What I've Been Up To

I'm writing this in Starbucks, because that's where I've decided to work from today.

The one in Sudbury Plaza in the shopping center with Shaw's. I'm at one of the high-top tables near the window. But sometimes I sit in the back, on the cushioned seats at a low table. And sometimes I work from the Starbucks on Route 9 in Framingham, near Whole Foods. Sometimes I work from home and don't go to Starbucks at all. (I think there is such a thing as "too many hazelnut macchiatos.")

But most days I work in one of the carrels at the Goodnow Library in Sudbury. It's my favorite place to work, maybe because I have a track record there. It's where I've written the majority of my reports for school over the years, and it's better than home because there's no TV or other home distractions to prevent me from getting work done. (Bonus feature: About a month ago they paved a walkway between the library and the Dunkin' Donuts which used to be a car ride away because there were no sidewalks. I may do the majority of my work at Starbucks, but I always prefer a Dunkin' Donuts coffee.)

I'm writing this because I know a lot of people are curious about how I'm spending my time now that I'm not teaching. This is going to be a long post, so you may want to read it in a couple of sittings. It's up to you. But if you cared enough about what I'm up to these days to click through, then I think it'll hold your interest enough to make it through in one pass.

(Think of this as an extension of '365 New Things In 2013' - where I left off with 'New Thing #365: Writing A Book'. You can catch up here, if you forgot about that. [If you decide to explore johnsucich.com for more than '365 New Things In 2013', that's fine, but you won't find much yet. This whole site is a work in progress, but it gives me a place to post these thoughts. I need to change the pictures on the site, too…at least according to my brother and a couple of friends. So let me know if you have any suggestions about that. But I digress. Back to the parenthetical statement.] This last part of 2014 has been pretty filled with New Things too, and they've all been going great. That's what I'm here to tell you about. So, without further ado:)

The Writing Part

For those of you who don't know, in June I left my job teaching 5th Grade to pursue my dream of writing a book. I miss the people I worked with, but other than that I have no regrets. Now, please understand I still don't really know how to write a book. I've tried to do this a number of times in my life, and every time I get a page or two in and then I have no idea how to continue. Or something else has come up and I've stopped writing or moved on to writing something else.

That's why this year is so important to me - it's devoted almost singularly to writing a book. That's been able to be my only focus, so I don't feel the urge to move onto something else. (Except for this blog that you're reading now, which is due to my penchant for procrastination. But it's still writing, so consider it cross-training for my writing brain. Just a chance to exercise my writing skills in a different way.)

I've known all along I wanted my first book to be a book for middle schoolers. I think I have a real good feel for what kids that age want to read. I 100% thought I'd be writing a historical fiction book set at the time of the American Revolution, but the book I started writing and have been writing for 60 pages and 20,000-plus words (I never used to think in word count, but I guess that's how the writing industry works, so I've been paying more attention to that) is not historical fiction. I guess it falls in the category of realistic fiction, and I like the story I'm writing, and it's the first time in my life I've started to write something and have kept going and going with an eye towards where I want it to end, so it's working for me. And that's all I'm going to say about the book, but if you're interested in knowing more about it, maybe I'll tell you about it over a beer. But you're buying. Because I'm not making any money right now. More on that later. I will tell you a little more about my writing process, if you're interested.

A quick story: For years my wife has been trying to get me to read On Writing, Stephen King's memoir and book of writing advice. She reminded me about it when September hit and I was about to begin my work. Then, in mid-September, someone else who supports what I'm doing suggested I read it too. So I took it down off the shelf and got ready to read it. Now, due to a professional development day and the Jewish holiday at the end of September, the girls had a five-day weekend Wednesday, September 24th through Sunday, September 28th. So we decided to go to New York and Kathy and I went with a couple of friends to see a taping of 'Late Night With Seth Meyers,' my new favorite talk show. The date of the show was Wednesday, September 24th. Late the week before the show announced two of the guests for the day we'd be there: NBA player James Harden and singer Sam Hunt. They didn't announce the third guest until the Monday before we went. You won't believe who the guest was. Go ahead. Guess. I'll wait.

