The Internet Will Always Be Dessert This Year.

             I had one of those days yesterday where I think all the answers to my life are on the internet.  

            Not coincidentally, the Please-Internet-Make-Me-Feel-Better-About-Myself Days often happen when I’m working on something scary or overwhelming or incredibly meaningful, i.e. the days when my Resistance Machine is working at full tilt. As I talked about a little while ago–as inspired by Steven Pressfield’s must-read TheWar of Art–Resistance is an insidious force that pops up in all of us in a multitude of ways and always has one goal: to keep you from making and doing the things you are meant to do.

            And the internet is Resistance’s best fucking friend in the world.

            Case in point: yesterday, when I was getting ready to start chopping apart the most recent draft of my second book, to officially start rewriting in the hopes that I will, within approximately fifty or so days, end up with a Much Better Version of said book, I couldn’t truly buckle down. I worked, but in drips and drabs, always somehow finding my way back to my email or my Twitter feed or a Variety article about who might be directing some Marvel movie coming out in 2033.

            We’re all aware, of course, that the internet is antithetical to getting work done. This is not news. Most writers will tell you that if you want a prayer at any sort of productivity, you should turn your wi-fi off.

            And yet.

            It is a lesson I am forced to learn again and again.

            Because Resistance is so powerfully uncomfortable, it is constantly triggering my Go to the internet button. Yesterday, Resistance was a voice in my head telling me that I have a huge task ahead of me and not a whole lot of time to do it and my next draft better be awesome because I like how the first book turned out and right now the second book is simply Not As Good.

            Yes, here again, a classic case of Awesomeism happening. It’s a daily problem.

            That Resistant voice in my head makes me feel small and powerless and so I run to the internet where I have some control. I can get something else done that will get me my power back! So I come onto this Tumblr and slightly edit one of the sentences in the About section, or I look up the address of a restaurant I might be going to next month. And then, since I’m already internetting, I figure I might as well check my Twitter feed. And then I read some random article about the Knicks, which is beyond dumb because the Knicks are literally the worst team in the NBA this year, so what the hell is there to read about? And then, if I’m going to be really honest here, I end up Googling the title of my book, just to see if new stuff has popped up about it that will make me feel like I have worth in this world.

            When I get to that last step, I know the shit has hit the fan: I’m in a full-blown Resistance spiral. Searching sadly and desperately for some piece of affirmation that will right the ship and make me feel like less of a time-wasting failure.

            “But it’s too late,” I tell myself. I’ve already gorged myself on too much internet before getting actual work done. The ratio is messed up, and it leaves me with the same empty feeling I get ten minutes after I eat a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich.

             But on those days when I get right to work as soon as I sit down, and I’m able to push through the struggles, through the discomfort, for at least half an hour, I don’t feel like that. Even if I don’t have a ton to show for it, I feel good, like I’ve done my part, like I’ve earned a quick dip into the internet pool.

            Ideally, the ratio would look something like this: fifty minutes of continuous work earns me a fifteen minute break, which would include as much dick-around/email/Twitter time as I want.

            Then back to work.

            Just so you know, I’m rarely able to maintain this kind of discipline. But I want to.

            So here’s one of my intentions for 2015:  

            Time on the internet will be deliberate and mindful, a reward for a period of work productivity. Once I sit down to work, I can never lead with an internet binge. Never.

            Put another way:

            The Internet will always be dessert this year, never the main course.

             As always, I’m writing things like this mainly as a way of imprinting these ideas into my head and holding myself accountable. So if you find the above words irrelevant to your life, I applaud you. You have an amazing work ethic and you should never change. 

            But if this resonates with you, then thanks for making this piece part of your internet dessert. Now go get some work done.

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Be an Asshole in 2015

            Well hello there, my friends. Happy 2015 to you. I hope your year is off to a shimmery, hopeful start. And I hope you’ve been having as much fun hoverboarding as I have.  

            In the past five years, Katie and I have moved away from making new year’s resolutions, opting instead to write down our intentions for the year. We’ve both found it to be way more motivating and satisfying and focusing. These intentions should be things you’re hoping to accomplish for the year, and you should say them as if you are predicting the future, as if these things are already foretold. Because future-predicting is way more powerful, not to mention way more fun, than goal-setting.

            For example, here was my first intention on last year’s list:

I will write a solid first draft of my second book by May 1, 2014.

            I actually didn’t finish until the beginning of August. I often misfire on the timing of my intentions. But it doesn’t matter! Because the important part is getting the shit done! (Unless you have deadlines to meet that are set by people who are not you. In which case you should do as I did above, giving yourself a deadline that is way before the deadline that is set by the person who is not you.)  

            Here is another one of my intentions from last year:

Ray and I will continue with our podcast, and we will make a much more focused effort to promote and get it out there, potentially joining the Stitcher network. We will be featured on Pop Candy, Vulture, and various other high-trafficked blogs.

            This one only partially came true; Ray and I did continue with our podcast (The Lance and Ray Show check it out), having a genuinely good time and learning more about what the show could/should be in the process, but we totally dropped the ball on the promotion part. Life gets busy; new things pop up that you never could have predicted at the beginning of the year, and you don’t have time for everything. And also, Pop Candy doesn’t even exist anymore.

