God Knows It’s Not Safe With Anybody Else

I want it to be over too, but it isn't. I want a lot of things. I want to get laid. I want to drink a Coca-Cola while sitting at the Old Room counter of Musso and Frank. I want to stop sweating when I sleep. I want to smoke in the cheap seats of the Hollywood Bowl until an usher tells me to stop. I want to — I can't believe I'm saying this — perform live comedy. But I can't. So I don't.

Like most comedians I know, I hate comedy. I’ve been doing it, to little fanfare, for over a decade. The closer you are to something, the more you come to resent it. While distance makes the heart grow fonder, familiarity breeds contempt. Before sitting in a dark, crowded room of strangers could actually kill you, I oftentimes prayed for death while leaning against the wall of the bar in which I hosted a weekly show, a task I perceived as thankless for which I was paid with drink tickets my recovering alcoholism rendered me unable to redeem. That was how I entered 2020. That was not how I exited it. Now, I would pay for the opportunity to look into the eyes of people who came out for a good time but instead found themselves sitting in front of a frantic woman who informed them that all pleasures came with a price. I would value it. I would cherish it. But I can’t. So I don’t. 

Side Note: Online comedy shows, while a perfectly acceptable way in which to yell directly into the void, are cold comfort for me, someone who requires the presence of warm bodies in my periphery to perform at the peak of my power. I wasn’t always like this. When I started doing standup, I was so nervous and unconfident I would often sit behind the curtain and read my jokes to an audience I couldn’t face. When I started doing standup, I was a broken person — bereft of friends, bereft of purpose, beaten by a guy I had convinced myself was in the right because I deserved it. I truly believed I had no worth. Performing standup, and receiving a modicum of validation from it, made me realize I had something to offer the world — that I wasn’t just a lonesome punching bag who would never connect with my fellow man. The more people who appreciated what I had to say, the more people who appreciated me, the more I realized existence wasn’t a meaningless trial. Live comedy, quite literally, saved my life. Emphasis on live.

In the world in which you and I currently inhabit, live comedy is presently a memory. In person performance is a risk not worth taking; threat of catching and spreading a communicable virus (well, other than HPV) isn’t part of the comedian job description. You can, of course, die in the pursuit of it, as you can die in the pursuit of any hubris-propelled endeavor. I’ve seen a comic get electrocuted on stage. (We were performing on a backyard show in the rain in front of a chain link fence; amplified mic in hand, he touched the fence and immediately collapsed.) I have felt the cold hand of the reaper on my back as I sped through a visibility-decimating blizzard struggling to make it on time to a show in Denver wherein I would be performing in front of a mural of two deer fucking. This is a choice I willing made because I desired connection. Had I died, no one else would have suffered. But had I died, I wouldn’t have been paid. Out of town gigs pay.

If you perform comedy in Los Angeles, you oftentimes are operating at both a psychic and financial loss. Payment is, nine times out of ten, zero; gas costs something. The comedians with which I cut my teeth would hustle for nothing, for each other, driving from unpaid set to unpaid set for little more than the attempt to please their peers. I remember once hearing a bitter elder derisively refer to my generation of LA-based comics as the “Get-Along Gang,” the implication being that our love and respect for one another rendered us ripe for ridicule. The amount of money I have received by doing comedy is minuscule, yes, but the friends I’ve made are, quite literally, priceless. I’ve always considered comedy a hobby, an unpaid way in which to feel as though I’ve done something other than watch television until I died. I need it, yes, but for non-financial reasons. Never for money. Always for love.

When citizens (read: non-clowners) learn that there is generally no payment in performing comedy in Los Angeles, a city in which free entertainment flows like water through a concrete river, most are aghast. Even the shittiest band gets to split $20 four ways at the end of the night. The only way to make any lucre in this game is to road dog; to ply your wares in a flyover market desperate for entertainment and willing to pay for your trickle. While the coastal cities are currently on lockdown, some comedians are still game to travel in order to exchange their views on dating for filthy lucre. I see photos of them speaking into the same mic someone else just sullied; I look at audience photos of people sitting dangerously close to one another. It makes my stomach turn. 

Comedy is rarely a job; really, it’s a pastime that can, depending on how the fates capriciously decree, become one. Now is not the time to monetize it. Even if you were able to make a modicum of a living from it before leaving your house could kill you, why tempt fate? Why not do, well, anything else in the interim?

