Changing directions: Songwriting, Short Stories, and Stand-up Comedy

A few years ago I decided I wanted to start writing songs as a form of activism. Creatively, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was more proud of those few dozen songs than anything else I had ever written.

Inevitably though, the commitment to bringing these songs to life would require most of my time being spent on recording and promotion, two things I take no enjoyment from and have very little talent for.

With luck and the generosity of some truly inspiring artists, I was able to assemble four albums worth of what I consider to be quite important work.

However, after a number of frustrations and failures concerning the public reception of this work, I had to come to terms with the fact that I’ve been burned out for quite some time.

I need to change directions.

While I still intend to write song lyrics, I have to take a break from the steps that come after. When I decide to revisit these steps, I will have to find a different approach. This decision was hard to make. Luckily, around the same time that I was coming to terms with all this, I experienced a change in creative focus.

Over the summer, I started writing short stories based on old memories. And in the fall, I started writing stand-up comedy routines. While it’s the most fun I’ve had writing in years, I am quite apprehensive about both.

This essay is part confession, part disclaimer, part therapy.

 

I started writing in college, mostly bad song lyrics. After college, I moved onto satirical fiction and experimental poetry. Throughout this period, I became more and more politically curious.

In my mid twenties, I put together a spoken word show meant to be a contribution to the fight against racism. With good intentions but little grasp of my subject, this work would only serve to disappoint me years later as I developed a more radical understanding of white supremacy and began to see in some of the pieces within the work certain racist elements in relation to its broader context.

While this certainly wasn’t the first time I had found myself cringing upon revisiting earlier creative attempts, it changed the way I approach my writing.

On the one hand, I am more thoughtful. I do more research. I ask more questions. I take greater care to contemplate the array of perspectives and reflect on the potential of my arguments.

On the other hand, I have become somewhat paranoid. I obsess over trivial matters and excessively second guess my understanding of, thus my competence to address, particular subjects. I am suspicious of my honesty.

Most of all, I worry about how my words will be taken by those whom I care about.

Since my decision to change direction with my writing, I’ve been constantly asking myself:
Will it upset my family and friends if I use real events as the premise for uncomfortable stories or disturbing jokes?
Will I find out too late that I’ve exploited an intimate moment, more for the visceral reaction of my audience than for its redemptive qualities?
Will it upset my more politically minded friends (and/or those whom I’ve worked with in the past) if I’m not serious enough or my ratio of dick jokes and bathroom humor to hard hitting satire is woefully out of whack?
Will I hurt loved ones who possess beliefs not in concert with my own if I am brutal in my interrogations of what I see to be the harmful aspects of particular ideologies?
Will I find myself constantly defending against charges of embracing the very hierarchies and injustices I claim to oppose due to my choice of language and/or the questionable nature of my narrative?
Will I flirt with pushing the envelope to the extent that such charges will be warranted?

I don’t want to disappoint the few wonderful strangers who’ve been so supportive of, but have only known or come to expect a certain tenor in, my work.
I don’t want to disappoint the generous individuals who were part of making tangible the handful of works I am now so proud of.
I don’t want to disappoint the diverse cast of beautiful people who helped make the memories I rely on for comfort and for inspiration.
If you are reading this, it probably means (as I have no celebrity to speak of) I don’t want to disappoint you.

There are parts of me that are vulgar and crass, just as there are parts of me that are thoughtful and reserved. The same way that sometimes you befriend different types of people because they appeal to different parts of your personality, I want to explore different expressions of who I am.

I hope you will treat this new work the same way I hope you will treat me – with benefit of the doubt always and helpful criticism when necessary.