Any biography of me currently lists me as having written one to perhaps three things. Of course, that's hardly the truth. The other day I was thinking about how much stuff one has to actually write before they can produce work good enough that the world actually wants it. So, I decided to make a real bibliography and list every major thing I have ever written, the vast majority of which, you will see, have never seen the light of day.
Fort's Brain  -- (feature film screenplay) terrible college script.
Gatsby Returns  -- (feature film screenplay) slightly less terrible college script.
The Good Life  -- (feature film screenplay) co-written with Tim Calpin, named after a Weezer song. An American Pie rip-off written in 30 days. Landed us a manager (sort of) and then was optioned by an independent film producer who never paid us because he got divorced and his wife took him for a bath.
Cracker  -- (feature film screenplay) co-written with Tim Calpin. A comedic safecracking movie.
Dandy  -- (feature film screenplay) co-written with Tim Calpin. Dark comedy, won a Slamdance screenwriting award though I can't find any proof of that online.
How to Fail  -- (feature film screenplay) Based on a great idea I turned into a terrible screenplay. For the moment...
Without Men  -- (feature film screenplay) Dark comedy that posited a world in which all the men had died in wars and women were the only thing left.
Heroes & Villains  -- (novel) Action drama about a police strike in New York.
Heroes & Villains  -- (feature film screenplay) Written after I couldn't quite finish the novel and decided the concept might work better as a movie. It didn't.
A Better You!!!  -- (feature film screenplay) Comedy optioned several different times by several different people. Made me some money but was never produced. I still think it's a pretty viable property.
Jesse's Toy Box  -- (half-hour TV series) First four episodes and show bible written about a sex toys shop in bible belt Florida. Received a lot of interest and then Seth Rogen fucked up my shit. If I have a single "labor of love," it might be this. My favorite thing I've ever written and I still hope to make it one day.
Trophy Husbands -- (feature film screenplay) Optioned for a minimal amount by a man I'm pretty sure was a con artist. He now uses a different name online.
Proud Papa  -- (feature film screenplay) Comedy about the world's greatest (accidental) sperm donor.
Lied Life  -- (feature film screenplay) I can't even really remember what this was about, but I recall it was inspired by Michael Clayton and was probably pretty crappy.
Everybody's Famous  - (feature film screenplay) Dark comedy satire about a dystopian world where everyone is...famous.
Par for the Course  -- (half-hour TV series) Pilot episode and bible about life on a low-level pro golf tour.
Homeschool U  -- (feature film screenplay) Dark comedy about the most home-schooled children of all time.
[redacted]  -- (feature film screenplay) Comedy screenplay based on an idea by Craig T. Wood.
The Honey Trap  -- (stageplay) I don't even like attending plays, but I still tried to write one. Received decent attention and a reading was nearly put together. I can't recall why it fell apart.
How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide  -- (novel) FINALLY, the first major project of mine an Average Joe could actually consume!
The Cheat Sheet  -- (short story collection)
Drunk Drinking  -- (essay collection) Self-published.
[redacted]  -- (feature film screenplay) Co-written with Jake Hart. High-concept action movie. Currently making the rounds in Hollywood.
[redacted] [2013-2014] -- (novels) Three upcoming novels, manuscripts mostly finished.
Three Rings  -- (one-hour TV series) Co-created with a Brooklyn producer.
17 feature film screenplays
4 television series created
0 produced (as of right now)
7 books written
3 published (as of right now)
So there you have it. Wow, I can't even believe I've written so much stuff--that you can't ever read or see. Maybe 10% of work I've created has been released to the masses. That's kind of depressing.
I'd love my fellow writers out there to do likewise. Give it a try, and pass this along.
I watched the final Oprah show and she spent the entire hour spewing platitudes like:
"To live from the heart of yourself...You also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world."
Gag. At least she's rich and friends with Will Smith, so I'll somewhat respect the ambiguously dull things she says. But these other people out there?!
Self-help gurus have always existed--it's one reason I wanted to bash the concept via HOW TO FAIL--but today's world is filled with some even worse breeds. Self-help gurus for the bulk of time have had to at least write a trite book, at least give a few hackneyed speeches, at least prepare a snoozerific church sermon every Sunday while the rest of us were watching football...but not any more.
Now, with the internet, this new breed of self-helpers simply needs to have a WordPress blog and a Twitter account. (And know a shit ton of buzz words.)
