I’m writing from a rooftop in Austin, taking a break from my break — which was part Naomi Klein and part Real Ale — to share a reflection that just sunk in: I’m about to publish my first book, and I couldn’t be more excited.bthf-preorder-indiegogo-banner

Now, to be clear: this isn’t me publishing the first book I wrote (that happened a couple years ago, and still hasn’t sunk in); this is me, under the auspices of Impetus Books, publishing my first book someone else wrote (in this case, I’m glowingly happy to say that someone else is Karen Rayne).

It was about 18 months ago that Impetus Books became more than an idea. I’d recently published A Guide to Gender, but I wanted the learning from that experience — the battling with publishers to find a socially just foothold, the conversations with my would-be readership about what mattered to them, and the soul-searching required by taking a manuscript that may otherwise be a forever-secret and sharing it with the world, forever… all of that and more — to be born into something greater.

Thus, in a Convenience Mart Turned Live Music Indian Food Joint not more than a few miles from where I sit currently, Impetus Books was born. The statement of purpose was to create books that mattered, and to make them accessible to the folks who needed them.

But truly, Impetus Books becomes more than an idea tomorrow, when we launch the preorder for Breaking the Hush Factor (the first non-me-written Impetus Book).

I wanted to create a publishing house that cared more about the effect of the words than anything else. I wanted to create a publishing house that understood that access is tantamount to power. That creating unnecessary barriers (like money) between people and powerful ideas depletes the power of the ideas. Thankfully, this spirit lives on in every facet with this book (e.g., it will change lives for the better, it will be available electronically for free, and the author and publisher are completely agreed on the primary goal of creating it: to share the power of the lessons within).

Like I said earlier, I didn’t reflect on what this means to me until just earlier tonight. It hit me when I was thinking about the 100+ hours I’ve spent working with Karen on this book. I was thinking about the 100+ hours I spent reviewing manuscripts that I eventually turned down over the past year and a half before this book, something I was adamantly averse to in principal. I was thinking about the 100+ hours I spent creating my first book, negotiating it with other publishers, and learning about the industry, before ever thinking I could ever do something like… this.

But it’s not about the quantity: it’s about the quality. Karen’s book — this book I’ve had the honor to be a part of — has the power to transform folks’ lives for the better. Indeed, it already has done so for my own life, and every other proof-reader/guinea pig who has read it and shared remarks for me (e.g., our Foreword Author, Heather Corinna), has said the same thing. I can’t overstate this: The book is fucking great.

And that’s how it hit me, the Mousetrap-like chain of seemingly-unrelated events that all converge on this one perfect moment, starting tomorrow at 6am, when I get to be part of something truly beautiful.

Buy Karen’s book. Buy it to support the work I do. Buy it to support the creative commons and the free sharing of powerful ideas. Buy it because she’s a compassionate, wonderful human who is sharing her secrets with you so you can be a more compassionate, more wonderful human. Or, and I vote for this one above all, buy it because it’s great.

I’m going to keep this short, because I only have 56 minutes of battery left on my laptop and still have about 100 emails I want to write today.

If you want to get work done, and are having a hard time controlling your focus (Facebook), keeping yourself from being distracted (Twitter), or hurdling any of the other hurdles between you and what you need to do today (Taylor Swift’s instagram account), take your laptop to a coffee shop and leave your charger at home.Keep Reading

“What’s the meaning of life?” he asked earnestly, as if he actually wanted the answer.

“To live true, to be honest, to experience spiritual connection, to give, to be…” he replied, rambling on platitudes. The same niceties he found himself saying on a regular basis — a daily basis. The niceties that only ever cross his mind when he’s asked to recite them. When he wasn’t reciting what life was, he was living it. And, for him, more times than not, life was a person.

It was a person who pulled him out of himself. A person who made him need, in a way that need was embodied by want. It was a person who lured then faded, who teased then parried, who pulled then pushed. It was a person who meant more to him than he felt comfortable acknowledging, because there was no sense in it. But his life had never made sense.

***

I think a lot about life. If you’ve read much of what I’ve published on this site, this likely comes as no surprise to you. If you know me as a person, in the real-life, touchy-feely world, it’s definitely not a surprise. I don’t sleep much. I never have. But I daydream a lot. I always have.

