I was just spit on by Shirley.*
At Green Acres, our miniature donkeys, Donkey and Yoti, now have some alpaca friends named Laverne and Shirley, and I continue to get worked over by our new farm friends on my city-slicker-now-living-tiny-on-land journey. (*By “spit,” I mean a surprisingly large, warm, and moist explosion of chewed grass and ‘paca-saliva blasted toward me at a hundred miles an hour with very little warning.)
But allow me to pause on my failed field adventures to let you know that this month is really messing with my underappreciatedstarvingartiststrugglinginatrailer vibe.
I find myself in a surprising new season of being spit on professionally far less often. The shift is calling my emo-bluff as a surplus of fantastic things are happening all at once: Our Green Acres Yurt became a cover story, my debut film SIRONIA ended up on Hulu, and my feet have stepped on not one, but two red carpets at festival premieres for two different films I directed. Photos taken. Awards received. On top of this…my fourth script just got the green light to shoot in the spring. All overwhelmingly awesome. All at once, like a thirsty man standing under a Topo Chico waterfall with his mouth open.
So why am I missing my old friend OhWoeIsMe?
No one wants to read about someone tooting their own horn while #humblebrag-ing about how nothing changes when things go well, but it seems worthwhile to fritter away a few words to explore why our outside circumstances don’t often shift our core experience.
Is the secret to contentment as simple as I’ve been told?
MY BEST FRIEND IRA
One of the surprise joys of the country commute is spending extra time with my kids and sharing conversations with my best friend Ira Glass. I’ve never met Ira, but his “This American Life” podcast has given me the deep impression that we are currently besties as he consistently shares fascinating stories and insights streaming through our speakers.
A few weeks ago, after Ira and I spent time with favorite storyteller Jonathan Goldstein, Ira introduced me to a friend of his named Mike Pesca who went on a rant that was timely and comforting.
In the pre-awesome-month valley, I was becoming a professional ranter. Not in public…but in the shower.
What used to be an opportunity to kill two peaceful birds with one stone (dream big dreams + personal hygiene) had become my practice space for delusional revenge scenarios.
The tiny shower in our Spartan trailer would become a world-wide broadcast stage where I was somehow asked the truth about a professional or personal injustice… “Okay, Brandon, tell us the truth about X, Y, and Z.” I would hold up the shampoo bottle like a microphone and have my revenge on a global transmission feed. “Thanks for asking, Charlie. Let me start by telling you about Y. Have you seen the Godzilla film SAN DAIKAIJÛ? Well, imagine engaging a three-headed monster Ghidorah of ego, arrogance, and back-stabbing selfishness…” When I was done telling the whole world how it is, I would literally drop the shampoo bottle and walk out of the shower. Bam! Take that!
Mike Pesca’s rants showed me how unskilled I was and how much room I had to grow in my personal tirades. He began by taking two ticks to tutor us in the term "to toot one's own horn,” noting what a strange and logically inconsistent phrase it is and how to be “hoisted by one's own petard” is a much better Shakespearean phrase regarding a bomb meant for someone else blowing up in your own face. Much better. He continues:
"But a horn is not meant for someone else to play. The expression toot one's own horn should instead center on a situation where you're forced to operate for yourself a device that was meant to be operated by another. So a more sensible alternative would be, hey, listen, I don't mean to hold my own ladder, or, look, I'm not trying to cut my own hair over here, or listen, I'm not trying to tuck myself in at night, or far be it from me to spot myself while bench pressing. Or you could even stick with the musical if you want -- hey, I'm not trying to play dueling banjos as a solo."
Pesca continues to bluster about whether Miles Davis ever “tooted” or if Louis Armstrong should be considered self-aggrandized for playing his own instrument.
As it seems that Pesca could continue his skilled ranting, my buddy Ira jumps in: “Pesca does know the phrase comes from a king entering a room. There are trumpeters, there is fanfare. Others toot the horns for the King. Tooting your own horn in that situation would be very, well, kind of pathetic.”
But Pesca notes that those are not the horns we think of when we think of horns. And since the phrase does not hold, he calls for a "moratootium."
Genius. Pesca has taken a silly phrase and escalated the issue into a flame of true injustice. Something must be done. I dramatically drop my podcast-playing iPhone the same way I drop the shampoo. I looked forward to applying his sharp spinning wit to my own equally important fantasy rants.