Here are a few of this new breed I'm detesting at the moment:
1. People Whose Dream in Life is to Talk about Their Dream in Life
"You're not rich, famous, successful yet? Well you could be--if you just did a better job of dreaming about it. You ask why I'm not rich, famous, and successful myself? Because I don't want to be. My dream in life is to talk about my dreams in life. And to help you realize your dreams in life...."
"Let me help you, become YOU..."
You're missing purpose.
You need to define your core values.
You need to develop a personal mission statement
You need some clarity.
Coaches are essentially saying, "Look, you're a lazy, unfocused, unsuccessful piece of shit. You know it. And now I know it."
We need some "sessions"--buzz word for the hour we drink coffee together that costs you $500, or worse, the thirty minutes we Skype together during which I wear pajamas and which costs you $250--at least once a week, to help you become YOU.
Of course, most of your success comes from you (I mean, YOU), when you're without me, so while I do promise I will help you dream...I don't promise you will actually accomplish these stupid, stupid dreams.
4. Productivity Gurus
"OK, here's what you need to do to start getting some work done..."
Quit looking at e-mail, checking Twitter and Facebook every five seconds, monitoring your Amazon ranking, watching reality TV, eating snacks, masturbating, having friends, going outside....
You don't say.
It gets to the point where you start to go, "Hey wait a second, if the entire world consisted of these kinds of people, then we would have no novels, no movies, no pop music, and no art.
We would just have a mass of people telling people to seize the day and live their dreams and shoot for the stars and quit their day jobs.
I was talking to James Altucher about this concept and why the internet is flooded with these kinds of charlatans and he had one simple explanation:
"Because they haven't done anything in life."
Just do something in life. That's the only advice you need. You don't need coaches or experts to tell you that. Spoiler alert: You don't even need to dream about it.
You just need to do something.
(Now give me $500 for that hour of my time.)
I've only known Jeff Goins (and his blog) for a brief time, but I've quickly fallen for it. His intoxicating, no-nonsense posts are always helpful for discussing, in layman's terms, complex things I really care about: marketing, increasing one's online presence, and, yes, writing. Today he released a "one-sitter" manifesto on the latter subject, and I really enjoyed reading it. I think you might too. It's short, just 1000 words, but it really got me thinking. I might write more words ON his manifesto than he wrote IN it.
The crux of his manifesto is a point I too have found consuming me lately:
"I could say that I love to write, but, really, I like to be read."
"The Writer's Manifesto" is about rediscovering a pure passion for the art of writing. About reminding me to be more like six-year-old Aaron, when I was writing fairy tales about baseball players just for the pure joy of writing them. And, because 1st grade was really fucking boring too.
A fellow idol of ours, Steven Pressfield, quoted an idol of his the other day, Krishna, who said:
"We have a right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor."
If you're not enjoying the process, why are you participating in it?
To all those hacks out there trying to write the next big alien movie, or procedural TV show about cops, or genre legal thrillers...if you're not enjoying it, why are you doing it? Is there enough money in the world to make this toil worthwhile? (OK, yes, maybe if you're James Patterson.) As for me, I've garnered some decent fruits from my labor (money, press, a whole lotta free beers), but none of them have brought me more happiness than actually having written "How to Fail."
We have to accept that this thinking about writing for pleasure means we might not become rich from our writing. Fine. But would you rather write stuff that makes you happy, or stuff that makes you rich?
(What if you only had one choice: writing stuff that makes you miserable AND makes your rich; or writing stuff that makes you happy AND NEVER makes you rich?)
"The Writer's Manifesto" is about Jeff rediscovering his love affair with writing, and it's inspired me to do the same thing.
I never actually lost my love of writing. I still LOOOOOVE writing, it's just, I also love wasting time thinking about making my writing more "successful." Thinking about the fruits of my labors. Thinking about it being more well-read. But, I need to quit wasting time worrying about how I'm going to market my next book, how I'm going get everyone on Twitter and Facebook talking about it, how I need to better optimize my online presence. I need to quit worrying about whether my next book hits the 5 major keys for successful book-selling in the future.
Instead, I need to just fucking write those books (or movies, or blog posts) that I need to write.
Jeff says it's about eliminating "the tension between creativity and congratulations."
do not begin the day with aspirations
of seeing their words in print.
Nor do they dream of being stopped on the street
to be congratulated for their genius.
Jeff feels that the need for attention from writing corrupts the art. Imagine writing something of pure honesty, with no care what people will say about it. Imagine publishing your diary or journal. How embarrassing! But how raw. We most admire the writers that write the most honest stuff. They don't seem to even care about their audience, about what people think. And we love them for that.
