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This Excerpt From A Dave Eggers Interview Makes the Heart Sing

July 24th, 2013 by Jeff Simmermon

Humpback Whale Underwater

My friend and occasional blog-partner D.Billy sent me this excerpt from a Dave Eggers interview the other day and my God, it made my heart sing a massive oceans-wide whale song of recognition. I’ve been feeling ground down by a heavily “no”-intensive environment, the sort of thing where a cautious, smart “no” is always better than a “hey-let’s-give-it-a-shot yes.”

The cautious, smart “no” is usually pretty satisfying. You feel safe, secure. Then a few years go by and the view out the window never changes, and you start to think “wait, I feel kinda stagnant.” If you’re lucky you might notice that all that caution kept you in the driveway instead of out on the open road.

The whole interview is worth a read, but it all boils down to this at the end. Read it, and let your heart’s whale-song harmonize with the entire universe:

The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I’ll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.

No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.

There is a point in one’s life when one cares about selling out and not selling out. One worries whether or not wearing a certain shirt means that they are behind the curve or ahead of it, or that having certain music in one’s collection means that they are impressive, or unimpressive.

Thankfully, for some, this all passes. I am here to tell you that I have, a few years ago, found my way out of that thicket of comparison and relentless suspicion and judgment. And it is a nice feeling.

Because, in the end, no one will ever give a shit who has kept shit ‘real’ except the two or three people, sitting in their apartments, bitter and self-devouring, who take it upon themselves to wonder about such things. The keeping real of shit matters to some people, but it does not matter to me.

It’s fashion, and I don’t like fashion, because fashion does not matter.

What matters is that you do good work. What matters is that you produce things that are true and will stand.

What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who’s up and who’s down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say.

Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.

I say yes, and Wayne Coyne says yes, and if that makes us the enemy, then good, good, good. We are evil people because we want to live and do things. We are on the wrong side because we should be home, calculating which move would be the least damaging to our downtown reputations.

But I say yes because I am curious. I want to see things. I say yes when my high school friend tells me to come out because he’s hanging with Puffy. A real story, that. I say yes when Hollywood says they’ll give me enough money to publish a hundred different books, or send twenty kids through college. Saying no is so fucking boring.

And if anyone wants to hurt me for that, or dismiss me for that, for saying yes, I say Oh do it, do it you motherfuckers, finally, finally, finally.

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New Video: Fighting the Big Black Bird With Some Help

April 3rd, 2013 by Jeff Simmermon

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be able to share this video of this story. I told it at The Moth’s “Love Hurts” show on February 13th of this year.

I’ve been working it over and over for a few years – it’s a significant revision of a piece about the depression that comes after cancer surgery, and also all of the stupid shit that people say to you when they hear you’ve had cancer. Just a hint: Yoga can’t actually cure cancer, but getting high and watching ‘Pootie Tang’ will help you to feel better.

I put a lot of jokes into it that I’ve written over the last year, and it feels right. This is also the first time I’ve been able to adequately communicate in public just how much my fiance means to me without using any cliches, and why I can’t imagine living life without her.

Think what you want of Lance Armstrong – the doping scandals, the lying, the bullying, whatever. I didn’t follow cycling or that story that closely, so I’m shielded by a thick cushion of ignorance on that one. But the thing that helped me the most through this whole process of having testicular cancer was being able to talk about it openly, on stage and in the street.

People get a little weird about it now, but they used to get a LOT more weird about it, and it was something that wasn’t discussed at all. We used to say that people were testicular cancer victims, and now they’re cancer survivors. It’s a major cultural shift, and it’s come through the hard work of the LiveStrong foundation.

It’s OK to feel however you want to feel about the man, but let’s please recognize that the foundation has done – and continues to do – really, really important work. I benefited from it directly and indirectly, and a lot of other people have, too.

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Doin’ It All For A Baby That Can’t Love Me Back

March 29th, 2013 by Jeff Simmermon

gavin
(I see a lot of traffic coming in to read this post – in the event that some of you are interested in seeing the performing that I’m talking about, you can see that this Wednesday in NYC, just click the link.)