I want nothing more than to hit my grandma raw with a hug — no gloves, no mask, her mauve lipstick smeared on my cheek. But I can’t. So I don’t. Why should a room full of people in Toledo potentially kill their own grandmothers because you were too narcissistic to develop any other marketable skills before the pandemic hit?

Not only is this year a wash, it’s made me value the decade plus that preceded it. It’s made me realize I do need comedy, but that I don’t need it now. Now, I need to exist. We all do. When we are free, we will feel joy. Until then, we are in stasis.

Comedy saved my life. To me, it’s never been a money making enterprise, it’s always been a way to feel less alone in a world that wants people like me dead. Something that can not only save your life, but make you so comfortable you forget it has done precisely that, is worth the wait. So why the fuck can’t we wait? Let it save a life, not take one.

The Why is How

The letters arrived with regularity, usually in my Facebook “other” folder, generally from people I had never met or, had I met, felt nothing for. “How’d you start writing for VICE?” they asked. “I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I have a really great idea for an article about [something of little import that has already been expounded upon one metric fuck ton of times]. Can you connect me to your editor?” 

How’d I start writing for VICE? I met a guy at a shitty open mic who eventually became an editor there and asked if I wanted to contribute. All the pornographic review websites I spent years freelancing for had shuttered, and I was tired of getting $30 a piece compiling listicles about “seriously epic celebrity photobombs” for children, so I said yes. I didn’t even particularly like writing for VICE, but it paid the bills when it eventually paid, usually three to six months after I invoiced. 

“I can hardly help myself,” I wanted to tell these people. “How could I possibly help you?” Instead, I told them the way to be a writer was to, y’know, write, the same way being a plumber requires, y’know, plumbing. This answer rarely satisfied them, as they weren’t asking me how to write in general, they were asking me how to write for a corporation that had commodified cool and therefore extended a certain amount of “gonzo” cache to their contributors. Fixating on victory before you’ve even put your pawn on the playing field, though, is like pimping out the cart before you’ve broken in the horse. Even if you somehow win (and it’s doubtful you will, because the only skill you have is self delusion), the conquest will be capricious. 

Because if you’re engaging in creativity for the wrong reasons, the resulting work will invariably reflect it. Ever notice how the musical output of people who clearly only got into rock n’ roll for free jeans or Spotify brand partnerships or to fuck biological children (or women who present as biological children) sucks infinitely harder than the output of those who picked up a guitar simply because it was the only outlet they had? It’s the same reason why content created by anyone who doesn’t need to produce it routinely sucks, be they born rich or view creation solely as a conduit to becoming rich. 

Side Note: Just because you’re born wealthy doesn’t mean your output will invariably be awful; the punk as fuck work of Jessica Mitford is proof of this. If you’ve never read her, I highly recommend it — my friend Katie recently turned me onto her oeuvre and I was aghast it hadn’t come onto my radar by then. She’s biting, she’s petty, she’s anti-capitalistic because she’s the self-aware byproduct of old money and thus has nothing to lose in telling the truth. Her book “The American Way of Death Revisited” is a gift. 

Side Note to the Side Note: While it makes complete sense that the progeny of inherited wealth would tell the truth, as they don’t have to engage in the terrified dance of peasants who have a great deal to monetarily lose in honesty, most do not. Most, actually, choose the opposite. This is because they have engaged in art for reasons independent of the creation thereof — in order to have autonomy over their family name, to prove they have independent worth, et al. They concoct crap, hire a PR firm to promote it, and reap dividends, transforming their old money into new. But, I ask them, do you not realize the entire reason you’re able to engage in unfettered creativity is because you can afford to fail? You can actually do good with money, you know (MacKenzie Bezos announcing that she gave away four billion dollars of her ex-husband’s fortune over four months via a Medium post is one of the greatest negs of all time — I bow down). 

Yes, you don’t have to be poor to produce, but I think of the work that has affected me most and by and large it is the lamentations of those who have less: Henry Miller, early David Sedaris, Dorothy Parker, more recently Myriam Gurba and Halle Butler. If your resources are limited, the more your words have worth; if you possess nothing, you’ve nothing to lose. I understand that I may be in the minority. But I am nevertheless a devoted demo. 

