How I Caught the Comedy Bug

Originally posted on The Kate Escape:

I never thought much about comedy before Jim and I moved into our old brick house on Gregory St. in Rochester. We’d seen dozens of comedy movies together, including every Will Ferrell movie that’s ever existed and often returned to his old favorites, from Steve Martin and Bill Murray to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.

Then we watched “Comedians of Comedy” with Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Brian Posehn and Zach Galifanakis. We were fascinated by their frankness and openness and drive. They had a new vision for comedy, not in smoky sit-down comedy clubs, but alongside musicians and artists. They were themselves. They were real. But they were also thoughtful, and poignant, and above all, really really funny.

After the fifth time around, Jim mustered up the courage to go to his first open mic comedy show, at the Tango Cafe just a block away from us. I’ll be honest…

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We’re Putting On A Show!

Jimmy here.

Those of you that know me from my time in Rochester know that one of my favorite things to do is putting on comedy shows. I worked with two great co-producers in Bryan Ball and Vinnie Paulino to make 3 Guys Walk Into A Bar a monthly showcase of the best talent we could wrangle. I had my own late night-style talk show called After Bedtime. I put on some charity events. The real biggie, though, came last year when 3 Guys Walk Into A Bar was lucky enough to book the great Eddie Pepitone for a show at The German House.

Times have changed, obviously, and Katie and I are now living in New York City. With that comes a whole new set of challenges and opportunities for us to chase our dream down whatever rabbit hole it might run in to. It’s been a fun 6 months full of good things, bad things, thing things and lots of pizza. We’ve been having the time of our lives getting to know this city and the people in it, and now, finally, we’ve got a fun announcement:

On Monday, 3/24 at 8:00PM at Brit Pack Theater (153 Lafayette St., 3rd Floor, NY, NY 10013), I’ll be putting on my first self-produced show here in the Big Apple. It’s called Mouth Party, and I’m stacking it with Rochester talent and NYC’s best comedian; which is like a dream come true, so I’m very, very excited.

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The format is simple: 5 comics doing shorter sets and a host (me) will be the appetizers leading up to the main course that is Mark Normand running through his half hour for Comedy Central 4 day before he films it in Boston. So, if you come (and you definitely should), you’ll get to see the guy Village Voice voted “Best Comedian in NYC” right before he’s about to become one of the biggest names in comedy on the planet.

This is, again, a big deal for Katie and I and is a huge step in the right direction for us in chasing down our dreams. Plus, it’ll be a fun show with really good comedians. You can see the full lineup below, and I hope we see you at the show!

Mouth Party: A Comedy Show at Brit Pack Theater on 3/24 at 8:00 PM

Price? Pay what you want. We’re doing this Radiohead style.

Featuring:

Mikey Heller

Colin Burgess

Zane Golia

Julia Solomon

Mark Normand

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An Interview With Ira Brooker

Jimmy here.

Ira Brooker is one of my favorite writers, and that’s a big, big deal to me. Especially since I had no idea who he was 5 years ago, but the internet and Twitter are a wonderful thing, so through a group of friends Ira and I started to follow each other and got to know who each of us was from a comfortable distance.  Then one day he gave me a stern tweeting to after I made a bad joke about how people should raise their kids. Ira is, from what I can tell, an amazing parent with a son that will one day rule the world, but I didn’t really know that at the time. I got mad, but decided not to wade into a fight with a stranger. Instead, I waded into his writing and, boy, did that ever humble me. 

Ira writes the way I wish I could write. That’s the simplest way to put it. Some of his pieces have moved me to tears and others have motivated me to commit to my own art on a deeper level. Not that what I do (telling jokes to rooms full of strangers) is any great endeavor, but when I get down and out and looking for a reason to push through and get on stage, I read something from Ira.  

He’s a friend now, and that boggles my mind how that all happened, but to me he’s more than that. He’s an inspiring person in my life that has helped me define who I am and what I want to be, and the best part is he doesn’t know that and I’m sure it wouldn’t change him if he did. Enjoy the interview, I loved getting to do it.

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Ira Brooker

Thanks for doing this, Ira. You’re one of my favorite writers, and I’ve never had the chance to ask one of my favorite writers this question before, so here goes: why do you write?

Well jeepers, thanks much. That’s probably the second or third most uplifting thing somebody could say to me.

As to why I write, I have no idea what else I would do. Ever since I learned how to write, it’s just been what I do. I don’t want to say that it’s easy for me, because I’ve definitely put in my share of work and worry as a writer, but making words do what I want them to do has always come naturally to me.  I also learned early on that other people enjoyed the way I put words together, which in turn taught me that I really like praise and attention. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living out of writing, but honestly as long as people keep giving me accolades I’d still be showing off my words at every opportunity.

The flip side is that I’m not very good at much else. I’m hopeless at working with my hands. Face-to-face interaction tends to give me cold sweats. Put me in charge of anything financial and I’ll be bankrupt and/or jailed for accidental fraud within a month. The only non-writing career in which I ever showed any acumen was making coffee. I’m a damn fine barista, actually, but I’ve got a kid and pre-school is insanely expensive these days.

You write about a lot of different things, and you do it so well; which is part of the reason you’re one of my favorite writers, but the other part of that is how sincere you are. Do you make an effort to have that come through or is it just natural to you? I know sincerity is hard to force, but some people can pull it off.

