Words To Live By

For those who know me better than others, you are aware that death has haunted me for quite some time now.

I wrote about it in my book Dickinstein which came out in October 2013.

We lost my grandmother on Christmas Day 2014.

Three months later my step-father passed away.

2016 was the worst when we lost numerous heroes from George Michael on Christmas Day; Carrie Fisher, Richard Adams, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and John Glenn all in December. Janet Reno, Florence Henderson, Fidel Castro and Leon Russell in November. Gene Wilder in August. Muhammad Ali and Anton Yelchin in June. Alan Young (and Harambe the Gorilla) in May. Prince in April. Gary Shandling and Patty Duke in March. Harper Lee in February. David Bowie and Alan Rickman in January.

My heart also broke when we lost one of our beloved dogs in November last year.

Two of my long time pen pals also passed last year.

And then I lost my Dad on December 4th.

We lost another dog last month. And now John’s grandfather is close to the end.

I wanted to write this year, possibly another book, but haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. It’s hard to focus. Even this year on my blog I’ve barely managed to keep it alive by posting a quick log of each day, mostly mundane tasks I accomplish each day from what I had to eat to what I watched on TV. I’m getting bored with that so I know any readers I have are probably bored too.

I’ve been keeping this blog for a little over 10 years I think. I admit it’s always lacked focus. I’ve spent lots of time talking about writing, or reviewing books. I spent a year posting a pic a day. I tried writing a serial novel where I shared a chapter a week. I occasionally posted humorous antidotes or whatever was on my mind. Most of the stuff that really means anything to me has been kept private. I’ve even tried starting other blogs to focus on things but none of those ever worked out either.

But I’m going to try again.

I’m going to start work on some “op-ed” pieces just to get into the habit of at least writing something. They will be short stories, mostly nonfictional about my life and such.

I’m going to post them on a blog I started two years ago and never got far with: The Capote Review. So, if you are interested in reading them, check out that blog and add it to your reading list. I hope to at least post one a week. I’ve already posted my first blog post there today. There are 9 other blog posts still there from 2014 and 2015 if you want to read those too.

As for this blog, I’ve debated on making it entirely private by the end of this year and calling it quits. For now, I’ll continue with my Lone Writer’s Log Book posts for the entire year so I can at least feel like I have accomplished something.

 

 

Another year older…

Well, here we are again.

Except this time I’m not going to bore you with whatever goals or resolutions I’ve set for myself and plan to boringly blog about as the year progresses, knowing that I’ll abandon it all six months in.

I’m not making any goals or resolutions for the new year, at least not any that will change my waist size or creativity or bank account. If you’ve followed my blog for a while now you know I always fail.

gizmo

Just follow these simple rules…

I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing but try to keep a positive attitude while doing it. Sounds simple, right?  Eh, I’m sure something will fuck it up for me this year when the gremlins start creeping in. Let’s just wait and see. I’m already off to a great start, aren’t I?!

One thing I am going to do (at least for a while anyway) is go back to keeping my “log book” of what I do on a daily basis.  I kind of consider it micro-blogging or micro-journaling. Just a quick and simple list, of maybe at least 5 things, that I do each day. I blogged a little bit last year about making lists and such.

I also worked on saving money throughout the year and though I quit blogging about it in the last few months of 2016, I did keep doing it. Can’t say I accomplished much on paying down my debt because of certain circumstances that arose. That’s something I know I’m going to continue to work at. It’s a responsibility. There’s always bills to pay. So no need to make it a resolution this year.

I’d like to say I’ll write a new book this year but I’m not even going to hold myself to that. Heck, my reading goal for the year on Goodreads is just 1 book! See, already I don’t want to set myself up for failure.

So, there ya have it!  No real resolutions this year! Who needs that stress, that affirmation of goals that you’ll forget about or abandon in a few months?  Not me!

 

 

Two Shows a Week

Last week I was fortunate enough to do two new open mics in one week for the first time.  And I’m doing two mics this week as well.

Last Tuesday was my first time getting to do open mic at the Helium Comedy Club in Brentwood. It was their first open mic after a hiatus due to a six week long contest so the crowd was small. Helium is nice because they serve food and it’s a very large and upscale place, but they don’t seat people down front and their sound system is a bit muffled since the showroom is so large.