Your access to validated methods of composition dispersion, be they a book deal or a $0.02 per word contract with a corporation valued in the billions of dollars, is irrelevant. Ownership of a Moleskin does not make you a writer. If you need to create, you do so in spite of your limitations. A friend of mine, a musician, insists on figuring out how to make the shittiest presets on a shitty keyboard sound interesting because he can’t afford a Moog and likes a challenge. Lust for coveted gear is a constant in indie rock, propelling the sale of vintage synths to dudes who think sounding like DEVO will somehow make them DEVO. But DEVO scraped together the cash in the ‘70s to buy a Minimoog because, to them, it was the sound of devolution. They were mutants in fucking Ohio — cache was far from their minds, only necessity. Would you rather hear a venture capitalist shred on a $10,000 vintage Fender Stratocaster or an actual human being play in Drop D on a Squire? 

The question isn’t what you want to write, but why you want to write. What makes your opinion, your experience, worth someone taking time out of their miserable, soul-crushing day to read it and feel less alone? That is, to me, the point of writing — making someone feel less alone. 

That being said, telling your audience what you think they want to hear is a prison of your own making. You must only write what you feel has worth and birth it into a cruel and unforgiving world, the same world in which you were pushed out of your mom’s pussy (or, in my case, slashed from her abdomen). 

If what you want to say is the extent to which you disagree with something someone else has said or done, know that you have entered a feedback loop. Reaction based writing, while prevalent in today’s clickbait-propelled media climate, reads like a fucking book report. And if your entire oeuvre is reaction based, what does that say about you personally? Your whole identity is predicated on your rejoinder to someone else’s work; as such, you’re no better than a rock critic (a terrifying proposition).  

Which is not to say your work can’t act as a response to what you hate; just be obtuse about it. Obtuseness is timelessness, because history is cyclical. The same things that annoy people now will always annoy them, as everything anyone could possibly do has already been done before and original thought was last truly experienced by cave people. 

The cliché is to write what you know, but that doesn’t inherently mean you have to write about yourself. Fall down rabbit holes, submerge yourself in subcultures and — god forbid — TALK to the kind of humans you want to write about. So much of modern fiction is penned by people who clearly have no functional knowledge of the misfits they’re inhabiting, in much the same way television shows about comedians always appear to be written by people who have only read about comedy and not actually experienced it.

And, now that we’re on the subject of TV, let me say this: TV writing is, above all else, a product, therefore I hesitate to call it art (one could even hesitate to call modern art art, as capitalism has rendered it mostly a trend-centric grift in which the the people with power aren’t the artists themselves but Boomer art dealers who wear eyeglasses with “challenging” shapes). People constantly declare that we are currently living in the “renaissance” of TV — just because there is more of something, however, does not a renaissance make. No one says we’re living in the “renaissance” of climate change or the “renaissance” of homelessness. TV has, simply, become the most producible and therefore prevalent form of moving content because there are more streaming platforms now than there were paying subscribers to Quibi. 

In this environment, anyone with a modicum of literacy is expected to pen a pilot. But it’s not enough to write the pilot, you must also think of where it will go — the story arc, future episodes, etc. This is because it is the jumping off point to a collection of commodities and not an independent entity. The pressure of this can be so daunting it prevents you from even starting. But does anyone ever psych themselves out of writing a short story by finding it impossible to decide what the characters’ long term “motivation'' is? No, a short story exists as its own unit; the reader decides, if they've become invested enough in the tale, where they think the characters will go given the information you have handed them.

And besides, the likelihood of you selling your pilot is virtually nil; the only way to get a series is by writing on other peoples’. Your pilot is simply your calling card, a foot in the door. A friend of mine who was fortunate enough to get a sitcom deal once informed me that most scripts from potential staff writers he received were unreadable — just write something decent, he advised, something worthwhile, and your work will stand out. That being said, acknowledging your limitations is important. While writing is undoubtedly a skill, like lovemaking or taxidermy, some people simply can’t write in someone else’s voice, which is what TV writing requires.  

Another friend recently asked for assistance in writing her first pilot (she, like me, is a comedian — when you are a comedian, writing at least one pilot is the law). Knowing her sensibility, I sent her one of Charlie Kaufman’s early, unproduced television scripts. Just because it was unproduced didn’t mean it was bad — in fact, it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. (“Either very funny or completely insane” reads the handwritten note from a producer on the first page of the PDF.)