As we disabuse ourselves
of the desire to entertain,
we writers discover something.
That this fasting from acclaim
liberates us to create
remarkable works of art.
It's like: the less you care about impressing women, the more they are impressed by you.
But you can't fake it.
You can only write what you must write.
Get a free copy of Jeff Goins's "The Writer's Manifesto" here: http://goinswriter.com/writers-manifesto/
"...for he who does not postpone his life, but lives already."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance"
And if you wait until your older
A sad resentment will smolder one day
And Then that summer feeling is gonna haunt you
And that summer feeling's gonna taunt you
And then that summer feeling is gonna hurt you
One day in your life.
-Jonathan Richman, "That Summer Feeling"
I'm tired of people talking about things they want to do before they die.
It's almost become de rigeuer for any one with a website or blog or Tumblr or Facebook page--so, like everyone you know--to one day post their master bucket list (typically written when they're bored at the office and have a spare 5 minutes).
Such trite selections, always the same as everyone else's, quickly jotted off in haphazard fashion.
Does everyone in America really want to climb a mountain in every continent, or do they just think they should want to?!
Does everyone really have that aching of need to dip a toe in every ocean on planet earth or does that just sound like...way vagabond-y, man?
Do you really have any reason for visiting Antarctica or does that just sound cool to you?
Why would you possibly dream of sharing a tea with Kate Middleton or a coffee with Michelle Obama or a beer with George Clooney? Who gives a shit?
If everyone actually accomplished their bucket lists then it would seem by 2050 we'd have a world where everyone had: run a marathon, learned to speak Italian, swam with the dolphins, and fucked Brooklyn Decker.
I really don't want to do any of that shit.
How about, instead of rotely going about life checking off an arbitrary bucket list...
How about figuring out the shit you need to get out of the way before you're finally able to live?
Do you need to quit that shitty job?
Do you need to move to a more productive city?
Do you need to dump that bitch girlfriend?
Do you need to simply start writing that novel???
Time is the only commodity you can't create more of.
Why are you so concerned with trying to accomplish these insignificant things? Just to say you did?
Why are you more concerned with figuring out what you'd like to check off in the next 40, 50, or 60 years, when you "get around to it," before you die?
Why not figure out what you need to do in the next minute, hour, week, or month before you can start living the life you want to live?
Even if that is swimming with stupid dolphins...
You've probably noticed these people. They don't write blog posts that are particularly interesting yet each one gets 50 comments. They don't Tweet anything particularly witty yet they get 25 Retweets. They don't post particularly worthwhile status updates yet get 65 "LIKES." They have 10,000 or 20,000 or sometimes even 100,000 "followers" but they aren't famous in any sense of the word. How can that be?
Then, you start to notice that these people have the exact same people commenting on all their posts and Retweeting all their crap and LIKING all their shit. So you check those people out: they too have boring blogs, they too don't Tweet anything particularly witty yet get 25 Retweets, they too don't post particularly worthwhile status updates yet get 65 "LIKES," they too have 10,000 or 20,000 or sometimes even 100,000 followers but aren't famous at all.
And so on and so on and so on. Non-famous, non-interesting, non-relevant people forming an online circle jerk continually regurgitating each other's content and letting it bounce around like a racquetball trapped inside the court.
You get enough people in the circle, enough participants, and it makes it seem like all of the participants are actually creating something worthwhile.
I mean, they have to be, right? If that many people are interested?
Yet, they never create anything that actually escapes from the circle, that any one on planet earth outside of the circle cares about. They don't seem to offer much to the world.
This isn't Tribe-building, this is a tacit gaming of the system.
I'm almost surprised there isn't a web 2.0 company called Circle Jerk (though it would probably be called Crcl Jrk--vowels just aren't sexy on the web) to help place people into certain sized groups with others. They would all make each other seem like they all had something going on.
Maybe there already is this service.
Just please don't Google "circle jerk" to find out.
I have this one friend who has been reworking and re-polishing the same movie script for years. It was the first script he ever attempted and he started it in college. He's 32 years old now. I have another friend who has been editing his "great American novel" for at least the last decade. Yet another friend who has been trying to put together this same short film series for at least seven years.
I suppose most people would be inspired by my friends' stick-to-itiveness in continuing to pursue their labors of love. But, I'm not. These so-called "labors of love" are absolutely killing their careers.
I really wish they'd just put these projects aside and start something new.