I was having trouble sleeping that week so I had a raging headache that night so I didn’t feel good about my set and left shortly after I was done. It was still a good experience getting to go up on a new stage though.

On Thursday that week I also debuted at the open mic at Hey Guys Comedy Club in Fairview Heights, Illinois. That’s a great venue for that town and only about fifteen minutes from downtown St. Louis. There were ten really strong comics that night so it was a great show.

I also tried out new material, and we each got to do seven minutes instead of the typical four minutes at open mics. The only drawback was the thunderstorms and hail in the area obviously kept people away that night. Besides the comics, we only had three people in the audience.

This week I did Funny Bone’s open mic on Tuesday. I was the next to the last comic to go up, and though we had a nice sized crowd of about thirty people they were a very cold audience. A few comics were bombing so bad that they didn’t even do their full four minutes.  Even the headliners that get squeezed in and do a set throughout the show were bombing. It was a rough night for everyone.

I tried out some brand new jokes that night which did okay.  And I recorded audio of my set to listen to. Playing it back, I was actually surprised at the laughs that I did get so I think I did better than some that night. It just goes to show you never know how the audience is going to be! That’s one thing that makes stand up comedy so appealing to me.

Tonight I’m headed back to Illinois for my very first contest qualifier.  It’s at Hey Guys Comedy Club. Each month they do a contest qualifier. Twenty comics go up and the audience picks the top three or four.  Those who win become semi-finalists in next year’s contest which is held in early spring.

I’ll probably get to do 6 to 7 minutes I’m guessing. I don’t know the details yet.  Even if I don’t make it into the contest, it’s still good experience for me. Most of the clubs hold their contests in the summer.  Helium wrapped up their contest a few weeks ago and Funny Bone is also in the middle of a contest that wraps up next month.  I’ll probably definitely get in on those next year.

 

Punchline

I watched Punchline this week, a 1988 film starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field. Many years ago I picked up the VHS tape of it in a bargain bin at K-Mart. I fell in love with the movie and it had a huge influence on my decision to eventually try stand-up comedy myself many years later after moving to Memphis.  Since I recently started doing open mics again just a few months ago, I wanted to watch it again. I have no idea what happened to my VHS tape but thanks to Amazon Video I was able to see it.

Surprisingly, this movie still holds up.  Other than how young Tom Hanks looks, the movie doesn’t necessarily have an old 80’s vibe to it. The jokes told in the film aren’t very dated other than one comedian who carries a large boom box on stage. I know the movie inside and out, but I wasn’t bored by it. You get that feeling sometimes when you watch an old movie again and you suddenly realize that you’ve outgrown it or it just doesn’t feel as good as it did back in the day. It wasn’t dated then, but maybe it is now. Not Punchline. Punchline is still funny.punchline

This movie is two hours long unlike most lackluster comedies today that barely clock an hour and a half and sometimes you think that’s too long. Honestly, Punchline feels like one of those movies because it goes by so fast but that’s because it really is funny and relies on true stand up and comedic situations rather that sight gags or lewd humor.  And the plot line doesn’t get dragged down by ad libbed humor or unnecessary characters. It’s actually quite simple.

Sally Field plays Lilah, a housewife who is trying to make it as a stand-up comic. Tom Hanks plays Steven, a med school dropout who is a pretty regular on the comedy scene. When the two cross paths at a club called The Gas Station, Lilah asks Steven for some tips and feedback.

Steven is hesitant because he’s got his own problems, and Lilah has to juggle her housewife roll.  But she finally commits and so does Steven. What follows is Lilah’s epiphany as she becomes more comfortable on stage and comes alive. There’s a scene where he takes her to a club and won’t let her use her regular jokes and that A-ha! moment is a great scene to watch.

There’s a minor plotline where Steven falls for Lilah, and she almost gives up comedy to make her husband happy. By the way, her husband is played by John Goodman. It’s a small role before he stepped into the role of Dan on the hit show Roseanne, but still a very noteworthy role for him!  You’ll hate Steven through most of the movie, maybe even in the very end, but the story lines are wrapped up beautifully.

I doubt this movie would even be made today. It would be considered too long and probably not obscene enough. It’s interesting to see how Hollywood has changed our tastes in humor through the years and Punchline is a perfect example of what “was” funny in the 80’s.

