It was Nick who figured it out, because of course it was.
This was… a few weeks ago, maybe a little more? We were at his house on a Sunday night; it was late, Reg was out of town and Danny was long since asleep. It was actually the second time I’d been there that weekend. Reg left the morning before to drive to Appalachia with the LaSalle kids and Nick was, for some reason, worried about “being with Danny on his own,” a notion which was a very amusing combination of adorable and idiotic, so I got called over for breakfast before his wife had gotten as far as the Washington and Jefferson Forest. I was back the next night, that Sunday, for dinner and dessert.
I forget what we were talking about in the leadup to it, but at one point, sitting at the dining room table with my arms folded, staring into the living room, I said, “I’m not happy.”
He gave me a look.
“I’m not, you know, depressed,” I said. “I know what that’s like, that happens enough. It isn’t that. It’s just…” I made that displeased face where I sort of squint my left eye shut with my cheek. “I’m just not happy. And I haven’t been for a while.”
Nick said, “why not?”
I thought about it for a second, then said, “I don’t know.”
I didn’t really need to think about it. By then I’d been thinking about little else for weeks. But it was true: I wasn’t depressed, but I was constantly unhappy, and I didn’t know why.
Nick looked at me again, and I knew it was coming.
For years now, for as long as we’ve known each other, this has been how it happened. Sitting up in the middle of the night, bitching about women or cards or work or family or whatever, trying to figure out what the hell we were supposed to be doing with our lives. It used to be in the car on the way home from the casino. Now it’s at his dining room table. Nick is excellent at getting to the heart of my problems – 90% of the substance of which is usually of my own making – and I am excellent at giving advice that is mostly useless to anyone who doesn’t live in the Minoan labyrinth of my brain.
One of us, needless to say, bitches about more women and more jobs and more cards than the other.
Nick looked at me again, and I knew it was coming.
He said, “you’re only happy when you’re performing.”
I made my attempt at a Spock-like eyebrow raise and said, “go on.”
My version of Spock’s eyebrow is really just me raising both my eyebrows while squinting with my left eye. As facial expressions go, the left-eye squint is my go-to move.
“I don’t mean, like, on stage or whatever,” he said. “Though that probably wouldn’t hurt.”
I started to say “I’m not that good an actor” before he ran over me.
“Just… SOMETHING. Whether you’re on stage or whatever, or producing a play – “
“The podcast,” I muttered, thinking of The Stack, not liking where this was going.
“Your podcasts or, shit, even back when you were doing Quizo every week.”
“I did think of Quizo as a sort of weird ongoing performance art piece,” I said.
“Exactly,” Nick said, with that pointing-with-upturned-palm and tone of voice I get when he is telling me something that should be painfully obvious since I live inside it. “Whatever… I dunno, form it takes, you need to be in front of people.”
We talked some more about it – the stuff I am slowly attempting now and planning for in the future – but just then I thought the same thing I have thought many, many times over the years:
I hate it when Nick’s right.
Dave is another good friend who has a nasty habit of cutting through my obfuscatory bullshit. This is a good thing. As I said to him earlier today, and to a couple people before that, one of the things that has changed for me since my experience on TV is that intellectual superiority no longer interests me. To paraphrase something I read from Elon Musk: I don’t want to always be right anymore. I want to stop being wrong.
Dave is great at telling me what I’m doing wrong.
I’m not a huge fan of that either.
We were discussing a weird thought experiment that revolved around me once again attempting to move to Los Angeles. Dave and I have a lot of very strange conversations like this; much of our communication consists of series of loopy, half-comedy-half-therapy exchanges where it can be so difficult for either of us to tell who is being serious when that we will literally have to stop in the middle and ask, “wait, is that a joke or for real?” fairly often.
There were points during our talk today where I legitimately could not tell if we were just shooting the shit or if Dave was trying to tell me that he accidentally rented a 2-bedroom apartment in Glendale and needed a roommate.
Serious or not, Dave raised a number of very sharp ripostes to my various objections as to why me going back to LA is a terrible idea, or at least a very bad one. But something in the conversation flipped a switch somewhere in the back of my mind, and while I was defending my perfectly-reasonable irrational fears about life in general and the creative industry in specific from Dave’s obnoxious use of facts and logic, I started thinking about my conversation with Nick from a few weeks ago.
While Dave was typing something about how stupid one of my contentions was, a whole bunch of things lined up in my brain at once and I had what psychotherapists refer to as a “breakthrough.”
I went on to describe my breakthrough: as established by Nick, and agreed upon by me, I have a need to perform, however we want to define that. More than a need. I’m not happy if I’m not. More than “not happy,” in point of fact, I am profoundly unhappy when I’m not.
But performing is hard work, you know? I don’t mean literally hard work, like lifting and hauling shit out in the sun all day – I have done a very small bit of actual hard work in my life and have zero desire to ever do it again – but doing it right is, in its own sort of way, hard work. It is, in fact, the only kind of hard work I actually enjoy doing, but there’s still a lot of inertia to overcome there, and despite how much I actually enjoy the hard work of whatever performance I can end up getting myself to start… that start isn’t easy for me. It never has been. Stephen King once talked about how Thomas Harris was a great writer for whom the act of writing was excruciating, and I feel like I’m the same way a lot of the time. (Not that I’m as talented as Thomas Harris, mind, just that the act itself can be more prohibitively difficult than you might think.)
But, hey, you know what I can do with almost no work whatsoever? I can bang out a joke. A single joke. A one-liner. Something that fits nicely in 140 characters. Or maybe even a funny paragraph, or two, or three, or an interesting short idea. Something that works really well on a Facebook wall.
I could overcome all that inertia and do all the hard work of creating something real, a show or a story or whatever, work that actually results in a true creative high, the obscene, godlike creative high which I can tell you from comprehensive experimentation is better than booze or sex or drugs.
Or I could just say “fuck it,” come up with a funny paragraph in a few seconds, and get a quick laugh from a couple dozen people online.
My exact words to Dave were: “I wonder if I’m not using Facebook and Twitter as a sort of methadone.”
I went back and started checking some dates.
When did I decide to start getting back into theater work again?
Last year, during the period of my self-enforced absence from social media.
When did I produce pieces on this website at a faster pace than any time in recent memory?
Last year, when I wasn’t on social media.
Back on January 1, what did I list as one of my New Year’s Intentions?
“Spend less time on social media.”
Even then, months ago, parts of me were already subconsciously aware of what was going on.
I summed this all up to Dave with two words: “mother FUCKER.”
I say I hate it when Nick’s right. I say I hate it when Dave’s right. And there was probably a time when I actually DID hate it when they were right. But they’re right a lot, and they’re right about the important stuff. And now? I’m thankful my friends can do the thing I need them to do the most: tell me when I’m wrong.
What does it all mean, then? It means for now at least, on the social media front, I’m out. Well, not totally out. I’ll be reachable, certainly – Messenger and Hangouts seem okay as things go. I finally found the button to have Facebook email me when I get an invitation to an event so I can still keep up with people’s shows and whatnot. If folks need to get in touch with me there are any number of ways they can. Beyond that, I’ll be here a lot more, hopefully. Behind a stage, maybe, or a microphone. And I’ll hopefully be out in the real world, more than I have been for a while.
Enough of the stepped-on shit.