Quite frankly, it's irrelevant whether the aforementioned labors of love are any good. (Having read bits and pieces of them I can say that they are.) What is relevant is that they aren't getting made. Whether through lack of courage, lack of initiative, lack of money, or lack of being picked by a studio or publisher. They could of course pick themselves, but I doubt they will. I suspect that people with labors of love like having them over their head. They like identifying with them. They like some built-in resistance in their lives. Think about the Michael Douglas character in "Wonder Boys," a once-great novelist having wasted the last decade stoned and plugging away at a 2500-page opus of a follow-up second novel that will surely never be ready for publication. Because he won't let it be ready.
Having a labor of love is a great excuse for not failing.
"But, I AM working on something. I'm working on the best thing I've ever written! I just can't get funding/studio support/a publisher to back me/someone to release this!"
Sounds like a great excuse to me.
If these projects were truly labors of love, would they really hurt so bad? Quit loving something so much that hurts so bad, that makes you waste so much of your life. Labors of love are just like abusive husbands. "But, he wouldn't hit me if he didn't love me!"
I don't start any writing projects that I don't love, but I, nevertheless, try not to ever make them into labors of love. Easy come, easy go. Love them, but don't labor over them. Still, there's been a couple. A few that "got away." Several scripts or works in my past that I reminisce about, go "Damn, how did that never get made?!," even pull it up on my computer to see if I can rework it again. You usually can't. Thus, you need to be able to cut ties and start something new.
I'm not saying all labors of love are bad. Without labors of love, "Apocalypse Now" would never exist. Nor would pretty much Stanley Kubrick's entire oeuvre. (Having said that, even Kubrick had a labor of love abuse him for several decades and never see the light of day--"Napoleon.")
But, if a project is absolutely controlling the last decade of your life, and no traction is occuring in actually getting the project released, you have one of two choices:
1. Pick yourself and figure out a way to get it out there (self-published, self-funded, whatever).
2. Or, admit you're just dicking around and move on to something new.
I think it's actually more that people are scared about beginning the "labor of something new"--actually figuring out something new to write and then starting from page 0--than they are wedded to that aging labor of love.
If you recall that Michael Douglas character, he actually needed a tragedy to move on from his labor of love and start anew. But, once that labor of love was "tragically" wiped out of his life and he had no choice BUT to begin a new project, the words just flowed and he quickly did complete a new novel.
If you have a labor of love that has been monopolizing your artistic thought for years...how about dumping it today and starting fresh with something new?
Begin your "labor of something new" now.
Would more people read my blog if it had a red and blue color scheme?
Would more people Like my Facebook page if I added a Like-gate?
Would more people RT my tweets if I tweeted more often?
Would more people subscribe to my mailing list if I offered special newsletter-only content on a monthly basis?
How often should I be using my Mail Chimp?
Should I only be showing a portion of my blog posts? Only the titles?
Should I be only posting things online at certain optimal-impression hours?
Should I worry about SEO?
How often do I need to be blogging?
Do I need more evergreen content?
Am I annoying my fans? Or not offering them enough content?!
These are the kind of thoughts that stupidly haunt me sometimes. That make me obsessed. They're hard to avoid. But, it's really just mental masturbation. How to masturbate at work: worry more about the tiny insignificant facades of "work" than actually doing the work.
Oh, and they are insignificant concerns. Excuses for why your book isn't selling as well as you think it should. Excuses for why you don't have as many Facebook fans, don't get RT'ed as much, don't have a massive opted-in mailing list.
It's hard not to find yourself fooling around on the internet and finding blogs and Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds that are getting the results you want--but don't have--which make you think:
"Should I be doing what that guy's doing?"
You should only be worried about creating great work. Great unique work. Completely different from everyone else's work.
Like a pithy blog post with links to everything I've ever worried about.
Which I hope people will now click on.
This morning I awoke at 7:00 AM sharp without an alarm. I grabbed my iPhone off the nightstand and dicked around on it for a few minutes. By 7:10 I flapped open my computer and began work. I worked steadily until 10:30 AM when I finally got out of bed to go grab a coffee at the corner market. I had already done 200 minutes of work for the day without leaving bed, without even putting on a shirt.
The man who works a 9 to 5 rolled over at 7:30 AM and snoozed his iPhone two times 9 minutes* before finally waking up at 7:48, turning off the iPhone alarm and then dicking around on it for a few minutes. He headed to the bathroom at 8:00 to use it for all the things bathroom are used for, grabbed a slow shower, then toweled off before looking through his closet at the same lame dress clothes he hated to buy and detests having to wear every day.
