It's the little things, you know?

Y’all, I hate small talk.  

It’s facile, uncomfortable, and it makes two or more people feel responsible for keeping up a conversation that they don’t want to have, usually while waiting for more important things or people to experience. 

But, like a crystal-clear brook—or Krystal and Brooke from Accounts Receivable at the office—we keep on babbling. Mostly because we don’t want the other person to think that we’re some kind of asshole for not wanting to talk. Weird, right? Have you ever thought that a quiet person was trying to dodge the consequences of being a part of the human condition? Yeah, me neither. 

It would also stand to reason that your would-be partner in this exchange isn’t all that hyped up about chatting about how hot or cold the weather has been or will be with you. 

But when has reason ever stopped us from acting like people? So on and on we go with our small-talking, hoping that our lives can resume before we’re asked about the existence and number of our siblings. 

For a while, I tried to make my small talk count. If I asked you about your day, I really wanted to care. I wanted to help you with the problem with your VCR, or agree that waiting in line for that new OutKast CD at Media Play took way too long. I’ve been talking small for a while, so my references are old and hopefully hilarious. But let me get back to my point and get out of here.  

I’ve been away from you because I didn’t want to get into small talk. Not here. I didn’t want to tell you to hang in there, or keep at it, or hope for the best. Maybe I wanted to make sure that whatever I said here, it was important to me and valuable to you. 

Today, I realized that I’m trying to make a promise I can’t keep. And one that wouldn’t do either one of us any good. Sometimes we just need to talk. Sure, we need to share the lessons we learn and cry out for support. But sometimes, we just need to hear the sound of each other's voices, and to let the rhythm of someone else’s life make us feel a little less alone.  

So, I'm going to work on getting okay with small talk.  

Maybe when I find myself in my next awkward pairing, I can work off the universal script of conversation until we both get comfortable with silence. Maybe one of us will go off script, and stumble into a relationship that gives us love we didn’t know we needed.  

Or, yet another person learns that I have two sisters and we’re all born on the 9th day of our birth months. But whatever. Sometimes, it isn’t important what you say. You just need to say something. 

10 Years a Got Damn Hustler

In the summer of 2011, I quit my job, moved into an attic apartment in a brownstone, and wrote for my damn life.

I was in Covington, a river town that's just a flip-flop's throw across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. My theater company had moved to Columbus, but I didn't want to go. At this point, I was certain that my whole life was just wrong.   After finishing a yearlong breakup, I deduced that since I couldn't keep a relationship together at thirty, everything else was going to fall apart eventually. Might as well, you know, start over.

I decided to move west to Chicago with my friends that fall. But before I could reboot the offbeat web series that was my life, I had to figure out how I was going to make rent and feed myself.

Now, this wasn't the first time I had to care for myself. Even at my worst, I was a capable grown-up who could write checks, wash my own clothes, cook real meals, AND remember when to get my oil changed.  But now, I was in a position where I needed money, but I couldn't get a steady gig.

Okay, I could get a job. But I didn't want to. There wasn't enough "easy money" in the world to get me into a pair of khakis with any type of enthusiasm.

But one day, after filing for unemployment but before bingeing SVU episodes on my Xbox, I looked at a website that posted jobs for writers.

The site hired ghostwriters—people who write for an author that publishes your work as their own.  It seems a little shady at first glance, but it is the way most of the articles you read on the Internet are created.  But not semi-regular, charming-as-hell blogs like this one, of course.

I had written press releases and ad copy for the theater for years, and I was pretty good at it.  That was me writing stuff—it wasn't like I was an actual writer.  

But then again, I thought to myself, I didn't think I could be an actor.   I walked into a theater and turned into an actor, so it stood to reason that I could turn into something else again.  

I filled out the online application and sent a couple of releases I had written for samples.  Just seconds after I hit the "Submit" button, I got an email response welcoming me as a contributor.  I wasn't surprised. I mean, it wasn't like I was going to land a gig writing for anything with Times in the title. And after eating the last chicken thigh in the house that day, I was ready for anything.

The site offered my services as a copywriter to clients at $10 a page, for content that ranged from instruction booklets to scripts for those cute cartoons that show you how a bank handles your savings. But those gigs were the not the norm. For anyone trying to earn a buck whist sitting in their living room, the real money was in the "academic research projects." Those were the gigs where a client would "request" some "assistance" in digging deeper on a historical event or philosophical stance.  And sure, it was possible that your work would be "reviewed" by "professionals at the collegiate level," and may be attributed to your client.