Thaaaaaat's right.

Stephen King.

How's that for good writing karma? So I started furiously reading On Writing. I got through only about 30 pages before the show, but enough to get the gist of the book before King talked about it with Seth Meyers, who is a fan of the author and that particular book. Being in the studio audience of the show was so much fun, but more importantly, I loved On Writing and having the opportunity to hear King talk about the book and his craft. In the book, Stephen King wrote it was OK to work without an outline, he gave advice on how to get published, he was supportive about the way I was thinking about approaching my work…it was an important way for me to start. I came back from that 5-day weekend energized and started my book and haven't looked back since.

Why did it take until the end of September to start? Well, September was filled with new routines - the girls started a new school, Kathy started a new work schedule - more on all of this later - and I took a while to figure out my routine.

I like to write in the morning, after I bring the girls to school. I'll put in a few hours before I come home for lunch and do some afternoon chores before picking the girls up. Some days I do chores in the morning or I run or exercise and then work in the afternoon before getting the girls, but the important thing is that I've found a self-discipline for getting work done on my own that I didn't know I had. For my whole working life I've followed a schedule provided by someone else, whether it was writing stories between 4 and 4:30 for the 5pm news, or editing highlights after the Red Sox game for the 11:20pm sports hit, or teaching a social studies lesson between 12:30 and 1:10pm. That ability to self-regulate was one of my biggest fears entering this process, and so far I've been far more disciplined than I expected.

It's OK that I'm taking this opportunity to procrastinate.

I've earned it.

The Family Part

I've always been intrigued by the idea of being a stay-at-home dad. An unintended bonus of this situation so far this year is the opportunity to be 90% stay-at-home dad.

I shouldn't really go any further without taking a second to recognize the incredible sacrifices made by Kathy in all of this. She is working hard right now to support the family and to support my dream and it is because of the (paid) work she is doing that I am able to do the (so far unpaid) work I am doing. 

Our home life, though, has quite possibly never been better. I don't want to brag, but I'm quite the homemaker. Everything at home is a lot more calm and manageable because of our new schedule.

The girls' new school is a 13-minute walk from the house. Whereas in the past we'd be leaving the house at 7am so I could be ready for my workday and they could get to school on time, they're now waking up at 7am. We leave the house at 8:38am, and walking the girls to and from school is one of the joys of my day.

And at the end of the school day, we're home so much earlier than we've ever been before. The benefits have improved our quality of life overall: The girls can take mid-week dance classes rather than on the weekend. They're taking a gymnastics class because we have the available time to do that. We're not rushing from school to dinner to bedtime anymore. As a result, in the past few months we've gotten to know the neighbors better than we did in the previous 9 years we've lived in this neighborhood. The girls have friends in the neighborhood. 

The reason I didn't start writing until late September was that we spent most of September settling into the routines that are now going so well for us. Most of the month was getting the girls acclimated to their new school. They've done great, but it was a pretty big deal for them to start at a new place…and for me to not be going through the day with them. I'll admit, there was some adjusting that needed to happen on my part too. There will still be the occasional "first time we're going through xxx….", but we are as fully adjusted as can be as a family right now, so that's why I was able to start immersing myself in my book when I did.

Thursday I'm 100% stay-at-home dad. That's the day Maeve stays home with me, so I take the day off from writing. Sometimes we go to the library. Always we go to the grocery store. Shopping with a 3-year-old is pretty fun. I'm also getting a lot better at seeking out deals and being much smarter about what I buy. I know how to look for the best deal for any given product - it's something I never used to consider at the grocery store.

And - this part is very exciting - I'm really enjoying cooking lately. I see cooking segments on TV or I look through a recipe book and think, "I can do that." And then I usually think, "I bet it would be better if I put cheese on top of it." So I do. And at the store I get creative when buying certain things and I plan out some dinners for the nights I'm responsible for cooking. Because, again, now I have the time to do these things that I didn't have the time to do before.

I know I'm lucky that we have this opportunity. Again, that's all thanks to Kathy. But I'm doing my part in keeping the family running smoothly - we're a great team right now.

I almost feel like I'm cheating at life right now, because the home part is going so smoothly. 

