The Improv Update

Image via MasterPlanner

Image via MasterPlanner

Improv is getting better because: I speed read Amy Poehler's book, I want to get back into TV, showing up is enough, standing in the corner staring at your phone doesn't help, singing bad with a good attitude is better than singing well with a shit attitude, if you believe you are happy, other people will find you entertaining, fake it 'til you make it is sometimes the best course of action, impromptu digging graves for Mickey Mouse is never a bad idea, yoga helps, Pilates helps, physical therapy exercises help, walking helps, being outside yourself to put on a performance isn't really that hard unless you make a big deal about it, which no one wants to hear about, so just do your job and figure this is taking you somewhere else in the future.

Why You Should Ask for Stuff

Recently, I read Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. I found it's an interesting book -- in part, because I relate to it. For much of her life, Palmer is relentlessly autonomous. A solo hustler, she works as a living statue to pay the bills, and it's this job that teaches her what people really want, which is, in her mind, to be seen. (I concur.) The trouble starts when she: gets famous, marries a rich and famous guy, and gets pregnant. In theory, the latter two fail to fit with her gypsy lifestyle. So, the narrative follows her as she attempts to have it all: her own life and a connected life. I hear you, sister. The best thing about the book is Palmer's seeming fearlessness (of course, reality is more complicated than that), whether it's stage diving, leaving her recording label behind, or asking her fans to fund her album (they coughed up $1M). There's also an unexpectedly moving anecdote in which on a particularly shitty day she inadvertently ends up getting a massage from one of her online haters. In a way, there's something repellant about Palmer's hustle. You cringe when she asks for things, makes a spectacle of herself, writes a poem that gets blasted as an homage to a domestic terrorist. Then you realize that what you're creeped out by is your own inability to ask for what you want. It's amazing how much our culture pathologies asking for things. One gathers there's nothing Palmer won't ask for -- that said, it turns out accepting that for which you have asked is another challenge altogether. Inspiring.

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Tonight was the first night of doing the improv show in front of a group of living, breathing, drinking people. It went well. I think. I am an introvert, so performing is a challenge for me, and it's different to do stage work versus the TV work that I've done in the past. It's a bit of another situation altogether when the audience member is sitting five feet from you. Of course, anxiety is the enemy of comedy, so there were times when I was stilted or awkward, but I really didn't want to choke, and I don't think I did. So far, improv has taught me how to fail better, that you must do anything rather than do nothing, and how to sing a made up song about people who are bipolar. Thanks, improv.

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How to Get More People to Read Your Blog

The last couple months that I blogged at Forbes, I averaged around 500K uniques a month. At the time, that equaled about $5K a month in pay from Forbes to me. So, how did I achieve that?

Keep it simple

Image credit: Chanel Preston

Image credit: Chanel Preston

The reason my traffic was that high was due in large part to one post: "What Porn Stars Do When the Porn Industry Shuts Down." (To date, the post has over 1M views, and it's the second most popular post I ever wrote in the three years that I wrote that blog. This is the most popular one.) Recently, the porn industry had shut down due to a male performer testing positive for HIV. The post started with a question: When adult performers can't work, what do they do with their time? The answer was more interesting than I expected.

Do the work

Too many shithead millennials today are too big of giant pussies to get on the phone or leave the house to do a fucking interview, much less work a real world beat. God, could you be anymore cowardly? Instead, the females and males of the species develop their mental dadbods by recycling original reporting that somebody else has done and everyone else has "aggregated" already. (If this is your job, you are a loser and a parasite.) For this piece, I got on the phone and interviewed people. It. Really. Wasn't. That. Hard.

Go for the obvious

The reason that damn nail salon piece was so popular was that the story was right in everyone's faces. Or at least the face of every journalist in New York City. With the porn story, every time the porn industry shuts down because a performer tests HIV+, the same dipshit outlets post the same stories about it. In this case, I thought the story behind the story was more interesting. These actors and actresses, crew members and directors, performers and editors weren't sitting around beating their meat or painting their nails during their industry's moratorium. They were out there hustling, supporting themselves and their families, worrying and praying. That's what made them human. And that's what made people who fuck for a living relatable to everybody.

Hey! Support your favorite writer, me, and buy my new short story, THE TUMOR. It's been described as "one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."

What Doesn't Kill You

I've had some problems with depression lately, so I thought I would write a post reminding myself of the positive things that have happened thus far this year.

