Post by Auntie Vice
One thing I love about most comics I talk too is their burning desire and need to do stand-up. Almost unanimously, comics say that there is this desire to be on stage and make people laugh. Some are lucky and pursue comedy early in life, others do it much later. There is something that seems to drive people, push them to get up on stage, say their piece, risk bombing and embarrassment, all to get some sort of personal pay-off (because, let’s admit it, this job pays shitty for a long time).
I am different, I think, than most comics in that I didn’t have a burning desire to be on stage or to make people laugh. For me, I just want to create. I write, I do performance art for burlesque troupes, I shoot films, I research stuff, I do web design… lots of things. My thing is just bringing something into being that wasn’t there before.
While I am not deeply attached to most of my creations (I do not refer to them as my children) I do have to bring them into the world in a form somewhat close to my vision. I happily take critiques and am always looking to refine crafts, but ultimately, it is my creation and needs my signature on it.
I used to channel this creative need into constructing college courses, writing academic and policy works, or helping craft legislative agendas. The thing with all of these options, however, is that they have to be palatable for mass consumption. Much of my policy writing had to be at least partially neutered in order for it to be acceptable. Legislation could’t offend any donor groups or major voting blocks.
Over time, I saw project after project have the substance removed in order to make it work for a political purpose. I was not allowed to say in writing or legislative testimony, “What you have now is crap. The vast majority of evidence shows the state needs to do X. If you don’t, XXX Californians will die this year from your crap-ass decision.” Instead, I had to couch everything in terms of “Well, some researchers believe that this would be the best route for policy. However, there are those who would disagree. If we pursue the first route, there might be costs – both financial and otherwise – to the State, so those have to be balanced out against other factors.”
Watching this happen is like watching your creation come into the world, then have its limbs severed and eyes pulled out, held up to the world and presented as something grand. My body literally could no longer bear this. It failed – massively. I became so ill I had to stop driving, I could barely leave the house, I was in incredible pain, and my lungs started to fill up with unknown masses. So I left the job. Over 100 tests and procedures later, doctors could not identify the ailment. I was told everything looked normal, except I had lung masses, debilitating pain, and was loosing the ability to speak. [Look, I like being original, but I do not need a disease named after me.]
Three months after I left the job, everything started to clear. Masses are gone, many of the other symptoms are gone, pain still comes and goes along with a few other things, but I am largely better.
I say this because for all of the comics struggling to make it, for all of those who have the need to create humor, you have to do it. If there is something in you trying to get out, you can only deny it so long. You can only put it in the corner and tell it, “Next week, next month, next year…” before it festers, rots and will take over your spirit if not your actual body. So, no matter if you are tired, if you have had a shitty month, if you have kids, or dogs or other obligations, find a way to create.
Take mine as a cautionary tale. Be authentic. Birth your creations so they are beautiful to you. Because Langston Hughes was right. “What happens to a dream deferred…” it “festers and stinks like rotten meat.”