if have nothing, then how give anything?
advice for when your tank is empty and you want to write a blockbuster movie about your cat
Hello, or should I say ‘yo,’ which I am sure astute readers will know is short for ‘yodelayheehoo,’ which as I’m sure my prebiotically minded readers know is just the unabridged version of the word ‘yogurt.’
This is all true. How else could I have just written it?
There is no relation between the words yo and yogurt. There just isn’t. Stop asking.
It’s…. Help Wanted
Moving on, we’ve got a great show for you today, because Help Wanted is back! Why? Because it appears the only place I’m legally allowed to use my psychology degree without “becoming” a “therapist” is here, in the confines of my own newsletter.
Want advice? It can be serious or dumb or fiscally sensitive, I’ll answer them all. I’ve also saved 3 marriages and kicked off 4 divorces. Shoot me an email or reply to this and all ur answers will be revealed.
Let’s hear it for the kindest people of all
Before we get into it, I am going to steal a page from the books of esteemed colleagues Anne Kadet and Michael Estrin (subscribe to them both) and begin to give shoutouts to the kind and frankly very good-looking people who have decided to become paid subscribers of Both Are True. Unlike Anne or Michael though, I will be creating fake biographies for each and every subscriber. Want a new bio to use for your dating app or job app or cooking app (loaded nachos)? Just become a paid subscriber and I’ll write one up for you.
Rae K, who many think invented Reiki healing, which is wrong. It was created in ancient Tibetan Buddhism. But Rae is so nice and doesn’t want people to be hurt that she corrected them, so she just sorta says ‘yea it was me’ whenever someone says ‘hey did you invent Reiki??’ It’s gotten Rae in a lot of hot water, recently, because she’s so stressed she uses a sauna (the wet kind not the dry kind, hence the hot water). Rae is a welder in Cleveland.
Mary Lou, who radiates such a presence of heavenly joy AND devilish charm that every single band who ever met her went on to write a song about her:
Each person asked for her hand in marriage, but she said no, and so the bands had to say ‘goodbye mary lou.’ Mary Lou is an architect in Barcelona, which is in Spain.
Vadim D., who is not under any circumstances my dad. He’s a Russian spy, ex-KGB ex-CIA ex-XFL football linebacker, sure, but he is not my dad because why would my dad subscribe for Both Are True when he already subscribed back when I first launched it? Perhaps it is because he loves his son very much and wanted to help boost his son’s numbers by throwing in an extra subscription for which I would be grateful if Vadim D was my dad but he is not. Vadim is a butcher now in Barcelona, which is in Spain. He also wrote a song about Mary Lou titled Privet, Mary Lou.
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note: If you subscribed back in 2003 when we first started this thing, DO NOT PANIC I will be writing bios for everyone - you will get your bio and it will be grand.
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Q: What do you do when you have nothing left to give?
Rather than asking you for any follow-up, I am just gonna try and figure out what you meant from context clues and a bit of sleuthing (not many advice givers can do this, which is what sets me apart from the rest and why I was nominated for Best Advice Guy 2019 and again in 2022).
Do you know the song Your Ex-Lover is Dead by Stars? Me neither, but somehow it made its way onto one of my Spotify playlists, so I hear it a lot. It starts with a man’s voice like gravel saying:
“When there is nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.”
- Stars, the band
The song continues, but who cares. That line lodged itself into my brain and popped up like a grubby lil’ weasel when I read your question.
So, let’s translate what this man, the father of the lead singer of Your Ex-Lover is Dead it turns out, said:
This is a classic math proof IF there is nothing left to burn THEN you have to set yourself on fire IT MUST ALSO BE TRUE THAT IF there is nothing left to give THEN you have to ...give yourself away.
or as we like to say in the world of SAT analogies:
nothing left to burn : set yourself on fire :: nothing left to give : give yourself away
Ok so there’s your answer: give yourself away. A few ways to do that:
Put the remainder of your soul onto Nextdoor in the Free and Giving Away section. Get ready for some wackadoo responses, people are NUTS on there.
Give away the narrative you’ve created about yourself in which you have nothing left to give. Give that up and you are free to give nothing more, or something more if you want, it doesn’t matter. Whatever self you’ve constructed about who you seem to be largely defined by this question (otherwise, why would you send it?). I say give away that idea. We’re often limited only by the model by which we see a situation. So, give away the model. Sell the farm. Travel far and wide to see what life might be like if it didn’t matter jack diddly how much you gave and how much you had left to give.
Not helpful? I can see that. Lemme try a different approach.
A different approach
If you've given everything, you have nothing left, yes? Great. This is, in some cultures, the unattainable goal. To let go of all the trappings, to sit under a tree until you can confidently say “I’m good” and get up and tell everyone about how you sat under the tree. Either that or wait for an apple to fall on your head. These are the two things that happen when someone sits under a tree long enough.