I suppose I’d say sincerity does come naturally for me, but it took a lot of time and effort for me to learn that it does. Like any aspiring author, my original dream was to write the great American novel. In my mind that always meant coming up with a Big Idea, some kind of mind-blowing plot or iconic character that would make readers sit up and say, “Whoa, I’ve never seen anything like this before.” My old notebooks and hard drives are littered with the carcasses of Big Idea novels that never got past the third page.

As I got older, though, I realized that the art I respond to most viscerally isn’t about Big Ideas at all. The stuff that hits me hardest is earnest and honest and born out of personal experience. That doesn’t mean just first-person, soul-baring essays – although I do dig those and write quite a lot of them – but also things like Maria Bamford mining the humor from her battles with mental illness, or Lou Reed channeling the pain of his friends’ deaths into a pair of unflinching albums, or Tim O’Brien daubing his Vietnam experience with surrealist escapism. Sincere joy is a little harder to come by, for whatever reason, but I think of the Rhymesayers crew rapping about how cool it is to live in Minnesota, or Megan Stielstra’s essays on the wonders of parenthood, or even William Faulkner – that eternal beacon of light – realizing that “my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.”

Learning how to tap into that sincerity was another thing altogether. I give a lot of credit to Columbia College Chicago, where I got my MFA in Fiction Writing. I really can’t say enough good things about that school. For one thing, the teaching methodology puts heavy emphasis on introspection. A good portion of class time is dedicated to visualizing the places, people and objects you’re writing about and understanding what each one means to you. For another thing, Columbia was where I really picked up on the concept of creative nonfiction. It doesn’t sound like such a big deal in hindsight, but taking creative nonfiction courses at Columbia College was the first time I really latched onto the idea that I could write artistically about my own experience. It didn’t have to be formalized as autobiography or memoir, and it certainly didn’t have to adhere to the cut-and-dried essay format I’d had drummed into me in public school. It’s a kind of writing I’d always done, and I’d say it’s probably the kind I’m best at, but seeing it validated as a real form broke a lot of things open for me.

When you try to do things that maybe go against what you’ve been taught or are a little risky it means the world when somebody comes back to with “that was good.” Do you remember the first time you had that moment where somebody other than yourself came up to you and gave you that “attaboy” you needed to keep you going after it forever? 

I remember the first laugh I got very well, but with writing it isn’t as instant, so I’m really curious what your “I’m doing this no matter what” moment was. 
In first grade I wrote an essay about a turtle. I think it was maybe five sentences total. My teacher entered it in some sort of school district competition and it wound up being included in some display of student work at Valley View Mall.  I grew up literally in the woods, deep in the farmland of Western Wisconsin. My first grade class had, I believe, 13 kids in it. So having my work shown at the mall in The Big City (La Crosse, Wisconsin, population 51,000 at the time) felt like a genuine taste of celebrity. I dug it.
Do you think about the size of your audience much now, or is that inconsequential to what you’re trying to accomplish? Also, do you know what you’re trying to accomplish?

I guess I don’t think about audience size so much as I do audience quality. I’d absolutely like to get as many eyes on my work as possible, but at this point in my life it means more to me to get reads and responses from people who I know appreciate solid writing. That said, it’s always uniquely gratifying to hear from a new reader. I’ve developed some cool relationships with people who have Googled their way to one of my blog entries, or who’ve seen one of my stories shared on a mutual friend’s timeline. As wonderful as it is to hear feedback from people I know and love, it’s nice to hear that I pack a bit of mass appeal.

It’s hard for me to say I’m trying to accomplish anything in particular. I suppose any time I can give voice to feelings that other people have been struggling with, I feel like I’ve served a purpose. Like, for whatever reason, I seem to have a knack for articulating pain. Whenever I’m hit hard by a major tragedy or a personal loss, my first reaction is to start writing it out in my head. By the time I sit down at the keyboard, the story pretty much flows out fully formed. I don’t have to think much about word choice or structure or any of that. It’s just a natural process and a necessary part of my therapy. And I’ve found that people can really relate to these stories. The biggest responses I’ve ever gotten have been to my most painful pieces – stories about Hurricane Katrina, the Newtown shootings, the death of a friend, the death of my cat, the death of Lou Reed. These are all things that shook me deeply and haunt me to this day. Writing about them helps me to cope, and it’s helped even more to hear from people who read the stories and found something to identify with.

I think all great writers, like you, have an uncanny ability at articulating, manipulating and crafting pain into something that goes beyond expectations. That’s one of the things I like the most about your work. Not to gush too much, but as sad as some of your pieces are, I always come away from them feeling better because of how powerful your writing is.  Okay, done fussing over you.

Your Lou Reed piece in particular really stuck out as coming from a special place inside of you, and I’ve read your words about Lou Reed often over the years, so I know he’s a hero of yours. How important are heroes to you? Not just in your writing, but in life in general. 

Criminy, you’re going to spoil me for the rest of the week. Thanks, mate.

I’m a big hero guy. From a pretty early stage, I was interested in the artists as much as the art. Back in grade school I could rank all of the regular Archie Comics writers and artists dating back to the ‘60s (Samm Schwartz was my favorite artist, Bob Bolling my favorite writer). I used to get these huge, scholarly histories of comics and their creators from my local library and read them over and over. When I got to middle school I discovered The Beatles and educated myself on them so thoroughly that I could pick out all the factual errors in my school library’s copy of The Beatles Forever. At the time I didn’t know why I found these things so fascinating, but now I can see that I was picking apart the artists’ styles, figuring out how they made their art work and unconsciously folding it into my own repertoire.