When I was younger, I had a hard time relating to people who were my age. My mom explained this to me by pointing out that I was younger than everyone in my grade. But I suspected it was something else. While other people were sleeping, I was laying in bed, wondering, thinking, considering, debating — all with myself, of course, because I was the only one awake. I’d lay there for hours awake, my mind spinning. If we spend a third of our lives asleep, then we only spend two-thirds of our lives aging. If you only sleep an hour or two a night, well, you might end up like me.

All this time I spent in my head, for the longest time, remained in my head. When I started letting it out, it started to make more sense to me, and I learned it helped other people make sense to them. It was good. It was cathartic. It became necessary.

***

“Yeah, I know, I know. All that stuff. Those are good things. But none of those really mean anything. When you boil it down, you can say all those things, and try to be all those things, and just end up exactly where you started: clueless and floundering through life. So, maybe I asked it wrong. What’s the meaning of your life?” he asked.

“What do you want me to say? Live life to the fullest? Be more than yourself? Sex, drugs, rock and roll?”

“I want you to be sincere.”

Damnit, he thought. ‘Sincere’ he says. Not honest. Sincere. He knows me. He’s heard me. So how can I possibly tell him the truth? He’ll hate me if he knows.

Because he’s never lied. Not to anyone. But he’s also never been sincere. His world is centered around people. He has too much love, his mom always told him this. And he’s managed to create a life that is honest, where he can find Meaning that is true to himself. But the idea that a person has so much sway over him, a person who barely knows him can pull on his mind the way the moon pulls the tides out of the sea, scares him. It makes him feel weak. Vulnerable. Incredibly, irrevocably human. And that, to him, is life. It’s perfect. But it’s not the way things should be. He knows this.

***

When I started writing, I finally started to calm my mind and channel the chaos into a discernible message. I wrote a lot of fiction for years, many years ago. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words. I would never share it with anyone, write it and delete it. It was catharsis with no other purpose. It was perfect.

I started writing with other purpose. I wrote cover letters for jobs I was applying to. I wrote emails to the memberships of organizations I was responsible for. I wrote training manuals and educational pamphlets. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. And I really loved it. It was natural for me. I had all these thoughts built up in my mind from dozens of years of not sleeping — all this age I hadn’t aged — and I finally found a relief for it.

I was told by someone I respected a great deal that my writing was the “best student writing” she’d ever read. I didn’t know at the time how meaningful that would be, and I doubt she does to this day, but a few years later it would be the nudge I needed to become me.

***

“It’s hard to be sincere,” he replied. “Because I’m worried you won’t understand.”

How could he believe that the meaning of life was a person? But how could I not, he thought, not even entertaining the idea. His life had changed a lot in the years he’d been alive, and he’d said a lot of things “absolutely” that changed just as quickly. Maybe this would change. But he didn’t think so. There isn’t much he’s sure of — he’s a person who celebrates and relaxes into the greys between the blacks and whites — other than this. This was right. This was yes. This was clear. Absolutely.

“I’ll understand,” his friend reassured.

***

When I wrote my first “article” I had no idea what I was getting into. In fact, at the time, I wouldn’t’ve even called it an “article.” I just thought of it as “this thing I’ll write because I was told I should write it.” It got 20 views, three of which were probably my mom. When a little over a month later my site broke 100,000 readers, I was more surprised than anyone.

I became a writer. I’ve since written a few books, one of which is published, and the others will be published soon. I’ve made a wage as a writer, hammering keys and expunging overburdened thoughts to the shared consciousness of everyone who deems me worthwhile.

I can’t imagine life now without writing. But I also couldn’t’ve imagined that writing would be such an important part of my life. And for a person whose life relies on his imagination, this is disconcerting.

***

“The meaning of my life is a person,” he said through his teeth, realizing that saying it out loud wasn’t just admitting it to his friend, it was affirming it to himself. “A person who inspires in me need embodied by want. Who lures then fades. Who pulls and pushes. A person who will likely never understand the importance they have in my life, but will hold that meaning regardless.”

And then his heart quickened, and he felt sweat upon his brow. He knew that he’d gone too far, said too much, been too sincere. He’d always been honest, but he’d never been terrifying. And to say that the meaning of life is a person, well, that’s terrifying. He never wanted to terrify.