I guestblogged for Like I said before, this was an awesome time. Why doesn't the New York Times ask me to guest blog for them? This is one of life's many mysteries. It would be great if a high profile blog picked me up. I'm a great blogger. My friend says when you want something, the universe's answer is either: Yes, Yes But Not Right Now, Or No I Have Something Better In Mind. Or whatever. You get the idea. Universe, I await your call.

I published THE TUMOR. Fuck, this guy is like my baby! I love him so much: his cover, his pages, his content. His tone is so marvelously morally bankrupt. I read something earlier today about someone who kept being a nasty resistant asshole until the end of his days, but I can't remember who it is anymore. Excitingly, my next to be self-published short story is underway. It involves a robot. It is already a masterpiece of the genre. Trust me on this.

I auditioned for and got in an improv group that actually performs in a real theater and everything. I heard there were going to be auditions for this improv group downtown, and I went just to challenge myself. I'd only done one three-day intensive improv class at The Second City in Chicago. Experienced, I am not. A few days later I got a call from one of the people who runs it. She left a message, asking me to call her back. I was like, damn, can't she just leave a message telling me they don't want me? Now I have to call her back and get rejected live? Instead, she said I was in. What the hell! There have been a lot of rehearsals, and god knows I need them. Sometimes, I get confused by all the rules, and I spend way too much time thinking how I have to do everything right or I'm a failure, and I forget to have fun and play and whatever. Last Friday, I had to sing for the first time, and while I am a terrible singer, for some reason, it was a great time. I also rapped. Go figure.

I ate at Next. This was a living the dream moment. Such a peculiar, special thing. I want to do more things like this. I want to eat at Alinea one day. I think this is very much a thing that is art that happens to use food. I have a kind of emotional reaction to it. Probably because eating is so primal. My defenses fall away when I stuff duck in my mouth, I guess.

I got a short story published in PANK Magazine. This was a piece of fiction that I submitted a long time ago that got accepted a while ago, but the print copy arrived in the mail last week. It had a $20 bill stuck in it. (That's why self-publishing your fiction is the way to go, IMO. In contrast, I've made almost $600 off THE TUMOR thus far. I'm pretty sure 600 is more than 20.) For the last several years, as is the case with most of us, I'm used to seeing my work online. It was cool to see my words in print. BRESLIN was printed at the top of my story pages. Ink is real.

I got accepted to THREAD at Yale. The only reason I applied to this journalism program at Yale was because I saw a listing for it on Romenesko. I wasn't sure they would accept me, but I thought there was a decent chance they would. I was thrilled when they did. No, it certainly isn't the same as going to Yale, but who fucking cares! I am super excited about going to this. Journalism, journalism, journalism. I hope to meet some cool writers, and tromp around acting like a journalist, and meet some super cool mentors at the top of their game. Yay for Yale.

Getting over that whole thing, maybe. One thing I noticed that I wasn't expecting was that writing, packaging, and publishing THE TUMOR caused something in me to shift. I think maybe it helped me release some of my anxiety surrounding having breast cancer several years ago. Mostly, I avoid reading stories about cancer because they just make me anxious, But after I published THE TUMOR, I started reading more stories about cancer. News articles, essays, what have you. Recently, I went to Aruba, and I picked up a copy of Esquire for the plane, and I read "The Friend" by Matt Teague. It's pretty much one of the most terrifying things you will ever read. In cancer stories, it's always like oooh the battle and then fast forward over the dying part and then dead the end. Teague pulls back the curtain on the dying part, and my god it is just ... I still haven't gotten over reading it. It haunts me. But it makes me want to be a better writer, too: pull back more curtains, be less afraid, show the world what others haven't seen so they can't unsee it. I noticed that when I wrote "Blood Sacrifice" a few weeks ago that it was a story more about recovery than about illness. So congratulations to myself.

Oh, and I got on Instagram. Or, more importantly, I started posting boob selfies on Instagram. Recently, I had a friend diagnosed with breast cancer, and she sent me a photo of her boobs, and I sent her a photo of my boobs. Tit pics are the new dick pics. You can see in that Instagram beach boob selfie that the one on your right is a bit smaller. That's the one that had the cancer. I had a lumpectomy. The tumor was on the inner curve of the boob. The lady surgeon cut around the areola and opened it like a door and pulled the tumor out through the opening. I hope they waterboarded my tumor after they removed it, I told my friend. I suppose that's not nice. It was just doing what malignant things do. Eating people. Go eat someone else, Mr. Tumor. I got boob selfies to take, you shitty prick.