Five of my friends have had babies in the last two weeks. The birth of a baby is supposed to be a happy thing, but it can also be a funeral for a friendship.

It’s great that everyone I know is immediately, rapturously in love with their child, and I wouldn’t wish anything else for them. I see the joy and happiness that my sister and her husband feel now that my nephew is here, and I genuinely want everyone I care about to feel that, too. But it’s not like I stopped needing someone to hang out with, talk to, commiserate with about the crushing grind that is art and performance in NYC, get super baked on pot cookies and watch sci-fi flicks together.

I’m not suggesting that the emotional needs of a 36 year old man should never come ahead of a baby’s, either. If any of my friends kept hanging out like everything was exactly the same, that would be even worse. I’d hate to find out that a close friend was so into our friendship that he was willing to become a deadbeat dad just to keep our train on the tracks.

I think a lot more kids are accidents than people let on. After a certain age, people just go to a different doctor when they find out they’re pregnant than they did in their twenties. I think so, anyway. But after my run-in with testicular cancer a few years back, I’m not going to be surprising anybody.

So while I grieve for my lost – or suddenly, drastically changed – friendships, I’m also jealous. Not like, snatch-a-baby jealous, but with the option of sudden, natural conception behind me, it makes me a lot more conscious of my choices. And I don’t feel like my life is in a place where I could drop everything and support a new life.

I’m really, obsessively focused on writing and performing now. It takes up almost every waking hour, and it pretty much has to until further notice. It’s crushing and exhausting, but sometimes it works out.

For example, I was honored to be the only white guy in a tribute to Richard Pryor at BAM last month. I grew up listening to Richard Pryor records in my room, mimicking his cadence and timing and trying to learn how he could conjure so many characters in a story. Not imitating them, but just becoming them. I’m a storyteller, Pryor was too. And I’ve got a story about a guy who pretty much is the living embodiment of his “Mudbone” character. It was a perfect lock, and such a thrill to be there.

The room was packed, standing room only, maybe 300 people or so. I went on second, after a guy who just crushed it. He’s brash and sharp, grew up incredibly poor in Washington, D.C., and the crowd loved him. Then I went on, and things changed.

They weren’t trying to hear anything from a huge white dude that looks like most people’s boss, dressed in a cowboy shirt. Especially not if the story was a complex story about a friendship with a schizophrenic black man. A large Caribbean woman sat right in front of me, frowning a hole in my skull with arms crossed in front of her like two giant pythons guarding a gateway to laughter on the far, opposite side of an echoing room. I saw dates look at one another and mutually decide to wrap it up early and claim they had an early meeting the next day.

Some people laughed here and there, but I knew in 30 seconds that it was going to be a fight. Comics can go to backup material, but when you’re telling a story and it’s going bad, you’ve got to land that burning airline no matter what happens.

Phones were coming out and lighting up all over the place, and I could hear the audience start to chatter. I swear I heard someone say, “it’s cool, we can talk over this guy.” I zeroed in on a friend’s face and just started talking to her, just to get through it.

And then, also in the front row, I saw this:

A haggard, middle-aged woman pulled a sharpie out of her pocket, and drew a mustache onto her face with a very practiced motion. Then she reached into her coat and took her shirt off completely, unfurling her boobs like faded, trusty flags she’d flown a million times before.
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I’m Doing a **BUNCH** of Shows February 5th – 10th

February 1st, 2013 by Jeff Simmermon

I just checked my calendar and realized that I’m doing a blur of shows next week, lined up like a long row of shots. The process is likely to be equal amounts of fun and exhausting, enough to leave me whimpering on the floor – just like a long row of shots. But if you’ve been reading this thing wondering when you can see me perform, consider yourself told.

