Thursday, December 22, 2011

Life as a Scatterbrain

Yesterday i watched the documentary Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, a compelling look inside O'Brien's "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour," which bridged the end of his Tonight Show run and the beginning of his TBS talk show. The film's above all a peek into Conan O'Brien the workaholic--the man who couldn't sit for six months while negotiating and planning a new TV show (which for most people would be a full-time job in and of itself, i'm sure). No, he had to also put together a 90-minute touring stage show to keep him occupied for what i can only assume is 16 hours a day--more if he gets less than eight hours sleep per night. Even during the documentary, Conan seems to be at times performing for the camera, only allowing himself to not be funny (or at least allowing himself to be pissy--i'm not entirely sure he's capable of being unfunny while he's awake) during brief, humanizing moments.

Today i read this GQ profile on Louis C.K., the writer, director, executive producer, editor, and star of possibly the best, most powerful show on television right now. The man's DIY cred is at an all-time high thanks to banking a million bucks through direct downloads of his latest comedy special, Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater, a show that he, well, wrote, produced and performed himself, then sold directly to the public through his own website, in the tradition of Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, or any of those other bands that came into prominence thanks to major media outlets, then flipped the script by taking their fans with them into the independent wilderness. Of course, Louis obviously got to this point through a ton of work and dedication on his own--as Patton Oswalt glowingly points out in the GQ piece, "There are a lot of comedians who have the same potential, talentwise, that Louis has, but very few have the level of commitment he does."

This week's Monday Night RAW opened with a truly special moment for independent wrestling fans everywhere, as indie mainstays-turned-WWE Superstars CM Punk and Daniel Bryan stood in the same ring, holding the top two championships of the largest "sports entertainment" company in the world after years of toil and sweat as "small" wrestlers who don't have the look of classically marketable WWE superheroes like Triple H and John Cena:

People who follow wrestling have some inkling of what a hard, lonely road it can be to get somewhere and "make it" in the business--heck, only experiencing the peripheral fringes of the biz myself, i can see that while pro wrestling is full of amazing, hardworking people, it's also full of blowhard alpha-males only looking out for themselves, and i'm sure navigating that minefield is as difficult as perfecting the craft itself. But reading Punk's Twitter is like attending an online master seminar in drive and dedication--the dude claims to never sleep (and judging by the ever-present bags under his eyes, i believe it), and he's constantly on the move.

I often get accused of jealousy when writing about perceived bullshit in the world of music--oh, i'm just bitter because my band isn't as popular as the one i'm criticizing, my band doesn't sell, etc. While it's largely an empty, boilerplate critique--i suppose Roger Ebert is just jealous of all the filmmakers he gives negative reviews to, and his entire career is one big snit-fit because Beyond the Valley of the Dolls wasn't a blockbuster--the truth is that there is one thing that i envy in all the entertainers, artists, and musicians that i admire: their tireless work ethic.

There's a lot of creative stuff i love doing. I love drumming. I love writing songs and playing them in front of people (and yes, i also love the validation that comes when people actually connect with what we've done). I love writing. I love announcing roller derby. I loved being on the radio. But for one reason or another, i've never had the work ethic or drive to pick one of these things and pursue it until i collapsed dead from exhaustive excellence. I'm an above-average drummer if we're being charitable, and i play in an above-average band (if we're being charitable) that some people like but most people tolerate and ignore. I love calling roller derby, but i have no desire to throw myself as fully into that world as many of my announcing colleagues have. I loved being on the radio, but not so much that the world of commercial radio didn't send me screaming from the business (not to mention that the prospect of a nomadic life chasing the next rung on the ladder from one market to the next seemed like the most miserable existence ever to a 24-year-old homebody who went to college in Oshkosh because it was close to home).

When i lost my job in May, i suddenly had lots of free time to be creative and do things i never had the time to do. And while job hunting is a full-time job in and of itself, and thus i shouldn't beat myself up too much, there's a part of me that is mildly annoyed with myself that instead of starting work on my book ideas, i started this blog instead. The instant gratification of the "publish post" button is a quicker fix than the certainly more satisfying, but grinding, result of stringing together 50,000 words about one subject. It's a trap!

I do feel like i'm always busy, but instead of picking one thing to pursue nonstop, i picked several, in between lots of reading and watching TV. Jack of all trades, master of none, as the saying goes.

And now i'm starting a new job on Monday, one i'm excited but simultaneously nervous about. I left banking and customer service four years ago and lucked into a job copywriting for a local gaming website because, well, i wanted to do something creative for eight hours every day. When i lost that job in May, i looked for something else in the writing world, but unfortunately this economy wasn't having it. So back i go to customer service, but customer service in the music world, which excites me--working for a music store is going to be fantastic, and after months of going stir-crazy while trying to remain productive, i'm stoked to have something to do for eight hours a day again.

But i'd be lying if impending change wasn't spooking me out just a bit. My new second-shift-ish hours are filling my head with questions: will i still be able to keep up with this blog? Will i still be able to find the time to pursue that writing dream by freelancing for others? Will my shaky, scatterbrained sense of work ethic condemn me to nights of couch-surfing in lieu of maximizing my free time?

I'll never be Conan O'Brien, Louis C.K., or CM Punk. That much is obvious. The window for that obsessive single-mindedness has long closed. But as i start this next chapter of my life, it's important for me to prioritize what i do have: a still-stimulating band, a roller derby league that claims to be glad to have me, outlets for my rants and raves, and last but best, an awesome relationship with someone supportive of all of it. All things considered, living DJ Hostettler's life may not be as glamorous as that of the real workhorse stars in the world, but it's still a pretty charmed life as it is.


  1. "Will my shaky, scatterbrained sense of work ethic condemn me to nights of couch-surfing in lieu of maximizing my free time?"

    OH, does that line hit home. Oh does it ever smack me across the face like a gauntlet. I, also, have problems with work ethic and struggles to maintain creating things instead of zoning out on my couch (or in a bar) when I finally find myself with free time at 8 pm every night.

    I don't have the drive that a lot of people do, and I desperately need my downtime, but I think it's still possible to do and create and, yes, be an artist without the desire or will to be an insomniac.

  2. Seriously, i don't know how some of these people get by with what has to be 3 hours of sleep a night. When do they have the time to exercise?!? (Well, for Punk it's part of his job, but...)