Also, I think this movie would have to turn into a love story to even try to appeal to an older audience because a younger crowd would have no interest in middle-aged stand-up comedy.  That’s why I think this movie is a classic just the way it is! If you enjoy good clean humor, Tom Hanks and Sally Field deliver in Punchline!

 

 

What’s so funny?

This last Tuesday made my 6th STL open mic performance (my 5th one at Funny Bone).  It was the largest crowd so far, but definitely not the best.  The audience was pretty luke warm and the drinking didn’t help as the evening progressed. But, sometimes that happens.  I think most people were having a good time. They just weren’t laughing very loud. There was one woman right down front who looked bored out of her mind.  One comic even called the crowd out and joked about how bad they were!

Most comics that night had a good set, but some didn’t get any laughs at all, or barely any laughs. That’s not good, but that night you really had to blame the audience because the majority of comics were really good. I felt the same way about my set. I recorded audio with my phone and listened to it the next morning and realized I got more laughs that I thought when I was up there. Recording your set definitely helps.

I also had my set video recorded that night.  There’s a nice guy, also a comic, there most nights who will tape you for just $10 and make a DVD for you.  I’ve definitely done better as far as getting laughs goes but that’s a chance you take.  I’ve watched the video a few times now and feel pretty solid about it.  It’s definitely a set I’d do again just as it is.

What do you think?

Another perk about taping (audio and video) is it helps you develop your timing and delivery, while also working on which jokes work and which ones don’t. My “Samantha” joke got lots of laughs two weeks ago when I did it in front of a crowd that was half the size, but on the tape it barely gets any laughs. Another advantage to video is just seeing how you look on stage and how you can improve your stage presence.  I immediately noticed I play with the mic cord too much, something you might not have noticed until now when I pointed it out to you.  But I noticed right away!

I’m also a bit animated on stage and talk with my hands a lot, but that’s just who I am and I’m probably not going to try to change that. I’ll definitely have my set recorded again later on. It’s $10 well spent.  I hope you enjoyed it!

Sunglasses and mic stands

Last night was my 4th time getting to go up at Funny Bone. Only 20 people signed up so they let all 20 of us go up as long as we stuck to our time (4 minutes) and kept a tight show.

Though the show went smoothly overall and wrapped up by about 9:15pm, there was one newcomer who ran way over! He probably ended up doing close to 5 minutes, and none of it was funny. Poor guy. He had not indicated that he was completely new to open mic, but I can’t imagine he’d done it much before, if at all.

He wore sunglasses on stage and didn’t move the mic stand out of the way. Like I said, none of his set was funny either.  I almost felt sorry for him. It was more comical to see the guys in the back waving the light like crazy trying to let him know his time was over. The emcee finally rushed up on stage and took the mic from him. The guy left the club right after.

Other highlights were an 18 year old who also wasn’t new to the scene but this was my first time seeing him. He did okay though his jokes were a bit morbid, and he plugged his YouTube channel at the end which usually gets frowned upon. There were two teachers who went up, both doing teacher jokes which were absolutely hysterical. I was impressed by both. And one female comic who also did very well in my opinion.

It was kind of a stiff crowd, but there were two women down front who were clearly having a good time. They had loud cackling laughter which was a bit contagious and all the comics played to them. They got up to go to the restroom right before one comic and he even commented that his set was going to go bad now because they had left.

I was last on the list so I got to play headliner you could say! I did all new jokes except for my opener. Most of my set was about Taylor Swift and it did okay.  I’ll probably do it again at some point but next I really want to put together a strong set using some jokes from my last few mics that went over really well. I squeezed in an ad lib last night from the previous week that did really well and it got some laughs again, so it’s definitely worth repeating.

The semi finals of the competition at the Helium Comedy Club started last night so it will be wrapping up soon and open mic will return there. I’m still hoping to get time on that stage at some point, hopefully in July!

I don’t have any jokes about bikers…

This past Tuesday I was lucky enough to make the set list again at open mic at Funny Bone. This was my 4th mic since returning to the scene back in May. I was the 10th comic on the list but got bumped three times as they squeezed in headliners. Basically, sometimes more experienced comics who have hosted, opened, or been a headliner before show up and they squeeze them into the show. None of the open mics get bumped off the list, but I ended up being 13th instead. It can make for a long night, but you get to see a good show by watching other comics and the audience gets warmed up too.  At least I didn’t have to go first or last!