I’ve always girded myself with my heroes and made them part of my identity, probably to an annoying extent. When Lou Reed died, I got a flood of condolence texts and tweets before I’d even said a word about it publicly. Any time William Faulkner comes up in the news, I know I’m going to get links from all of my writer friends. It’s weird – my wife is a scientist, and she doesn’t do the hero thing at all. She has favorite artists, of course, but she regards them as just people who make great music or entertaining TV shows. I once got to interview Eric Bachmann from Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers, a guy whose music has meant the world to both of us, while sitting at my favorite bar. It was all I could do to keep from babbling like a fool, but my wife just sat off to the side and waited for us to wrap up. That’s kind of nice, in that her lack of heroes keeps me grounded lest I ever get too big-headed about the importance of what I do.

One more thought on heroes: over the past decade I’ve been lucky enough to live and work in communities full of artists who regularly awe me. At Columbia College I sat in classes taught and attended by some of the most astonishing writers I’ve ever encountered, people who nurtured other artists and taught us to make the most of our talents. People who founded reading series and literary journals and inspired me to do the same. People who wrote honest-to-god books that rank among the best stuff I’ve read in recent years. And now for the past year I’ve been fortunate enough to edit Minnesota Playlist, a theater magazine focused on arts in the Twin Cities. Every day I interact with and edit work from theater artists who create incredible things. Soul-searing monologues performed in the producers’ kitchen. Dance routines that twist my stomach in knots. Existential horror pieces drenched in literal buckets of stage blood. It’s easy enough to pick out heroes from afar, but lately being a part of these arts communities has been my biggest inspiration. They’re collectively my biggest current heroes.

There’s no good segue for this after what you just said about your heroes, but I need to ask about The Simpsons, because I’m not sure I’ve ever met anybody with as frightening a knowledge of the show as you. Plus, you have a damn gift when it comes to being able to communicate via screengrabs from the show. Why is The Simpsons so important to you, and how big of an influence has their humor had on your writing and your life?

A few years ago I started writing an inventory of the 100 greatest influences on my sense of humor. I was going call it “Why I laugh?” which is, of course, a Simpsons quote. It eventually wound up being too big and abstract of a project for me to complete, but there was no question that The Simpsons would be in the number one slot. The only possible rival would be David Letterman, but as important as Dave was to my formative years, he never permeated my daily existence to nearly the degree that The Simpsons does even two decades beyond its heyday. I don’t think I could hope to pinpoint how those first eight seasons have influenced me. At this point they’re just woven into my being. It would be like trying to figure out what kind of influence speaking English has had on me. So much of what they did at their peak is so incomparable. I think back on the layering of the humor, where the writers would come up with a perfect joke, build on it with two or three organically related jokes, and then cap it off with a non-sequitur that pushed the whole gag into outright brilliance. I’ve never seen anything else like it (Arrested Development came as close as anyone has). Sometimes I’ll stop and consider that a human brain conceived of “Hollywood Upstairs Medical College” as a throwaway gag and I’ll get chills.

As to the screengrabs, I’ve always had a freakish talent for trivia. It’s just how my brain works. I have instant mental access to far more meaningless pop culture flotsam than I really ought to. The Simpsons thing started with my brother and I being bored at our jobs years ago. We’d be having an email conversation and inevitably one of us would say something that brought The Simpsons to mind, and then we’d go back and forth sending each other relevant screengrabs, visually riffing until we ran out of images or got busy at work. I quickly learned that there is a Simpsons image to respond to virtually any stimulus. So now when I see you post a Facebook status about wanting a robot to do your workouts for you, my mind immediately sorts through the files and pulls out an image of Mr. Burns forcing an anaphylactic Smithers to pedal him around on a tandem bike. It helps that virtually every frame from the show’s classic years has been preserved online. (The classic years are seasons 1-8 in my book. My knowledge starts to taper around season 9 and falls off completely somewhere in the mid-teens.) Like most of the best skills, it’s impressive only to a select few and entirely unmarketable.

If you were hard-pressed to pick a favorite moment from The Simpsons could you do it? 

This is easily the toughest question you’ve asked so far. My favorite episode is probably “Homey the Clown,” but then there’s “You Only Move Twice,” and then there’s “Lemon of Troy” and “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” and “Homer the Great” and on and on, and I’m not certain that any of them contains my favorite moment.

One moment that’s always stuck with me, and it isn’t even really a joke, is a tiny flourish from “Lisa’s Date with Destiny.” Bart is trying to talk Lisa out of dating Nelson and reminds her that Milhouse likes her, to which Lisa responds, “Oh please, Milhouse likes Vaseline on toast.” The scene could easily cut right there, but the “camera” lingers for a second on Bart, who adopts a thoughtful look and says, “Hm.” I find that little extra beat weirdly beautiful. I love the ambiguity of it. Is Bart learning new information about his friend? Contemplating what Vaseline on toast might taste like? Tacitly admitting that Lisa has a point? Whatever it is, it speaks to an internal life beyond the confines of the episode. It’s completely unnecessary to the plot – it doesn’t even get a call-back within the episode – but it adds so much. It’s the kind of flourish you just wouldn’t see on any other show of the era, and that’s what I cherish about The Simpsons.