Kaufman, of course, is a man who realized he had to bow out of television writing because he was incapable of writing in a voice that was not his own. Nevertheless he still wrote, albeit on his own terms.

Because if you have something to say, and there is a legitimate reason to say it, there is someone who will listen to and appreciate it. Of this I am certain. 

Impress Less

I look at the internet, as there is nothing to do now but look at the internet, and all I see is noise. Too much noise, at that. If it’s too loud, am I too old? Yes, but only given all collectively agreed upon metrics of aging. 

The older you get, the less fuckable you become yet the more capable of embarrassment. This is, ultimately, a good thing. 

I live in Los Angeles, a godless, anomie-ridden desert where shame must be exchanged at the county line for goods and services. Los Angeles has always been this way, but only recently has the entire callow country embraced Los Angeles’s essential shamelessness. In much the same way America has become an endless series of strip malls, interchangeable chains interspersed with small businesses that will inevitably fail, the internet has rendered everyone adolescent and therefore incapable of mortification. 

In this new, connected cosmos, each experience is worth documenting, every opinion valid as the last you scrolled past. We now find ourselves in the era of ego — an existence in which stature seeking status updates are not seen as cries for help but rather as valid, important content. This desire for distinction has become so ingrained, so insidious, it has even corrupted justifiable political activism (think of how many photos of stoic looking, Mayflower-descended white women in flesh-hugging dresses and oversized hats you saw performatively posing with “Black Lives Matter” signs this past summer — I protested and donated too, but not for the purposes of augmenting my Instagram metrics. No selfies were taken at Stonewall, yet it still shifted the paradigm.)

Side Note: By no means am I implying that young people should be ashamed of their political activism. I’m merely saying they could be more, y’know, humble about it. (Boomers, however, should absolutely be ashamed of the extent to which they threw their peaceful, idealistic ideals under the bus in order to hoard wealth and, in the process, ruin the world.)

I recently watched the first three episodes of “Pretend It’s a City,” Netflix’s new Fran Lebowitz-centric series — just because I can watch all of it, and it’s one of the only shows in recent memory I have been genuinely excited about, as it is exactly what I thought it would be, Fran endlessly expounding on who-gives-a-fuck while Marty Scorsese giggles, doesn’t mean I have to watch all seven episodes in one frantic gulp. Because the more of something there is, the less it is worth. I understand that we are living in the renaissance of the docuseries, in which subject matter that would normally strain the length of an hour thirty feature is instead given six to seven hundred hours to be stared at, as the longer a subject is dragged out the more streaming hours can be monetized and therefore please shareholders. In the interest of actually appreciating what I watch, however, I choose to absorb material piecemeal. 

In it, she talks about the hubris of youth — how in her delusional, undeveloped mind, she brought a manuscript of her dreadful poetry to a publisher, assuming the powers that be would read, be enamored by, and publish it. When they ultimately sent a rejection letter, as said poetry was awful, she ultimately declared their decision was for the best because the work was, well, embarrassing, and therefore would have tainted her legacy. 

When I was young and equally delusional, I felt the need to create; I exhibited her same hubris, operating under the deception my words had worth. I made a ‘zine I took to the only (now defunct) bookstore in my hometown (shamefully excerpted below), which sold a grand total of zero copies. 

Side Note: There is, as of January 10th, 2021, a head shop across the street from another head shop in my hometown. There are zero bookstores. 

A child, I was unaware of the fact that my “art” was simply a parroting of the words of my idols. When you are young and creative, you are little more than a holding area for the thoughts of elders you will never physically encounter. This is because you have no life experience and therefore no perspective. I understand that youth is marketable — it has always sold and will continue to sell, but think about how trite the output from children is. It is, by and large, the same cliched excitations or lamentations that have been said a million times before. Rarely does a child reinvent the wheel because they don’t yet have functional knowledge of said wheel. The wheel has not yet covered them in tread marks.

When I needed external validation the most, that was when my output was the worst. Would I have accepted a book deal instead of selling zero copies of the ‘zine I printed on my grandmother's photocopier? Absolutely — that, after all, was the goal. Thank Christ no one bought it. Thank Christ the only thing I could do on dial-up internet when I was a teenager was discuss ideas my mind was too malleable to truly understand on non-archived HTML message boards. I am, fortunately, of the immediately pre-Live Journal generation; as a result, the only place my terrible teenage writing exists, which I spat out without a second thought assuming it all to be gold, is in a file folder in a cabinet I need to climb a ladder to access. Were my apartment to burn down, it would be as if it never existed. This is how it should be. 