            So that intention is going to carry over in some form to my list this year. (Katie and I are going to write our lists TONIGHT. I know; we’ve already started 2015 off with procrastination. But in our defense, we spent the past two nights building a big-ass Ikea dresser. And that felt good.) On my 2014 list, I’d say about 60% of my intentions for the year actually played out the way I had foretold. But that’s pretty damn good. I made predictions on my future and got three-fifths of them right!

            I should mention that it’s helpful if some of your intentions are things you’re pretty certain will come true. Things like, “I will run three times a week, and it will feel great.” “I will focus more attention on my friendships with Bob and Tito, aiming to hang out with them at least a couple times a month.”

            Hopefully, you’re noticing that all these intentions, especially the one about the podcast, are pretty specific.

            This is important.

I will make a lot of good art this year is an example of an unhelpful intention. What kind of art? How many projects do you mean by a lot? When will you finish each of them by?

            Specificity in goal-making is something I’ve always struggled with. Because it takes bravery. And confidence. And brazen ambition. The more specific you are, the more it feels like you’re A. full of yourself and B. destined to fail.

            But you need to make big, epic, specific goals for yourself. Because if you can’t dream big for yourself, no one else will be able to either.

            When I was pursuing an acting career, I prided myself in my realistic stance on the whole thing. I would go to an audition, and afterward I wanted the world to know that I knew that my odds of getting the part were unlikely.

            “You never know with these things,” I would say.  

            “I’m sure they saw at least fifty other dudes for this part.”

            “Yeah, I mean, I felt good about it, but it’s such a crapshoot, so we’ll see.”

            This is a horrible way to go after your dreams. All of those things I said on a loop were true, but it was completely unhelpful for me to pay attention to them.

            The mind is a powerful thing; the thoughts you have can dictate reality. I truly believe this. So if your thoughts are that you’re in an impossible business and you’ll never succeed, that will likely become your reality.

            (I could—and probably will—write five to ten more blog entries about my complicated psychological relationship with the acting business and with auditioning and how I was always my own worst enemy, so look forward to THAT.)

            The people who succeed in any given field are the people who believe deep-down that they belong there, that they can do it. They don’t listen to the noise all around them saying that it’s unlikely to happen; they listen to the voice in their head that says it will happen.

            I’m not suggesting you push to the opposite end of the spectrum and become an arrogant jerk. I’m just saying there is a fine line between being modest and undercutting your own dreams.

            I already know that the list I write tonight is going to shoot the moon, with future predictions for the year that include lucrative movie options for my books and an appearance on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I feel kind of uncomfortable even telling you that because usually no one knows what’s on my lists except me and my wife; intentions are a really vulnerable thing, especially when you’re aiming high. But they’re also a vital thing because I need to start believing these things for myself first.

            And then, when they actually happen, people can say, “I can’t believe that!” But I won’t be surprised. Because I’ve already been believing it.  

            Do you think I sound like an asshole?

            Me five years ago definitely would. But I encourage you to sit down and be an asshole with me. Write some grand, highly specific intentions for your year. Let your brain know that big things are going to happen in 2015.

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My Favorite TV of 2014

            My wife Katie and I had a baby in February, which meant that the majority of the entertainment we consumed happened in our apartment, in the small window of time we had after our son went to sleep at night. Luckily, this was an awesome year for TV. And even though we generally only got through one episode a night (the rare evenings when we tackled two felt–and continue to feel–like the hugest luxury, like a crazy binge-watch), we still got through a fair amount of shows.

            So, as an end-of-year gift from me to you, here’s, in no particular order, my favorite TV of 2014:

            (And keep in mind, there’s a ton I have not yet watched, including things I’m pretty sure I would love like Transparent, Key and Peele, and Fargo. You will also not find True Detective here, though I did see it; I had mixed feelings.)

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Broad City has been hailed as the first female stoner comedy and though this may be true–with Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s awesome natural chemistry and beautifully uninhibited performances–it wouldn’t mean nearly as much if the show’s whip-smart writing wasn’t constantly nailing universal truths about being in your twenties in New York City. When this show’s hitting on all cylinders, as it was in at least half of the episodes in its first season, it’s hilarious and zany and true-to-life and astoundingly good.

Favorite episodes: “The Lockout” and “Stolen Phone”

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            Nathan for You, in which awkward dude Nathan Fielder sets out to improve real-life small businesses with ridiculous suggestions, is a genuine delight. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, following comedic ideas all the way down the rabbit hole, and Nathan Fielder is a bona fide genius. The season premiere–in which Nathan encouraged a real-estate agent to advertise herself as the Ghost Realtor, offering 100% guaranteed ghost-free residences–made me laugh harder than anything else I’ve seen on-screen this year. In later episodes in the season, Nathan’s persona at times leaned more toward being a jerk than an awkward nice guy, which diminished the show’s glow a bit for me, but nevertheless, I still wholeheartedly recommend it if you like amazing, uncomfortable, high-concept comedy.