There’s some really exciting stuff in here – an appearance with Michael Showalter, the monthly installment of And I Am Not Lying, and I’m the only white dude in a tribute to Richard Pryor at BAM. Check out these listings, and if you come to any of these, come up and say ‘hi’ afterwards!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:00 PM (doors at 7:30) – I’ll be appearing on Kerri Doherty’s “Geeking Out,” with headliner Michael Showalter
at Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY. I’ll be joined by my friend Juliet Hope Wayne and Carolyn Castiglia
Get tickets here

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 9:30 PM (doors at 9) – will be the monthly installment of And I Am Not Lying with Brad Lawrence, Cyndi Freeman, burlesque by Magdalena Fox, comedy from Sasheer Zamata and sideshow by Abigoliah Schamaun.

The show will be at UNDER Saint Marks’ Theater, 94 Saint Marks’ Place (between 1st and A). Click here for tickets (then click the blue 6 in ‘February), and check out the fun poster below:

FEB_2013_FLYER_web

Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 9:00 PM – I’ll be telling a story in Caroline Creaghead‘s ‘Get It Out There’, a monthly comedy series at BAM, sponsored by IFC. This month’s show is a tribute to Richard Pryor.

Let me just bear down on this a little here: I am the only white dude in a Richard Pryor tribute show at BAM. This is a colossal honor, and a little intimidating as I’ll be sharing the stage with Jeffrey Joseph, Jermaine Fowler, and Hari Kondabolu – all incredibly gifted, hardworking and funny comics. Jeff and Hari both appeared at ‘And I Am Not Lying’ when we were at Union Hall, too.

The show is free, in the BAMCafe – doors at 8PM.

Friday, February 8th, 2013 at 8:00 PM – I’ll be telling a story in “Sharkbite Sideshow,” a bimonthly sideshow featuring some of the finest storytellers, burlesque performers, sideshow artists and pole dancers in New York City. The show will also feature performances from Cherry Brown, Ember Flame, Kryssy Kocktail, Lucille Ti Amore, Moxie Sazerac and fire dancing from Sasha the Fire Gypsy.

Get tickets for Sharkbite Sideshow here.

Sunday, February 10th at 5:00 PM - I’ll be telling two stories in Miz Stefani’s House, Live. This streams live, over the Web – so click this link at 5PM on Sunday if you happen to be ignoring the Super Bowl.

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Found on the NYC Subway: Level-Headed Relationship Advice from A Little Girl

January 9th, 2013 by Jeff Simmermon

I found this adorable piece of pragmatic relationship advice from a child on the floor of my subway stop this morning:

child_advice
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Found Art Nostalgia: I Miss My Old Brain

November 26th, 2012 by Jeff Simmermon

I found this painting that I made in college on the wall at some old friends’ house in Richmond, VA this weekend. I haven’t seen it in years.

I actually got into writing and storytelling through visual art – when I was majoring in painting, I was obsessed with comics, Southern folk art and outsider art, Congolese power figures and sacred Voodoo and Santeria art. In voodoo and Santeria (as I understood it at the time), practitioners go into a trance and become the spirits they’re communicating with, and create altars in the home that are both doorways to a particular orisha and a living representation of the orisha itself, made from found objects.

I got really into writing stories on my work, making comic book pages out of junk I’d find in the woods and getting into a sort of trance-like state in the studio I had in my barn and letting whatever voice was talking take control of my hands until the thing was done. Eventually the words took up more and more of the the work and I just started writing. Then, telling a story wasn’t necessarily a craft so much as a thing that came out of a state, like a ship sliding out of a rip in the universe.

I think this was done on an old road sign that I found deep in George Washington National Forest. I know I got that image from an old comic, and I definitely recall writing all of this in one go, with a Sharpie. No drafts, no revising, crossing out, no wondering what the audience would think or trying to be likable. Just moving forward.

Here’s the piece:

sarah_painting

The text reads:

“On that dark day when the Sun rises in the West and decides to set in the East, these gargantuan striped giants will appear suddenly from ??Elsewhere?? and set to the business of devouring the earth. Neither animal, vegetable, nor man-made machine, they are insatiable, and know no reason or moral code. They only know that they must perform the impossible: fill their ravenous GUTS.

