writing with the BIG Dawgs
Or, the issue that I drafted in crayon
Dammit substackers. Please stop being so dang impressive.
There are times when I feel wholly outclassed here on this platform. I'll sit down in the morning, sifting through my newsletter feed or perusing random pieces that others suggest on notes, and it seems to be nothing but an avalanche of talented thinkers ruminating with pure, undiluted eloquence on themes such as the tension and tussle of the creative process, or dispelling effortless, deeply poignant reflections on overcoming formidable personal challenges.
I'm getting choked up just thinking about your beautiful lives in your quaint little beach alcoves as you sip your turmeric teas under the gentle glow of lavender-scented candlelight. Your words have brought me to the verge of tears with your musings on a whole slew of topics ranging from reconciled complicated relationships to the memories of your 11th-grade English teacher who first stoked your interest in Proust.
Meanwhile, here I am, howling with a straight-jacket in my own derelict corner of the Substack universe, waxing on about my colonoscopy poops and ninja movies, comparing Paul Hertzog's soundtrack for the 1988 martial arts masterpiece, Bloodsport to the works of Mozart.
I’m a grown-ass 45-year-old time-capsule of a man who never managed to escape his 1991, 12-year self.
My heart sinks every time I read your wonderful stories, and I feel like the only child in a room full of adults. You're all making beautiful cinema while I'm over here drawing cartoons. I'm the guy showing up to your wine-tasting function 40 minutes late in socks and sandals with chili stains on his t-shirt. This is RAIDER NATION baby!!
I'm going to be honest. I wish I could write like you. I want to touch hearts and move minds. I want you to appreciate the little things in life. I really do. I want you to read this newsletter and emerge as a better human being.
You know, after my painful divorce, I was lost in a 10-year haze of tortured wandering, heavy depression, and an unyeilding addiction to Adderall. but then I read Dan Benson's colonoscopy article, and wiping the tears from my eyes, I finally typed the first line of my novel that changed the trajectory of my life forever.
I want to be one of you. Lord knows I've tried.
But I can't. I can only be me.
I first began this online writing gig a while back, long before the neural pathway that birthed this newsletter ever etched itself into my thought sponge. I cut my teeth about 15 years earlier in fact, writing film reviews on my childhood friend's movie blog. Most of these pieces were about obscure low-budget horror, martial arts, or Mexican wrestling films from the dregs of cinema's mud bucket. But my goodness, they were fun to watch and write about. When you have a gem of a film like The Clones of Bruce Lee in your sweaty little palms, the possibilities for a hilarious roller-coaster of a film review are limitless.
All of this is to say that I feel as if I'm always walking a thin line when it comes to writing. It's like there are two very different objectives that I want to achieve here. On one hand, I want to bring content with real value. I want to hang with the Emma Gannons of this space, clinking wine glasses, popping confetti, and wearing exotic furs with the same 20 or so high-profile writers who are dropping the mic with every click of that publish button and are blowing me away as a matter of habit every week on this platform.
On the other hand, there's still that stray nerve inside of my dumb ol' noggin that gets the back of my neck all moist and itchy with anticipation, thinking how awesome it would be to, without any warning, suddenly drop the definitive scholarly study of Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop on my newsletter. Or to attempt to draw out some underlying, deeper meaning connected with the time my friend Felipe and I were out in the desert shooting road flare duct-taped propane canisters with shotguns and caused a small brush fire that ended up almost getting us arrested for arson (we were idiots.)
So, how do you marry those two very different objectives? How can I give The People genuinely beneficial content while being true to myself and satiating that desire to write Fun Stuff?
I don't know. This newsletter may be my way of figuring that all out. I've staged the MidThoughts newsletter as a publication to explore and find a new kind of happiness in midlife. A big reason for this is because I suddenly find myself at this gateway to middle age and for some unexplainable reason, it's the most excited I've ever been about my future. There's a steady creative buzz in the back of my skull, like a fly trapped in a window, from all of the latent potential I feel has built up from spending my last 15 years working in the soulless vacuum of IT.
It's wild, but I can actively feel my psychology shifting on a day-to-day basis, like a couple of tectonic plates settling into their new positions in the days following an earthquake. It's still so fresh to me. I've hit that point in life where the ego and its dumb compulsion to chase down silly things like status and image gets unceremoniously dropped. You realize that stuff means very little in the long run and you're left with a new kind of unburdened freedom and all of this empty space for new mental furniture that actually means something.
My 45 years on this planet have brought with them some sobering experiences and have taught me many profound lessons. As I enter midlife, I'm digging deeper than I ever have and am connecting with a refreshingly truer version of myself that couldn't have existed when that pesky ego was sitting in the front seat 10 years ago. I'm liberating myself from many of the lame, outright false beliefs that tend to become stamped on your brain after prolonged exposure to society.
The most ominous of these beliefs are the ideas centered around how we are supposed to handle growing old.
I've been watching kung fu movies, playing Tetris, and calling people dude nonstop since I was nine years old. Am I really supposed to stop doing that now that I'm a nearly 45-year-old “respectable” administrator with a university degree? There's still that slightly devious and playful part of me with eyes darting and a half-smile sneaking out of the corner of my jaw that never made it out of high school. I'm still here, watching the same loud, obnoxious action movies that amused the hell out of me 30-odd years ago. If I want to watch Arnold throw a machete into some guy’s chest and tell him to “stick around” for the 122nd time in my life, I’m gonna do just that. If I need to dig myself out of a sour mood I know I can listen to 2pac or Manowar at an unreasonably loud volume to smooth out the jagged edges.
After well over 30 years of this rodeo, I know what works for me.
I don't think this is me rejecting the cold truth that now, in 2024, I am indeed a grown-ass adult and a fairly old one at that. I should have some creative integrity and not go around peppering my writing with potty jokes and carelessly littering the Substack platform with stupid references to Jean Claude Van Damme movies from 40 years ago.
But you know what? At no point in my journey did I ever take the words "grow up" to mean “abandon what you love”. Maybe it's not that I never left high school, maybe it's that the prevailing mentality from those years stuck with me because it engaged my soul in a way that the grown-up one just can't. And for the record, I have this whole other part of my personality that can handle the grown-up stuff just fine anyway. I can appreciate philosophy, study a second language, and develop my writing without becoming a self-flagellating intellectual douche. The mischievous Dan who has that sudden, inexplicable urge to flip over the lunch table can sit right up there with the one who pays his bills on time and monitors his credit regularly. The two can coexist.
So as much as I admire you beautiful, wonderful substackers, I have looked deep into my cloudy heart and realized that I can never be you. I have to write these missives from the front desk of my own comfort zone, in my own voice, and not try to dress them up in some phony pseudo-professional dressing where I aim to simply fit in, write the stuff that gets me the subz, and pretend that I have what it takes to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rosamund Dean, Emma Gannon or their ilk. What kind of lame, self-deprived, clout-chasing existence is that anyway? Besides, you all are way better at that kind of stuff, so I hope you can embrace with open arms the fact that I'll often lapse into being the resident clown in this neighborhood from time to time.
So with all that said, I’m seven months in and still haven’t figured out what the hell I'm trying to do here, other than the fact that I'm having lots of fun doing it.
And for now, at least, I kinda want to keep it that way.