Side note: Well, not all of my writing — when I was 16, I successfully sold an unsolicited piece to Ms. Magazine about the trials and tribulations of being a teenaged feminist. I remember a photographer hired by Ms., a man (natch), drove down from San Francisco to take photographs of me in the apricot orchard of my origin like a real writer. While I had no friends to express this delight to, I was nevertheless excited. When the piece finally ran, instead of the  accomplishment that should have accompanied my being in print, all I could focus on was the picture that ran with the piece. Christ, I thought, Do I really look that repellant? No wonder no one wants to fuck me. Progressive, right?

Yes, I was published in Ms. Magazine as a 16 year old, but no one knew it except for my high school’s gay librarian, who was duly impressed but powerless. I harbored no delusions that said publication, said validation, would make my peers bully me less. I didn’t get published for them. I got published for me, an outsider who needed to know my opinion was worthy of such. 

I feel lucky that I grew up in an era in which depression was the norm as opposed to anxiety. My idols, whom I parroted, were cognizant of the (pervasive lie of the) futility of it all. Not only must the generation next in line to mine both “grind” and “hustle,” they are expected to be omnipotent, aware of and participate in every social and cultural phenomenon. Of course the pressure of this puts them on edge. 

Because if you sit and ruminate, you might just realize you don’t have anything to say. Especially when everyone else is essentially saying the same thing. There is no time left for critical thought; reaction, the sooner the better, is imperative. Por ejemplo: people, of late, have lamented the fact that Trump being banned from Twitter is, whether you like it or not, somehow a perilous blow to free speech, to many hearts and shares. Were they to think of it critically, however, they would realize Twitter is both a private business and a free service — there is, of course, no such thing as free speech on a costless, privately owned forum. In a town square? Sure. On a website you’ve signed your agency away in order to access? No. Put down the Apple TV remote and read the terms and conditions on any website on which you’ve expressed your opinions. You have less agency than you think. 

Before I wrote this newsletter, I wrote for privately owned corporations. When my work was fucked with by editors, I’d become hostile because, to me, someone who wasn’t allowed access to a globally accessible platform until my late 20s, my words mattered. The modern media landscape is one in which quantity is valued over quality — the fastest take is the hottest. Hesitate to reflect on what you’re actually writing, what you’re actually contributing to the world, and you’re left behind. I never thought about the fact that my corporate overlords owned my output.

I’d always bristle at their edits because my legacy was at stake. Yes, it’s somewhat ridiculous to consider articles with clickbait headlines that run alongside Taco Bell ads a legacy, but we all have legacies now — a digital paper trail that will follow us to the grave and beyond, if we’re lucky.

Most people’s digital legacy is powered by the desire for clout above all else. It is no longer enough to be, to act; you must now also show and tell the world, in the hopes you receive likes and shares as payment. The last time I wrote for an online publication, the only thing that got them to concede to my requests for my article not be slashed and burned into a husk of its original self was when I threatened to not post about it on social media. A young person would not have done this. A young person would have relished the opportunity to have been heard by a wider audience. If you’ve sat and thought about what you’re saying, and you’ve deemed it worthy enough to be affixed to your legacy, the amount to which it is readily accessible is irrelevant.

I know that newsletters, of which this is one, are looked down upon, maligned by people staffed at “legitimate” publications. But I also know that the generation of these missives are the first instances in which I, an adult of sound mind, have felt truly free since I was a child spouting garbage. Unlike the work I shat out as a kid, however, each one is the product of a great deal of thought and reflection. Writing these each week is hell, but it’s a happy hell. It is devoid of compromise. It is mine. I thank you, with earnestness, for reading them. Share them or don’t. It’s all the same to me now.

Impotent Ire

Anger is an energy in that it never dissipates, it merely travels from subject to subject. It cannot be created or destroyed. And while you are welcome to hold it whenever you’d like, and for as long as you’d like, it does not require your engagement to persist. It needs a host, yes, but not necessarily you.

Honey, I’ve been angry. Punch the dash angry, throw the phone angry, salt the earth angry. Anger was the primary emotion that propelled me through my teens and twenties, the first thing I felt upon rising and the last thing I lamented before falling into fitful sleep. I am from angry stock; my blood runs redder than it should. My eyes narrow by default. 