The Fantastic Four and the entire Marvel Universe subscribe to the belief that GALACTUS is the eater of worlds, but I tell you with the straightest of all straight faces that GALACTUS is a mere DUST MITE compared to these black-and-white beasties.

We could, and probably will, head for the hills or lie screaming in storm cellars with paper sacks over our heads during that fateful time, but it will only make our moment of consumption more frenzied and embarrassing.

We may as well die picnicking as pleading to a recently discovered God. Mankind will finally realize what the insects knew all along: Nature knows no right or wrong.

Our constant struggle with good and evil set us apart from the animals, but on that day, we will finally be free from that boring struggle and I just hope that more people than just me have the sense to enjoy it.

This used to have two bicycle fenders painted to look like the creatures in question, glued to the top. They broke off pretty quickly, though. When I look at this, I feel a blast of nostalgia for a time when I could disappear into a barn for several hours, sure. But I also miss having that degree of concentration, and that practiced flow. It’s take me about 90 minutes to write this post, and half of it is simple transcription.

Mostly, I miss my old brain: the one that knew when to think and when to get out of the way and let the art fall out.

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I’ve Got a Story in Both the Book and Performance of “Post-It Note Diaries,” Illustrated by Arthur Jones

September 23rd, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon
Post-It Note Diaries

If you’ve ever wondered what one of my stories would look like if it were written down on a printed page and accompanied with cool illustrations on Post-It notes, you’re in luck. I’m pretty honored to have a story included in the Post-It Note Diaries, to be released on October 5th by Plume books. The book is a collection of short stories illustrated on Post-It notes by Arthur Jones, featuring notable luminaries like:

Andrew Bird
Arthur Bradford
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Daniel Engber
Jonathan Goldstein
John Hodgman
Starlee Kine
Chuck Klosterman
Laura Krafft
Beth Lisick
Marie Lorenz
David Rakoff
David Rees
Mary Roach
Kristen Schaal
Jeff Simmermon
Andrew Solomon
Hannah Tinti
David Wilcox

The only person on this list that I haven’t heard of is me. It’s a pretty big honor to be included, to be honest.

You can learn more about the book here: The Post-It Note Diaries.
And pre-purchase a copy here: Post-it Note Diaries: 20 Stories of Youthful Abandon, Embarrassing Mishaps, and Everyday Adventure on Amazon.com

This link will show you a sample chapter by John Hodgman.

There’s going to be a release party and show next Tuesday, September 27th at Littlefield in Brooklyn, NYC. Me, Starlee Kine, Andrew Solomon, David Rees, Hannah Tinti, Daniel Engber, David Wilcox, and Arthur Jones will be reading/performing. For tickets and info, check this out: Post-it Note Diaries: Book Release & Reading.

I hope you guys can make it, or at least read a copy of the book. Buy a couple if you want — use ‘em to hold up the short leg on your couch.

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Keep Your Heads Out Of the Plastic River – Sorry I Haven’t Posted

March 30th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon
Candy Fangs

(I took this picture of gummi fangs. But otherwise, it doesn’t have anything to do with anything in this post.)

At the risk of appearing in Cory Arcangel’s project, I’m kind of sorry that I haven’t posted in a while on here. I’ve been busy, sure, there’s that. So have Brad, Cyndi, and David.

As you may have seen, Brad’s launched The Standard Issues podcast. This is a project that, like anything else in life, sounds easy when you’re necking on about it over a few beers, then gets really, really hard. That’s how the whole life thing works, I think: everything that’s hard now gets easier, and you can relax for a minute. Then you get some new problems. I’m really stoked for Brad, though – this is a great idea, and once he gets the formula down it’s really going to take off.

Cyndi’s just wrapped the first run of her one-woman show Wonder Woman – A How-To Guide For LIttle Jewish Girls and is gearing it up and refining it to hopefully take out into theaters again. I saw it during its first week and loved it my damn self.