In any case, I don't know why I'm depressed. Genetic programming, maybe. I shouldn't be.

Thanks for reading.

Buy THE TUMOR: "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."

My Bloody Sacrifice

I've got a new personal essay up, this one on The Billfold: "Blood Sacrifice."

I fantasized that if I went, on the night that I was there, by some strange coincidence, Achatz would be there. Achatz, I knew, had had cancer, too, and, in my daydream, Achatz would come by the table, and I would motion to him, and he would bend down low, and I would tell him, in a murmuring voice, that I had had cancer, and I knew that he had had cancer, too. He would smile knowingly at me, and I would smile knowingly at him, and then he would disappear into the kitchen, and he would emerge with a plate of something that looked like a tumor splattered across porcelain, and I would eat it, and whatever it was made of (rhubarb? venison? something else entirely?), it would be delicious, and I would have eaten the tumor that had tried to eat me, metaphorically, of course, and the cycle of life would close upon itself, completing itself, like Ouroboros with his tail in his mouth rolling down a street like a wheel.

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I'm on Instagram

I got an iPhone 6 Plus, which I love, and I'm on Instagram. Follow me here. I love taking photographs, but my big Canon was a PITA to drag around and was getting old. I had trouble with my old iPhone, though, because my hands tend to shake, and my photos were often blurry. I wasn't sure whether to get the iPhone 6 or the Plus, but I went for the latter and am so glad that I did. Taking photos on it is fantastic. The images are great, and the weight makes it easier for me to take a sharp picture. Since my old Canon was dying anyway, my hope is to have my iPhone 6 Plus be my main camera. We'll see how it goes. For some reason, it took me forever to get on Instagram. Probably mostly because of the problem I had with taking iPhone pics, and I never really got the point. Now I get it. I also love, like everybody else, that Instagram is like Photoshop for your life. It makes everything look better. Thanks, Instagram!

Buy THE TUMOR: "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."

Rejection, Reconsidered

I get rejected, a lot. These days, actually, you're more likely to get ignored than rejected. Silence is the new no thanks, the muted good luck placing your work elsewhere, the digital version of please keep us in mind in the future. In any case, this week I received a rejection that was, well, different. To wit (in part, it read): "[Redacted] raised worries about the variety of emotional reactions (and toxic feedback) that it might generate from readers." So, the internet lynch mob is working, I guess. Apparently, editors are shuddering from the chilling effects of invisible morons clambering around social media to create a shit storm about whatever something or other that's offended them lately. Too bad. Life is more exciting when you offend a little, when you knock someone hard enough in the jaw that their head turns and they're forced to see things spinning newly.

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Write Like This

You want to write like a real journalist? Write like this. That's what I'm thinking. I loved reading this. It's like watching a writer swing from sentence to sentence, hanging by his word choices.

We made our way downslope, to an abandoned mine. The tunnel entrance was twenty feet wide, maybe ten feet high. Ilasaca produced two hard hats and a miner’s lamp from a backpack, and we headed in. “I used to work in here,” he said. “There’s enough oxygen, from old shafts that go to the surface.” He gestured toward the depths of the mountain. As the tunnel narrowed, the air got musty and the darkness, within fifty yards of the entrance, was absolute. Ilasaca was careful to light my way. He showed me mineralized veins in the walls, glittering between rough slabs of black Ordovician slate. When the quijo angled upward, he said, so would the tunnel, and it did. This had all been dug with hand tools and dynamite, he said. “Maybe two metres a day.” Back then, the lamps had been carbide, he said, burning acetylene gas. These nice bright electric headlamps we had, with battery packs that attached to your belt, were relatively new. He stopped to listen to my breathing, which was getting ragged. The tunnel ceiling had been dropping, obliging me to crouch. My thighs were burning from the effort. I was O.K., I said, just altitude weary. More coca, Ilasaca said. I had bought coca leaves that morning, from an old woman on the street in La Rinconada. Everybody here chewed them, I was told, to stave off exhaustion and hunger. I stuffed a wad in my cheek. The leaves were stiff and bitter. Ilasaca also took a wad. The quartz vein in the tunnel wall turned downward, the tunnel followed it, and at a certain depth we found our progress halted by an icy-looking pond. Ilasaca studied the vein, tapping it with his fingertips. I wondered what he saw in its fissures and glints.

Buy THE TUMOR: "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."