How important is humor in your writing? I’m a comedy nerd so I have to wring this out of you.

This is something I struggle with quite a bit. I’m fairly confident that I’m a pretty funny guy, and I think I write some pretty funny stuff. But sometimes when I’m in the process of writing, I start to get really self-conscious about whether what I’m doing is funny enough. Then I start looking for places where I can wedge in another joke, or pushing the piece in a different direction that lends itself more to humor, and before long I end up with something that’s neither as funny nor as focused as I want it to be. I have to remember that it always works better if I just trust my own voice and let the writing unfold the way it wants to, not the way I want it to. Most of the time, those pieces end up generating more laughs than anything I’ve tried to force.
Of course, like I said, my most widely read pieces tend to be my saddest ones. If someone read only my “greatest hits,” they’d probably come away thinking I’m some kind of dour, tortured artist type. That’s not me at all, but I suppose I can’t complain so long as my work connects with people.
I’m gonna go all James Lipton on you to end this, because I’m terrible at interviewing people, so let’s wrap it up with some weird “no-thinking-allowed” questions, okay? Here goes:
 
Last song you want to hear before you die?
David Bowie’s “Memory of a Free Festival.”
 
If you could only use one swear word for the rest of your life, which one would you pick?
Goddamn.
 
Ever get so angry you punched a wall?
Yep.
 
Which style of beard do you most prefer?
Full-face, trimmed to medium length, tapered to a gentle point at the chin.
 
How long will it be before the Timberwolves win an NBA championship?
I’m starting to have my doubts that they’ll ever even make the playoffs again, but I’ll be an optimist and say next year.
 
Favorite place to drink in New Orleans?
Either Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge or Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.
 
Least favorite place to drink in New Orleans?
Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.
 
Finally, bring it on home with the best words of wisdom you’ve ever received or thought of yourself. 
One of my favorite Lou Reed albums closes with the line, “There’s a bit of magic in everything, and then some loss to even things out.” It isn’t easy, but I strive to always look for the former and be able to accept the latter. There are worse ways of dealing with existence.
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Ira Brooker, ladies and gentlemen.
Now that you’ve read this entire interview, you should go check out anything (and everything) Ira has written by clicking on the handy links I’ll provide at the bottom of the page. Before that, though, I just wanted to thank Ira again for doing this interview, because like everything he writes, I learned a lot and felt better at the end of it. That’s  an incredible gift for a writer to have, and it’s only one of the few gifts that Ira Brooker has at his disposal. Seek out his words and be better for it. 
You can find a lot of Ira here:
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How Staring at a Blank Wall Reminded Me to Be

Originally posted on The Kate Escape:

Today I stared at a blank wall for 15 minutes. The curtain above moved in and out, slowly, gently guided by the waft of a breeze. I breathed in and out, counting to 10 and letting thought pass over me and by me. Acknowledging them, and letting them pass by.

Meditation isn’t something I do as regularly as I should, but I know it’s important. We’re always so focused on getting where we’re going, on moving, on trying, that we forget to be — to sit still with our thoughts. I didn’t have any grand epiphanies and it didn’t help me figure out my day, but it was still worth my time. Because I’m worth my time, and giving myself that brief moment of silence was a way for me to acknowledge my self-worth. I’m worth taking a breath for and slowing time down for.

I have no idea what…

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A Review of Review with Forrest MacNeil

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Jimmy here.

Friends, if you’re a friend of mine you know that I’ve been a big, big fan of Andy Daly for years now, so when I found out two years ago that Comedy Central was going to give him his very own show I started doing that thing where I am too excited to function, but don’t want anybody to know about it. Then a funny thing happened: the show didn’t come out last year like it was supposed to and it didn’t come out later last year like it might have. I started to doubt that it was going to happen. I started to think that Review with Forrest MacNeil  was just some kind of fever dream I manifested into my conscious mind through the sheer power of wanting it to exist.

Then, not too long ago, Comedy Central announced that Review would have a premier date (for real this time) and that day was March 6th, 2014. If you’re the type of person that knows what day it is you’ll realize that today is March 7th, 2014; which means that last night the world at large finally got to take a look at Andy Daly in the role of life-experience reviewer Forrest MacNeil. And, between you, me and the wind, it was… it was… well let’s just dive into it.

When you admire the work of somebody as much I do Andy Daly’s, the expectations for something like Review go through the roof the second it is announced. Those expectations become almost precipitously high when you, the mega-fan, has to wait 2 years before you get to take a look at the thing. By the time I settled in to watch last night’s premier episode I was humming with expectation and energy, and for a brief moment it crossed my mind that there was no way in hell Review would meet my lofty goals.

Guys, it totally did. Like, holy shit did it ever take my expectations, put them in a bunch of heavy coats and walked them into the ocean until they were too tired to swim back to shore.

The premise of the show is simple, Daly, as Forrest MacNeil, is a typical, straight-faced and khaki-clad newsman that is tasked with reviewing different life experiences. The only way for MacNeil to honestly review the experiences is to get out there and actually do them. If he’s reviewing cannibalism he’s got to go out and eat a human. It’s simple and effective.