But then came Act 3 of Ira’s American Life: Mike Birbiglia.
Mike tells the story of being in a near-fatal car accident with a hit-and-run drunk driver in the same season he lays down the law with his girlfriend that he doesn’t believe in the idea of marriage.
He sets the stage:
“This is important for me to point out -- that sometimes when I think that I'm right, it can be a real source of contention between me and people who I'm close to. And the reason it's a source of contention, is that I'm right.”
As the story unfolds, the police report is so poorly filled out that somehow Mike ends up owing $12,000 for the repairs to the drunk driver’s Mercedes SUV. Mike sets out on a Chinatown-like quest to right the wrongs of unfairly being held responsible for the Benz that almost killed him. As the mission turns into a raging around-the-clock obsession complete with sleuthing on netdetective.com, Mike’s girlfriend finally says, "I don't know what to tell you, Mike, because you're right, but it's only hurting you. And I'm just so glad that you're alive, and I think that we should focus on that."
And with that (Spoiler Alert!) Mike drops the case, pays for the drunk man’s car, and asks his girlfriend to marry him. He ends by saying, “I still didn't believe in the idea of marriage, but I believe in her, and I've given up on the idea of being right.”
I’m a huge fan of marriage, but Mike…don’t give up! Grab hold of that idea of being right. Hold on to your self-rightness until it destroys you like a Kaiju monster.
Does this apply to everyone? Are you saying that I don’t have to be right?
What about X, Y, and Z? What is this talk of, “It's only hurting you”?
I sit in the car silent in the parking lot in front of my kids’ school. Mike is right. The minute I put voice to the words, “I don’t have to be right,” it’s as if an 800-pound gorilla -shaped dumbbell is pried from my shoulders. Damn you, Ira Glass. Once again, my favorite atheist friend and his buddies present stories that draw me closer to God.
I’ve been raging on the doorstep of undeserved blessing.
I think one would call that grace.
I like it.
I think it’s a dish I need to serve more often.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
As I’m working on reclaiming grace to myself and others, it is clear what an embarrassing and useless exercise it would be to broadcast your bitter self to the world while naked in the shower.
The temptation in this new upbeat season is for me to now rock some “YeahButts” back to reality.
YeahButt now we need to get the films out there, more festivals, sign with distributers, market, make it happen.
YeahButt the magazine didn’t list our website so no one can find us.
YeahButt remember X, Y, Z. YeahButt blah blah blah.
My comedian/friend Nick Thune (actual friend… not Ira Glass-elusion) takes pride in having taught my son how to “Farmer John” blow his nose with one pinched nostril while in Kenya. Nick also questioned my use of “killing two birds with one stone” by asking, “When in history was there an abundance of birds and a shortage of rocks?”
In his stand-up routine, Nick will say:
“Enough is enough. It is. Enough is enough. It’s the exact same word.”
Funny. And true.
The simple secret I first read as a teenager remains—to learn how to be content with whatever I have. To know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. To learn the secret of living well in every situation, whether full or hungry, with plenty or little. I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.
This is true contentment. Enough is enough.
It is enough to just enjoy these festivals and celebrate the hard work of an amazing group of people.
It is enough to smile at the Wheatsville check-out stand with your Yurt smiling at you from the cover.
It is enough to forgive from A to Z.
This moment where someone is willing to invest in my next story… that is enough.
And the truth is, it was enough before any of this happened. Before any of these journeys came out of hiding, it was enough to just do something you love with those you love.
My alpaca that just spit on me—it is enough. I’m blessed to have an alpaca.
AND THEN AGAIN
I’m certain you are well aware that hallow arrogance can accompany the downsized Tiny House movement as easily as the McMansion Suburb push.
Latching your self-worth to your stuff, ideals, and accomplishments is a failed journey. When we lived at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, I knew as many unhappy people who were on their way to a star on the Walk of Fame as I did those who were sleeping on the Walk of Fame.
Success can be as empty as failure.
It’s time to take back shower time. To wash away the b.s. and focus less on what is broken than what has already been fixed.
The only person who’s getting messed up in a rage rant is you.
But like many things I know to be true, it’s good to be reminded.
And then again.