Thursday, May 17, 2018

Not So Epic Fails

I’ve had cause over the last two or three months to reflect on my artistic failures over the years. I’ve thought about it a lot and I sincerely believe it’s been God’s way of reminding me how far I’ve come in the last couple of years on my novels, and that if I work hard and don’t give up, I might very well succeed. I don’t think I’ve really worked terribly hard at anything previously, even things I’ve really wanted, but I’ve worked hard on these books and I will continue to do so.

So here, dear Diary, are the three, perhaps four, instances that caused such reflection on my part:

Failed Humorist
I watched an incredibly funny film on Netflix called A Futile and Stupid Gesture, all about Doug Kenney, who co-founded National Lampoon. It reminded me of how that was everything I wanted to be at one time in my life. I never wanted to be a stand-up. I knew I couldn’t stand in front of people and tell jokes. But what I wanted to be, for as long as I can remember, was a humorist, and I now consider myself something of a failed humorist.

Oh, I had some stuff published on a lot of web sites, and even got paid for some of it, even got myself in a literary journal alongside the likes of Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt. Still, it never went anywhere. I, at one time, wanted to be like the guys from National Lampoon. Not that I ever read that magazine, but I was into almost nothing but humor and comedy from the age of 10 up – to the point of idolizing S.J. Perelman, who wrote for the Marx Brothers and died when I was five years old, and reading endless books about writing humor and writing for television. There was one by Sol Saks, who created Bewitched, that I particularly enjoyed.
Kenney also co-wrote the screenplays for Animal House and Caddyshack, which reminded me of when I wrote a screenplay called "The Old College Try" and, not too long after I completed the first draft, two films came out with a similar plot and I abandoned the project altogether. Of course, these films - Dead Man on Campus and Dead Man's Curve - are entirely forgettable

Along with my failed artistic endeavors, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my social anxiety (medically diagnosed) and Asperger’s (self-diagnosed) have affected my life. The two certainly go hand-in-hand, as I was thinking about when I was in college and was a copy editor at my school newspaper. Every spring they did a parody issue and I spent spring break writing two articles to submit for it (As well as writing a script for a sketch show for the public access station at which I was interning. That show never happened). Then, when the time came, I chickened out. I couldn’t submit them. One of the editors, who I was somewhat friendly with, even asked me if I had anything, and I still couldn’t say I did. All that work trying to write funny stuff and nothing came of it.



Failed Musician

My wife loves The Voice. So I’m sometimes forced to watch it. When I watch the stories of some of the participants it makes me think of how, if I had applied myself, I could have done something with my music. I was just too social phobic and stage frighty. I realized the other day that I should have applied to and auditioned at Berkeley College of Music when I had the chance. I could have prepared for it, but when I was told I’d have to audition, that was it. I got scared.  Berkeley was right out.
I wrote so many songs back in the day that nobody but my wife, my friend Rick and my uncle ever heard. I may not have ever been great, or even good, but I should have tried harder.

A major obstacle in my singer/songwriter career was this thing that used to happen to my left arm. It would occasionally spasm and this happened a lot while I was playing guitar, sometimes in front of people. I remember at an acoustic open mic night in college it happening twice, once when I was playing REM’s “Man on the Moon,” and then again as I played one of my own songs. Each time I had to stop playing and go sit down, and each time one of the other guitar players said something nice to me to deflect from my embarrassment. One said, "Did you see the Andy Kaufman special the other night?" The other told me my song had a little Simon and Garfunkel to it.

The funny thing is that when I finally started seeing a shrink about my anxiety the arm spasms went away, never to be heard from again. I looked it up the other day and, sure enough, those kinds of spasms are connected with anxiety.

Oh, I still have lots of anxiety, but not nearly as much as I had in my teens and early twenties.

Not So Much a Failure

This one’s a little stupid because, unlike being a humorist and musician, I never wanted to be this. But I’ve realized late in my life now that I love this kind of thing.

Walking through the drama department at a high school recently during my son’s Odyssey of the Mind performances, it occurred to me that I should’ve taken drama/theater classes. Stupid, I know, considering I could never tell jokes in front of anyone and couldn’t play the guitar without my arm practically ripping itself from my body. But it was seeing that the school had done a James Thurber play, in particular, that sparked this. I love Thurber, and I’ll bet something like being in plays could’ve changed the person I was in high school and college. Or maybe being in a band sooner than I was, or in college at all, and actually playing my own songs.