Favorite episodes: “Mechanic; Realtor” and “Souvenir Shop; ELAIFF”

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I don’t know how Orange is the New Black pulled it off for the second season in a row, but somehow it’s able to make you truly care about so many characters. Not only that, but said characters are predominantly played by people you would never otherwise see on TV, women of all ages and ethnicities and sexual identities; the sole thing the members of the cast have in common is that they’re all phenomenal actors. What takes the show into even higher heights, though, is its singular tone, genuinely cracking you up one moment and then turning scary-intense at the drop of a dime. And making it seem effortless. By focusing this season less on Piper and more on the ensemble as a whole, the show got richer, its many effortlessly-juggled story arcs bouncing off each other in interesting ways; everything that every character does has an impact on all the other characters (which, on TV isn’t always the case), and OITNB did a brilliant job of following those karmic chains episode to episode, culminating in a deeply satisfying season finale.

Favorite episodes: “A Whole Other Hole”; “We Have Manners. We’re Polite.”

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            Olive Kitteridge is one of the best book-to-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen. Considering the source material by Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite books of all time–tapping effortlessly into those tiny life moments of pain and love that make being a human such a beautiful, heartbreaking experience—this is no small feat. Bravo to director Lisa Cholodenko and screenwriter Jane Anderson, and to Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (and the whole cast, really), who absolutely wrecked me. I felt like I wanted to cry the whole time I was watching. That’s an incredibly pretentious thing to say, but it’s also the truth. Watch all four hours of this thing. It will give you a deeper appreciation for mankind.

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Katie and I just started watching Jane the Virgin this month, and even though we’ve only seen five out of the nine episodes that have aired, we are already both so sold. Its outlandish premise—23-year-old virgin gets pregnant because of an artificial insemination medical mix-up—and over-the-top telenovela-esque storylines actually work because they’re executed with such smarts and tonal assuredness, and grounded by heartfelt, honest performances, none more so than Jane herself, the truly terrific Gina Rodriguez. She’s instantly relatable, nailing comedy and drama equally well by always playing the truth of a scene, with a face so expressive it sometimes seems straight out of a graphic novel. Now that we’re firmly in the era of the 13-episode cable series, it seems insane that this network show will have to sustain its high quality for 22 episodes, but Jane has been so good thus far, I have faith.

Favorite episode: “Chapter One”

And here are other shows I thought were great:

 Parks and Recreation – The second half of last season had no right to be as good as it was this far into the show’s run. It’s one of those rare gems that pulls off heart without losing any of the funny. Super-sharp writing and one of the best comedic ensembles of all time.

Doll & Em and Playing House- Like Broad City, these are both awesome half-hour comedies about two best friends grappling with adulthood, co-created by and starring two real-life best friends. The similarities end there; Doll & Em is quiet, biting, and dry, with the entertainment industry as a backdrop, and Playing House is sweet and loose, with the BFFs reuniting in their small hometown. In any other year, just one of these shows and their wonderfully accurate, heartfelt depictions of friendship would be an anomaly; in 2014, we got three of them. Good stuff.

Louie and Girls – I will never stop watching these shows, both of which are bravely original and unafraid to go into strange territory. Even in those rare moments when I’m not feeling them, I’m still onboard, because they’re always trying new things, blurring the line between comedy and everything else. Unlike many shows, which deal with a variety of studio and/or network notes, I know the episodes I’m seeing of these are pretty much exactly what their creators—Louis CK and Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner—set out to make. And that purity of creative vision is always exciting.

Mad Men- I honestly don’t remember much about this season—pardon me, half-season–except for its fantastic last episode, with Peggy’s amazing pitch and that unforgettable last scene. But those two things are enough.

Drunk History- This show is so funny, but it’s also so damn educational. Even if its facts aren’t always correct, I always finish an episode feeling like I’ve learned some things, which is delightful. (Note: my sister Mariel is an assistant editor for this show, but the above would be my opinion regardless.)

The Comeback – After a shaky start, with an unnecessarily-complicated plot device weighing down the first episode, this show got back on its feet, as hilarious, sad, insightful, and uncomfortable as ever. Lisa Kudrow so fully inhabits Valerie Cherish, and in his two episodes Seth Rogen does some of the best actor-playing-themselves acting ever.

Hooray, 2014! Thanks for all the good watches. Here’s hoping 2015 is just as stellar.

Things change all the time. RIP Tea Lounge

          The Tea Lounge, my daily writing spot since May, closed three days ago. I have many feelings about this.

            The predominant one is heartbreak. For the past seven months, the Tea Lounge–a unique, cavernous-yet-cozy spot that’s been in Park Slope, Brooklyn since 2000–had become, for all intents and purposes, my office. It’s where I wrote most of my second book, as well as all these recent blog posts.

            In the past couple months, I’d begun to experience something there that I’d always dreamed of: the phenomenon of being a regular. I’d tried to make that happen at various spots during the writing of my first book, but it had never taken. (This is partially because one of the main spots where I wrote the first book was the Lenny’s in Hell’s Kitchen. Don’t judge, it has a great room in the back, which possesses three key features that I look for in a writing space: nobody bothers you for staying too long, there are always interesting characters around, and it’s not the place where I live.)

