Book Review | You’re Not Doing It Right by Michael Ian Black

9781439167861I don’t remember when I first read Michael Ian Black’s essay “What I Would Be Thinking About If I Were Billy Joel Driving Toward a Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going to Be a Piano.” What I do remember is loving it. So when I happened upon Michael Ian Black’s book, You’re Not Doing It Right, I had to pick it up.

Michael Ian Black is a very famous actor, writer, husband and father. It doesn’t matter that you may not know who he is. In spite of his fame, Michael Ian Black’s experiences and humiliations are common to most men.

In fact, aside from being older, more famous, thinner, funnier, probably wealthier, and less religious, we could be twins. Well, also my parents didn’t divorce because my mom was a lesbian. They divorced for other reasons. But Michael Ian Black and I both experienced vertigo, so we’re essentially the same.

Black’s book, You’re Not Doing It Right, is a frank memoir of the actor’s life and failures. Imagine sneaking into your sibling’s bedroom and stealing their diary, that one labeled “Keep out!!! This means you!!” and taking into the bathroom (so you can lock the door behind you) and reading all of their secrets. If nothing else, you won’t be able to look at them in the same way thereafter. That’s what it is like to read this book, but in the best way possible.

Michael Ian Black’s book is nothing less than a sledgehammer for whatever pedestal you have put him on. It is an invitation to stop feeling crazy and know that there are people (even very famous people) who struggle with selfishness in marriage, frustrations in parenting, and relationships in general.

True, it was utterly unlike any memoir that might have passed my desk at a Christian publishing house, but that is one of the reasons that I read it. If you can get past some colorful language and a potentially sordid history (let’s be honest, none of us are proud of every part of our history), you can’t go wrong with You’re Not Doing It Right.

Stephen King | On Writing

For my birthday this year, I got two copies of Stephen King’s “Memoir of the Craft”, On Writing. I didn’t keep them both, but I did keep one. The other, I exchanged for a newly released book of Kurt Vonnegut’s short stories. So it goes.

I asked for On Writing initially because so many writers and friends have read it and learned a great deal. I didn’t ask for it because I am an avid Stephen King reader. In fact, here’s the sad admission, aside from On Writing, I’ve never read a book by Stephen King. Oh, I’ve seen some of the movies based on his works (I especially enjoyed “The Green Mile”, mostly because I’m a big Tom Hanks fan), but that doesn’t really count. That said, I had no basis for whether or not I would enjoy Mr. King’s approach to writing. No expectations.

Stephen King in his finest duds.

You’ll be glad to know that I’m enjoying the book thoroughly. King’s mix of story, advice, and experiences with the craft come across as genuine. These are the tips picked up on the way to becoming a millionaire author, not the high-minded notions of a millionaire who happens to write. I appreciate his candor and would recommend this book for anyone who wishes to understand the world of writing a bit better, including those who are affected by the written word while not being writers themselves.

I’ll include a warning here about King’s salty language. He has a tendency not to mince words or play to the church crowd, thus his language may be too crass for the gentle-hearted among you. But as King himself says:

You must tell the truth if your dialogue is to have the resonance and realism that Hart’s War, good story though it is, so sadly lacks–and that holds true all the way down to what folks say when they hit their thumb with the hammer.

King is himself, and his advice is good. On Writing is quite a resource.

And here is the man himself, talking about short stories (a subject near to my heart).

I am smooth.

Since I started thinking about my college days again for last week’s post, I thought I’d share another college story.

When I first moved to Kalamazoo in order to attend Western Michigan University, music was something that was still primarily enjoyed by listening to the radio (that makes me feel very old all of the sudden). Illegal file sharing was yet to be made illegal, and the iPod was only a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye. While searching the dial for a station worth listening to, I stumbled across my college’s radio station, WIDR, and instantly fell in love.

WIDR | Radio EvolutionI still get nostalgic for WIDR and many’s the time when I wish that I could get the signal where I live now. All of the DJs were students, long awkward pauses and dead air were not uncommon, and I had never heard of most of the musicians they played, but it all worked. WIDR had the perfect mix of loveable amateurism and exposure to the underground music scene.

But enough of my gushing and on to the story.

I learned where the station was located after being invited to speak about the Valhalla Norwegian Society, of which I was president at the time. As it happened, WIDR’s studio was located in the same building as the registered student organization mailboxes, so in the weeks following the interview, I would stop in at random to say hi to the DJs who interviewed me with whom I had struck up a friendship.

On one such visit, rather than ask if my DJ friends were available, I stepped up to the main desk and said, “I’m here to pick up my prize pack.” Now, there was no prize pack waiting for me, but I thought that on the off chance that I could get a free t-shirt or something, I’d try my luck.

“Prize pack?” said the receptionist. “Did someone call you and tell you that you won something?”

“Um,” I replied. “Well, no.”

“Then, why did you come in?” asked the receptionist, and rightfully so.

“Um,” I replied. “I just wanted to see if I could get something. Maybe a t-shirt or something.”

“Oh,” said the receptionist. “Well, I can’t give you anything.”

“Okay,” I said. “Would you mind telling John that I’m out here then, if he’s not on-air at the moment, I mean.”

“Actually,” said a woman sitting against the wall who I had completely missed, “I was about to go record an interview with John, so he’ll be busy for a little bit.”

“Oh,” I said. “It’s cool. I’ll just check back later.”

“Wait a sec,” said the new woman. “I heard what you were trying to do with the prize pack thing. Clever and ballsy of you. If you wait around until after the interview, I’d love to give you a couple tickets to my show tonight. Maybe you could bring a date.”

I waited. True to her word, this mystery musician put my name down for two tickets to her show that night.  This turn of events gave me sufficient reason to ask out a girl that I’d been interested in a for a few weeks. What a great first date story that would be, I thought (isn’t it funny how we want to make our lives fit into clever story arcs?). To my surprise, the girl agreed and off we went.

The seats were prime. The music was good. My date and I were enjoying ourselves. And then, around the middle of the set, the musician stops and says, “Where’s Josh? I met Josh earlier at the college radio station and he told me that he was going to be on a first date tonight. Josh, are you here?”

I raised my hand. People from all directions stared at me… and my date. I should probably say that the girl that I brought to this event was a shy girl who didn’t like the spotlight.

“How’s the date going so far?”

I looked over at my date. She gave me a thumbs up, but the look on her face was not happy.

“Um, great!” I lied.

“Cool,” she said, and then she finished her show. The first date became the last date, and that was okay. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Afterward, I stopped back into the radio station to thank them for doing the interview with the musician that led to me getting free show tickets. My DJ friends invited me to talk about the evening on the air. I told them that it was a good evening, but that things didn’t work out.

That was when they decided that it would be a fun show segment to have girls call in to the station and go on dates with me (WIDR would be footing the bill) and then I would talk about my experiences the next day. At the time, I thought nothing of being pimped out by my college radio station and thought it would be a fun way to see concerts and such for free.

The promotion never came together however, and now I’m really glad that it didn’t. Now, I’m married to a wonderful woman (a bit on the shy side, I guess I have a type). And though I’m sure that my wife would never have left me when confronted with a spotlight on us, I’m glad that our story started differently.

I love my wife more than old people love racism and talking about diseases.