And I shouldn’t say I never wanted to be in theater. I did want to be a playwright at one time. I tried to turn "The Old College Try" into a play after my dreams of selling it as a screenplay disappeared, and in college I read Arsenic & Old Lace dozens of times. It was my favorite thing ever. To this day if I see anyone, even a junior high school, staging Arsenic & Old Lace, I want to see it, and the film version starring Cary Grant is one of my all-time favorites.

Failed Dream

I suppose the fourth thing would be my short story collection Puppet Shows. All I ever wanted was to publish a collection of my stories. I wanted it for nearly ten years.  I emulated short story writers like George Saunders, Ryan Boudinot and Arthur Bradford, wanting to get my writing into the journals that they were in.  I succeeded in just one, getting into Monkeybicycle, which Boudinot had been in. And even though I was never published in any literary journal that anyone had ever heard of, I had confidence that my stories were good and funny and would be great in a collection.

After some two years of rejections I finally got a publisher who wanted Puppet Shows. I guess it wasn’t until after that that I realized (and I should have realized it a few years before) that the vast majority of the publishing world, be it book publishing or magazine publishing, does not share my sense of humor. When I searched for book bloggers to review Puppet Shows the first thing I noticed was that many of them wouldn’t even look at short story collections. It’s novels or hit the bricks. But there were many others who just read the paragraph-long description of my book and didn’t want to bother. I looked at my collection as Monty Python meets The Regular Show and most people couldn’t have cared less.

But I will tell you that of the 12 to 15, whatever it was, reviews I did get, all but two were glowing, and it made me happy, even if my publisher would dump me after two years due to lack of sales. Selling a collection of short stories as an unknown writer is tough. Not as tough as selling a poetry chapbook. That’s darn near impossible. I tried it twice. But a collection of short stories? If you’re not George Saunders or any of the many other famous short story writers whose names I’m forgetting, good luck to you.

Nonetheless, vis-a-vis, despite all this nonsense, I have positive feelings about the future. I have lots coming down the pike, wherever that pike may be. I have a trilogy of novels I want to publish and two children’s books. I thank God every day for my progress in writing the novels because I’ve surprised even myself.

In closing, I'm all about my novels now, and the children's books I'm writing, and I can forget about all else that's happened. I do, however, often return to that issue of Monkeybicycle I was in. I mean, all I wanted was to be published in there because Ryan Boudinot's work was in Issue 3, but I got in Issue 5, the Dirty Humor issue, which was guest edited by a guy who'd written for multiple very popular magazines (and, when I first submitted my short story "Dinner at Wither Port," he said it was hilarious, but we want dirty. So I put together three filthy short pieces and he loved them because, damn it, I'm a genius.)

Or not. Sorry.

As I said, freaking Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman had stuff in there, but also David Cross wrote the forward to that issue. And, AND! A couple of writers in that issue went on to become pretty huge: one wrote for SpongeBob SquarePants and Adventure Time, another won an Emmy for being a writer and producer on Bob's Burgers. The rest of the contributors list is like a Who's Who, for Pete's sake. If not for this darn social anxiety and Asperger's, that could have been me by now. And why not me? Didn't some baseball team use this as their mantra recently? Why not me? I mean, I know this blog wasn't funny. At all. But click somewhere and read something I wrote. DO IT!

Anyway, in the words of Kylo Ren, "Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That's the only way to become what you were meant to be." I'm only looking forward, and anytime I look back I'm going to shock myself with a taser. Tazer? Taser? I don't know, but I will shock the crap out of myself.

Because I'm special. I'm talented. I'm great. And, to quote another great man, Stuart Smalley, "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me."

I think that last part's true. I can name at least a half dozen people who like me. Sure, my kids would be two of them, but not all kids like their parents.

I mean, as I droned on about two blogs ago, Zouch Magazine called me "the witty American writer," and said I wasn't just a "comedian," but a "philosopher."

I'm freaking Voltaire. I'm Thomas Bloody Aquinas, dash it!

And I'm, once again, going on far too long. Of course, part of looking only to the future would be letting this dumb BlogSpot blog die. I did delete like a hundred entries recently. Oh, crap! The kitchen's on fire.

No comments:

Post a Comment