            But with the Tea Lounge—which, it’s worth noting, has the aforementioned key features in spades—it had started to take. As of the past few months, the people who worked there knew I drank tea, not coffee. I was often that annoying guy at the counter having jokey conversations with the staff, and it felt so good. I developed a friendship with another regular, a charming 40-something dude named Caio, who’s working on a complex cinematic installation based on a story by Jorge Luis Borges. “This place is my Cheers, you know?” Caio said to me once, gesturing at the room around us, and I nodded along, realizing at that moment: This place is my Cheers, too, Caio!

            Granted, that was never completely true. I was endeared to a lot of the regulars—the bald dude with a mustache and glasses who always sat reading the paper for a couple hours in the same armchair, the older woman who would spread out a bunch of essays in front of her (to grade, I think?), the sharply-dressed guy who wore a fedora and stared at blueprints on his computer—but my awkward attempts at a daily “Hi” and a nod were often left unreciprocated. Which was okay with me! These people were doing their thing, just like I was, and it was comfort enough to know I was going to see them every day. 

            But all of that became moot last Thursday, when I learned my sort-of Cheers would be closing in four days.

What?  

            It didn’t help that the day before, my wife and I had learned that ‘Snice, a vegan café that was one of our favorite places to eat, had been shut down indefinitely for failing its sanitation inspection. Apparently the place had mice and roughly eight different species of flies roaming around. Cool!

            So one day ‘Snice is gone, the next day the Tea Lounge.

            And that Thursday afternoon, grasping for some stability, I sat in the soon-to-be extinct Tea Lounge and called my doctor’s office to schedule a yearly physical. “I’m sorry,” the receptionist said, explaining that my primary care physician would be leaving the practice next week.

WHAT THE HELL WAS HAPPENING?

            Look, I know it’s a luxury to deal with problems like these, to even call them problems, but that didn’t make the sudden disappearance within two days of three regular fixtures in my life any less strange. It felt like a message from the universe that I couldn’t quite decode. 

            Maybe the message was simply this: things change. All the time.

            The reason heartbreak was the predominant feeling in this Tea Lounge saga, rather than the only feeling, is because in my Googling about what had happened, I stumbled upon this article. The owner of the Tea Lounge blames its demise on freeloaders who buy a cup of coffee and then stay there all day to write their novel i.e., people like me. “I’m running a business, not a community center,” he says.

            This was the most confusing, infuriating thing in the world to read. What a twist, you guys: I’m mourning the loss of my beloved home away from home, and it turns out the one who killed it was ME!

            Except, unfortunately, I can’t accept that as the truth (and not just because I bought salads occasionally). The owner speaks as if the freeloaders (AKA his most loyal customers who have each given him hundreds of dollars) were holding him hostage, as if he’s not the one who can run his shop however he wants. He raised the prices in late summer, and though I was annoyed for a second, I was happy to pay that because I understood he needed to stay in business. If he wanted to set up some kind of Argo-Tea-style one-purchase-gets-you-two-hours-of-WiFi, he could have. If he wanted to ban laptop use during certain hours, he could have. (Defensive much, Lance?)

            After reading that, I suddenly understood the Tea Lounge was going to close either way. These days, it was a wonderful place in spite of its owner and not because of him. I’m sure he used to have a better attitude about it, but clearly not anymore.

            Things change. All the time.

            In fact, this blog entry is coming out on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday for that very reason; I was about to post this yesterday before I headed out for the night, but as I searched for the link to the above heinous article, I stumbled upon THIS.

            Two long-time, devoted Tea Lounge patrons are in talks to re-open it as a place called The Meeting House, a cross-cultural co-working space/community center/café.

            Oh man. It’s so moving. Things like that are only supposed to happen in Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. 

            So, the Tea Lounge may re-open as an even better version of what it was, run by people who are genuinely excited about it.

            Or maybe not.

            Either way, it’s a reminder that life is unpredictable and magical and painful and great.

            And things change. All the time.

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The Things You Have The Most Resistance About Doing Are The Things You Need to be Doing

         I’m having a tough time with the blog this week. There are a number of entries I know I want to write—first and foremost being the story of how I detoured from my acting career to write a novel—but I want them all to be good and that overwhelms me, so my inner awesomeist is like, “Save that one for later.” “Nah, not yet.”

            I am such a cliché.

            I wrote a whole entry about pushing forward in spite of these feelings, and I still can’t apply it to my own life on a regular basis.

            Cue self-loathing spiral.

            Cue looking at email/Twitter to escape spiral.

            Cue wondering what the hell I’m doing and forcing myself to get back to work.

            Repeat. 

            In that few-weeks ago entry, I mentioned Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Now I will also mention Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It was recommended to me years ago by the great David Ross, and it’s been absolutely indispensable. I recommend it to every creative person I meet; it’s lit a fire under my stagnant, self-pitying ass too many times to count at this point.  

            The crux of the book is that Resistance pops up whenever we try to create a piece of art. This Resistance comes in many forms (“I don’t have time!” “I’m feeling too tired today.” “I’ll do this in the summer, when my mind is clearer.”) but 99% of those forms are bullshit excuses. The bottom line is you need to sit down and do the work every day, and not worry about whether it’s good or not.

