My Idea of a Good Time
Trying to find the gumption for something I once loved: putting on group readings—more for the sheer pleasure of it than for any kind of promotion.
If I never see another how-to-make-money-on-Substack post again (by someone other than a company representative with smart approaches to utilizing the platform’s latest bells and whistles), it will be too soon. Collective anxiety about prospering on here is at an all-time high, and no, siree, I do not need help worrying about how to succeed in business while trying entirely too hard.
Besides, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the course of my career—something that’s been reinforced by my relative success withand —it’s that I prosper most when I simply focus on what I’m curious about and what matters to me. Not when I scramble to perform a bunch of random hacks out of fear. And definitely not when I allow fear to consume and paralyze me.
As of today I’m ignoring all that anxious chatter, and refusing to obsess over subscriber numbers and churn. Instead, I’m trying to relocate the curiosity, passion, and joy that have made me eager to sit down and get cracking in the morning, organically leading me toward my greatest, most satisfying successes.
The Universe seems aligned with my mission, because at the same time as all this anxious chatter has been taking over my Notes feed, Facebook’s “On this day” feature has kept showing me photos I love from around this time in 2013 and 2014, when I was busy happily promoting the original edition of Goodbye to All That and Never Can Say Goodbye.
My mood is instantly lifted every time Facebook coughs up one of those images. What a good time I had, particularly at the assorted group readings I put on in bookstores and bars and nightclubs. Those events were pure joy for me, the participants, and the attendees.
Of course they were work, too. Organizing lineups of several readers—coordinating everyone’s schedules, finding the right venues, getting people to attend—was nearly as big an administrative chore as putting together the two anthologies. Everything I did to spread the word about those books and get them into readers’ hands was hard work. I hustled my ass off. But it paid off, maybe at least in part because I did it all with so much pure, genuine glee.
The whole enterprise started with one of my favorite endeavors: collecting a chorus of voices around a subject that mattered to me—one that still matters to me, maybe even more so now than ten years ago. The push-pull that New York City exerts on its inhabitants, making it equally difficult to stay and go, will never not be interesting to me. Nor will the escalating problem of hyper-gentrification, which left me little choice but to relocate, and is now a problem here in the mid-Hudson Valley—and just about everywhere, frankly.
I quickly found out how interested others were in these subjects. Almost every writer I asked to be in Goodbye to All That said yes, years before I knew what my budget would be—and again later, after I found out I had a meager advance that translated to low pay rates for them.
Despite a great roster of willing contributors, though, I almost didn’t get to make the book. For several years I sought the publishing industry’s permission, and after too many people told me no, I took matters into my own hands: while in between agents, I got a tiny little deal on my own from a small imprint, with not enough money to pay myself.
That’s how desperately I wanted to make that book; it didn’t matter that I couldn’t pay myself, or that I had to do it on the side while also freelancing full-time. That the book did so well—that in 2021 Seal Press had me reissue it with seven new essays and a new introduction—is my biggest I told you so.
I just knew. Informing that knowledge was my deep emotional investment in the subject. I think often about what Shalom Auslander said when I interviewed him years ago about his memoir, Foreskin’s Lament: that if something captured his attention enough to make him want to explore it in writing, he knew it would interest his readers, too.
I have found this to be true as well, as both a writer and editor. It has definitely borne out in my current work, particularly with Oldster Magazine.
Seal Press, Goodbye to All That’s publisher, allotted $500 for a total of three book events. There were packed houses at each one. I had such a ball doing them, I didn’t want to be done. So I decided not to be, and got busy organizing additional events on my own, including: one at Diesel Books in Beverly Hills, another at the Hudson Opera House, and my all-time favorite, at Housing Works Bookstore in collaboration with Jason Diamond and Volume 1 Brooklyn. That one took place this week ten years ago.
What a lineup we had for that one: Alexander Chee, Anna Holmes, Mike Albo, Choire Sicha, Isaac Fitzgerald, Chloe Caldwell, Emily Gould, Jon-Jon Goulian, Elissa Bassist, and Michelle Dean. Only a couple of those writers were contributors to the book. I wanted to expand the chorus of voices, so I made it more of a storytelling event than a book reading.
Everyone was great. We drew a huge, enthusiastic crowd, too—standing room. Ten years later there are people still talking about that night. So often I meet people and they excitedly tell me they were there, and they remember everyone’s stories. That night led to the next book deal, for Never Can Say Goodbye, which included some of the writers who told stories at Housing Works. The following year, we did another really fun storytelling night there.
The Universe/Facebook is shoving these happy memories in my face just as I’m trying to summon the will to create a new slate of events. I think the time may have come for Oldster Live. Not because I think it will necessarily bring me more subscribers—although that would be fantastic—but because I just think it would be awesome. How fun would it be to gather a diverse assortment of writers for an evening (or several) of storytelling about what’s great, terrible, and surprising about being their current ages? Very fun, I think. Well, it’s my idea of a good time anyway. And that’s always been a sign I’m onto something.
I’m just beginning to gear up. For the past year and change I’ve been checking out events put on by other aging-related organizations, newletters and podcasts. In August, 2022 I took part in one at Joe’s Pub, produced by Generation Women, which was great. More recently I’ve live attended events put on by Kim France and Jennifer Romolini’s Everything is Fine podcast, and TueNight at Caveat on the Lower East Side—both also excellent.
I’ll admit I feel a bit daunted by the prospect of taking this on, especially right now, a time of year when I tend to feel low. I’m also rusty and a little gunshy after so much pandemic-related isolation. Plus…there’s a war going on. It feels almost sacrilegious to try and plan a good time. What’s more, I know how much work these things take. And I’m already doing too much work. This all gives me pause.
But my inertia is no match for the boost I keep getting from the Facebook photos of my events all those years ago. That boost is giving me life right now. I need more of that kind of lift to keep going.
Hmmm. If I plan something for spring, that will give me ample time, not to mention something fun to look forward to. Maybe the excitement will buoy me through the cold, dark winter…
Perhaps you would like to order my anthologies, and/or my memoir. They happen to make great holiday gifts…