Thursday, December 25, 2014

New Year, New Podcasts

I was going to release this one on New Years, but I might even have more to report by then. Anyway, if this blog has a format, I'm going to break it for a moment in fear of / respect for / finding gratification in my podcast obsession. I mentioned a few of my old standbys a while ago (bottom of the post). Those are all still great, still appointment listening without the unsavory appointment element, which is one of the things that makes the podcast medium great. However, I've picked up (and, fairly, dropped) a number of them since then, and I have a core few I can't leave unmentioned any longer.

On that: I won't bore you with the ones you'll hear about without my help. I do follow The Nerdist, Serial, This American Life, and Freakonomics Radio and all have my endorsement (not that they'd want or need it), but I feel a little stronger about these few below. They're still growing their audiences and are really unlike anything else out there.

  • The Gist 
    • Mike Pesca, the show's host, is a fast-talking, alliterative, incisive, incredibly talented machine of language put to good use. The show is semi-topical and veers in and out of politics, pop culture, science and whatever else he can edit himself down to for roughly 25-30 minutes every weekday. This is the only podcast I regularly check my phone for around its regular release time. I highly recommend listening to an entire week's worth of episodes at a stretch to get the idea. You know, binge. It's The Holidays.* 
  • Startup 
    • A podcast documenting the starting-up of a podcast company. If you've ever dealt with startups, or new small businesses, or maybe just foundering small businesses in general, you're going to hear things in here you've always wanted to: recruiting and negotiating with partners, pitching to venture capitalists, advertisers... it goes on and on. Alex Blumberg is an old pro from public radio so the show is put together masterfully, and he goes out on limb after limb in the name of transparency both for the show and his new company. 
  • Writers' Bloc 
    • This is a little niche-y, but I'm a sucker both for comedians and comedy writers. They do something I've always wanted (and failed miserably) to do, so whenever I happen upon a window into one of these brains, I look. That's mostly what this show is. J.R. Havlan, who won Emmys as Head Writer on The Daily Show, interviews TV writers and showrunners. It's big-time inside baseball, but if that's your bag (and it is mine), this is a huge, glistening hidden gem. 
I have more of these. A lot more. It's a sickness, but in a good way. I think. When I decide I'll highlight a few more.

Anyway, Happy Holidays! May your indulgences be many and hangovers be light.


*I may have mentioned: I hate the fucking Holidays.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Holidays, or, Interlude

Bite me, Holidays.
Never been a fan of The Holidays, or even holidays in general. My reasons are the same as most of the cynical bastards you know, so I won't bother to enumerate them here except that (1) I'm a broke, self-employed type and the holidays (capitalized or no) tend do to little other than cost me billable hours and make me work harder to get anything out of the people I deal with in the days surrounding them, and (2) every vice I have gets drenched, fed after midnight and unleashed on me from all sides.

I like that metaphor because it's tantamount to what I do.

Thing is, a couple of weeks ago I started on a new story. It was one of those things where there's only a flicker and it's gone before you can get enough of it on the page to keep it alive. That happens a lot to the ones born of insomnia bouts, as that one was. I forgot about it a couple days later. But then two nights ago, I was flipping through my bad starts (a habit I have when nothing I look at holds my attention) and that one jumped out at me. I got a little more of the thread of it as I read it over, and added another 1000 words to it, which is better than average in these dark days. Then last night I did the same. There's a story there, but hell if I can tell you what it is.

Not knowing isn't what bothers me; it's not knowing if I can keep the thread. Momentum means a lot to the first draft of any story, and this is a bad time of the year to be needing momentum.

It also strikes me that I haven't been able to make much progress lately on any of my writing projects, and it corresponds with the general fucking up of my train I bitched about in a whiny previous post. I've got about two weeks in of cleaner diet, no alcohol and regular gym attendance, and what do you know? A new story comes to life.

One of my favorite things.
It's funny. When I was a kid, I was always kind of a tight-ass about drugs, alcohol... vices in general. When I hit my twenties that didn't change much and I was working really hard all the time. Now in my thirties, I've looked back over that and wondered what the payoff was. Most of the great writers, artists, musicians and performers of pretty much any stripe went through or are still going through some major shit with excess and addiction. I never did that and it always made me wonder if I missed something there.

I feel like I've put that question to rest. The effects of my greatest vices (sweets, carbs, craft beer and Scotch, in that order) are quantifiable and immediate, even when enjoyed in moderation. The contrast between the time I was really living clean and now just makes it too obvious to be denied: I have to live without these things. It's not life-and-death, but it is life-and-no-life.

Which makes The Holidays complicated. I'll be spending Christmas with my extended family, who I adore but who exhaust me entirely. I generally duck behind beer and sweets and lob short, noncommittal quips back into the melee they think of as light conversation. I don't know how to do it without these defenses, and I'm not sure I'm inclined to try just yet.

Also, I mentioned this change of lifestyle to a close friend, who immediately wished he'd known that before he and his girlfriend got me whatever they did for Christmas. Whelp, as I told him, I'm going to enjoy whatever it is just as I would have and damn the consequences. Cuz Holidays.

I'm conflicted about how far to take this concept. Part of me wants to make it sort of a last hurrah, but I think the rest knows better. Last year I went big because my 35th birthday hit right along with everything and I was still very excited to be in a new place. What that ended up meaning was almost two solid weeks of eating and drinking hearty, and I didn't recover until March.

