Four Years!

Today Aric and I celebrate our fourth anniversary. This means he’s put up with my particular brand of insanity for the length of a presidential term. The same length of time you wait for the Winter Olympics to come back around again!

In those four years, he’s shown me what a person can accomplish with gentleness. He’s deliberate, kind, and curious. He’s a patient teacher who has taught me how to fly a drone, light a grill, tell north from south, occasionally admit when I’m wrong, balance a checkbook, steer a kayak, polish a countertop until I can see my reflection in it, and line dance, poorly.

His tolerance for showtunes is higher than it was four years ago, or his resistance has been worn down. Either way, I’m a lucky guy.

Farewell, Old Friend

Playbill.com launched a whizz-bang new website this morning, which at long last brings it in line with the way the internet looks and works these days. Image-heavy with a decent amount of white space, it’s a nice site overall.

President and chief executive of Playbill Philip S. Birsh called it a “brand-new day for Playbill.com”:

Our team of editors, writers, designers and developers have been working tirelessly for the better part of eight months to deliver a sleeker, more enjoyable and interactive Playbill.com experience.

I’m sure they have. Designing, building, and launching a website takes a massive amount of work. Still, I’m going to need some time to grieve.

Up until this morning, Playbill.com looked much like it did when I first visited it—as Playbill On-Line—almost twenty years ago. It was terribly un-fancy, untouched by time. Pages didn’t scroll infinitely. In fact, they were hard-coded HTML with a few banner ads, connected by hyperlinks. It was like the internet in 1996, where load times were long and images were tiny.

I mean, yesterday, in 2016, this was what the show listings looked like on one of the most world’s most popular theater websites:
Playbill.com BWAY listings

And their table of current show grosses, which I pore over weekly like scripture, looked like this:
Playbill.com BWAY grosses

When was the last time you saw a popular website with an HTML table that had a border like that? Beautiful.

I believe in progress, and the new Playbill.com is objectively a better website than the one that came before it. Still, it feels like I lost a little piece of myself today, and we all lost a little piece of 1996. Life won’t be the same as it was, but it just might be sleeker and more interactive. And that’s something, right?

Disconnecting

In a recent CBS Sunday Morning segment about the Broadway-bound musical Shuffle Along, director George C. Wolfe sat at a table and said to his cast, “Never rush through failure. Walk. Walk.”

I’ve thought about this quote a lot. Nearly every one of my failures can be traced back to an inability to focus. Distraction is my vice, and I am ready to walk, walk through it. I want to get better at my job, finish the book manuscript that’s captivated my attention, and write about Broadway here on this very site.

To do that, I need focus. So, tomorrow I’m signing out of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and similar sites for a year. I won’t see a Facebook message or a Twitter DM until February of 2017. I don’t think these tools are evil or inherently wasteful.

I am easily distracted.
I lack follow-through.
I have a crippling tendency to let other people shape my identity.

And I need to stop waiting and start making shit happen for myself. I’ve had a fraught relationship with technology since the first time I tasted a sip of that sweet, sweet internet. After shorter breaks and attempts at mindfulness, I want the clarity of total abstinence. It can’t hurt, right? That’s what I tell myself to overcome my nerves about missing fun events and cute photos of the babies I love.

If you’d like to see what I’m up to, I’ll be writing regularly here on this site, sending occasional updates to an email list. And if you’d like to hang out in person, or just say hi, call me or email me. I’m really hoping meaningful human interaction will come as a gift with a purchase in this whole experiment.

I’m excited to see what I’m capable of, and I hope you are too.

On Getting Started

I don’t know much about Barry Bonds. I have a peripheral understanding of who he is and why he matters. He’s a polarizing figure who should be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, right? Or not. That’s about all I know.

Sports aren’t my thing, with two exceptions: I get caught up in the short-term melodrama of the Olympics, and I still think about Tim Tebow more often than he or I are probably comfortable with. There aren’t many athletes, past or present, about whom I care too much. The discipline required to be an athlete enthralls me, though. The notion of practicing every day to get better at a skill. I’m closing in on a decade of calling myself a writer, and for most of that time it has taken a looming deadline and an act of God to get me to plant my ass in the chair and write.

Early one day last week, I was supposed to be writing. This means I had done everything else: emptied the trash cans, heated water for a Neti pot. I alphabetized the stack of books that I would return, unread, to the library a few days later. Before I was able to write, all I needed to do was spend a few hours passively scrolling through tweets. As I did, I found a link to a blog post called My 25 Favorite Barry Bonds Facts.

2,000 words of baseball statistics I didn’t care about. I read the whole thing. Why? Well, as I told you, it was a writing day, and I’d probably read a Victor Hugo-length book of baseball stats if it saved me from the anxiety of writing even five words for myself.