In the first episode he took on stealing, addiction and prom; which all seem to be disconnected on the surface of things, but Review went and did something I was in no way expecting: it had continuity between the segments. If the show had put Andy Daly in a series of weird circumstances that resulted in him slowly unspooling until things became super dark I would have been happy enough, but Review did more than that. It wasn’t much, just some nods to what had happened earlier in the show, but it was enough and I fully expect they’re going to keep it up with the remaining episodes. That’s just exciting, because Andy Daly is the type of performer that commits so fully to his characters and is so incredibly capable of building complicated worlds for them to exist in that Review would be a far less fitting vehicle for its star if it didn’t take advantage of all those abilities.

Speaking of Andy Daly, I’ve been indulging in a little hero worship as of late. I cannot honestly tell you how much I love that man’s comedy. His first album, Nine Sweaters is one of the most amazing pieces of character-based comedy that I’ve ever, ever listened to. His multiple pop-ins on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast are masterclasses in how to stay in character while making everybody around you look good. His new podcast, The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project; which features an all-star lineup of improvisers jumping into the worlds of some of Daly’s most famous (and fucked up) creations is stunning in its ability to go to dark places while remaining hilarious at all times. That’s the thing about Andy Daly that sticks out to me the most: he can take insane, preposterous dark turns in his comedy, but it is never “dark for the sake of being dark” it is always in the service of the scene and the base reality it is taking place in. Boy, that’s just some great stuff, and it is always, always awe inspiring to me to see somebody working at the top of their intelligence. Andy Daly is always working that way, and comedy fans are better for it.

Back to Review…

The show is smart, funny and has ingeniously put a lot of talent around Daly to level the playing field and to pull focus from him as needed. Even though Jessica St. Clair and Fred Willard have very little screen time in the first episode, the impact they make when they are on camera is immediate and refreshing. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the supporting characters in Forrest MacNeil’s life fleshed out more and more as the series continues, because to really know what’s going on Forrest’s head and why he’s doing what he’s doing, we’re going to need to see the people he spends his free time with. Review seems to be willing to do that, even if it is just a little bit, and that is exciting.

As much as I love weird, dark humor for the sake of weird, dark humor, I enjoy world-building and character creation all that much more. It allows for the comedy to land on a much deeper level for the given viewer, and while there are plenty of gags that a casual watcher can tune into and giggle at, I’d advise that you commit to this show the same way Andy Daly commits to all of his various character creations. If you do, the experience is going to take your breath away and you’ll find yourself laughing at things you didn’t think you’d ever find funny.

That’s why Andy Daly and Review with Forrest MacNeil exist: to lead us into a dark night of the soul that we spend giggling like jackasses, because when all is said and done, if we’re not laughing at the dark we’re lost in it.

5/5 stars.

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It’ll Be There When You Look For It

Friends, it’s Jimmy, and I’m sorry it has been so long since I’ve delighted you with the power of my words, but I’m very lazy.

Pictured: My Soul

Pictured: My Soul

I can’t even remember the last time I sat down to write for Made of Bees, and that’s a tragedy, so I’m going to be jumping on here more often than not to give Katie a break from generating content (as long as I don’t have to take off my muumuu). That being said… let’s get on with it!

 

We’ve been in Manhattan for 6 months now. The first 2 months were scary, but exciting. The middle 2 months were all over the place. The last 2 months have gone back to being scary and exciting. I’ve been told it takes at least a year to get used to living here, so Katie and I are at the halfway point of getting used to living in the city so nice they named it twice. In that small amount of time I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the big apple.

I like walking around aimlessly on the lower east side.

I enjoy barreling through Chinatown trying not to make eye contact with one of the souvenir shop owners selling I Love NY hats (because I’d be tempted to go in and buy one).

I really, really like this whole $1 slice of pizza thing that I’m sure existed back in Rochester, but wasn’t present every other block.

I love that Katie and I went to a free comedy show on Tuesday night at an Irish bar in midtown and saw comics that have been on Conan, Letterman, The Tonight Show, Comedy Central and Howard Stern. (I also love that I’ve become friends with some of those people despite how not even close to being on their level I am as a stand-up.)

There’s a lot about living here that I’m not exactly crazy about, too, but that’s something I’d say (if I was being honest) about any place Katie and I called home. It’s just that NYC is so big, so heavily populated and so full of things to do and see that if I focused in on the negatives I’d be wasting valuable time and energy that could be better spent eating $1 slices of pizza.

To be fair, here are the things about living here I’m not crazy about:

- drunk people on the subway getting all up in my shit.

- sober people on the subway getting all up in my shit.

- getting lost in the West Village.

- knowing that I’m going to get lost in the West Village.

- those god damn slush puddles in the middle of crosswalks that look deceptively shallow, but end up being full of hypothermia, dirt and your favorite foot.

There’s more that annoys me about living here, but all of them are trumped by how much I really, really like living here. No matter how difficult things have become for Katie and I over the last 2 months, all of it seems to melt away whenever one or both of us realize we’re 20 minutes away from Central Park, 10 minutes away from Fort Tryon, 35 minutes away from UCB and everything around us is gorgeous always.

New Yorkers have this reputation of being rude, fast-moving jerks that don’t have time for tourists and their bullshit; which is ridiculous. Nobody has time for tourists and their bullshit anywhere, but when you’re speed-walking down 7th avenue towards Penn Station because you have to catch a train to the east side and some jabroni with cargo shorts and sandals stops you to ask for directions… you always stop and help. Always. New Yorkers, for all the shit other people talk about them, will give you their time 8 times out of 10 if you need their help. I’ve seen it time and time again over the last 6 months.