“Sounds like a person I would love to meet.”

He smiled. Because it made him feel weak. Vulnerable. Because life was perfect.

I’ve only ever read one, maybe two, “self help” books (depending on how strict your definition is). Not for me. And I wouldn’t want to foist them on anyone else. Might seem odd, considering what I write here. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so reluctant to write about the things I write about here: because I don’t like the idea of “self help” coming from another person.

I haven’t read all the books, so I’m making a lot of broad generalizations, and might have a bit of prejudice I need to unpack, but when I talk to people who are huge “self help” book fans, there are a few things that stick out to me as less than savory: there’s too much money involved, it promotes idolatry, and it fosters codependent support.

The money thing is obvious. It’s hard to differentiate the big “self help” pioneers from any other mogul: they’ve tapped into a market and done an amazing job making the dollars keep flowing. Some folks charge upwards of $40K – $60K for a talk. That’s a lot of money. I’m never one to question someone’s motivations, but if your goal was to help other people help themselves, a few dollars to a need person might be more meaningful than a book. And when their followers find out about the wild amounts of money some of these folks make, instead of thinking “what the eff?!” they think “I could be like that,” which brings me to idolatry.

The self help enterprise isn’t focused around making people’s lives better, it’s focused around the people who make others’ lives better. Fans of self-help moguls follow their every teaching and celebrate their work to an extent bordering on idolatry. Believing one person is worthy of worship, while that person is telling you that you’re great, will likely lead to at least a bit of cognitive dissonance. And when there isn’t dissonance, and when someone fully accepts that contraction, we have the beginnings of a codependent relationship.

Codependence is a dangerous concept because it’s so close to interdependence, something that’s super duper healthy and an important thing to find for yourself. Codependence crops up when you have a person who thinks they need another person in order to be happy, or that another person is responsible for their happiness. That’s not good. You need to know how to make you happy.

So what am I writing here, if not a “self help” e-book in blog form?

For a long time I’ve been a fan of zen buddhist teachings. I was initially turned onto buddhism many many years ago. I read the stories, learned about the noble eightfold path, and thought “Awesome! Imma do this stuff.” And I did. Actually, I didn’t. I thought I did, but I really didn’t. It took many years before any of it actually clicked. It started clicking when I spent more time meditating, allowing myself to experience myself, writing, and having intentional, meaningful conversations with other people. That’s the best “self help” I could ever recommend, but that’s easier said than done.

A lot of what I’m doing here is trying to explore how all of that happened, and how I’ve ended up where I am right now, with the thoughts and lens I have. I’m trying to tease it all out, simplify it, drill down to the important bits, and I will hopefully be left with a more clear understanding for myself, but also something I can share with you.

A thought a day from me to you as you continue down your road, hoping that it helps point you where you want to go. And, if I’m lucky, you’ll return the gesture to me, to help me as I continue down my road.

On Tuesday I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Austin and I felt inspired to record my podcast. I grabbed my fancy microphone out of my bag and started to set it up to record when I noticed something: Tom’s had the Beatles playing. I packed up my mic and put it back in my bag, dismayed. The way copyright law works, it would have been illegal for me publish that podcast and I may have faced legal action in the future if I did — inspiration be damned.

That, my friends, is nothing short of broken.

That’s not the only example I have. My friend and I launched a comedy tour called The Campus Rejects and were sued by someone who owned that name. I asked a musician I loved if I could use one of their tracks for a cause-based video I was working on; they loved the cause and said yes, but their label (who owns the copyright) said no, so the answer was no. The list goes on.

Let’s just say I am not a fan of copyright law.

But everything I’ve ever created I’ve held the copyright to. Not that I’ve ever enforced this (like when people take my graphics, rebrand them, and sell them or use them to sell their stuff, which happens quite a bit), nor had I ever planned on it, I just did it because that’s what you do. I’ve followed Leo Babauta’s work at Zen Habits and Mnmlist for quite some time, and really appreciate the words that come out of his brain. It wasn’t until just this week, while I was still grumbling about not being able to record my podcast, that I noticed something at the bottom of his site: “Uncopyright” in plain text, a simple hyperlink. I clicked it. It took me to this page, where everything I read I related to entirely, and seemed completely obvious, but were things I had never thought (that’s generally my standard set of reactions to most of what Leo writes).

