a priori/a posteriori

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Recording an Album, 4 (in defense of drug use)

Well, it’s been 8 days since I wrote a somewhat-depressed, “I’m failing" post about my upcoming album recording.  And honestly, I haven’t done all that much in the week since.

Despite that, I feel pretty optimistic today.  Last night, as I was riding the subway to a couple open-mics, I put together a list of goals for this week.  Just a half-dozen or so goals, relating to my preparation for these shows.

That list isn’t a huge deal, but it at least gives me some direction to go in.  And right now, I just feel like I need some definitive direction.  I need to be able to say, “These are the things I need to do next.”  In the month or so since deciding to do this, I haven’t had that concrete, “my-job-for-today-is...” kind of thinking.  And right now, I’m looking for concrete steps.

(and, for the record, not like this concrete).

So today - for at least one day - I’m going to try to go to work.  I’m going to try to have a plan, and to use that plan as a framework to get where I want to be, come the night of June 8.

Not rocket science.  Just work.

Also, adderall.  Work, and adderall.  I’m going to try to humble myself enough to admit what my reality is:  that without feeding my brain an amphetamine, I can't consistently focus on what I want to.  For a bunch of different reasons, I find that frustrating, and I have to fight the idea that if I can’t sit down and write without the help of a drug, then I guess I’m just a lazy piece of crap, and I don’t deserve to be successful in life.

I don’t know.  Let me review, very briefly:

When I don’t take an amphetamine (the class of drugs that Adderall is in), I tend to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand.  So if I’m trying to read a book, it feels almost impossible to do so.  Because there are so many books I want to read.  And there’s so much knowledge I want to gain.  And I can’t even read this book all at once - it’s going to take weeks to get through one book.  Each page takes a minute or two, so I can’t read it all at this sitting.  Even if I get through it in a week - that still means I can only read 52 books this year.  And I have maybe 50 years left (or one day...but let’s not even get into that).

So that means that best-case, I can only read 52 x 50 =....2600 books in my lifetime.  There are millions of books.  And I don’t read a book a week.  In fact, every time I think about picking up a book, I start thinking about all this, and so I don’t even bother starting.  I’ve finished maybe one book in the past four months.  One every four months means...3 per year, 50 years...150 books.  Out of all books, ever?  Man, I hate myself.  I’m just gonna go check ESPN.com

When I do take Adderall, it just kind of feels like getting to zoom out from an ultra-close-up shot that my brain was in.  I zoom out, and I see that it makes sense to write this current sentence, because this current sentence is a part of this paragraph, and a part of the point I’m currently making about Adderall.  And this paragraph is a part of this current post, about my struggles in preparing for my shows on June 8 and 9.

And this post is a part of this blog, which is an ongoing look at the joys and stresses of moving to New York City and doing stand-up comedy.  And this blog is a part of what I’m doing with my life.  So even though each of these sentences might seem trivial and meaningless on their own, each one is a part of a much larger whole.  So I don’t have to freak out while I’m writing this.  Because small things are not meaningless.

That’s what amphetamines do, for me.  They allow me to more fully understand cause and effect.  Without them, I might write one sentence, or read one sentence, and then immediately be discouraged by what a tiny impact each and every current moment can have on me, on my work, or on the world.  But when I add those chemicals into my system, I find peace with how little I can do in any given moment, because I understand that at its most, my life can only be a series of moments like that.

There is no secret way to freeze time, or change the past, or take short-cuts.

I can only write each of these words one at a time.

But those words formed that previous sentence.

And these sentences are forming this blog.

And so on.  And so on.

For much of the past month, I’ve wanted to prepare for these shows so badly, and make sure I earn the attention of everyone there, that I’ve been trying to make 2 months of preparation happen spontaneously.  I don’t trust myself to continue my own work later.  So I panic, and refuse to work in the moment.  Because the progress I would make in the present isn’t enough.
(I was scratching my head in this picture, for the record)

I resisted taking Adderall for years, because I hated people that used “ADD,” or “ADHD” - or whatever the hell they decided to call their laziness - as an excuse.  I was an underachiever for almost my entire life - but at least I owned it.  I wasn’t like the rich kids, the pampered kids - the kids who cheated by taking a drug.  Even if I wanted to learn something, if I needed a drug, then the answer was simple:  clearly, I didn’t want to learn it enough.

From maybe 4th grade on, I developed a set of rules that allowed me to “win”:  acknowledging reality was more important than actually succeeding.  Sure, those other kids were getting A’s.  But would any of them be able to laugh at failing?  Not a chance - I was special.