Complete strangers helping each other get where they need to go is one of the more beautiful things I’ve had the privilege of seeing here. It happens everyday without fail. I’ll be on my way to an open mic or show and whenever I hit midtown there’s always at least one visitor standing around looking confused and, almost always, some resident of the city says “do you need help?” I’ve seen more random acts of kindness here than I ever have any place else. Even the homeless people that are normally overlooked by the vast majority of society, because they are incredibly difficult to look at since they serve as a reminder that happiness is not a fate guaranteed to anybody, are treated decently by the majority of New Yorkers.

One of the most touching things I’ve ever seen in my entire life happened on Tuesday when I was going to an early evening open mic. There was a very young man wrapped in a blanket on a street corner with a sign that said “Home is where your heart is. I’ve got heart, but I still need a home.” He looked beaten and dragged down by the harsh weather he’d certainly been living in for however long, and he could barely do anything but clench his quivering jaw and shiver. So I gave him some change, nodded and kept on walking thinking “that was so nice of me!”

The incredibly touching thing happened after the open mic when I was walking back toward the subway so I could run to another mic on the other side of town. I saw two ladies dressed in business suits talking to the homeless man I’d passed about an hour beforehand. He was smiling at them and they were smiling back at him. I was waiting to cross the street and heard this snippet of their conversation.

“How long have you been out here?”

“About 3 months.”

“How did it happen?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well… let’s see if we can figure that out, but in the meantime, here’s enough money to get you a room in a shelter and a warm meal. We’ll walk over there with you and talk more on the way. Would you like a coffee?”

I was blown away. I have no idea if the ladies had an ulterior motive, but I’m going to believe that they didn’t, because I want to believe that this city takes care of the people inside of it even when there is stifling evidence to the contrary. So, so many people have helped Katie and I find our way when we’ve been lost literally and figuratively. We help each other, sure, but we’re in a new place surrounded by new people and buildings that literally pierce the clouds, so at times it can be terrifying, but all you have to do is look around and ask for help. It’ll be there. It may not come from the person you thought it would, but it will come.

This city, this big, scary, overly populated city full of $1 slices of pizza and more magic than you can shake a stick at, is finally starting to feel like a place to call home, and that’s because I’m finally starting to see its heart. New York, I love you. Let’s be best friends.

How Followers Are Cool Kids Too

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I’ve always been a Lindsay Weir-type — a good girl who doesn’t want to rustle any feathers as she’s creating / finding herself.

On Being Cool

I’ve never really wanted to be “the cool kid,” but secretly, let’s be honest, we all want to be cool. When I think of the cool kids, I think of the Daniel Desario type (played by James Franco) in “Freaks and Geeks” — totally comfortable with himself and forging his identity from the fringe.

Malcolm Gladwell writes about perpetuators of the teenage smoking “epidemic” in Chapter Seven of The Tipping Point. These guys are the leaders of the pack. They’re types of the people who are more likely to engage in dramatic, easily romanticized behavior such as early cigarette smoking or suicide. They’re also the types of damn the man, carefree spirits that tend to be trend-setters. They’re too cool for school. They’re dangerous but alluring. They’re thrill-seekers and risk-takers. And they’ve always scared me.

I always stayed far away from the residential Heathers, Tiffanys, Mean Girls — because what if they saw right through me and knew I was trying too hard? I’d rather have friends I knew would accept me and be nice. We firmly cemented ourselves in middle-of-the-road pack in coolness and that was fine by me.

The New Realm of Cool

Fortunately for all of us, there are lots of people that are in the new realm of cool — the realm where you get to show your geeky side and own it a bit — and also where you get to be nice. Amy Poehler is one of those people that is changing the meaning of “cool”, with her Smart Girls initiative. The people I work with at the Centre for Social Innovation are furthering the meaning of “cool”. They’re using technology and design and music and the arts to empower, inspire and create a better world.

Jim is turning “cool” into something bigger, better and much more meaningful. He’s the brains behind the “Sincerity. Heart. Humor. Good.” tagline for Made of Bees. He’s the crazy nut I’ve vowed to follow to the end of the earth and back, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I look at the things he’s built and that I’ve had the opportunity to support him through, and I am truly amazed. And I look at what we’re beginning to build and starting to grow, and am still more inspired.

Followers are Important Too

The word follower has a very negative connotation, and I’ve never understood why. I’m proud to be a follower, a supporter and even an introvert. As a communications consultant, this habitual role of listener / sideline strategist has served me well, and I love nothing more than guiding a charismatic leader down the road to success by prepping her with carefully thought-out messages and compelling stories that incite action.

In fact, some studies show that people like me are more poised to make good leaders because they don’t jump into the spotlight just to take credit and show off. This article “4 Things Introverts Do that Make Them Effective Leaders” by Margarita Tartakovsky in Psych Central says that introverts prepare, practice, push themselves and are present. Booyah.

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Find a Nut to Get Behind

Derek Sivers makes an awesome point in his Ted Talk “How to Start Your Movement” that the first follower (aka me) is what turns the lone nut into a leader. “Leadership is overglorified,” posits Sivers. “Yes it was the shirtless guy who was first. And he’ll get all the credit. But it was really the first follower that transformed the lone nut into a leader. So as we’re told that we should all be leaders, that would be really ineffective. If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you come across that lone nut, have the courage to stand up and join in.”