Then I thought, “I’m absolutely doing this.” And then I did. Earlier today, I released my copyright on all the work I’ve produced at It’s Pronounced Metrosexual.

The way I feel as a result of this decision, my friends, is anything but broken. Overall, I feel really great. Part of me is terrified — a small part — because I’ve put thousands of hours into all the stuff I’ve written and created, and I’ve been trained to think that I should have ownership over those words, those things, that they are mine.

But they’ve never been mine. As Obama might say, “I didn’t build that.” My mom wrote those words, all the countless nights she would sit on our back porch with me, under the stars, and talk me through the regular existential crises I had when I was in elementary school (some of the hits include “why do so many people in the world suffer?” and “why are some people rich while others are poor?”). My high school English teacher, Ms Clayton, wrote those words when she decided to let me work independently on self-directed projects in the library instead of going to class because she recognized I wasn’t thriving. My grad school mentor and supervisor, Andy, wrote those words when he showed me how to rethink service and compassion. Most importantly, all the thousands of people who read my site, comment, send me emails, and have conversations with me wrote those words when they taught me how to rethink social justice, identity, gender, sexuality, and myself. Every person I’ve ever spoken with (and every person they’ve spoken with), every author I’ve ever read, every Scrubs episode I’ve ever watched, and so on — they wrote those words, when they shaped me into the person I am today.

Copyright law, like so much else in this crazy mixed up world, is nonsense. If you want to own your words, or your ideas, I won’t be upset with you. And maybe in a couple years I’ll be eating cabbage in a dumpster and you can say, “See, Sam? This is why we have copyright law.” But I’m happy to have released myself of the burden of copyright.

As is so often the case, it’s not until I released my work of its copyright that I realized how much of a hold copyright had on me.

I used to be terrified of any sort of public speaking. This terror was justified by my complete inability to speak to any group larger than 2 – 3. Before my first semester at Purdue, during orientation, we were always asked to introduce ourselves with our “Name, Hometown, Major” — something I couldn’t do without fumbling over my words and screwing something up. Generally, I couldn’t even get my name out correctly (the second N is silent).

I first performed stand up comedy a few weeks into my first semester. It wasn’t that I thought that I’d handle a stage, microphone, and crowd better than I did my orientation group, it was simply something I had to do, and sometimes necessity outweighs rationality. My first set was 15 minutes long (way too long) and I blacked out for about 15 minutes and 30 seconds of it. The math is off because I actually managed to black out before the emcee called my name — something I’m still proud of my brain for all these years later. I remember coming to sitting in a booth with a few of my friends who showed up to support me. “How… how did it go?” I asked, with the same wherewithal as I’d’ve had if I’d just gone head-to-head with Muhammed Ali. “You were okay,” they responded. And that was all I needed to hear. I was hooked.

Over the next year, I did stand up at least once every two weeks, and never did a set shorter than 15 minutes. Again, 15 minutes is way too long for a stand up newbie, but I didn’t know any better, and there wasn’t really a stand up “scene” at Purdue. I would perform at music open mics  (generally the only comic) where sets are much longer than at comedy open mics. I got my first paying gig six months after starting and performed my first hour within nine months, which are awesome things to happen in the first year, but the thing that sticks out for me most is none of that hogwash: it’s the first time I didn’t black out while performing.

I remember the first time I actually remembered performing my set with vivid recall. It was a day and night change from every time performing up ’til that point. Not only did I remember doing it after, but I was much more aware of my surroundings while it was happening. I could see the person in the front row who kept reaching for her drink, then laughing before she was able to take a sip, and putting it back down. She never took a sip the entire set, but attempted to a dozen times. It became a challenge: every time she raised her glass I would try to come up with a punchline that would make her laugh before she got the drink to her mouth — her, this one person in a crowd of 60. Before that set I wasn’t aware of any her, or even of any they. I was barely cognizant of me. I also wasn’t aware of the laughter, and oh the laughter! Making a room full of people laugh (and not being blacked out while it is happening) is a powerful experience. I could feel the laughter washing over me, coursing through me. It was like being tackle-hugged by 50 pandas at once while John Travolta punch-stabbed me with a 4-inch adrenaline needle.