            (Incidentally, all those parenthetical excuses are things I say all the time.)

            The problem is, the more important the piece of work you’re creating is to you, the more Resistance you’re going to encounter. Messed-up but true. The creative projects that mean the most to us are, paradoxically, the things we are least likely to finish.

             I’m a month and a half into my goal of blogging weekly, and I’m already starting to get precious with it. I can’t help it. Because now I’ve established a general vibe for the first entries, a standard to hold myself to, and I’m putting a completely irrational (not to mention unproductive) pressure on myself. Look, you know it’s bad when I’m again relying on the crutch of telling you how much I’m struggling.

            But there it is.

            I bet you, reading this right now, have a project you’ve been sitting on a long time.

            That screenplay idea you’ve been telling people about but haven’t actually written a page of?

            That song idea that right now is just half a hook and an image in your head you don’t even really understand?

            That app idea that you’d love to do something with but you don’t know the first thing about app technology or how that works?  

            Yeah, well, stop making excuses and get to work.

            Like, TODAY.

            Like, right now.

            Write an outline for your screenplay, experiment with a chorus for your song, find out who in your life would know things about developing an app and shoot them an email.

            This can apply to other things, too, like a long-ignored desire to go bungee-jumping, or to start your own business, or to take a baking class.

             Life is short, friends! Do it now! I mean, come on, there has to be some lemonade made from this lemon of a blog entry!

            If nothing else, you should know that making things and doing things is not easy. We all face Resistance. Truly, everybody. I face it at least a dozen times every day that I write. Do I get in the flow of writing sometimes? Absolutely. But even once I do, I feel so proud of myself that I take a 20-minute break, after which I’m like, “Oh man. I guess I should start writing again. Lemme just check my email one more time. As a reward.”

             Resistance is always there, battling you every step of the way. But it can be beaten. Just set aside some time every day, even if it’s just ten minutes, and do the work. It’s not always going to feel good. Do it anyway.

            And, on those inevitable days when Resistance wins, be kind to yourself. (Like me. Today. I am trying to be kind to myself.)

            If you do take a step on some project today, let me know! I will happily bug you about it in the future and make you feel guilty if you’re not working on it.

            And you can do the same for me! Hooray!

Cue self-loathing spiral.

A Couple of Self-Helpy Books that Changed the Way I Look at the World

           I seem to always start these blog entries by mentioning some day of importance because, apparently, Tuesday is a much bigger deal than I realized.

            And today is no exception: Happy Giving Tuesday!

            In case you’re not feeling flush enough to do any of that kind of giving, you should know that there are plenty of non-monetary ways to give today. You can:

  1. Hold a door for somebody.
  2. Smile at a stranger (has to be non-creepy or it doesn’t count).
  3. Pick up a piece of litter.
  4. Choose two conversations during your day and really listen to what the other person is saying instead of just waiting for your turn to speak.
  5. Write an email to someone you know telling them how cool they are and how happy you are that they are in your life. (I’m amazed more people don’t do this more often. I’m amazed I don’t do this more often. Think how meaningful it would be to receive an email like this, how much it would lift up your day. You could give that gift to someone, and it would only take, like, seven minutes! Maybe even less if you’re a fast typist who organizes your thoughts quickly!)

           I know the list I just made is fairly cheesy, but I am a sucker for shit like this, for reminders to focus energy outward onto other people.

            And yet it’s easy to forget to do that. Now more than ever, in the social media age, when we spend so much time measuring ourselves up against others’ posts, others’ photos, others’ accomplishments, and so much time thinking about the wittiest thing to write, the best way to present ourselves online, it’s so easy to sink into a gross Me spiral. My Me spiral days are always my worst days, and there’s usually at least a few a month.

            But I find that when I stop thinking about myself and start thinking about how I can help other people, it’s, ironically, one of the most selfish things I can do. Because it makes me feel so damn good!

            That’s why I’m a huge fan of books about spirituality, about being present, about slowing down my mind. I do my best to always be reading one alongside whatever other fiction/non-fiction is in my backpack. (Yeah, I wear a backpack. And I feel great about it.)

            So today, my gift to you is a list of my most favorite spiritual, self-helpy type books. It’s actually just the beginning of a list, since this entry got too long when I included all of them. But for starters, these are two books that changed the way I look at the world and the way I operate within it.

Ruling Your World, by Sakyong Mipham.

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            This is an awesome book about a lot of things, mostly letting go of the need to think about yourself all the time. Sakyong Mipham is the current leader of Shambhala, an offshoot of Tibetan Buddhism established in the U.S. in the 1970’s that involves a form of mindfulness meditation which can be embraced in a religious or secular way.

            I know about it well because my dad has been a practitioner and teacher of Shambhala my whole life. Growing up, this was confusing for me. Technically my mom and dad are both Jewish, and everyone thought I was Jewish, but we weren’t practicing Jews, and my dad had a shrine room in the house that he meditated in every day. (If you’re interested in hearing me talk more about that confusion, feel free to watch this.)