I don’t want to be a trendsetter, and finally, at age 30, I’m starting to realize that’s okay. You know what? It’s more than okay. It’s pretty great. Because standing beside the person at the mic is just as important.

My advice to you is to find your own leader. Find some crazy nut that makes you want to dream bigger and let him / her know you’re there to catch them when they fall. Stand strong and walk tall and you’ll start feeling better about who you are. You’ll start to understand your place in the world a little more clearly. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to feel cool.

-Katie

How do you define “cool”? How do you define yourself? We’d love to hear your thoughts on our Facebook page.

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The Monday Huh? Insomnia

Jimmy here.

It is currently 2:something in the morning and I can’t sleep. It happens to me from time to time. Usually after I’ve done stand-up or had an especially good day of streaming TV shows on Netflix. A combination of the adrenaline and a racing, restless mind are usually the culprits responsible for my inability to catch a ride to Sleepytown.

To be fair, the train to Sleepytown looks horrifying.

To be fair, the train to Sleepytown looks horrifying.

It being late (and me being curious) I wanted to look up what causes insomnia. Sleep is such a huge part of being a functional human being that I take it very seriously, but a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that as many as 40 million Americans suffer from 70 different sleep disorders. Shit gets real further in the NSF’s study when it is revealed that 60% of adults report having trouble sleeping a few nights a week and 40% of adults experience daytime sleepiness so severe that it interferes with their daily activities a few days a month. Children aren’t safe from sleeping issues either, with 69% of kids reporting one or more sleep problems throughout a week.

That’s pretty messed up, right? It explains why everybody and their cousin complains about being tired all the time; which means that science is working hard to give all of us a good excuse the next time our boss asks why we’re moving so slow.

Aside from being the best thing ever, people need sleep for a lot of different reasons, but mainly because it almost literally recharges us, and if we go long enough without sleep we straight up die like whoa. The longest scientifically documented period a person has survived without sleep is 11 days and 24 minutes. Most people would’ve died sooner than that.

Probably doesn't help you sleep by thinking that if you don't sleep you might die.

Probably doesn’t help you sleep by thinking that if you don’t sleep you might die.

So what causes insomnia? That depends. There are a few types of insomnia out there waiting to make us miserable.

If you’ve had issues sleeping for less than a week and you’ve been stressed out at work or staying up later than usual and you’re sleep schedule is all whacked out, you’ve probably got transient insomnia. Transient insomnia is generally attributed to stress, changes in sleep environment, sleep timing and things like that, but can also be caused by other disorders and severe depression. A lot of us have probably had some form of transient insomnia at one point in our lives. The side effects are sleepiness (no shit) and reduced psychomotor performance.

Acute insomnia is a little more serious and lasts anywhere up to a month. It’s called “stress related insomnia,” because the number one bastard behind this botched brain business is good old stress. It’s a little less common than transient insomnia and can be caused by the same things, but the lack of sleep’s effect on daytime function is much more severe.

Chronic insomnia is where things start to get really bad, really quickly. Chronic insomnia lasts longer than a month and can either be a symptom of another disorder or the disorder itself. The causes of chronic insomnia are pretty varied depending on where you look, because sleep is still somewhat of a mystery, but stress, existing medical conditions and pain seem to be the ones that come up most often.  This is the type of insomnia that can lead to hallucinations, double vision, muscular fatigue and in especially severe cases (you guessed it) death.

It’s important to point out here that insomnia doesn’t mean you can’t sleep at all. I mean, yes it does mean that, but it also can mean that you’re having issues getting to sleep and not getting as much sleep as you need. If a lightbulb just went off in you’re head then you just realized you’ve had insomnia way, way more often than you thought you had. That’s what happened to me at least.

Most people just deal with it, grab an extra cup of coffee and try to sleep more when they can. Somehow, millions of new parents seem to go without sleep every day. When Randy Gardner, the guy who stayed awake for 11 straight days, finally got to sleep again he slept for over 14 hours; which I’ve done many times and was never given any medals for.

All of this is really good backup for calling in to work under-slept, by the way. Just make sure your boss doesn’t know there’s a lot of steps you can take to give yourself the best chance at sleeping soundly.

Buzzkill time.  Get it, because of our site name? Anyway...

Buzzkill time.
Get it, because of our site name? Anyway…

I did a handy Google search for “preventing insomnia” and found 18,400,000 results. You can sift through them at your leisure, but I went ahead and only clicked on the first few and the advice I found therein ranged from incredibly in depth to whatever the hell this is going on about.

K.

K.

The take away from all of those results is this: if you’re having trouble sleeping help is out there. Lots of help. Like, seriously there is a shit ton of stuff on the internet about sleep disorders and insomnia. Chances are you can find something that will help you out if you’ve got a touch of the transient insomnia or even a dab of the ol’ acute insomnia all up in your business. Obviously, going to a doctor is the best thing to do if you can swing it, because that’s where you’ve got the best chance of getting actual, real help for you and your sleep issues.

Alright. Time to go to bed. It’s 3:30something in the morning. Here is a picture of a duck.

"I am a duck."

“I am a duck.”

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Being Sick Reminded Me to Breathe (A Post by Katie)

ImageJust breathe. Just breathe. Just breathe. I thought, as I lay crunched in a ball under the covers, hugging myself and trying to focus on breathing out my mouth and severely clogged nose. Let go of all the pain. Let go of all your thoughts. You need to calm down. Just breathe. 