In this, I know I am not alone. Anger is, above all else, our greatest unifier. Hell, I wouldn’t be writing this in a colonized country if not for our ancestors’ anger over some powdered wigged fucks trying to steal their bread (said indignation being seen as so righteous, so divinely ordained, the mass genocide it required for said ancestors to get their nut was deemed irrelevant). The incitement of our collective ire has, for centuries, been a cash cow, creating despots and launching media empires and, now, breeding a new economy of morally bankrupt devil’s advocate podcasters garnering tens of thousands of dollars a month from their Patreons. 

Side Note: Hacks love lamenting the prevalence of “cancel culture”, but cancellation isn’t a culture, it’s a pastime. It’s fun to kvetch; they themselves do it for popularity and profit. If you’ve fucked or said something you shouldn’t have, simply hit reset and do a hard pivot to alt right; in that godless, lawless land, riches will await you.

Want to feel something? Hate something! Regardless of what side of the argument we are on, we are always arguing. I have watched countless friends of mine whip themselves into a fervor by the words and actions of people they do not know and will never encounter; I, too, have engaged in this exasperation. We are all mad, getting madder, because doing so makes us feel a semblance of agency in a world beyond our control.

Yet therein lies the rub. We cannot control the world, we can only control our reaction to whatever freshest hell it throws our way. Take, por ejemplo, anti-maskers. By virtue of reading this I assume you, as I, am terminally libtarded, heavy with the weight that is knowing the reality of modern existence via, y’know, research and insight. It came as no surprise to find that, when I didn’t travel home for Christmas, my potentially life-saving decision was not seen by my family as pragmatic but, rather, as yet another example of me being an irrational intellectual. In response, I could have but actuallied my grandmother into an early grave, but I abstained. Why, you ask?

Because it is not possible to shame my family into acquiescing to the truth. Because, to them, they do possess it; their algorithm is telling them they are in the right. Until something tragic happens, until it directly affects them personally, they cannot be swayed. This is because they are operating in an alternate reality than ours, powered by the pervasiveness of American exceptionalism which is pumped into their Facebook feeds on an hourly basis. They are human “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, coiled and ready to pounce upon anyone in their periphery who may take umbrage with their willful ignorance. They bait, they pace, looking for a fight. Deprive them of one and they will move on.

Attempting to argue with someone who exists in an alternate reality than yours is like yelling at the television, albeit a television that possesses the ability to yell back. You have to turn on the television in order to allow it to upset you, but nowadays it is always on — we are always on, bored and lonely and looking for something, preferably someone, we can project our frustration upon. But what if — hear me out — we didn’t? 

I, more than most, know it is more difficult to not be upset than to rise above. Once you are upset, it can feel nearly impossible to change the channel. I haven’t seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, I’ve seen all minds engage in one sided feuds with entities whose minds will never be changed by screaming arguments or endless Twitter threads. It is why you will never see me engaging in pseudo-discourse online.

Because, while these people may anger you, they are not thinking of you. Remember how many times you’ve been cut off on the highway by some dickhead only to angrily pull up alongside them and realize they are completely oblivious to the danger they have put you in. If you were to honk, and rev, and gesticulate, they would not learn a valuable lesson in how their actions affect others — instead, they would assume you are deranged. You, to them, would become the problem. No one would learn, no one would grow. And in a matter of hours, the inciting incident will be forgotten, indignation placed on ice until your next dalliance with a dickhead.

Anger is only useful when you use it as fuel to create something — otherwise it’s just impotent ire decreasing your quality of life and contributing nothing. I wasted so many years mad at the world while adding nada of note, an endless feedback loop of bitterness and resentment usually centered upon the unjustness of my lack of success. While it’s a pleasant diversion to now have things beyond my career to be upset about, up to and including our elected officials’ lack of concern for the lives of their constituents  (I’d say the government betrayed its own people but that would imply it ever had the people’s best interests at heart to begin with), I can’t let them control me. If they do, they win. 

Side Note: As an, ahem, comedian, I am well versed in the belief that, if a peer succeeds, the rest of us have somehow failed. But here’s the thing: that Yalie who posted the press release about their latest project was going to get it regardless. Do you think anyone actually reads late night submission packets? What are you, 12?

