January 4th, 2011



I sit with my friend Guy in a shitty vegetarian diner eating disgusting, crustless pie that is so awful I would feel bad feeding it to a cat. We meet once a month or so-- not always in a shitty vegetarian diner-- and never again in THIS shitty vegetarian diner because Jesus Christ, this pie is disgusting-- but we meet once a month to talk about writing and whether or not either of us has been capable of doing it well or at all. Guy is a good writer and a good person. He has a Ph.D in psychology and a british accent. We met each other several years ago at an open mic when we discovered that we were the only two comics that had elaborate filing systems for our jokes-- the only two people who were regularly alphabetizing punchlines and categorizing one-liners by subject matter (This goes under "C" for Cat Vomit). We are the type of people who are impressed by Jamie Lee Curtis because she has a filing system for the homemade soups in her freezer. Or, ok, admittedly we have never talked about this but I think it is very impressive and I know him well enough to know that he would be impressed as well.

We meet with a third friend, a despondent copyeditor who is also a comedian, who is ALSO a vegetarian, hence the disgusting, disgusting pie which I am picking apart with my fork as if it were an owl pellet and I were hunting for a squirrel skeleton that I could glue to a piece of construction paper.

Guy says, "So I finished the screenplay and I reeeally like it."
When he is excited about something he is writing he smiles with all his five billion teeth showing at once and he looks like an eleven year-old who is being given a gift and CANNOT WAIT TO RECEIVE IT. "I really like how it turned out and I'm submitting it to all these contests so...you know," he says, toning down his enthusiasm. "We'll see." He smiles hopefully.

The copyeditor and I both smile because we are excited for him. We are all good writers but Guy is by far the most prolific, turning out endless sheaves of pages. I first got to know him after reading his screenplay which, after the first two pages I stopped reading because I thought it was going to be about baseball and I am usually bored by baseball-themed screenplays. And he politely let me know that no, the script had nothing at all to do with baseball-- that was just the first scene that took place on a baseball diamond. And so I said, "I'm sorry-- I'm a horrific douche bag with the attention span of a flea," which is mainly true, and I read the rest of his screenplay, which was wonderful.

We meet again, a month or so later, at a brunch place in Chelsea. Our copyeditor friend picks the restaurants because she is the only one who is decent at that sort of thing-- I am there to talk about our writing and our lives and would often be content to eat bread crusts from an East Village trash can as long as the conversation is good. Guy has begun another project-- another screenplay-- a Pixar-type film about the secret lives of clothing, which I think is very good. He and my friend ask what I am doing and I am doing, as usual, nothing fast. I am writing essays about my dad farting or my dog taking a nap and in the time it takes to write one of those essays, Guy has written three more dissertation-length pieces.

The next time we see him he has written a young adult novel and the time after that he has written a similar novel, but this time for regular adults who are not young. And he writes well, in the same way he is funny. He is a talented person, but wonderful things do not always happen to talented people. And he is persistent, but wonderful things do not always happen to talented people even if they are persistent. The world can be an unforgiving, shitty place, filled with mediocre, crustless, vegan-friendly pie. The three of us have been googling ourselves for years with very few encouraging changes. My goal, which I have only recently achieved, was to google my last name and no longer be outranked by an obscure Austrailian Law firm. Guy's goal was to be able to google the phrase "Guy Winch" without coming up with information on sailboat winches, specifically the guy winch (which is, unfortunately for him, an actual type of winch).

We are living our lives and stockpiling our rejections.

"I have so many rejection letters," he says, "I've rented storage space for them."

But we are trying so, so hard. Guy, the copyeditor and I meet at a bagel place on the lower east side. The copyeditor is bemoaning her job, which has become unbearable. She is writing furiously. Guy is working on another screenplay but is stuck and mentions that he has an idea for another book and is considering abandoning the screenplay altogether. This other book is about complaining.

"Not about venting," he stresses. "Complaining."

"Venting is what we've been doing for the last forty minutes," I say.

"I'm venting about my stupid awful job," the copyeditor says.

"Yes," he says, "But I don't want to talk about venting, I want to talk about complaining. The problem with complaining," he says quietly, "is that no one listens and so nothing gets done." He sits for a moment in silence, thinking. "Nothing ever gets done," he says again, as if he is just fully realizing it. "People complain about things for hours, but the whole point of complaining is to have someone listen so that things will change. No one is listening because people who complain are so...they're so..."

"Mean," says our copyeditor friend. "Obnoxious. Horrible."

"Complainy," I offer.

"We'll go with 'mean,'" he says politely. "But yes. Also complainy."

He sits back in his chair.

"I'd love to write a book," he says, "on how to complain."

And it is not a screenplay about clothing or a young adult novel or anything similar to what he has written before, but because he is a good writer and we think he will do a good job we say, "That is a wonderful idea." And it is. We have been meeting for years now, writing endless lines of text. And we vent, but we do not complain. We vent that we are tired and frustrated and that we think a piece of writing is very good but we sent it to a publication and they said, no, we were mistaken, it was not good, it was a piece of shit. Or, "it was very nice but they don't have room for it," which is much friendlier but feels almost the same. We vent that we are working hard but that the world is too big and too unforgiving. And then we admit that ok, maybe we could have worked a little harder and typed sentences more creative than, "the world is too big and too unforgiving," because give me a break, right? Sheesh.

We will keep writing, because if airing our woes to friends counts as venting, then to keep writing and keep submitting our writing is complaining-- it is taking action. We are politely tugging on the pant leg of the world and asking if we can say a few words for posterity. And when the world says, "No, other people are talking right now," we pull out another piece of writing and say, "What about this? Can I say this?"

"The complaining book sounds good," we tell him. "Go home and write it." And we left the restaurant with our respective dreams and went home to our respective keyboards.
And we sit and write and we do not complain about having to write. Complaining is very useful sometimes, as when you are in a restaurant and you are served a piece of pie that looks like it is make of sheep brains and bat vomit-- you have to know not to yell at your waiter and go, "You stupid piece of shit! This is disgusting!" You have to know that if your spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend puts too much medicated powder in his or her sock to combat his or her athlete's foot, you shouldn't go, "Are you a fucking idiot, tracking powder all over the house! It looks like ghosts have been tap dancing through the fucking apartment!"

Complaining is about patiently chugging away to get whatever it is you really want. It is about learning how to politely tell a waiter that this pie was "not so great," without using the words "cat mucus" or "gag reflex." It is funnier to use those words, but not as effective. And if you are lucky, the waiter will say, "I'm really sorry, let me see if we have something else that might be better," and your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend will say "I didn't realize the medicated foot powder made such a mess. I'm so sorry you had to clean it up. I'll make sure I never do it again."
And if you tug on the pant leg of the world enough times, eventually, if you are tugging politely enough, the world will say, "I'm sorry I kept you waiting in obscurity for so long. If there is something you would like to say, please go ahead. We are all listening."

The Squeaky Wheel