By 8:30 or so he's dressed and out of the house, walking to the subway (he's perfectly timed it), where he stands for a minute on an over-crowded platform at the most downtown end ("his" spot), before sardine-ing** in the first car with a hundred others, barely having enough space to play "Angry Birds" on his iPad. 20 to 45 minutes later, he arrived at the Rock Center subway stop, or maybe Bryant Park, perhaps even all the way down at Chambers, and walked another five blocks to his office where he swiped his ID badge at the front desk of an unnecessarily fortified skyscraper (are companies in fear of people arriving to rob...boredom?) before a long elevator ride upstairs.
The man walked through the office saying hello to his few friends--correction, the few co-workers he can handle--perhaps catching up on last night's Yankees game, or the latest "American Idol" vote-off. He stopped at the break room to make himself a single-serving pod coffee, heading on to his cubicle where he fired up the shitty company Dell, goofed around again online another ten minutes, before finally hunkering down and beginning work at 9:30 or 10.
Some two to three hours after waking up.
The exact same slog happens in reverse at the end day of his day, perhaps adding a stop at his local bar for a few happy hour libations to work off the stress of the day's double commute of pain and torment.
This isn't simply arrogant speculation from some "out-of-touch" writer who doesn't get it and now doesn't have to do it. I've done the slow ass commute a zillion times to and fro. I've worked at home a zillion times too. And, if you want productivity, your best option is not spending the first 200 minutes of your day showering, walking on crowded streets, riding subways, talking about Derek Jeter, grabbing coffee, and getting pissed off about a jam-packed city getting in the way of you being allowed to do work. At "work."
Aside from, say, service industry professionals and teachers and strippers and professional basketball players and a few face-to-face work-based others, there's not much reason to waste so many productive hours of the day "getting ready" for work and then commuting to work and ultimately getting pissed off about the Odyssey-like daily journey of traveling there. It would be better to just stay in bed.
(Then again, one of the best teachers in the world doesn't leave his house. Live-streaming on the web is terrific and stay-at-home strippers can presumably strip for more people than they've ever stripped for before. And, the Knicks certainly didn't show up for work over the last week.)
If you're sick of wasting such productive hours of your day, and all you need to do the work is your brain, a computer, and a phone, why not ask your boss if you can work from home tomorrow? Print this out, Sharpie out the naughty words, and give this to him even. Tell your boss by the time he's arrived at work tomorrow, you'll have already done three hours of work from bed.
How can he possibly not let you work from home?
Why would you possibly want to continue working for this person if he won't?
As it got closer and closer to the book tour, I started panicking about all the things I would have to live without for a month.
I wish I could say I was talking about living without delicious home-cooking or a warm bed or an early bedtime or my girlfriend, but I was more worried about living without the minor. I'm not proud of what I was scared to live without, but I am proud about how I quit worrying and learned to not need these things:
1. Television -- For my whole life I've been a guy that hated to miss anything and everything on television. I don't just mean the quality--everyone hates to miss a new "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men"--but I had become a completest for every show, even lame reality ones. 30 Days on the road, and a DVR filled to the brim when I returned home, and all of the sudden I could give two shits about what Michael Scott or The Situation had been up to. Nowadays, I only follow shows I absolutely adore, which are luckily for me, and sadly for the TV industry, few and far between. ["The Killing," "Fringe," and "Friday Night Lights" are my only *musts* right now, with a few others in "watch-if-there's-absolutely-nothing-else-in-the-world-to-do" territory]
2. Movies -- My movie addiction was even worse. I used to literally watch every single thing that came out out, spending countless hours alone in a dark theater, bored by Hollywood, annoyed by the young punks in front of me texting and gabbing. Why? Because I told myself I was a movie "expert." After missing 30 days of movies, 5 whole weekends worth, during "prestige" movie season no less, I learned to live without. I still love movies, they're still one of my biggest passions, but I can now take a step back, wait to see what films are affecting the zeitgeist or changing the game, and then only watch those. It's better that way. Plus, I never have to see Paul Walker ever again.
3. Sports -- The thought of missing a Syracuse basketball or football game used to give me the shakes. I used to tell people, "If you're my friend you'd never get married on a Syracuse game day and you probably wouldn't die then either." And, admittedly, I structured my book tour to thrice be in cities while Syracuse had big games--oh God and was it worth it!--but I still missed quite a few games. Minor ones sure. I recall being bored out of my wits having my ear bent by a fan of mine while Syracuse was playing William & Mary on a Sunday afternoon. At first, I was stressed out--"How can I be missing this!?!"--but I soon relaxed and realized, "Big deal. So you miss a minor sporting event. Win or lose, you had no control over it. This is your life, this guy talking to you about your book is your life. Live in that." One bad after-effect is that though I can now handle missing sporting events, I also don't derive as much pleasure when I actually watch them.