Even as a 10 year-old, I told myself I was a lazy piece of shit.  But I was accountable, god damn it.

Now, as an adult (Webster’s definition, not mine), I’ve realized I have the opportunity to become what I was sure I’d never be:  a good student.

I don’t mean that I want to be a slave to my homework assignments, or that I want to blindly copy down the story of the wonderful partnership between the White Man and those not-so-Indian-after-all “Indians.”  I mean the good definition of student.  Like the type of student that realizes that’s bullshit because they wanted to know shit for themselves.

I think that’s what’s been so terrifying, about this upcoming performance.  It’s not a book report in front of the class, exactly.  But in adulthood, there are no more book reports.  We don’t have to get up in front of the class, if we don’t want to.  But by putting together this performance, that’s essentially what I’ve chosen to do:  I’m doing a book report on a book that can’t be written down.  I’m trying to give a book report on life.

That’s what’s so terrifying:  almost every book report I ever gave, I was bullshitting.  Because I hadn’t read the book.  I hadn’t done the work.  I wanted to, but I never did.  They were torture for me.  I was never trying to push other classmates, or encourage them to grow with me - my only goal was to survive.

Well, I’m 28 now.  I don’t have a teacher prodding me.  I don’t have parents scolding me.  Nobody else was even given this assignment - I basically just announced to my world, “Hey! Who wants to hear a book report I wrote?”  Can you imagine what an asshole I’ll be if I don’t read the book this time?  If I give a book report - voluntarily - and the whole time, I’m just trying to survive it?

There’s no point in that.  I don’t want to just survive anymore.  I want to be the person that I wanted to be as a child.  I want to give a cool book report, that makes everyone in my class say “Wow, that was cool!  I should read more books!  And give my own book report!”

That’s the ultimate dream for my shows in June.  I want to make book reports cool again.


When I ask people what they regret from their life so far, most people say the same thing: “Nothing, because if I changed anything, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

I understand.  What’s done is done, and it helps us stay sane if we decide that everything that happened, “happened for a reason.”

If I had been able to just sit still and do my homework when I was 8, I wouldn’t be nearly as funny as I am today.  I was ashamed that I couldn’t get anything done, and so I used humor as a defense mechanism, and as a way to make the stakes seem lower to the authority figures.  For long stretches, I did almost nothing as a student, so I compensated by learning how to be funny.  I learned something else, too - and this is the part that set me apart from other kids:  I learned the exact moment when “funny” stopped being a positive and started counting against me.  I learned to pay attention to the mood of a room, in large part because I had to - my F in Chemistry was both a joke that the teacher was in on, and a very serious problem that I was committed to changing.

Those lessons help me understand my world, to this day.  I wouldn’t be the performer - and certainly not the comic - that I am today, if I’d been given Adderall as a child.  Maybe I would have still become a comic - I’ll never know.  But many of my skills - my comedic timing, my cadence - were born out of necessity.  If I wasn’t good at reading, I’d better get good at something.  And it had better translate to teachers and students - I better be able to connect to the whole room at once.

With Adderall, I wouldn’t have needed to do that, and so I probably wouldn’t have.  Not to the same extent.  And so I wouldn’t have gotten years of practice, developing those skills.  And it is those very skills that will be on display, come June.

Do you see the dilemma?  Adderall can help me prepare for my album for the next two months, but no-adderall has been helping me prepare for it for 20 years.  So part of me wants to just not take Adderall, and trust that my brain will come up with something and make it work.  There is a part of me that believes that, for sure.

But there’s a difference between not having any regrets, and not learning from your past.  I have no idea who I would be today, if I had been prescribed Adderall at age 10.  All I know is that I’m not 10.  I’m 28.  And I can’t control any point in the past.  Or any point in the future.  All I can do is live in this moment, and try to live it as well as I possibly can.  And for me, that best-lived life includes putting a drug into my system - an amphetamine - that alters my brain chemistry, and changes who I am in a small but momentous way.  So for today at least - and hopefully for the next six weeks - I will be taking amphetamines 5-6 days a week.

But I have been swayed before, and I could very well change my mind again.  So if you disagree, then I would genuinely love to see your book report on it.  If not, come out on June 8 or 9 - maybe then you’ll be inspired to give one of your own.

Bryson would like to thank the following drugs for helping him complete this lengthy post:

1. amphetamine salts

that is all.

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