Monday, January 16, 2012

How The Sausage Is Made

I thought I would do something slightly different.

Someone asked me recently how I can come up with all this guff that I write about. As in how I can sometimes write three very lengthy posts about stuff that happened at all - and make it interesting (hopefully) to other people. So I thought I'd do a quick (ha!) thing on how that happens and why I do it.

Years ago I took a weird Creative Studies/Thinking class during my MA. It was 75% silly and the kind of thing people rail against Liberal Arts colleges for teaching. One of the exercises in that class was to try and capture all the ideas and thoughts you have throughout the day to show that coming up with ideas is not really difficult for people. It's the remembering and the application which is a problem. So for the class we had to carry around a pencil and a notebook and constantly write down whatever popped into our heads. It was one of the really good experiences I got ouf of that class. The lecturer explained afterwards that part of the positive here wasn't just that you could go back and see things that you may have forgotten - but that reading it would evoke feelings about it and remind you of the process of thinking up the idea or thoughts in the first place. Which is something that tends to fall by the wayside when trying to just remember something.

Also - I've always had this romantic notion that I could be a comedian for a living. To me stand up comedians are rock stars. Not in a vacuous aesthetic sense - but in that way that people who really believe that Bob Dylan or The Doors changed things through art and had something genuine to say are. I spend inordinate amounts of time listening to stand-up. I love dissecting the way a bit is made. I enjoy looking at the process behind coming up with something that's funny more than the actual joke itself. I love hearing the differences in styles between comedians so that one person can be a literal storyteller, whereas another will just be able to make people laugh by talking sheer nonsense. I'm also astute enough to know that I could never do stand-up comedy. I can make people laugh in social settings - but I don't have any delivery technique or way to connect with people naturally so that I can be talking about anything and people think it's funny.

But I am much better at it through writing. I know I can make people laugh that way. So after just thinking constantly about comedy in my head for years and taking that class I would write things down constantly to keep track of ideas. I carreid a pencil and paper everywhere and captured everything. People would ask me in work, "why are you always writing things on paper mid-conversation and then putting it in your pocket?" Sometimes I'd shoot myself quick emails with funny ideas and thoughts. Or I'd keep a Word document open all day and just type it in as the day went by. An online forum I use became a pretty good place to drop esoteric one-off weird stuff that I thought was funny. Most people use forums to connect with people or discuss things. I used it (less so now) to see if something was funny. I really was using it for me.

I really began to realize I might be half-decent at writing funny stuff after I bought the house I own. The situation was such a mess and so negative and dour that writing about what was absurd or silly about it was a genuine cathartic release. I was badly depressed and had a relapse of another medical problem that I prayed I'd never see again. So writing about it in a funny way was a way to organize it in my head. Importantly I did it to make myself laugh. When everything else was desperate and depressing the act of writing funny things down was extremely helpful in an almost medicating way. And other people thought it was funny. Much moreso than I thought they would. After I was surprisingly fired from a job I very quickly took on a new low paying job to support my family - and I wrote about that too. And again it helped me on a selfish level deal with feelings I had and cope with the situation. And other people said it was funny. Fast forward a little and my family found itself in the situation we're in now - with my wife working a well paid job and me as a stay-at-home Dad. Which I think is both very amusing and almost cripplingly depressing at the same time. So I write about it. And it makes me laugh.

So now all day long when something happens that I think is interesting or funny I'll write it down. Either on a scrap of paper or right onto the computer ass a rough thing. Then at different points of the day I'll put it all together as a post. The post itself doesn't take all that long to do. For example however long it took you to read this far is not that much different from the amount of time it took me to actually type this stuff out. I write extremely quickly. I already formed the ideas or stuff I wanted to say. Choices of phrase and words are already there. Most often it will be the Blogger edit window open with 15 different things I thought were funny and interesting. Then I'll form it quickly into something and delete more than half of it. It's just linking it into a flowing coherent thing which needs to be done - and I'm okay at that. I want it to be funny and hopefully to teach something. I saw a TED conference video of a business founder named Jason Fried who spoke about how nobody is going to want to read anything that I write unless they feel like they are getting something valuable that they've learned out of it. (it's THIS one if you're interested). So I keep that in mind now. I go back through rarely and see some posts are quick and easy, but some others are clunky and don't work. That's fine by me. I don't BUT SHOULD re-read and edit more than I do. I find it amusing that after everyone else has read something - typos, fat-fingered keying and screw ups and all - my wife will sit down at the end of her day and read it. She'll read it in her browser and edit it for general stuff in mine.

More importantly I do it to tell my wife what happened while she was away at work. My wife is highly educated, smart and more driven than you can imagine. She was always destined for great things. But once my daughter was born her world turned upside down and she believed very strongly that she should stay home and raise her. So she quit a fantastic opportunity at a University in England and stayed home. My son was born and it was the same - she could try and get back into her field but we believe kids do much better with their parents than without. But after me losing my job and her getting this opportunity we went for this option. And it hurts my wife deeply not to be home. Knowing what a bonding and powerful thing raising our daughter was for them both is painful when she knows that now she goes to work and misses 90% of our son's day. And seeing how joyful and happy he is to see her after work just piles on to that. So now I also write for her.

So that's the how really. Some people do ask me, "did that really happen," "did your daughter really say that," or, "is that true?" Yep - it's all true. There's a hint of artistic license here and there. And I may say the inherent benefit of lying in all sorts of situations. But I assure that the vast majority of what ends up on here is true.

A comedian I like a lot - Kyle Kinane - talks about how everyone assumes that a transformational experience has to be something like climbing a mountain with a Sherpa or something big like that. But that isn't the case at all. You can experience spiritual wonderful things through small moments that really change how you look at everything around you. And most of those moments really are absurd and ridiculous. In his case he talks about being a cocky 18 year old on a toilet in a very seedy bar in Chicago that he had no place being in actually changed how he looked at life. That's mostly how I feel about it too. So now I find myself mostly in my own living room with my two kids doing the same things over and over every day. And it's hilarious. And I see these moments all the time. Everybody goes to work now and misses their kids growing up. People think they cannot choose to do this - but you can. It's not about money - we've lived on very little money and been very happy to do so. And yet people choose to miss it. They miss the opportunity to teach their kids stuff that they know. More than that - they miss all the moments that their kids can teach them. But I'm lucky because I do.

And I can write about it and hope you laugh at it.

No comments:

Post a Comment