So I'll probably split the difference, erring on the side of asceticism. By next time around, barring anything too terrible, I've have been living clean for a year. Maybe by then my focus will be better and I won't be so worried about momentum.

Maybe by then I'll be on to better things.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

PICKS on Kindle Countdown!

JUST in time for the Holidays, ladies and gentlemen it gives me great honor and enormous pleasure to present to you... A Kindle Countdown SALE!

Heh. Sorry.

But seriously, if you're somehow reading this blog and somehow in possession of a Kindle without my short collection Picks on it... who the hell are you anyway and why are you stalking me? I'm, like, the most boring dude ever.

On the other hand, if you've just been waiting for the right moment, this is it. The Holidays are upon us, so in that highly commercial spirit I'm running a Kindle Countdown deal for the next seven days. That means the Kindle price is rock-bottom today and will slowly increment its way back up over the course of the week. So whenever you're seeing this, get there now! It won't get any better than NOW!!!

I know; I hate it too. But I need a few more Amazon reviews (even though I'm killing it there). Also, if you're a member of Goodreads and have or will soon enjoy my work, I could use some reviews there as well (since I'm getting killed there).

If you're still unsure, I'll let you in on a little somem-somem: "Addie" will be FREE for Kindle Monday to Friday this week. A little taste. But remember: the sooner the better.

If you're into the real thing, there's still good news for you too. Picks is also available in paperback, and eligible for free shipping via Amazon Prime!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Escaping

I dearly hope nobody reads this, particularly people I know personally. It's something more or less between a public diary entry and an update to the few unfortunate individuals interested in the progress of my writing. There's not much good to be relayed here, but if nothing else it may be an interesting mile marker later, when I finally lighten the fuck up.

Since the last post, I've had a number of things go wrong. Most were my fault, a few were indirectly my fault and a few were almost opportunistically out of left field. The first and most major was allowing the rough schedule I'd built for myself to blow up in the name of a couple extra billing hours. By habit (and by nature, as far as I can tell), I don't do well with structure, so anything resembling it in my life tends to be tenuous and fragile. And very, very brittle. Over a stretch of about three weeks I underwent an eat-and-drink (mostly eat) binge culminating in the dumbest of all American holidays, Thanksgiving.

Being of Italian descent, I think I get to say that.

I gained 25 lbs over that period and have scattered my sleep patterns to all points of the clock. I've started and stopped and started again exercising, partly because my conditioning had deteriorated so quickly and partly because I caught a bug somewhere in there that hung on for weeks. The couple of times I did make it to the gym the first time, I left early and almost puked in the parking lot.

On the health thing, I do have a takeaway though: my suspicions about carbs seem to have proven out. Trying to save some money, I bought a 10 lb bag of white rice and tried to make it my staple. Sweet Jesus, people, don't ever do that. My old sugar cravings came back with a vengeance and my energy levels got so spiky and weird that I actually started reacting viscerally to caffeine, to the point where I gave it up for a week completely to detox. I went back off of carbs at the same time, and though I'm far from back to normal, I'm way better than I was.

It looks like the theme of the next two months or so is going to be finding what little discipline I have and re-instituting it. Some vices need to go, chief among them bad food, good drink and stupid little time-sucks.

And background noise. That one's big.

Lately, I've avoided my own thoughts to the point of exhaustion -- there are too many squeaky wheels in there and I have no grease. Or that's what I think, when I accidentally give myself a second. Then, a couple of nights ago, I tweeted this:


I remember doing this. I'd been out with friends (all married or close enough to it), it was a good night, and every word of this was absolutely true at that moment. I was settled into my good chair, eyes half-lidded,  giggling at stupid shit on Twitter. It was a solitary moment of bliss I can't compare to anything in the last couple of years. The singularity of it even struck me at the time, but I was, thankfully, to far-gone to deconstruct it.

I saved that pleasure for the moment I woke up the next day. Yesterday morning.

Now, I was a little whipped, but not sick. I very rarely drink to the point of hangover, probably because it's always had dire consequences for me when I did. So the emotional recoil was certainly partly artificial, but not, I don't think, most of it. As hard as I've tried to justify the background noise by making it mostly science and politics and current events, the simplest, happiest moment I can remember for years was one in drunken escape. It made me realize how primary a component escape has become for me, and I'm not proud of it. I've lately come to think I'm just slowing down, feeling closer to 40 than 20 and all of that, but there's a dual-edged truth here that has nothing to do with that: I didn't used to have as much fun, but I was better at everything I did. I was better at what I was.

I go back and forth between pushing way too hard and letting go completely. I've never been a very consistent or balanced person. I do think I lack the magnetic North I knew in my youth -- it's got to be better to know when you've over- or under-corrected than to just randomly spin the wheel and swing from the rigging. I've learned a lot of things and even occasionally put them to real use, but for the last two years or so, I've had a deepening sense of missing something really big, right in front of me. I wonder what I might have missed while I wouldn't let myself think.

Normally, when I've spent a fair amount of time away from writing, I agonize over all I could have gotten done. It's a little different this time. I really tried every time I had a free hour and even a little energy, but for the most part there was nothing doing. That's always precarious when it happens, but, as with the over-arching sense that I'm missing something I shouldn't be, I also think I could be putting words to page if I can sack up and quit drowning myself out.

As always, I'm searching for a way to tie this little rant/introspection/whine off, but I'm not sure what I plan to do, let alone what I actually will do. I know it'll involve some working out, some long and unsatiated sugar cravings, and some stumbling around in the silent dark. At least now I know this, though: I can probably talk about it. That's something.