Whenever a friend laments the listability of a peer whose entire fanbase is, invariably, fourteen years old, I ask them “But do you want what they have?” Not only that, but do they make what you wish you could? Hey, grown-ass man who isn’t Howie Mandel, do you wanna get on Tik Tok in order to get a development deal? The answer, ten times out of ten, is no.

I have spent nigh on a decade being told the next year would be mine, a series of promises which never came to pass, thank Christ. It’s better to resent the fact that the entertainment industry isn’t a meritocracy than to resent your managers, your creative partners, and the capricious mindfuck that is fame itself. Whenever I watch a child “blow up” I can’t help but visualize them as a 35-year-old has-been in scuffed Supreme slides wandering through their San Fernando Valley apartment wondering where it all went wrong, in much the same way whenever I see an adult with substance abuse problems get hired on SNL I pray they make it out alive.

There is no sustainability in popularity. There is, instead, sustainability in unmarketability. If you can’t be packaged, if you can’t be easily commodified, it’s not that you don’t have worth — it’s that your worth is unquantifiable. Therefore you, quite literally, are priceless. Isn’t that a nice way of looking at it? How can you be mad at that?

Side Note to the Side Note: Take it from me, comedy’s littlest victim, when I say substance abuse only augments these false comparisons and feelings of worthlessness. Unless you were born blessed, your output is the only thing you have control over. Is writing this harder than hateration? Exponentially, which is why I squandered my youth drunkenly raging against a machine I was too delusional to realize I’d never be handed the nuclear codes to. That being said, spite, when harnessed correctly, can be a great motivator — Christ knows it’s my greatest. Why do I continue to create? For the same reason I insisted on getting sterilized: because “they” didn’t want me to. Hate less. Make more.

Mother as Doormat, Mother as Stepping Stone

If I’d kept the kid, I wouldn’t be alone on Christmas. But if I’d kept the kid, there’d be one more thing in this one bedroom apartment that needs a bed. This is, of course, not the only reason I didn’t keep the kid. I could get a crib from the Craigslist free section, easy. You need a crib? Give me 45 minutes and an Allen wrench.

I didn’t keep the kid because I myself am a broken adult. I am a broken adult because I am still a child — a tax paying, divorced child, but a child nonetheless. I never grew up, I just became older. When you don’t go through the traditional motions of aging — choosing a career, selecting a life partner, breeding, et al — it is easy to find yourself in perpetual arrested development. I will never have a mid-life crisis because my entire life has been a series of existential emergencies. 

I am artificially a broken adult and biologically a broken woman. The instinct I am told all biological females possess, the instinct to reproduce, has no home in me. Not only have I never visualized an existence which includes motherhood, I’ve never had a dream in which I was a matriarch. I tell others this is because my upbringing was so miserable, so pointless, I would never want to subject another living thing to life’s needless suffering. 

This is, of course, maudlin horseshit, the kind that leads to substance abuse. It’s just so much easier to resent your parents than attempt to understand them. It’s easier still to use your allegedly bereft childhood as the excuse for your inability to act responsibly as an adult. I mean, it really is convenient — the fact that the vast majority of the people you’re making these excuses to will never meet the parents you constantly throw under the bus renders doing so the perfect crime.

Despite decades of hemming and hawing, and the sobbing and the sucking and the substance abuse, I can now concede that my childhood really wasn’t all that bad. Did anyone fuck me without my consent? No. (My mother’s boss did insist on my sitting on his lap far too much, but the act wasn’t traumatizing enough to make a personality out of it.) My childhood was lonely and tedious, sure, but it prepared me for the loneliness and tedium of adulthood. I was mostly left to my own devices behind the shut door of my bedroom or out in the wilds of the apricot orchard. Nobody cared what I read or what I watched or whether or not I thought God was real. I realize now this was a gift.

In the home I spent the first 17 years of my life sits a cabinet stuffed with relics of my tender age, board games and tubes of dried up paint and photo albums I assume will only be disposed of when I have to render said home purchasable after my mother dies. There are few pictures of me on the walls, as per the wishes of my mother’s current husband, Rodzilla (I, in typical grown child fashion, continue to call my mother’s husband Rodzilla, as I refuse to refer to him as my stepfather). In this cabinet lies the only proof of the existence of my youth. I look at the photos and see a sun kissed, poorly coiffed kid in bicycle shorts, beaming. 