Oh, you think it sounds like I was writing papers for rich and lazy college kids? Well, legally I cannot confirm or deny that claim. But let's just say that there are a couple of people that graduated college by knowing only as much about Much Ado About Nothing as I do.

With every new gig, I got a little more confident. So I decided to use my new work samples to apply to some more reputable sites. They took a bigger cut of the money, but I got to meet new clients that wanted cooler things. By the fall I was co-writing e-books, condensing interview transcripts, and editing capstone projects for grad students.

I fell in love and moved in to an expensive apartment with my girlfriend. I wanted to start building a life that we could share that was as great as the love we had found in one another.

So I started ghostwriting porn.

But like, really good porn, y'all. So good, actually, that it is called erotica, and sold in e-book stores to people who apparently don't know that you can get porn for free.  Even though it was lucrative, I only did about four of those pieces.  When it comes to writing about sex as a creative, you can peak pretty early. Sometimes you don't even know when you're going to peak.  It just sort of, you know, happens. And then you can't write anything else for like, 45 minutes, at least.

Last year, when you and I were waiting inside under a blanket waiting for the world to explode, my wife built this website for me. After staring at it for a couple of weeks, I got the courage up to write to you.  Not as someone else, or a hired pen. Just me.

And it's been great.

My work has landed me a podcast interview, freelance contracts for major clients in the finance and education sectors, and consulting gigs that connect me to professionals who are looking to be better at sharing their thoughts with others through writing and storytelling.

When I started this, I had no idea how to write, really. But I kept at it. And eventually, it paid the bills. It put gas in the car. And it made me grow as a human.

Writing gives me what I need. And I hope one day I become a good enough writer to explain what that is. In the meantime, thanks for reading as I try.

With Everything That's Been Going On ...

I want to say I'm sorry for not writing in a while.

And that's the problem, I think.  

See, it doesn't really matter to you that I haven't been all up your inbox for the past few weeks. You've got a life to live—one that can certainly function without some guy with incredible bone structure rambling on and on about what he's discovering in the dawn of his American adulthood. I mean, come on.  

But still, my ego insists that I mention how long it's been. Why? Because it needs your attention to exist. Sounds pretty gross, but it's the same for all of us. Perhaps it's some weird evolutionary survival trick.  Maybe when we figured out that screaming repels predators and attracts humans, we set humanity on the path that has led us to selfie sticks, YouTube content creators, The Real Housewives, and cynical blogs that obviously don't want anyone to have any fucking fun.

I write, sing, act, and create. By nature and trade, I am always looking for your attention. We entertainment-types spend our time anticipating what you're going to laugh or cry at, and then replicating that at just the right amounts, so that we can squeeze it out of you for money.  Sure, it's a delicate craft, but it's not nearly as exhausting as we let on.

But, we all like a little drama now and then, don't we?

I know I do, and my ego is betting that you do too. So it brews up some guilt and ships it over to my brain part that does the writing—the part that I'm sure has a name, but you know, whatever. The result is a chronicle of the struggle that kept forcing me to open up my Twitter feed instead of a blank document every night.

A few days ago, I realized that I was missing this time here. Because of what I do, being present at work means losing yourself to fill a role or write for a client.

Work has being going very, very well. For my ego, that is.  

I think that just like our bodies, we measure our emotions by their weight. We pile on the list of things that we have to do or have done to give our lives importance; to make them stand out against the mundane.

But, if we ask for less attention from others, and pay more attention to ourselves, maybe we won't need to carry all that weight around.

Maybe.

Thoughts On That Time We Almost Got Shot While Doing Improv.

After Casey Goodson was murdered, but before Ma'Khia Bryant was shot down, I went to an event space to rehearse with my improv troupe.  

We are a bunch of still-kind-of-young professionals who enjoy playing onstage together, and over the past couple of years we have built a nice following and sold out 15 consecutive monthly shows.

It’s also an all-Black improv troupe.  That shouldn’t matter, but it does. It always does.  

To make a long story short because I don’t know if I want to relive too much of it, the event space’s alarm system was tripped by the manager who opened it for us.  He didn’t disarm it in enough time to prevent a Columbus police officer from descending on the building with a gun drawn.  A gun she decided to keep drawn in front of a half-dozen Black men explaining who they were. A gun she holstered only after she noticed the owner, sitting calmly with his back to us, at the edge of his bar.

The officer left after a short, friendly conversation with him. I don’t know if she was sorry for the misunderstanding. She didn’t speak to any of us on the way out.

