One of my goals in the New Year has been to not flake on myself. Another goal is to create habits for myself, especially in terms of writing. One of the things I have planned to use as a tool in creating my habits are The Moth Storyslams. I first went to a Moth Storyslam in August 2007, and I was selected to tell a story that night. I have repeatedly intended to go to more, but I haven't. This year, however, with four per month, I plan to use the themes as a sort of weekly writing workshop: a bit of structure to force me to create some sort of story for each Storyslam. I may not actually always go, and I'm sure that even if I made it to each one, I wouldn't be picked to perform every time. But it's a habit I plan to create.
While I did my part Monday evening, sadly The Moth did not play along. The first Monday of each month includes a Storyslam at Union Hall in Park Slope. The theme for last night was "Deadlines," and I was struggling with how to approach it. On more than one occasion, I've had a great idea (I thought) for a story that I simply never got around to developing into something that I would be comfortable trying to perform, and so, I didn't go at all. (Even though you by no means have to have a story in order to attend.) But I was determined not to do that last night. I was going to prepare something, even if it wasn't perfect. I invited a bunch of different friends, not because I wanted people to see me if I got selected, but just because I knew if I had people planning to show up with me, I wouldn't flake on going.
So I spent some time earlier today putting everything that had coalesced inside my brain down onto paper. My process with writing a story for the Moth is to first, write it; second, edit it; third, copy it by hand from computer into a journal, writing at least a bit from memory; and fourth, determining from memory larger topic bullet points that I can use later to recall the broad strokes I don't want to forget for in the realm of storytelling, it's keeping those larger story points that is most important.
I did all this on Monday. I came up with a story with which I was reasonably satisfied. And I didn't get to tell it. But actually, that wasn't the problem with the evening because when it comes to going to a Moth Storyslam, there is never a guarantee that you'll get to tell your story. However, what was disappointing at Union Hall tonight was that it's obvious the organizers are still a) not used to Union Hall and/or b) don't monitor the line to get in at all.
The event was scheduled to have doors open at 7:30 and stories beginning at 8. When I arrived at 7:30, my friend Jess was already in line. She was outside Union Hall with maybe 30 people in front of her. As we waited without moving at all until close to 7:45, the line behind us kept getting longer, eventually (I believe) reaching the corner of 5th and Union. There had to be at least 100 people behind us.
At about 8:05, people suddenly started coming back upstairs and saying, "It's sold out." I'm glad The Moth is becoming so popular that they're selling out and have added two new regular shows in NYC per week, but if you're going to become that popular and work in really small comedy/music club-type rooms, you have to monitor your lines better. When they said sold out and nobody else would get in, there were still at least 30-40 people ahead of me and the aforementioned 100 behind. There is no reason I should have even been allowed to wait in line. There is no reason that at some point, some one from The Moth didn't come up to us and say, "I'm sorry, but we're never going to be able to get everyone in, and chances are, we'll have to cut it off before it gets to you." Even if that doesn't make me leave, it certainly would let me know that I was waiting at my own risk.
This is no remarkably new idea. The Public Theater does it for Shakespeare in the Park every summer. We do it with our Rush lines at Tribeca as well. Sometimes people choose not to leave, just in case. But to know that you likely won't get in, at least then, it's your own fault.
Regardless, considering what my story wound up being about, it's a bit of Alanis-Morrisette-ironic (i.e., really, more of just a bummer) that I didn't even make it in, let alone have a chance to actually tell my story. In fact, my closing sentence might even qualify the evening for full-fledged irony. But along with all the rest of the new-for-2009 things I'm trying, I won't let this discourage me. Or something. I don't know.
Regardless, here's a written version of the story I would have told had I made it in and been selected. Hopefully, I'll get to the Nuyorican early enough next Tuesday.
When you don't get selected to tell your story, they usually call out your name at the end of the evening and ask you to yell out your first line. Mine is, "I am an anal procrastinator." The whole thing, after the jump.
I am an anal procrastinator. I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, so I would argue I am the perfect anal procrastinator. Nobody does it better.
I suppose some explanation is in order. First of all, get your minds out of the gutter. You see, because I'm a perfectionist, I know that when I'm going to embark on a task or a project, I refuse to not do it perfectly. If it involves cleaning my kitchen, it's going to be spotless. Organizing my desk? Everything will have it's exact proper place.
But because I know how hard I will work and how long it will take me in order to do the job not just right but perfectly, I'll just put off doing it until some other time. Basically, I have this internal philosophy that identically matches today's entry in my "Procrastinator's Calendar": "Today's reminder -- you should never start something you can't finish. So take a look at what you need to do today and ask yourself -- is this really something I can finish before bedtime today? If the answer is 'no,' 'maybe not,' 'maybe,' 'repeat the question,' or '17,' you should probably not start until tomorrow. Exactly!
Oh believe me, I know this makes everything worse. It's utterly irrational and it leads to way too much disorder. Take my apartment. I moved into it a year ago, and yet, it looks like I'm still unpacking. I continue to live in a certain degree of boxes and clutter. I don't actually enjoy it, and yet, I've managed to unpack and organize just enough to be annoyed but comfortable and comfortably annoyed. But I can't actually start putting everything away until everything can be perfect. I need to buy shelving. I need to make a well-thought-out trip to The Container Store. And really ... who has the time?
