There's a great analogy in the book War Day, about people after a limited nuclear war, trying to rebuild their lives in an irradiated dust bowl of a region. The writer likens them to tiring swimmers who are valiantly giving it their all, and who have not yet processed what they already know, that they're going to have to give up eventually.
Without going into a lot of details, there's been upheaval of sorts in my life recently. I've had to cancel a few out of town trips, and I haven't actively tried to book anything new on my calendar. I'm not sure if I'll be curtailing my standup efforts for the foreseeable future, or just taking a break from pushing it so hard. Regardless, it's a bump in the road, and I don't like it.
But maybe I'm just the only one in the room who didn't see it coming. I'm a 39-year-old man with a special needs kid, a bad ticker, and a day job that provides all the security and stability of migratory fruit picking in a blizzard. And I'm at the absolute bottom rung of the comedy ladder. Maybe all the pats on the back and encouraging comments from old and/or more experienced comics have been more of the "oh, it's so cute that you're trying" variety. I didn't intend for my standup career to be a Make-a-Wish experiment or a late-inning flameout before I started wearing Dockers, going to bed at 10 and cultivating an interest in lawn care products.
And dammit, I still don't. But I have to bow to reality at some point, and to the responsibilities I have to other people. It's not all bad. The more I stay home, the more I work on my day job stuff, and the more money I make. I also can focus more on writing -- I have a proposal nearly finished for a novel, with an agent ready to read it, and it's possible that the time I've spent gallivanting to half-empty open mikes on the wide Michigan prairie would have been better spent at home, swilling coffee and finishing this damn book.
But I know this. I haven't been on stage since May 3. I'm about to climb the goddamn walls. I need to get on stage. I have some great shows coming up, and hopefully soon I'll know if I can get back to it full-bore and start trying to book for the fall, or if I'll need to hang back for a while and play civilian some more.
Quitting is not an option, and no one wants to hit pause on something good, especially when they're creeping toward middle age and trying to make up for lost time. I'll do what I have to do, and I'll do the right thing, but every warm night when the windows are open and I hear the faint thrum of the semis whirring down the expressway, I'll think of how the moon looks on blacktop in the middle of nowhere, and the taste of bad gas station coffee, and beers with fellow misfits in the back of bars and comedy rooms, and people in dark rooms looking toward the front wanting to laugh. I'll do what needs to be done, and then I'll get back to work.
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Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.