David’s been working on a longer form video piece with our friend and fellow artist Nathan Manuel.

And me, I’ve been doing all kinds of stuff. For one, I’ve been doing my actual job a lot. And when I’m not doing that, I’ve been trying to write a book. Ssshh. I don’t want to curse it. But it’s time. I kinda got myself to this Jonah and the Whale moment in the last few months where I’m either going to have to write a book or turn into whatever the creative equivalent of Frustrated Sports Dad is and yell at a future child from the sidelines at spelling bees or something. I don’t have a deal yet or a contract or anything like that. I’ve got a friend at a publishing house here who’s helping me out, though.

For all I know, all these words will eventually go into a greasy paper sack somewhere and then move with me from apartment to apartment along with a few coats I can’t get rid of for the rest of my life. But it’s still important. It’s got to happen. And it feels right.

So this blog, this project I’ve had for coming up on six years now, it’s changed a bit. I’m not doing this because I feel this *urge* anymore. When this started, I had all this *stuff* inside me that just came flying out. Now I’ve learned how to shape that stuff a little, and I’m not trying to blog my way to a book deal anymore.

Nor do I really want to be a professional stay-home blogger that depends on ad revenue for income. It would be nice to build this thing into a powerhouse with a huge following, sure. My ego would like that. But on the other hand, I really don’t like what I turn into when start living and dying by my blog stats. I spent a few months checking and rechecking my stats about 80-100 times a day, my heart soaring when traffic was up and grumbling and frustrated when it kind of flatlined.

That’s not a good way to be on the earth.

Once you start focusing too much on what’s popular, you lose sight of what’s important. First it slips away online, then it slips away in your real life and you’re just this walking collage of other people’s ideas.
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A Giant Lizard Ate My Pants: “Into the Wild” on the Moth Podcast

February 27th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

I had the honor of performing in The Moth’s GrandSLAM back in January at the Highline Ballroom here in New York City. The night’s theme was “Into the Wild.” Naturally, I told another story about the brief period of time I spent working as an assistant to a kangaroo shooter in the Australian Outback.

I’ve been to that well before, and I think I’ve about beat that thing to death by now. Still, I’m glad I was able to squeeze another story out of it.

It’s not every day that a giant lizard tries to eat your blood-soaked pants. And the opportunity to talk about having a giant lizard steal my pants on a kangaroo shooting trip doesn’t really come up in conversation at the office all that much either.

So I’m really glad I got to use that little gem for something. I’ve probably forced it a few times too many over the years.

The Moth was awesome enough to include my story in their podcast today, too. I’ve wanted to make their podcast for years, and it’s a pretty huge honor. I feel like running down the hall at work high-fiving people, but I’m pretty sure that opportunity’s not going to present itself either.

Here’s a video of me telling that story from today’s Moth podcast at the January GrandSLAM, in case you’re stumbling in off the Internet and wondering if I am, in fact, a bald-headed white dude with glasses and a suit:

If you want to see more stories, you can do that here, here, and here.
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You Got Cancer Because You Ate the Wrong Stuff – Now Smile and Do Some Yoga!

February 8th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

When I had my testicle removed, the doctors refused to let me keep it in a little jar. Which was probably pretty smart on their part. Because I swear to fucking Christ, the next person who tells me that a diet rich in leafy greens and condescending self-help would have prevented the whole thing would catch that severed testicle right in the face.

It would have been nice to know that I should have been putting “Eat, Pray, Love” into a VitaMix with a bunch of wheatgrass juice and drinking a big glass of it every day for a decade before I got sick. Instead, I ate right, exercised, and got sick anyway. I don’t think all the sunshine and yoga in the world is going to grow that sucker back.

I made this image about it last night. I’m not sure if it sends the message or not, but sharing it makes me feel better. This one’s for all the people who don’t want to turn their illness into a life-defining mission. It’s for everyone that just wants to get back to normal.

I don’t want to fight cancer — I just want cancer to fuck off.

prevent_illness

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