But I'm not going to worry about that part - I'm just enjoying the fact that I can be a better parent than I've been these past couple of years because I'm not being pulled in different directions.

I can focus all of that energy on home.

The Comedy Part

I'd say that since about 1999 or 2000 I've thought seriously about being a comedian. I've been writing jokes down since about that time, it's been on my mind since that time, but I've never done more than tell jokes to my friends in the privacy of someone's home.

In the past few years I've taken more steps towards telling jokes professionally - I've been auctioneer for 3 auctions, and I know I'm way better at the telling jokes part warming up the crowd than I am at the auctioneering part. 

But I've desperately wanted to try stand-up comedy, and that was part of the reason I did '365 New Things In 2013' - I wanted that to be one of my New Things. But 1) I didn't know what to do to begin and 2) I didn't try all that hard to figure it out because I didn't have the guts.

This summer I found the guts.

I'm not sure why I was able to finally take the plunge this summer…I just decided I needed to take advantage of this time I was going to have to be able to do stand-up and just do it.

I guess I'm at a good point in my life to do this, because I've really stepped out of my comfort zone throughout the process.

On Monday, July 14th, I did my first open mic. I originally planned on going, getting a feel for the night, and not performing, but then I figured if I'm finally going to an open mic I might as well perform. So I e-mailed the guy who hosts the mic for some details, put together two minutes of material I've had for years, and then proceeded to get stuck in terrible traffic and showed up late, missing the sign-up for the mic. Again out of character, I approached the host shortly after I arrived - he added me to the list. When I got up there, my first joke, which I think is funny, got nothing. Silence. It was only another second before I told my next joke, but in that second I thought, "Oh no. I'm not funny. I've totally misjudged this."

I'm happy to say it's gone much better since then. I'm not knocking them dead every minute I'm up there, but I am making strangers laugh at jokes I wrote. It's very addicting. I'm hoping this will turn into something people will pay me to do. As it stands, I'm hesitant to call myself a comedian yet. I don't feel like I've earned it - in either the literal or figurative sense of 'earned.'

But I am working at it - I'm trying to become a regular at the Monday open mic and attending others during the week, whenever the family's schedule allows me to sneak out and perform. It is much more work than I expected - fine-tuning language, assessing audience reaction on each joke and the order in which I tell them, writing new material - but it's work that suits me. I've been doing it in my own mind for fifteen years, for crying out loud.

The other reason it seems I'm better suited for the stand-up now than at any other time in my life is because I'm much more open to feedback at this point. Even a couple of years ago if I told a joke that got no response, like the first joke I told on-stage at my first open mic, I think it would have shattered me. This time, I said I can't wait to get back up there and try to do better.

That next time out was that same week on Wednesday. I bombed. And I left that time thinking, "Well, I can't wait to get back up there and do better." I've also sought feedback, sending some close friends audio of each open mic and getting their thoughts. I would not have done that in the past with something I'm feeling so vulnerable about.

But it's working. Because I know I'm getting better. I'm not yet ready for friends to come out and see me, because all of my work is still practice at this point, but I know that day is getting closer and closer.

Because this week I told that joke again. The one I told first in my first-ever outing. The one that got nothing. I moved it further down in the set. I added a couple of words. I told it with more confidence.

People laughed.

In Conclusion

If you're still with me here, chances are you're one of the people who's supported me as I've embarked on this adventure. Know that I appreciate that and the fact that you cared enough to read all of this.

I'm really optimistic that my book will be published…and that I'll do OK with the stand-up. Writing the book trumps the stand-up at this point because that's the primary dream for which I left a career I enjoyed. But I'm devoting a lot of time to the stand-up because it's kind of a dream that's taken a backseat all these years, and I'm really excited about the opportunity to do it. And I think I'm good at it.

And I really like doing this kind of writing. Maybe I'll check in periodically here and post about the processes and progress of all of the above.

Because I've already binge-watched all of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. (Great show. So glad I did that before they got too deep into the second season.) And goodness knows I'll need to treat myself to some kind of procrastination every once in a while…at least this is productive procrastination.