My brain was trying to process all the steps I’d normally take, now that I was finally home. Dinner or food of any kind made my stomach turn. I’d thrown on layer after layer only to roll up the sleeves and want to tear it all off in my cold sweat. I needed to get up, to let the dog out, to call my mom, to do those other random errands I wasn’t remembering…but my head was pounding and my body refused to move. I struggled to move and sunk deep into the covers.

Some people enjoy taking time off, but no siree, not me. I absolutely hate it. It stresses me out like crazy to think that by making those I’m sick calls and sending out those I’m sick emails, I’m letting down people who are counting on me and pushing the big fat pause button on progress. I’m also always sure that people will think I’m lazy and a big fat liar. I’m the kind of person who has come into work only to realize she’s too sick to be there and needs to go home. And then does it the next day. And the next day. (For pretty much every job I’ve ever had. Ever.)

So when I felt this overwhelming pang of pain that affected my head, my body, and most tellingly, my appetite, I knew I was going to have to call it. I am definitely sick, I thought to myself. Fate has finally forced its hand and rendered me officially off duty for a time. A small part of me felt relieved that I didn’t have to play Atlas for a little while. It felt good to think of setting aside all my projects and meetings and plans to take care of me.

I mustered up the gumption to make a very garlic Mary’s Garlic Soup, pulled out a book and went promptly to bed — the first night I’d had in awhile where I hadn’t been eagerly trying to check off a few extra to-do list items or felt pressure to “further myself” with the little time in the day that I had left. I just had to take the best care I could of myself, plain and simple. And that was all there really was to it.

Over the past few days, I’ve watched a whole lot of “The West Wing” because it makes me feel smart when my brain feels like mush and my husband suggested it and he’s a genius. I’ve also been doing A LOT of resting because my husband won’t let me lift a finger and did I mention he’s the best? But mainly, I’ve been doing a lot of centering — I see now that when the cards are down, the only things we really need are health, happiness and family. That’s the magic formula. That’s all there is to it.

So here’s to hoping that after this hellish flu is over — and that I stop feeling “the heat, my God, Mikey, the heat” – I’ll feel more appreciative of what I have, less anxious about getting to where ever I’m going and more mindful of each passing moment we breathe in along the way.

– Katie aka Mrs. Made of Bees

so hot

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The Monday Huh? Too Cold To Snow

Jimmy here.

The Super Bowl was yesterday, and during the weeks leading up to the game the biggest story was whether or not the weather would be the deciding factor. They played the Super Bowl in New Jersey; which is considered a “cold weather” state during the winter (no shit). Of course this was a thing, because football has only ever been played in tropical climes while somebody plays a steel drum and all the drinks are made and served with some kind of coconut based rum and mini umbrellas.

The whining about the cold and possible snow got so dramatic that the powers that be had backup plans to play the Super Bowl on Friday, Saturday or Monday if the weather didn’t play along. Again, football has never been played in anything but perfect weather.

This was all CGI.

This was all CGI.

During one especially ridiculous round of panic a commentator said (with his mouth, out loud) “maybe they’ll get lucky and it will be too cold to snow.” Everybody had a nice laugh and continued to get paid a lot of money to talk about sports, but nobody stopped and said “hey, is that even possible?” because they get paid a lot of money to talk about sports and not weather.

I’ve actually heard “it’s too cold to snow” a lot over the course of the past few years. It’s the kind of statement my brain has a real hard time wrapping itself around, because (to my mind) cold = snow. right? Right.

Being that I have a pretty restless mind and a lot of free time on my hands right now, I did a little looking into it, and it turns out everybody is stupid except me and I’m the greatest, because earth’s atmosphere is never too cold for snow, but sometimes the atmosphere is too dynamically stable for snow. So take that, geniuses!

Me in real life.

Me in real life.

Sarcastic boasting aside, here’s some science talk to support this:

The basic ingredients for snow are a temperature that allows snow to reach the surface, saturated air and enough lifting of that saturated air to allow snow to develop aloft and fall to reach the surface. Neat, right? It’s the same basic science behind snow that most of us learned when we were super young. That hasn’t changed at all over the years and the formula for snow is still the same. Here’s where things get sticky.

You need moisture to make snow and you need cold to turn that moisture into snow, but when temperatures decrease, so does the maximum capacity for water vapor in the air (vapor/moisture = same thing), so colder temperatures mean less vapor in the air. This is starting to seem like I’m shooting my own argument in the foot, but give it a second.

You can still get super, super intense snowfall with very cold surface temperatures because of the other two ingredients that make snow. A ton of airlift can produce significant precipitation even at ridiculously cold temperatures or the temperature in the air can be warmer than that on the surface which creatures more vapor/moisture in the sky and, probably most importantly, even at very low temperatures the air always has the ability to carry moisture. Always.

Only at truly arctic temperatures, think -40 C, can the phrase “too cold to snow” be somewhat valid, because at these crazy low temperatures its not likely the air will be carrying enough moisture to produce much snow. Not “no snow at all,” but “not much snow;” which means that even when it’s so cold outside the weather is afraid of itself, there’s still a chance it could snow.

Of course, if the temperature ever reaches absolute zero all air including water vapor condenses and loses all molecular energy, but if that ever happens we’d all be far too dead to notice if it was snowing or not.

 

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