The essay I read on December 19th, my 301st and last episode as Head Writer and Producer for Live Wire Radio:
Imagine that you are eight years old.
You’re at a community pool in Akron, Ohio with your whole family—uncles, cousins and your older brother, whose opinion you hold in high regard because he can make realistic fart noises using his hand and armpit.
You have made the egregious mistake of climbing to the top of the high dive.
You are now standing at the edge of the diving board, looking down into the blue abyss miles below you.
Okay…like, sixteen feet below you.
It feels like you’re about to jump out of a plane. Or off a bridge. Or into the ocean in Jaws after you’ve already seen that one chick get pulled under in a plume of blood.
The fear feels insurmountable, but so does the white-hot hatred of the four kids on the ladder and the one standing with his hands on his hips at the other end of the board.
He yells, “Just GO!”
But you’ve already heard this dozens of times in the last 10 minutes while staring into what should’ve been a calming pool of blue water.
Your knees have been knocking for so long that they won’t hold you up anymore, so you sit down at the end of the board, which triggers a cacophony of expletives behind you.
You close your eyes to drown them out.
Your mom chimes in.
“You can do it, sweetie! It’ll be over in a second. Just jump.”
But you know something she doesn’t.
It’s too late.
You already know you can’t do it, and now instead of working up the courage to jump, you’re working up the courage to walk the gauntlet of glares you’ll have to endure on the Descent of Shame to the scorching pavement.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m the eight-year-old.
And that was the day I learned it: I am not the leaping type.
I am a toe-dipper. A wait-and-see-er. A maybe-later-er.
So it is borderline miraculous that I’ve done anything of note in my life.
Twelve years ago, I was a snarky advertising copywriter and was asked by Kate Sokoloff and Robyn Tenenbaum to help with marketing materials for a radio show they were thinking of making.
I worked on the materials, and I also said, very meekly, maybe I could also write for the show.
Ten years earlier, I had worked with a sketch comedy group called The State for two years. They went on, as a group and separately, to great success in film and television, but when I worked with them, they were still NYU students.
They were hilarious and prolific and I wanted to write and perform with them, but I could never assert myself, so I spent two years doing everything but: producing their live shows, art directing their short films, making a defibrillator out of phone cords and a portable humidifier.
One night the group was rehearsing a Film-noir style piece about a grizzled detective. He was working a case and walked into an apartment that had been ransacked.
“The place had been turned upside-down,” said one of the writers, Ben Garant, Dashiell-Hammet style.
Then he stopped and said, “We need a joke there.”
I’d say my mind raced, but when I tried to think of an idea in one of their meetings, it was more like my mind ran in circles, screaming. My anxiety was throwing buckets of water on my neurons, not allowing them to fire. But this time, I thought of something.
“Just like in that Lionel Ritchie video,” I said quietly, looking down at my clipboard.
“What’d you say?” Ben asked.
“He should say, ‘The place had been turned upside-down, just like in that Lionel Ritchie video’,” I repeated, louder.
Millennials may not get that joke but there was once a singer named Lionel Ritchie who did a video called “Dancing on the Ceiling” and I thought that the mention of a cheesy 80’s video in a noir sketch was anachronistic enough to trigger a laugh because of this thing called the Incongruity Theory, where we laugh at something because it’s unexpected or out of place.
I just sucked all the joy out of that joke by explaining it. You’re welcome.
I cringed after I said it, but the group laughed, which felt miraculous. And they put it in the sketch.
Somehow ten years later, after writing one marginally amusing joke for a wildly successful sketch comedy troupe, I meekly suggested I should be a writer for this new radio show. And because no one else had asked, I became head writer.
That’s also how I got into a band. And a couple of ill-advised relationships.
They all came because I (very quietly) requested the opportunity to try, using words like, “maybe” or “perhaps” or “I don’t think I’d be the worst backup singer in the world. Pretty sure that was Madonna.”
And in this case, I got so lucky. I became host of the show and I got to interview about 500 fascinating people like Gus Van Sant, Tig Notaro, Carrie Brownstein, Cheryl Strayed and David Rakoff. I got to work with the best and smartest writers, musicians, producers and performers I’ve ever known. I helped build a thing that started in an old Portland movie house and is now on over 90 public radio stations in the U.S. and one hospital station in Reading, England, which I still don’t quite understand.
Me. The toe-dipper. The anxious one.
Not just anxious like a regular person – clinically anxious.
I am a person for whom phone calls to strangers are miserable. Parties where I don’t know anyone are like the seventh circle of hell with better snacks. And making an unprotected left turn triggers the same fight-or-flight response most people get when running from a small-to-medium-sized bear.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m proud that I did this thing for twelve years that turned into something special. But I’m even prouder that I did this thing for twelve years even though it scared the shit out of me.
And now I’m scared again.
It’s scary to leave this shiny beautiful thing for a new thing on which the luster level is unclear.
But standing at the end of the diving board in perpetuity isn’t a sustainable plan. Eventually you’re gonna get cold and need a sandwich.
So this is a message for the timid, but the brave are free to listen too:
I’m one of you, and I’m stepping off.
I can’t tell you the water’s fine because I have no idea what sort of chemical maintenance this pool subscribes to, and it’s a public pool, so we’re all really rolling the dice, but still.
I’m going to go try to make another beautiful thing and I hope you will, too.