Deep in the bowels of this cabinet, too, sit childhood photos of my father at Christmas time, posing in front of the tree with his sister. Their smiles are pained, forced; you can sense the presence of a raised fist out of frame. His childhood was fucked. But I’m not talking about him. 

My adolescence was comparatively idyllic. An only child, I was never at want for anything tangible; each Christmas brought with it an abundance of gifts, whatever plastic shit was pushed that year via the commercials that played in between the inane cartoons I watched without oversight. The same plastic every December, just molded into a different shape. I coveted it all. It’s easy to placate a child when the child is singular. 

Side Note: The shape of the plastic, however, was important — if it were molded into a Barbie, which my father’s mother insisted on giving me each Christmas (which I only now realize was an ineffectual attempt to feminize me), kick rocks. I wanted that light bulb-powered pseudo-oven that made fake scorpions. 

For a while, I was no longer an only child. But then, as soon as I wasn’t, I was again. Overjoyed with onlyness, I responded by becoming a pill. Oh, you have a kid who died? I’ll raise you that and a living terror. My pubescence was a trial; I cut my own hair and dyed it black, wrote awful poetry on a fucking typewriter, filled my room with semi-functioning electric organs I found outside the Salvation Army. I screamed, slammed doors, begged my mother to institutionalize me. I was the kind of kid that made someone not want to have a kid. But, for Debbie, it was too late. 

When I turned 16, my grandfather gave me his deceased aunt’s 1968 Plymouth Barracuda. It was a classic little old lady from Pasadena situation — 64,000 original miles, cherry interior, a Hemi under the hood that went from zero to 60 in the amount of time it takes a sperm to penetrate an ovum. My mother would hide the keys whenever I was grounded, which was often, but I had duplicates hidden around my room. The untenability of this reached its zenith one night when I drove the ‘Cuda around town, sans permission, egging the homes of high school administrators, Blockbuster Video (“Viva independent cinema!” I yelled while doing so...did I mention I was insufferable?) and the local Mormon church. I was, naturally, caught by the police, as I was the only kid in town stupid enough to be committing crimes in a fucking American muscle car. My mother happened to be driving back from a Tool concert in San Jose with Rodzilla when she saw me on the side of the road being interrogated by the cops. Apparently defiling a church is considered...a hate crime? I had no idea. She was beside herself. I felt nothing. I learned nothing. 

Our relationship was built out of constant contention. Once, in an argument, she spat, “Fuck you.” I recognized this as something someone says only when they are completely bereft of a response; at the time, I felt as though I had won the argument. I left to meet an author who ended up giving me a job. This only emphasized the amount to which I was right to force her into telling me to get fucked. 

In a letter she sent me earlier this year while we weren’t talking (that’s another thing about resenting your parents — you can cling to and cast them aside with equal dexterity), she revealed she felt as though I had abandoned her when I left town as soon as I graduated high school. Ain’t that some shit, I thought upon reading it. I abandoned you? What about all the nights I spent alone in the middle of a goddamned orchard while you were out fucking the guy who managed the meat department at the supermarket where you worked? What about the screaming arguments I’d get in with your now-husband you’d refuse to take a side on? What about the hell I experienced being a sentient being in the cowfuck sticks you chose to raise me in? Why the fuck wouldn’t I leave? I abandoned you? That’s fucking rich.

I didn’t think of her sacrifice as a single mother toiling to still give me my plastics after she ditched my dad and he, and only under duress, would use me as the intermediary for child support checks wherein he’d write the words “blood money” in the memo line. I didn’t think of how lonely she, too, was in the orchard, and how she’d forgive Rodzilla anything in order to not be companionless. I didn’t think of her, period. 

I didn’t think of her in my 20s, either, when I’d retreat back home every time I fucked my life up, which was often. (This cycle ended when she wrote me a letter while I was living in Australia informing me that, if I were fucking up again, I could not return to my childhood home; while this felt ineffably harsh at the time, and resulted in me marrying my fuck up so as to prove I hadn’t, once again, fucked up, I now understand it was a necessary step in order for her to maintain a semblance of sanity.)

For years, I didn’t think of her. Well, that’s not true — I did think of her, but only in the context of her disappointing me. Resentment is easy. Understanding is difficult.

Maybe I don’t want a kid because I don’t want my progeny to begrudge me even though I did my best. This thought literally just occurred to me. I am 37 years old. Jesus Christ. I’m sorry, Debbie.

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