pretty sure without that talent, we’re basically useless.
One site suggests that a lack of creativity comes from a sense of apathy, another suggests it’s stress or anxiety. Research indicates more creative problem solving tends to happen when we’re tired, hence the trend of creative types also being night owls. After browsing the many theories available on the topic, I have come to one conclusion.
After giving myself some time to winch out what appears to be a bit of muffin (which should surprise no one) from below my key, I set a timer. Timers have always been helpful for me in getting over the creative hump, because I’m not allowed to stare blankly. Even if I do, it’s not for very long. If you're wondering why the fuck limiting yourself is helpful, it's because I use the timer as a sort of force-element of novelty. I think somewhere in Psychology 101 there's a section about chunking and committing things to memory. I don't know if approaching an uninteresting task is any different in terms of commitment.
I’m not sure what research supports my own theory of writer’s block, but I bet there’s some out there. Also, fair warning, everything from here on out is speculation and I haven’t done any research. It’s my thought vomit you’re taking as advice here.
I think that by nature, humans are near-addicted to novelty. It has some type of evolutionary logic, which you may see as something of a trend in my conclusions about human nature. By constantly seeking out things that are new, we’re often rewarded with better ways to do things. The first person to explore a cave was eaten by a bear. The second one learned how to kill a bear, had a warm place to sleep and eliminate sexual competition.
I guess I’m just anticipating some kind of argument to my own logic, but I hope you see my point. Without trying something new, nothing is gained. Even failure has some value, though maybe not to you. Creativity is based on trying new things, or being forced to try something new after the accepted methods don't work. I think a lot about failure at this point in my life, because I’m not experienced with success. I don’t like admitting that, but I do, and admitting that gives me the freedom not to dwell.
Back to writer's block.
I think this creative rut we often find ourselves in comes from the honing of raw interest. We start doodling because it’s new, therefore we enjoy it. After awhile, we focus, we have a task and we decide it’s in our best interest to be good at it. The discovery phase waxes until we consider ourselves talented, in which we face a waning of interest. Whether or not we also wane in talent is something up for debate, but not something I have enough opinion on to address right now.
So what do we do when what we love becomes the same old, same old? Can you cheat on your creativity? Absolutely. When I have difficulty writing I tend to turn towards art or music. Music holds a special place for me, actually, simply because I’m not very good at it, and by actively not pursuing it, strange as that sounds, it’s always fun. The same can’t be said for my other creative endeavors.
Maybe the cure for writer’s block is novelty, maybe not. According to one neuroscientist, our stressed out brains will actually shut down the non-essential areas of our brain where creativity, sex drive and digestion all live and focus more energy in our limbic system, which is dedicated to running for your life.
We all tend to agree that intelligence and mental illness are brain buddies, so maybe it’s just a simple matter of brain chemistry. Maybe we shut down our own abilities simply because we become refocused on surviving in our anxious, depressed and otherwise fucked up minds. If that’s the case, could it actually be that happy people would be the more creative, instead of the long held assumption that happy people are dumb and ruin everything?
I don’t know. Anyone creative takes a sense of satisfaction, maybe even happiness, from what they do. Honestly, that makes me think yet again of the idea of novelty. Doing the same thing over and over is tedious and by definition not a lot of fun, but we’re also given the slightly flawed assumption that doing things over and over makes us better at it.
So what are we supposed to do, should you trade off enjoyment for talent? Are these things mutually exclusive, really? If it’s not true, and you should only pursue your creativity if it makes you happy, I guess the answer to writer’s block is pretty simple.
Calm the fuck down and enjoy yourself.
Seems like it addresses most of those dissected categories of it, anyway. I don’t know if it’s as easy to apply that logic when you sit in front of your blank canvas, admittedly. It’s that whole Buddha logic we all find so frustrating in its simplicity. So maybe, by framing it a little differently, we could think of conquering writer’s block this way; if it’s not enjoyable, and you don’t have to be doing it right now, then stop doing it. I don’t know if I believe in barreling through writer’s block by sitting down and madly smashing the keyboard until what should be beauty comes out. Maybe that works for some people, but even if it did, I wonder if that would only serve to leave me more frustrated later.
Gosh kids, I never end these with the neat packaging I want to. If I accomplished anything though, it’s that I persevered through my block. I don't know if this is the most inspired thing I've ever written (it's not), but I made it. Hopefully you can find a reason to make something out of your laundry-brain, too.
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.