I had written a set which was all new stuff for this night except for my key opening joke which I use every time. After the sign-up and meeting, I overheard someone say there was a biker convention at the plaza this week. And guess who was in the audience? Yep. Mostly bikers. This was a bit scary at first and for a second I considered changing my entire set, but I decided against it because I’ve done that before and it doesn’t end up being as strong because I either forget stuff or don’t have my timing down. So, I stuck to the plan.

The audience was definitely having a good time, and the bikers were awesome! They laughed so much that my opening stuff ran a bit long because of their laughter. That’s always a good thing. But soon I was getting my first light which means I only had a minute left. You only get four minutes. So I had to cut out a few things from my last bit so that I didn’t go over. It was still funny, but definitely not as strong as I was hoping. That’s okay though.  I’ll probably try it out at least once more to see if I get a different reaction, and so I can at least do the entire bit the way I intended.  If it bombs or doesn’t do well again, then I know it’s time to move on.

That’s what’s interesting about this dynamic. I really expected my second bit to be funnier than the first. Instead, the tables were turned.  But ya never know, it could be completely different with another crowd.  I’ll definitely try out the entire set again either way just to see what happens.

That’s part of the appeal of doing stand-up, particularly open mic night. You can try out new stuff and you get instant feedback, and instant gratification. Being a published author too, it’s like getting a good review or having someone tell you they enjoyed your book. Compliments let you know you accomplished what you had hoped. In comedy, Laughter is golden.

I’d love to be able to do more open mics each week. There’s a strong scene here. You can just about hit one every night here in St. Louis. But the majority of them are in bars and don’t start until 10pm or later. I’m past my prime on staying up that late on a “school night.” Tuesday night is the earliest, but at Funny Bone there’s certainly no guarantee you’ll make the list each week. I’ll be hitting Funny Bone again next week but when Helium Comedy Club starts doing their open mics again next month, I’ll try signing up there too. Unfortunately it’s on the same night and around the same time so I can’t do both, but at least I will have two chances.

Impartial Musings of the Uninspired: Lions and Lambs

lion-and-lamb-sm-webWhat’s that old saying about March?  I believe it! It’s the main reason you haven’t heard from me here on my blog in a while.

On February 22nd, I drove to Kansas City for my first trade show for work.  I’d been preparing for this show since last November, but of course, the last few weeks leading up to it were still crazy busy at work.

It snowed here in St. Louis the day before, and Kansas City got twice as much. The roads were clear getting there, but still, seeing all that snow didn’t help headed into this business trip. And then there was concern on whether or not people would show up to the trade show.

After a 12 hour set-up day on Saturday, I was so tired I went to bed without dinner. The show lasted three days, and despite the weather, people came. And then some vendors started pulling out early on Monday because…you guessed it…it snowed again Monday night!

By Tuesday afternoon when the show closed, I was exhausted.  I was tired of standing on my feet all day for four days. I was tired of snow. I was tired of hotel food. I was tired of not being able to sleep because I was too tired. And we still had to pack up! I slept well that night, but probably because my body knew it was over and I’d get to go home in the morning. It was snowing the entire drive back, but I finally made it home at about 1:30pm Wednesday afternoon to the ground still covered with snow and it snowed off and on for the next two days in St. Louis!

Spending five days in a hotel was exhausting, not to mention the show itself.  It was the first time I had ever actually unpacked my entire suitcase. Despite being the Marriott, I was shocked at the quality of breakfast food. The hotel restaurant, lounge, and room service all served the same thing – equivalent to a Denny’s all you can eat menu.  Convention Center food at the show wasn’t much better – $3 bottled water!

But the show was a success nonetheless. I took a nice nap when I got home and slept like a baby that night. Back to work on Thursday to start processing trade show orders. My feet still hurt, and I think it took two days before they started feeling normal again. But it was a short week at work and the weekend was finally here!  I didn’t even leave the house or get dressed on Sunday, and boy did I need that!

Being “in the zone” not only takes a toll on your mind and body, but I felt like I was under a dome and separated from the outside world (Yes, that was an SK reference!).  It took some time to get acclimated to going back to my old schedule. I picked up my Kindle and started reading again – it was hard to relax and focus in KC on anything but work. On Sunday, I picked up my own book and started editing again – more about that later.

