Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vulnerability and Blogging: "My Secret Public Journal"

Stand-up comedians are wide open to receive verbal abuse of all kinds.  Basically, one person stands on a stage in a room full of strangers with different expectations and tries to elicit a positive response of acceptance (laughter) from everybody.  Public humiliation is constantly at stake.  Comedians may be "licensed fools" but they walk a fine line between providing the jokes and becoming just a fool.  When the stories told on stage are personal and carry emotional weight, the performer needs to be completely comfortable with being vulnerable.  One comedian that embraces his vulnerability and makes a strong connection with the audience is Mike Birbiglia.

Mike also writes a blog called "My Secret Public Journal."  In the video above, Mike explains why he started writing personal thoughts publicly on the internet.  His therapist recommended that he write down his most intimate stories and painful memories to help put things into perspective.  He then decided to start journaling on the blog, which gave him material for the CD - My Secret Public Journal Live, which was followed by the DVD - Mike Birbiglia: What I Should Have Said Was Nothing - Tales From My Secret Public Journal, most recently the book, Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories, and upcoming Off-Broadway show, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend.  I think we can all agree the blog was a lucrative idea.

He also tells his stories on NPR.  Painfully true stories.  Stories we can probably all relate to because we've experienced many of them growing up - a first kiss, starting to date, sleepwalking out of a second story window... Those stories would be hard to talk about in candid detail for most of us.  Mike somehow overcomes his anxiety for retelling life's awkward personal moments in an extremely funny way.

On October 29th, 2010, Mike posted a journal entry about releasing his book, Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories, in it he writes:

 "I was having deep anxiety for the month leading up to the book release because there was only one early review in August.  It was from Kirkus, which I had heard of.  And it completely panned the book.  It said, 'He delivers predictable material on gluttony, bodily functions and sleepwalking.'  It was a really difficult thing to resolve because on the one hand I want criticism but on the other hand, this person clearly didn't read the book.  How could you possibly describe jumping through a second story window in your sleep as 'predictable?'

Then I started second-guessing the whole book, thinking maybe I accidentally added in 65 pages on bodily functions and 'gluttony' in my sleep!  Or that I had forgotten to mention that I jumped out a second story window and kept in only the predictable sleepwalking stories.  Then I realized that Kirkus just didn't read the book and the person didn't know or care who I was and had to do it as an assignment and decided instead to write their best guess of what a book called "Sleepwalk With Me" might be like.  Good try, Kirkus!"

If you check Amazon reviews now, you'll see the book received an average of 4.5 stars with 93 reviews.  Clearly, the book resonated with actual readers.  Most reviews are glowing.  A few are not so encouraging.  The point is not whether the book is worth reading (BTW- it is worth reading twice actually, first for the hilarity, second for the poignancy), it is about putting your thoughts out there for the world to see even with all the instant criticism.  We all second-guess ourselves and our work, but when you can overcome the anxiety and hit the publish button (in the case of a blog), you just never know how many good things may come of it.

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