And I could list countless other little things I used to be unable to stomach the thought of missing: rare beer releases in NYC, goofing around on the internet and reading every single thing there is to read, social networking, my daily jog, and the list goes on and on and on. I lived a Walden-like life existence during the book tour, pretty much removed from normal society, and I surprisingly learned to like it.
Then again, as the main character Stu discusses in "How to Fail," Henry David Thoreau was such a fucking phony:
Thoreau was such a phony. Praising the simple life, panning the American dream, yet going into Concord most days to hang at the local tavern, though the pussy refused to drink. I bet he was sure the life of the watering hole. Unshowered and stinky, ranting about this and that, a man obsessed with teetotalism (he considered “intoxicants” such as alcohol, tobacco, and even tea and coffee to be “demonic”), vegetarianism (he thought vegetarians had evolved and were superior to meat-eaters), chastity (I'm guessing the smelly guy just couldn't get laid and had some serious sour grapes), and not paying his taxes. I'm sure the other barflies loved him.
It occurred to me that perhaps Thoreau was a failure all along. Just cause you wrote a book, even one taught in every high school in America, doesn't mean you weren't a failure.
--from "How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide" (Footchapter 2)
I always told myself I wasn't goofing around. But a part of me thought I was just kidding myself.
I always told myself I wasn't just ignoring real work in favor of mindlessness. But I wasn't sure.
I always told myself there was a point to all this information gathering. But was there?
I've always been obsessed with information. Back when I was a kid there was no internet, so I had to serve my addiction by multi-tasking. Reading books while watching TV while scanning newspapers and magazines while devouring movies. The introduction of the internet was like switching to freebase.
You say, we are all obsessed with information. Yes, we all are obsessed with the truly important things: knowing how the U.S. economy is doing and what's happening in Libya and who is going to win the Eastern Conference and who Jennifer Aniston is currently fucking. But, I've also always been obsessed with the minor minor curios of the world.
Who harbored John Wilkes Booth while he was on the lam? Dr. Samuel Mudd.
Who witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius? Pliny the Younger.
What's the name of the minor league hockey team in Macon, Georgia? Why the Macon Whoopee of course.
I like knowing this stuff. I like stuffing my brain. I like reading random Wikipedia entries for fun. I like being the guy that can dominate Trivial Pursuit, impress his friends when "Jeopardy!" comes on, and be a show-off at parties. I like when someone shouts: "Why do you know that?!"
I sometimes did wonder why I knew that. Why I needed to know that. Was I just a jack of all worthlessness? My manager Craig pointed out otherwise.
We were in Atlantic City on the book tour at a great 24/7 bar called The Irish Pub. There we met a great group of young Air Force airmen about to ship off to Pakistan. We were drinking beers and shooting the shit, when I questioned a shy kid with a thick drawl as to his hometown.
"Ah, you've prolly never heard where I'm from."
"It's a small town in Georgia that ain't got nothing going on: Macon."
"Macon? Sure I've heard of Macon. The Macon Whoopee still play there?"
You should have seen his eyes light up and the smile that appeared across his face. He had an immediate connection with me. After staring at the ground for our entire conversation he finally looked me in the eye. I was now his friend. We went and got some beers. He was soon a book purchaser. And Craig, and the other people around us, still had no fucking idea what the Macon Whoopee is. Or was.
Later, on the car ride to our next tour stop, as I explained to Craig what had happened, how I had referenced an obscure sports team that only a local would know about (or should know about!), Craig explained to me who I was:
A guy who had been spending his entire life learning stuff in order to make the world smaller. To have something to talk about. To make instant connections. To turn strangers into friends. And, now we were learning, strangers into book buyers. It was actually an incredibly useful skill I had been wasting my time acquiring.
And my life flashed before me. All the people I'd ingratiated myself to through my information obsession.
How knowing strange baseball statistics had helped me get friends.
How knowing about education politics had helped me get a girlfriend.
How knowing oddball movies had led to Craig wanting to be my manager.
How knowing obscure Scotches had charmed my publisher.
And on and on and on.
So, perhaps I don't need to know about the Macon Whoopee, but I'm glad I do.
And read HOW TO FAIL to see everything I've ever learned in 32 years crammed into a novel.