But it also showed me how great it is to watch someone love a thing, even if you don’t love that thing yourself. It seems as thought Barry Bonds was (is?) very good at baseball. Probably good enough that he had to practice occasionally. Seriously, this writer loves him. From the intro to his post:

“The career of Barry Bonds is an infinite gold mine of mind-blowing statistical miracles; there’s a favorite Bonds fact for each and every one of us.”

This line triggered my deep-seated need to belong (Every one of us? EVERY ONE OF US? Why don’t I have a favorite Barry Bonds fact? Am I irrelevant? Am I…not one of us?), but the author’s enthusiasm kicked my ass. I don’t know anything about baseball, but loving a thing obsessively? That I can do on an elite level.

What’s your infinite gold mine of mind-blowing miracles? For me, it’s musicals. I am easily infatuated; musical theater was my earliest infatuation. For as long as I’ve written, I’ve wanted to write about musicals. I could write My 25 Favorite Audra McDonald Moments in Ragtime or My 25 Favorite Emotions I Feel When Betty Buckley Stands Up From A Squat To Belt That Last Verse In “Memory.”

It’s a dream I’ve shied away from, because of my inner critic. You know the one.

This is stupid.
Nobody cares.
This won’t win you fans and followers.
This has been done before.
This has never been done, and there’s a good reason.
You never finish anything.

This won’t get you published.
This won’t make you matter.

That’s the fear, right? Not mattering? It’s what terrifies me the most.

Inspiration works in strange ways. Barry Bonds and his biggest fan gave me a reminder: get started. Now.

I imagined Barry whispering in my ear: “No one is going to come along and give you permission or a blessing. No one is going to save you from hard work, negative feedback, or the fear that you’re wasting your time. It sounds awfully damn sad to me that you wouldn’t make the thing you want to make, just because you’re afraid people might laugh at you.”

“Loving something deeply is a privilege,” he continued in my mind. “So is the chance to connect with other people. Having your basic needs met so you can afford to sit around and wring your hands about making shit is a privilege.”

In my imagination, Barry Bonds is a whisperer who uses strong language.

“Now get out there and get the fuck after it,” he said, before disappearing into a field of tall cornstalks.


 

For the last five months, I’ve been working on a book and a stage show about the musicals that have shaped my life. I’m ready to start sharing bits and pieces of the work as it progresses. I plan on doing that here on this blog.

I’m afraid you’ll think this is stupid or boring. That’s what the inner critic keeps telling me. Even though it’s worlds away from what the author of that Barry Bonds post had in mind—I think he’s just a guy who loves baseball?—it was a great reminder that I need to feel the fear and just do it anyway.

If you’re interested in following along with this project, I’d love to have you. You can stop by from time to time, or sign up here if you’d like occasional email updates—no more than one a week.

If you’re not interested, that’s okay too. Find your own infinite gold mine and, like imaginary Barry says, get the fuck after it.

Thanksgiving

A Few Things I’m Thankful For
Thanksgiving Day, 2015

I am thankful for my home.
My partner and I live in a rental unit that I have come to love. I tend to keep mental lists of all the things (in our house and in life) that aren’t good enough. When I stop and look around, I feel deeply thankful for this place and the ways it has become our home.

I am thankful for my fiancé.
He is kind. Endlessly kind. He is thoughtful and attentive. He is hungry to learn about the world, and he is eager to make things better than they are. I am thankful to spend more time with him than anybody else.

I am thankful for gadgets.
This is a shallow entry, but I love technology. I love the ways it makes me more productive. It keeps me curious. It can solve problems and do things (a bottomless music library! a beautiful photo album!) I dreamed of as a kid.

I am thankful for Broadway musicals.
Musical theater and cast albums have always been a hobby of mine. Lately, being immersed in theater research for a project, I see that it’s more than a hobby. It’s a sense-making mechanism, and it helps me feel less alone in a big world.

I am thankful for my family.
When we’re in the same room, all of us start talking at once, and none of us ever really stop. It’s insane and loud and spirit-feeding, and I am better for it.

I am thankful to recognize how little I know.
It has come to my attention that I don’t know it all. On any given topic, there are people in the world who know more than me. It’s even possible to defer to them and ask them for help. Not having to have all the answers has freed me up to focus on other stuff, and that feels pretty great.

I am thankful for close friends.
My circle of friends has gotten smaller, and I spend more of my time with fewer people. I am thankful for the people who have gotten to know me well and allowed me to do the same.

I am thankful for babies.
Knowing little ones and spending time with them has renewed my optimism and helped me make sense of life in new ways. I am grateful for the lessons they teach me about wonder and curiosity. And being called Uncle Cole is the best.

I am thankful for finally getting my ass in the chair.
I’ve always hoped I could find a loophole in the whole “writers actually write” clause. No luck so far. I’ve recently been able to establish a consistent writing habit. Most days I’d rather be anywhere other than my desk. The words I generate are mostly drivel. It feels good to show up, though. Discipline is a fleeting thing in my life, so I’m going to choose to be grateful for it while it’s here.