When I was 28 years old, I was doing stand-up comedy part-time. The place I called "my home club" was very strict on one policy: no swearing. The owner was smart that way. You couldn't own a club in the bible-toting panhandle of Texas and offend your clientele, no matter how drunk they were. Only the comics whose headshots were familiar from television could pull that off.
We openers were far from recognizable. We weren't even locally popular. Admittedly, it was probably a stretch to even call us entertainers. But I had enough material to get paid to open on a regular basis and part of my duties included being the M.C. on open mike nights.
Open mike nights are how everyone who's ever done stand-up got their start. And in that era of Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay we'd encounter young bucks who were certain they could imitate those callous masters and gain overnight success. The problem was, they were warned straight-away, they'd have to shelf the f-bombs.
The other problem was, when you're 18 years old, you're sure even the club owner doesn't know shit.
That's where I came in. After the first infraction, the owner would give them the light. After the second, he'd blind them with it, and after the third, he sent me on stage to break the mesmerizing bond of a high schooler plagiarizing an entire act by summoning a loud round of applause to disguise his exit.
This happened one week when we happened to have a rare comedienne as the middle act and I found it a great change of pace to work with her. After the above offender had been inevitably whisked out the front, she shook her head and said what the veterans in the room were all probably pondering, but it was an iconic statement to me: "I don't know what these kids are thinking. They're what, 18 years old? What could they possibly have to say about life?"
She was right. Even at 28, what did I know? So I set my aspirations aside and lived. And lived, and lived, and lived, always with the prospect of writing again in the back of my mind. Then at 44, the opportunity to take time off shined upon me like a glaring noonday sun, and I took it. Then I never looked back.
Fast forward 16 years. I'd finished my first novel (A Boy Named Trevor Catcher) and begged anyone who was kind enough to invest 300 pages of time into reading uncharted territory, to fasten their seatbelt. Not long after that, an obliged teenager who took the challenge approached me with teary eyes and cried, "Oh my God, it's like you know what it's like to be seventeen!"
No kidding. And 27. And 37. And then 47. Now I love 50 so much I'll probably be like one of those obsessed concert goers who sleeps in the parking lot to buy the first ticket when 57 comes to town.
If you ever wondered what it's all about, I'm here to say, "That's the easy part." It's all about living your story. The hard part is sticking to the script.
That's why they say, "Thoughts become things. Pick the good ones."