I plan to stop being a public, personal, storyteller.
Let me explain: I went to TED last month, which is a conference in Long Beach, and was asked to perform a 3 minute story in between speakers. I got up and told this story about Mulan learning about sex for the first time. I call it the Mulan-frog story (it begins with frogs…) It got big laughs and even a partial standing ovation at the end. People really loved it and I was so high and happy afterwards.
I'm proud that I have the skill to tell a good story and make people laugh. I have a million happy memories of being onstage and making people laugh. There is always a dark side however. I am usually telling some story that could embarrass another person or I’m talking about something that irritates me about someone specific.
When I got home from the conference I realized that if Mulan saw my story (or a fellow student did) she could be very embarrassed. I was mortified and could not believe that I hadn’t considered this before. Mulan looks good in the story – a curious, smart nine year old. But the whole topic is embarrassing to a girl her age.
I was really struck deeply about what I do onstage and the fact that I have a child. I hated telling stories about my mother because I knew that it could be hurtful but I did it anyway because I loved getting the laugh, I loved getting to vent, and I felt I had the right somehow to talk about her onstage. I guess I thought there was some sort of unwritten code that made parents fair game. I actually feel that’s true and if Mulan grows up and tells stories about me, no matter how unflattering, I will gladly accept that as her right. (I’ll be in the front row, no – wait! More lovingly, I will not be anywhere near the place!)
But the other way around, me telling stories about her… That’s different.
After much agonizing, little niggling things that I have hated for a long time about performing stories about my own life fulminated to the surface. I no longer wish to be so naked and bare. I am surprised I ever did want to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did. I am proud that I learned to craft my experiences into a story and I am proud that I learned the craft of being on-stage. But now, I need to stop doing it. I am happily married, for one thing, and it’s boring and inappropriate to talk about. My daughter is ten and she reads my blog, (OMG!) she goes to my shows. In fact we have spoken at length about the stories I tell about her. Not that, at ten, she is really capable of understanding the ramifications. Still, she says it’s okay to tell the Mulan-frog story. But ugh. I don’t think she really understands. I feel the need to protect her from myself!
In some ways, this is just another example of our Internet age. When I started telling stories about my life, it was in a basement club in L.A. called Luna Park, in 1994, where the maximum capacity was 50 people. We were recording the shows, but it wasn’t for mass consumption. What I mean is that I could speak as if it were “off the record.” This lulled me into a sense of secrecy and intimacy and allowed me to say anything no matter how raw. I was uncensored.
But, there is no more “off-the-record” anymore. Anything can be posted online. Immediately. I think this is, on balance, good – it makes people accountable in a new and direct way. But for me – well let’s just say I would probably never have begun telling stories about my personal life if I’d thought they could be available to any interested person, instantly. But once I started, I got used to the open-nature of talking about my life. I learned to live with the downsides, the embarrassment, possibly even when it hurt or embarrassed other people. Then, when blogging came along, it seemed like such a natural thing to do.
Jill Sobule and I have been working for a few years now doing a show together. I tell about ten to fourteen stories in our show. (She sings songs, I tell stories) We have worked hard to make the show work dramatically and musically. I think we’ve succeeded. In fact, I think our show is at least as good as any other show I’ve done, maybe better. I’m glad I tell all those stories in our show.
But I don’t want to tell any more. The stories that are out there, well, they’re out there. But then… after this… well, I want to retire from it. At least for a while. Maybe forever, I dunno.
We have about 12 scheduled shows for this year (2010). Mostly in the summertime and mostly in the Northeast and the Northwest. After talking this over with Jill, we have agreed to do those shows. We may actually add a show or two. We may also find a way to film our show in the autumn. But by the end of this year, I plan to stop doing this show. And then face 2011 not performing.
I haven’t written in my blog because I am always so suspicious of any type of big revelation or big announcement. I almost felt that if I announced that I was going to stop performing, there would inevitably be some reason not to stop it. I have mulled this over for the last month or so. And it feels good. It feels right.
Sometimes I feel that my creativity, (and not just mine, but everyone’s creativity) is like the snow on a mountaintop melting a little at a time. All my various outlets – performing and writing in all its manifestations -- create little rivers through which the snow can melt. I always liked having so many things going at once. I always felt that in show business, you had to have five pots on the stove just to get one of them to boil. I benefited from being so multi-able. I could do voice over and then perform at a club, I could write a monologue and then write a pilot for a TV show.
But lately it feels that I have fragmented my focus with this policy. I want the snow to melt into a couple of larger rivers, not into several smaller streams.
And so, after the TED experience, I found myself wondering what I’m doing with myself. How am I directing my energies? I began to look at the darker side of telling stories about my personal life. The guilt, the anguish, the desire to emphasize this over that, the slant, the small or large exaggeration, the worry that someone I’m talking about will see or hear me. Then I suppose you could say the tipping point was Mulan.
Also, many things have changed. I am now more able to be isolated (having moved to the Midwest from Los Angeles) and conversely, I am now in more regular and intimate interdependence with people. I guess what I mean is that I have a husband and a child. There is already a lot of interaction in my life, and I have begun to crave more and more alone time. I desire privacy. I don’t want my personality to be so known anymore. (My personality has been so slutty! Time to join a convent!)
So, in the last few weeks I have beta-tested my new views. And it’s already had such forceful and creative results. I am focusing on a couple of screenplays; with my writing partner Jim Emerson. I may or may not finish writing the memoir of my letting go of God time, “My Beautiful Loss-of-Faith Story.” Of course, I’ll do the Jill & Julia shows with Jill Sobule during this year.
Then I plan to hang up my mouth.
I can see Jill and I doing another show, someday, but not until way into the future. (If she wants to!) (In ten years!) I do honestly have that fantasy. Or I can imagine that I will change in a few yea rs time and want to get back up on stage. Or maybe I will develop the skills to talk about things that aren’t so personal and private, like many other comics do. That could happen.
But I doubt it. And at the very least, I doubt it for the foreseeable future.
Anyway, here I am making a big pronouncement, just what I didn’t want to do. I’m trying to write this in a way that appears that I’m mindful of the unpredictable events that could occur. But insofar as I can plan ahead, and insofar as I can predict my attitude, and insofar as I have the ability to point myself towards one thing over another, I feel the plan to stop talking about myself publicly is right.
So, this means that I won’t be blogging about my family. Or really blogging at all.
I am so thankful for all the people who have read my blog and commented. Please, if you can, come to see one of the Jill & Julia Shows this year. For me, this show is so meaningful; it’s an end of an era. For 16 years I have been getting on stage and spilling my guts while simultaneously attempting to make people laugh. That’s a long time. This decision feels like a death. It’s hard to envision myself as myself without the outlet and the drive to get onstage and talk about it. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem right to continue either. This decision feels inevitable and yet surprising and mostly very, very right. I’m so excited about this, to be honest. Imagine me, a private person! (I recently joked with Jim Emerson about how I feel I was a butterfly but I’m morphing into a caterpillar!)
I’ll be posting all the places where Jill and I have booked shows very soon. Thanks for reading.