            By the time I hit my twenties, though, I was embracing Shambhala more, doing a few of the weekend workshops, reading a lot of related books, and going through phases where I would meditate at least ten minutes a day. (And then there are also phases where I don’t do that at all. Like right now.)

            The book touches on some basic meditation instruction, which mainly boils down to sitting and focusing on your breathing. Every time your mind spins off to some other thought, you recognize that and come back to your breathing. It’s challenging and uncomfortable, but in the past, even just a week of consistent meditation has helped bring my mind to a much calmer place.

            But back to Ruling Your World: every time I read it, it makes me want to be a more compassionate person and more focused on helping others. And, if you get so into it that you want more Shambhala in your life, there are meditation centers all over the country. Huzzah!

 Sample passage that might blow your mind:

When we’re on the “me” plan, what others say about us has great power. A friend tells us we look good – our mind soars. A colleague tells us we’re not pulling our weight at work – our mind sinks. We are like children, one minute laughing and the next minute crying. In reality, praise and criticism are like echoes – they have no substance, no duration. But when we chase projections like a dog going after a stick, even words have the power to destabilize our mind. We think about what somebody said, over and over. We let it ruin our day.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff, by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.

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    This book has become something of a cliché, but I swear it’s profound in a wonderfully accessible way. I’m in the middle of reading it for the second time right now, a chapter or two a day, and it never fails to put me in a good headspace. My list of five things above was very much in the spirit of what Richard Carlson has to say in here.

            Reading it is also kind of insane because it’s all about appreciating your life while you still have it, about not stressing so much because you could die at any moment, and this dude who wrote it died suddenly in 2006 from a pulmonary embolism that moved from his leg to his lung while he was on an airplane. He was 45, had a wife and two daughters, and he just died with no warning. It’s so heartbreaking and makes every chapter reverberate in this eerie, powerful way. One of the more profound chapters of the book is literally called “Imagine Yourself At Your Own Funeral.” I know. Richard’s wife Kristine wrote this beautiful and worthwhile piece about dealing with Richard’s death that will make you appreciate your life. Make sure you have some tissues.

            And, not to make this about me, but I’m realizing right now that, in the book I wrote, the protagonist Denton Little literally attends his own funeral. So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say this book had an impact on me.

Sample passage that might blow your mind:

One of the major reasons so many of us remain hurried, frightened, and competitive, and continue to live life as if it were one giant emergency, is our fear that if we were to become more peaceful and loving, we would suddenly stop achieving our goals. We would become lazy and apathetic. You can put this fear to rest by realizing that the opposite is actually true. Fearful, frantic thinking takes an enormous amount of energy and drains the creativity and motivation from our lives. When you are fearful or frantic, you literally immobilize yourself from your greatest potential, not to mention enjoyment. Any success that you do have is despite your fear, not because of it.

            Hope these two books can be as helpful for you as they’ve been for me. I’ll be writing about some others I love in a future post. And if you have any spiritual books that have meant a lot to you, I’d love to hear about them. 

          Thanks for reading, guys. Now get outa here and go smile non-creepily at some strangers.

I’d already written an entry for today, but in light of last night’s decision in Ferguson, I’m postponing that. Instead, read (or re-read) the eloquent statement released by Michael Brown’s family.

We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequences of his actions.

While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen

Join us in our campaigns to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.

We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.

Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.

Then read Roxane Gay’s moving words.

Then consider donating to the Ferguson Public Library.

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I know you’ve always wanted to know what Bette Midler and Judith Light are like in person. Well, here’s your chance. Liz Wisan talked with Ray and me about that and so much more on our podcast this week. 

The Road to Awesome is Paved with Shit

             Hey! Happy Veterans’ Day! (Apparently I only post blog entries on days of national importance.) I hope you’ve found a veteran and taken him/her out for ice cream. Also, consider donating some money here.

            Last week–while the Republicans were taking control of the Senate thereby guaranteeing it near-impossible for progress to be made in the next couple years, which is unfortunate, seeing as the climate change we’ve wrought is causing the world to unravel–I wrote about Meredith Vieira and dental conventions in 2004. This week I’m switching it up and writing about my creative process; specifically, about being a perfectionist, which is one of the biggest daily obstacles in my work.

            Being a perfectionist sounds like a good thing, right? Like, that’s the answer you’re supposed to give at a job interview when they ask you to name one of your weaknesses. (Certainly better, anyway, than “I can’t help but sexually harass the people I work with.”) But trust me when I say that, when it comes to creating art, the need to make things perfect is a straight-up hindrance.

            This term perfectionism needs some clarification, though; it’s sort of a misnomer. Because, when I’m sitting down to work on something, it’s not that I’m thinking to myself, “This needs to be perfect.” I’m aware, after all, that there’s something beautiful about imperfect art. No, for me, it’s that I want to sit down and output something that is immediately awesome

            This desire for immediate awesomeness trips me up again and again. So, for our purposes, let’s call this state of being awesomeism. It’s a tricky term, maybe, because it sounds like something helpful. But fuck it, that’s just my inner awesomeist trying to poke holes in this blog post, and he needs to shut his mouth.