I have been thinking a lot about this day, and how I wanted to share it with you.  At first, I wanted to stoke the fire of rage and add my story to the others smoldering in the increasing heat of the conversation that we can’t seem to stop having about whether people who protect people shouldn’t be able to kill people so easily.  I planned to race home to my desk and bang a blog post out, armed with a fresh memory and Boyz N The Hood - level anger.  But when I opened the door, my life was waiting on me to remind me of my humanity, and I was lulled with gratitude.

I continued to sit on it throughout the week, waiting for the right words to hit at the right moment that would move you.  Words that would help you understand how frightened I was in this encounter. Words that would also show you how solidly unsurprised during every second of it.

But I got nothing.

Maybe, after doing everything I could to speak “don’t kill me” to power for all of my life … after learning to disarm prejudice with charm…  

I’m just tired.

On Easter Dinner, and Rabbit Holes

Easter is mine.  

Well, technically, it’s for all of us, I guess. Celebrate as you like, please.  But if you want to know what I’m up to (and you’re going to, since you subscribed to this), I’m hosting my biggest family dinner to date. We’re a mix of vaccinated folks and recovered patients that will be wearing masks and distancing, and the weather promises to be as perfect as April in Ohio can get.  The forecast is sunny skies in the low 70s, with a chance of a Level 3 Snow Emergency.    

They’ll be about 13 people, 3 generations, 2 proteins and at least 6 side dishes.  

My wife is making greens for old Black ladies.  She’s petrified. I don’t blame her.

This kind of stuff is a pretty big deal to me, but I spent a long time convincing myself that it wasn’t. There aren’t many people in my family that I connect with in regards to career goals.  I  chose a profession that keeps me busy on the days when families spend most of their time together.  Game Night Fridays are the Hump Day of the performance week.  Saturdays at the cookout are cut short by 5pm call times at the theater. Sunday dinners are saved for late lunches on Monday - which are the Sunday Brunches of the actor’s schedule. It’s enough to make a Google Calendar go nuts.  

But being a working artist isn’t bad.  In fact, it’s a damn blast - so much so that, for years, I found it hard to believe that anyone else could find happiness doing something other than what I was doing.  I got to get on stage and be a rockstar sketch comedian for hundreds of people a week, and share my life with my talented friends - this new family that “got me.”  I could get lost in making myself in my own image.  

Then the world slowed down, my Calendar cleared up, and I realized that my show dates weren’t filling the holes in my heart.  They were just covering them up.  

But then my mother found out how to use Duo, and she video chats me at least three times a week.  My big sister started working from home and grew a garden on her patio that she's turning into a business.  My little sister sold her paintings and became an astrologer (yes, she’s cooler than all of us).  I hung out with my nephew and discovered his sick sense of humor is all my fault.  I spoiled my nieces with home-baked cookies and donuts and let them slap my bald head.  We’re a weird, close family.  

And we got closer.  

I know that this time has brought a lot of pain to many people. It has also helped many of us discover what’s important, and how putting them in their proper place in our lives can make a lot of decisions a whole lot easier.  Life is never going to be easy.  But I’ve found that in letting more people in, I’ve made it simple.

Anyone Feeling Just Whelmed?

You're busy, aren't you?

Of course you are.  You're awake, and most of you reading this right now are living in America, so chances are your Shut Up a Second Blog reading time is in tandem with some other stuff you have to do.  And that's totally cool, people. These blogs are bathroom-friendly, mass transit-compatible groups of words.  Multi-task away if you must.  But you really shouldn't.  

For a long time, I felt that a cramped schedule was a badge of honor. I was so proud of being busy with my important acting job, saving souls one laugh at a time, 52 weeks a year.  Show business is consuming, mentally and physically.  It's fun as hell, mostly because you're the fun.  Entertainers meet people - most of the time - at their best, when they are ready to receive and share joy with one another. Artist and audience exchange joy and create that barely describable vibe that actors pretentiously talk about during intimate interviews and car commercials. The byproduct of said vibe is a euphoria that usually leaves the audience at the exit door, but always keeps the artist at work, crafting and creating to get another taste.

When the world slowed down, I stuttered through the day, grateful to be safely inside, but unsure of what to do with the part of me that needed to reflect the world back to itself. The artist was starving for purpose. It took some time, a little more study, and even more courage to begin to live truthfully as a creative writer.

Before you swipe down to answer that email notification, let me get to my point.

We live in memory.  Caught up with judging what we did and fearing what we have to do, the present routinely occurs under our nose.  It has no agenda, it's not full of regret or anxiety.  It's just here.

I wonder, as the world yawns and stretches out of its slumber to meets warmer weather and brighter days, will we lose sight of what we've gained to get back on the wheel of normality?  

*Photo Credit: Street Phonicz Photography