I was still terrified of public speaking, but after feeling what it was like to have a true connection with a crowd I couldn’t not feel that again, and I’ve never blacked out while performing since. Because, well, sometimes necessity outweighs rationality.

Then I started writing

I’d been performing stand up comedy for many years, and doing my one-man show, It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, at colleges for many months, before I ever sat down at my keyboard and started writing. Don’t get me wrong: I’d written before (I knew order in the words go), but never with the intent of sharing those words with the world. Writing a paper for your professor is different from writing. And writing is scary. And writing for the internet is even scarier, because the internet is full of assholes.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my experience getting into writing was similar to my experience with stand up and public speaking.

I started out cavalierly, ignoring the fear and typing and publishing, typing and publishing, typing and publishing. While I wouldn’t black out while writing (I don’t slam scotch while writing like a “real writer” SORRY MOM), I was largely out of touch with what was happening with the things I was publishing — I was afraid to be too “in touch,” even if I didn’t realize it.

It all came crashing into saliency when I got an email from a reader stating that an article I’d written had saved his life — well, more accurately, saved him from taking his own life. Wow. That rocked me. I realized for the first time that through my writing I was connecting to people (real life human ones), not just the little numbers I saw on the analytics page go up with each new “unique visitor.” It terrified me. Up until that point, I was stuffing letters into bottles and chucking them into the ocean. Imagine someone knocking on your door, holding a wrinkled, bottle-stuff letter you never thought you’d see again, and telling you it saved their life.

For the next year, or maybe longer, I wrote with intention that I didn’t realize I was lacking before. I spent more time in the comments sections of articles I wrote, and in my inbox, discussing things with readers, learning from them, and improving my writing as a result. I slowly became more comfortable and less terrified, better prepared and more excited, in my writer skin.

Before I knew it, I found myself occupying the majority of my time writing, where before it was filled with performing, rehearsing, and working to improv my presence on stage. I became a writer! Then I wrote a book! I became an author!

How could I have ever been so scared to write? How silly is it that for the longest time I couldn’t even introduce myself to a group without fumbling over my name? How pointless to have been so overcome with fear. Never again, right? Right? Uh…

Now I’m starting a podcast and a web series

And I am petrified.

For the past year or so, people have repeatedly asked again and again and again — you know, repeatedly — when I’m going to do a podcast, or why I don’t do YouTube videos. “Because I’m a cotton-headed ninnymuggins!” I’d say, then they’d say, “Huh?” then I’d say, “Elf.” then they’d say, “Where?” then I’d say, “I’m sorry I ruined your lives and crammed eleven cookies into the VCR.”

In the past six months, I’ve tried to start a podcast or a web series many times, but it hasn’t happened. Each time I sat down to record the first episode, I came up with a bullet-proof excuse preventing me from doing so. They ranged from “need new gear” to “don’t have the time” to “I should make some hummus.”  What I realize now, with a super cool microphone sitting on my desk, looking at my calendar for November which has me in Austin for more time than I’m on the road, and having planned to record and publish my first podcast on this site today but instead I am writing this post, is that I’ve used up my final excuse: “I should write a post about why I haven’t done a podcast yet.”

I’m scared, folks. I’m scared to do a podcast and web series in the same way that I was scared to do stand up and write, back when I got started on those things. The only thing that’s different, is before I did stand up I didn’t have stand up. And before I wrote I didn’t have writing. And I needed stand up and writing, even if I didn’t know it. Now I have both of those things I need, and the terror that’s prevented me from starting a podcast and web series has been victorious because there is no necessity to outweigh rationality.

I didn’t realize it until now, as I’m writing this, that these past few months of me toeing the waters, asking my readers and friends if I should do a podcast and web series, have been me attempting to create that necessity to help myself overcome what I see as a very rational fear of this new and terrifying thing. Even right now, I’m hiding behind my keyboard, a shield that was for so long a dagger pointed in my direction itself, to prevent myself from the hypothetical blows of this new idea. So let’s solve this little “necessity” conundrum once and for all:

Tomorrow, I will record and release my first ever podcast, and on Wednesday I will record and release the first installment of my forthcoming web series. Both will be posted here, and will have a forever home in this Thought / Day project.

Shit.