            He’s actually been talking the whole time I’ve been trying to write this entry. This, what you’re reading now, is my third attempt in three days at trying to write it. Two days in a row I’ve tinkered a bit, ultimately coming to the realization that, “This is too hard, I should save this entry for some later week. I don’t even know exactly what I’m going to say, and who the hell am I to write about my thoughts on being a perfectionist? The brilliant Anne Lamott has already covered this topic exceptionally well in the “Perfectionism” chapter of Bird by Bird, her indispensable book of writing advice.” (If you’re a writer/artist of any kind, you need to read this at your earliest convenience. Lamott is smart, funny, self-deprecating as hell, and so inspiring.)

            But I can’t listen to that voice, especially not when I’m in the first draft stage.

            Because if I do, I won’t make anything.

            I can name right now at least ten projects I’ve worked on over the past years, some with others, some alone, that are now decaying in the creative graveyard because there was some element of awesomeism that got in the way.

            Now’s as good a time as any to recognize that two huge intertwined components of awesomeism are Ego and Fear. These two guys team up and produce the little voice in my brain that says, “I should only work on this right now if I already know it’s going to be awesome. Otherwise, I’m just wasting time on something stupid that people will think is stupid, thereby making them think I am stupid.”       

            But two things: 1. Some people actually will think you and your work are stupid regardless of what you do. That’s their business, not yours. 2. You cannot know what the hell it is you’re making until you have a first draft.

            This second thing bears repeating, mainly so I can ram it into my own dense skull: You cannot know what the hell you’re making until you have a first draft.

            The frightened awesomeist in me wants to believe that a creative idea is only worth pursuing if you know in advance that it’s guaranteed to be awesome, and that is incredibly foolish.

            Writing a book, or a musical, or a screenplay is not, it turns out, the way I imagined it to be as a kid: that you pretty much know in your head the way the whole story is going to go and then you write it down.

            This is a ridiculous thought, but I think some part of me still wants to believe that it’s true. Because it’d be so much easier that way! I could skip the part where I’m floundering, staring at a blank screen, feeling like a failure, taking a break to search for validation on the internet, not finding any, feeling horrible and guilty and useless for being on the internet instead of working, writing some more words that feel stupid and meaningless and unconnected to the story I think I’m writing, generally feeling a TOTAL LACK OF CONTROL.

            Awesomeists want to be in control. The opposite–not being in control–is powerfully uncomfortable. And it doesn’t matter what stage of your career you’re at. When I was writing Denton Little’s Deathdate completely on spec, this feeling manifested as, “Why the fuck am I spending my time writing something no one’s even asked me to write? This isn’t even good!” And once I sold Denton, along with another book, this feeling turned into: “People are paying me to write these books, and I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing! This isn’t even good!”

            But I’m learning that the TOTAL LACK OF CONTROL is necessary. If you commit to floundering every day, to–as Anne Lamott says–writing “a shitty first draft,” you will make bizarre and exciting discoveries. It may take days of working, maybe even weeks, but you will dig up gems from within the piles of shit. The story you’re writing will surprise you, and it will be a thousand times more rewarding than knowing the route in advance.    

            So let us not be awesomeists in the early stages of a new piece of art. As we take the leap of faith that this work inevitably requires, let us be shittyists. It’ll be scary and powerfully uncomfortable and maybe even smelly sometimes, but we can lean into the fear and know that just by doing the work, we earn the right to call ourselves artists. The road to Awesome is paved with Shit. Let’s all pave together, one shit-stone at a time.

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November 7th, 2004. When I Moved to NYC.

        Hi! Happiest Election Day to you, my friends. I hope you’ve gotten out to vote or, if you haven’t, that you’ve already planned when in the day you will. If things are as dire as the 80,000 emails I’ve been receiving say it is, then you probably won’t have to wait that long in line. I didn’t.

         As I proclaimed last Wednesday, today is the beginning of my Terrific Tuesdays blog series. (That will be the last time I am calling it that. Just wanted to see how it felt. It felt terrible.) Leading up to the April publication of my YA novel Denton Little’s Deathdate, I’ll be writing about my creative process, my transition from an acting career to a writing career, things I love, people I love, and why I will never, ever have a cat.

            I thought maybe I’d start with the origin story of my book and how it was I came to start writing it, but I always think it’s cool on TV shows when they save the origin story episode for later on (see: West Wing - Season 2, Episode 1), so instead, I want to go back even further, to November 7th, 2004, the day I moved to New York City.

            I need to briefly interrupt to say that, until thirty seconds ago, I thought the date I moved here was November 1st, 2004. I even tweeted on Saturday that it had been ten years since I arrived. But just now I Googled the date, and it turns out I was WRONG. Because I know I moved here on the day of the NYC Marathon, and in 2004, that was November 7th. So, Serial is totally right - memory is completely suspect. And you, my friends, are being blogged to by an unreliable narrator.

            Anyway, I moved here almost ten years ago, i.e. an amount of time equivalent to going to college two and a half times. Or, put another way: A baby that was born as my dad and I were in Brooklyn parking the small U-Haul truck packed tight with my belongings is now ten years old.

            Hot damn.