Yeah ... I do, but there's usually something more interesting to do, and why do something today that you could do tomorrow when there are no major consequences today.
In order to get around my anal procrastination, I often create deadlines for myself, but I'm terrible at keeping them. In fact, terrible might be an understatement. Sometimes, I try to trick myself into believing that although such deadlines are completely self-imposed, they may also involve some sort of responsibility to someone or something else. If I don't complete a deadline for myself, there are no identifiable short-term consequences; but I can't tolerate myself flaking on some sort of responsibility to someone else.
So for example, about five or six years ago, I had become fed up with my inability to finish a complete draft of a screenplay. I had an idea I had been "working" on (meaning, thinking about but not actually writing) for at least two years already. All I needed to do was focus and give myself the time to write it. But I just never made the time. So I decided to take a screenwriting class. Not because I wanted or needed to learn how to write a screenplay: I had already had classes in college and read plenty of books. But I just wanted to give myself some form of structure, and I figured, if I had to pay a few hundred dollars, complete assignments and physically go to a class a couple times per week, I would make the time, do the work, and get it done. Sure, nobody would really care if I didn't, but at least there would be some form of consequence, in this case, financial. Of course, I still managed to put off finishing the complete draft until the day after it was technically due.
This is not a new habit for me. When I was in college, my Senior Thesis was an examination of literary-to-film adaptation focusing on a case study of Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" and both the Stanley Kubrik and Adrian Lyne films adapted from the novel. I had three months to work on this project. I reread the novel. I read each of the screenplays, including the unproduced one written by Nabokov himself. I watched both films several times, taking lots of notes. I did tons of library research, reading books and articles discussing the novel, the films, the art of adaptation and more. But I never started writing. The writing is the hardest part. I kept putting it off, thinking about how I would do it, but still stupidly formulating it (or so I told myself; it would up being a 50 page paper) in my head until 36 hours before it was due. Of course, it still took my 48 hours to actually finish it.
I don't miss deadlines at work, and examples such as my screenplay or college thesis, I'll always complete them, usually at the deadline. I'll still procrastinate, but I'll never miss the deadline when there are tangible consequences noticeable by others. But recently I realized that the most important deadlines are, in fact, the ones I set for myself. And yet, those are also the ones I seem to treat with the most disdain.
About a year-and-a-half ago, I decided that I wanted to start coming to these Storyslams. I had been introduced to them by a friendly acquaintance who had participated for a few years. I wanted to try them because I thought it would be another way of forcing a writing habit upon myself. I could count on there being a Moth Storyslam every two weeks. A little deadline to write a story and take a chance on being able to tell it. And I did. Once. In August 2007. The theme was "money," and I had what I thought was an ideal story concerning a practical joke played on me (successfully, I hasten to add) by my best friend. I showed up, I got picked, I told my story, and I really enjoyed the experience. I was determined to keep writing for the other themes and to keep attending.
I haven't been back since.
I had a great idea for last week's Storyslam about "Gifts." But ... eh ... I never got around to actually developing it, writing it, and having it prepared enough within my head to risk standing in front of people while telling it. It's not even that I need hours-upon-hours to prepare or that I rehearse over-and-over. But I didn't do anything. At all. And so, I didn't come. And that was essentially how I treated my self-imposed Storyslam deadline all throughout 2008!
But wait ... it's 2009. Happy New Year! And it's less than a week into the year, so I've created many great resolutions all eagerly awaiting that moment in the next couple weeks when I'll fail at them.
No ... no ... that's not true. In fact, if I even think that way, then I'm failing at what is really the only important resolution I made: my 50,000 feet resolution that I refuse to forgo only five days into the new year.
Those who know me personally might have the idea that I'm a big, cuddly, cynical, misanthropic, pessimistic, self-deprecating, supremely critical teddy bear. And, if you knew me and thought that ... you could be right.
But lo ... ho ... hear me now. No longer. For in 2009, I am the realistic optimist. I am the perseon who will start the day with a half-full cup of coffee. I am simply determined to make the choice to have a more pleasant disposition; to believe that anything is possible; to not confuse unrealistic with optimistic or realism with pessimism; to allow things to not be perfect but at least to be.
Even as I was deciding to try this, though, I considered how - like most New Years resolutions - it was likely to fail. So I decided to take a new approach, something I've never done before. I gave myself an out. I decided that my resolution this year wasn't necessarily about lifetime change but rather about a simple project ... for a year. One year. I decided that if I wanted to change some things in my life, to put myself into a different and hopefully better place than the one in which I had found myself slumming for the past two years, I would need to give myself a new deadline. I would need to try a new approach. If it doesn't work ... well ... it's always easy to return to the half-empty pessimistic comfort zone of my past.
So one year. For one year, I am a realistic optimist. For one year I will make the choice to believe in that can-do attitude and ignore abstract fatalism. For one year, I have decided to be happy. Not annoyingly so. Not obliviously. Not in a manner that involves ignoring when stuff is crap, but at least in a way that stops the current crap from turning the next thing into similar crap. One year before evaluating and reevaluating everything. Even when it may become uncomfortable, until December 31, 2009, that's what I've got to do. So far, we're five days in. So far, so good. I mean, I finally made it back to the Moth, didn't I?