And just when I think life is back to normal, guess what?  I get to do it again in a few weeks.  I fly to Orlando for 4 days in two weeks for the next show!  This one is much, much smaller though and won’t be quite as intense.  But most of all?  No snow!  It’s in Orlando.  I’m staying at the Peabody. The show is only two days. It’s a fourth of the size of the last one. Warm weather. And again…no snow!

I just pray that when I return the grass will be green and flowers will be blooming. I hate winter. I hate traveling during winter. I’m definitely getting spring fever too.  Maybe this “spring break” trip to Orlando, even though it is for work, will really get things started. After all, daylight savings time is this weekend. It’s supposed to be 60 degrees on Friday. The snow has already been melting away. Oh, and I don’t want to have to be wearing a winter jacket when I get on that plane to leave St. Louis!

 

Impartial Musings of the Uninspired

Last night I attended a small creative writing group meeting  at All On The Same Bookstore.  There have only been two meetings so far with just a number of attendees. Last night there was me, the bookstore owner, and one other writer who was new to the group. She’d finished a memoir about loss and the death of her parents and was very excited about hunting for an agent and tweaking her query letter. She’d already received several rejection letters, but was very positive about the feedback we offered.

This writer mentioned she’d searched the market for books about dealing with grief when she lost her parents, and just couldn’t find anything that satisfied her need. So, like many writers, she began to write the book she wanted to read. Those were the exact words from the bookstore owner: writers often write the book they would want to read, or the book they need.

That got me to thinking about who I write for, and if my three books reflect some element in life that I needed at that specific time that I was writing them. The answer to that concerning each of my books individually is: yes, no, yes. And even that middle no could be a yes; I just haven’t figured out what I needed from it yet. Maybe I’ll change that by the time I finished writing this blog post?

I wrote my first book, The Other Side of What,  in 2001 shortly after moving to St. Louis for a new job.  I was definitely the new kid in town since I knew no one outside of my coworkers, and being a bit of an introvert, writing a book gave me something to do at home when I wasn’t working. I pounded out most of it on a brand new Dell lap top that I had bought when I moved here.

Oddly enough, the book is about a young man moving away from home and to a big city where he discovers who he really is.  In a way, it’s my story, the one that had taken place in 1995 when I myself left home and moved to Memphis. And by moving to St. Louis, I was sort of doing that all over again.  While my book is certainly not a memoir and the storyline is completely fiction, there are elements of both of these transitions in my life rooted in this story. Though I don’t really know, it’s possible I wrote this book because I needed a memory.

My 2nd book, Stealing Wishes, is the “no” I mentioned.  I’ve told readers before this was not the book I sat down to write back in 2007, but it was obviously a story that was easy to tell because I wrote the first draft in just 3 months. I had begun to “obsess” about turning 32 soon.  The original title of the book was even “32 and Counting.”  And the voice of Blaine, an obsessive compulsive coffee barista about to turn 32 himself, turned on inside my head and would not shut up. I had very little to go on and knew nothing about him, but we got to know each other quite well.

So, I sat down and started telling his story. The book has a lot of comedic elements that I enjoyed writing, and shares a lot of my personal outlooks on the world. So, maybe me writing it was just a way to share my own outlook on life while I was in my early 30s.  I’m not sure if I’d consider it a book I “needed” at the time, but maybe in some way it was and I just don’t know it.

My 3rd book, Are You Sitting Down?, is a definite YES as far as being a book I needed at the time.  It deals with family secrets and the expulsion of demons from the past. While the book pushes its characters’ emotional limits, my own personal dramas at the time were certainly not as extreme. But did I succeed at expelling them just the same?  I believe so.  Both in a fictional and nonfictional sense.

As for what I’m writing now, you know there are 2 projects on the table. One is a story that’s been harboring inside me for a long time and I think this is the year I will finally give birth to it.  As for it being a book I need, I don’t really know yet.  But I do know it is a story I need to tell because I’ve been carrying it for almost ten years.

The other is my sequel to my 2nd book and comes from a spark lit by a few readers and reviewers who liked Auden over Blaine, the lead character, after reading it.  I had never thought of writing a sequel to tell Auden’s story, but after reading their thoughts I decided to give it a try.  And much like Stealing Wishes, though it is not a book I set out to write, it is pouring out of me at a rapid pace.  Perhaps I have a need for it as well and I just haven’t discovered what it is.