            I’d graduated from college in May of that year, spent the summer as an apprentice at the Williamstown Theater Festival, then lived with my parents in New Jersey for a couple months before making the move to a neighborhood in Brooklyn newly referred to by opportunistic real estate people as South Park Slope.

            My college friend Greg and I moved into a sweet, little apartment (if you stood at a certain spot in front of our building, you could see the Statue of Liberty!), bought our $70 monthly unlimited Metrocards, and began our new lives. I was ready to get my acting career started, and Greg was pursuing a job in theater or art history.

            I need to interrupt once more. Suddenly remembering that I kept a blog ten years ago, I did another quick Google search and was able to find it immediately. Oh sweet God. Why did I think keeping a public journal during my early twenties was a good idea? The blog is now set to private, so you will not be able to read it. I’m sorry. But I will be choosing some good excerpts for future entries. Here is a small sampling now, written at 3:19 in the morning on December 18th, 2004: So, people, get this:

Greg and I just had our first annual holiday party, and I’m sorta drunk and feeling that post-party thing where you’re like, “Where the ladies at?” And then you’re like, “Oh right - they all LEFT.”

            So, uh, yeah. That’s been on the internet for the past ten years. Super. That holiday party Greg and I threw was a bright spot in what had been a very slow November and December. One of the other bright spots was the Meredith Vieira-hosted Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, every weekday at 12:30 pm. For at least the first month of our lives in New York City, that was the only consistent daily plan Greg and I had. We didn’t have cable, but this was back in the day when you could use a hanger as an antenna, so we were all set. I feel like I’m 800 years old.

            We watched WWTBAM? so much that I started thinking we needed to be on it. At the very least, I thought we’d each be able to make it to the $32,000 milestone, which would be, like, a lot of money. But it wasn’t the right time of year for auditioning to be a contestant, so instead I went online and applied for tickets for us to sit in the live studio audience. No one got back to me.

            That November, I also made my New York City acting debut in a play called Sotoba Komachi at a hideous place called the Producers’ Club. Young actors, save yourselves some trouble and do not act in things at the Producers’ Club. And, really, everyone should be advised to never see things at the Producers’ Club (unless you’re being supportive of a young actor friend). I still remember waiting outside the door to our theater space 45 minutes before our show started because we couldn’t get in there until the real-life Kramer (who had supposedly inspired the Seinfeld character) finished the intro to his bus tour.

            Later that month, Greg and I worked at the GlaxoSmithKline booth at a dental convention. At the end of the week, every booth was getting rid of their leftover giveaways, and I walked off with a bag filled with so many toothbrushes, so much floss, so much toothpaste; it was the opposite of Halloween, though no less joyful. “New York City, baby!” I thought. “Free stuff everywhere!"  And no lie, that stash did last me until a couple of years ago.

            But as all this was going on, really, all I wanted for my life and career was to be on The O.C. Or some other awesome teen drama. I wanted to be Seth Cohen. I have a history of unhealthily loving teen dramas–Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, and then The O.C.—and finally, I was out of college and ready to be on one.

            Spoiler alert: I never was. Though soon after, in January of 2005, I co-created a weekly improvised teen drama called The NYC (get it??) with my buddy Pete Capella, and it was: A. very awesome and B. how I met my wife, Katie.

            But more about that later. For now, let’s just linger in the smoke of late 2004 nostalgia, when life was new and MySpace was king. Thank you for reading this first Tuesday blog entry and for indulging me and this snapshot of my life way back when. I promise all of these won’t be me reflecting on watching game-shows ten years ago. (Only about 65% of them.)

            Now go enjoy the day, vote if you haven’t, and please help yourself to one of my virtual toothbrushes.

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I am going to start blogging every week.

This Tumblr of mine has been in existence for over five years. (I know this because a couple of months ago Tumblr sent me an email wishing me a happy five years of Tumbling. That was nice.)

For the past three or so years my relationship with this blog has been very touch-and-go. Emphasis on the go. From April 2011 through June 2013 I flat-out abandoned this thing. I am still so sorry about that, sweet Tumbly.

*My Tumblr crosses its arms and frowns.*

But there’s a good reason - I was writing a book!

 *My Tumblr slowly shakes its head at me.*

You don’t think that’s a good enough reason? 

*My Tumblr shrugs while sarcastically raising its eyebrows, then looks away.*

All right, well, my Tumblr and I are still working things out, but my point is, I’m going to be writing things on here in a semi-regular fashion starting this Tuesday, November 4th (Election Day! Go vote!) and continuing every Tuesday after that until my aforementioned book, Denton Little’s Deathdate comes out on April 14th, 2015. And who knows, maybe I’ll even continue blogging after that. One step at a time, though, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I should add that this official announcement of my blogging is not me imagining that anyone actually cares enough to need an official announcement, like they’re going to mark it down on their iCal or something. Really, this announcement post is more for me than anyone. I am a huge procrastinator and if I don’t proclaim that I’m going to do this, I probably never will.

So here I am proclaiming: if you want to read about my creative process, my transition from acting to writing, pop cultural things that I love, people that I love, and some filler stuff on the weeks I can’t come up with anything because I was too busy procrastinating, then check back here on Tuesdays. Thanks.

*My Tumblr crane-kicks me in the face.*