You’ve reached enlightenment. You are truly free. But wait. You haven’t really, have you? Sure, you have nothing left to give BUT YOU’RE STILL ATTACHED to the fact that you have nothing left to give. In philosophy circles, we call this the boomerang. You throw it and then it comes back and you’ve still got it (if you don’t get this, you’re not alone - I have a big book coming out about it from the Oxford and Harvard presses - they had to collab on the release because the book was so dense with ideas like it weighed so much no one could even really lift it up its crazy but i don’t wanna get distracted let’s keep going).
Much like a pdf, you’re still attached.
So what can be done? Simple: let it go (I wrote a song about this in a movie called Frozen Veggies.)
Or to put it in the parlance that my fellow 23-year-olds will understand – because I am also 23 – you’re giving fear.
Fear that you aren’t enough, that you must give more in order to be enough.
You know what that’s giving me? Feeling. For you. No one should ever feel like they are running on empty and still somehow feel like they need to give more. Cars like this end up dying on the side of the street in LA, forcing you to walk to SEVERAL gas stations before finding one that sells a gas canister which, you’d think, would be a no-brainer for any station but hey this isn’t your industry, so then you fill-up the lil gas tank and run back to your car and fill it up and then, finally, you drive home.
Is this all a little too ‘up in the clouds’? Let’s get practical.
WHO THE FUCK is saying you need to keep giving more? If it’s someone else, simply mail me their address on 10 separate pieces of paper, each mailed separately, that I can then glue together to know where the person lives and go have a chat with them and my pet tigers (nicknames for my fists).
If someone else is saying ‘gimme gimme gimme more, gimme gimme more’, tell em you have nothing left to give and also why the hell are they asking for more and more.
If it is your own mean little head saying that you need to give more, then forget all the stuff I said about the address. I don’t even have tigers (yet).
Feeling like you’re not enough, now that’s a cause I can get behind! By which I mean I am also this way, never enough, always needing to prove myself worthy of existence by way of giving / doing / etc. But this is a fool’s errand with no end (a fool’s err).
In closing (time, finish up ur wiski and beards)
What helps me, and what I’d recommend you do, is interrogate that belief. Get that idea into one of those rooms with the mirrors and the chairs and head in there two of you one with a mustache and one without, and do a good cop bad cop thing but switch halfway through cuz everyone knows the good cop / bad cop thing its like way too classic these days. Also maybe instead of asking the belief if it wants a soda, ask if it wants a tomato juice - just to get it a little off guard.
Honestly, I might delete all this and just stick with my original answer:
Take it slow, take it easy, take it all with a grain of salt.
Take a nap, take a hike, take a beat.
You deserve it. And if anyone says otherwise, take ‘em to the cleaners (rob them).
Want to read more chaotic and heartfelt advice from a comedy writer and actor who for some reason also has a psych degree?
Q: My cat, Ms Nya (Her Royal Felineness), was reading over my shoulder and is now muchly impurressed with the advice given and would like to toss one in for her hooman.
Said hooman, aka me, has stories to tell (about Nya of course). Hooman has talk skills, sometimes makes awkward noises and pulls people into the vibe of the moment but aspires to do something.... bigger to share these cat stories. Hooman has never really tried writing it, or illustrating or anything but is open to trying them out awkwardly. But the choices are overwhelming. Eventually, hooman wants to make a blockbuster movie about the cat, and then hopes it will culminate in a disney-esque spin off into a theme park inspired by the stories. The question is, where does the hooman begin, and how to begin?
I shall not debase myself here and try to write as if I was talking to a cat. That would embarrass us both. I will instead address Nya herself.
First off, from a purely market demand perspective, I do believe there is a massive gap in the collective unconscious when it comes to famous cats. If I ask, “Who's a famous dog”, most people say Lassie. Even if, like me, you've never seen a Lassie movie or whatever, you know the basic idea that if Lassie comes running at you, some shit has gone down! But somehow the lil boy in the show is always so calm and just says, “What is it, Lassie?”
I cannot imagine the therapy that kid is gonna need as an adult. “Whenever a dog runs up to me, I think a barn is on fire.’ It’s like Lassie finally got revenge for the whole Pavlov’s dog situation.
What's the cat equivalent to Lassie? There are cats in cinema, sure – here's a list of 100 –, but I don't think there is an icon yet. The space is ripe, as we say in the fruit-picking startup world, for disruption.
Also, I did learn that Orangey is the most famous cat in cinema, having won the PATSY award twice - once for Breakfast at Tiffany's and once for something else.
I just remembered I’m supposed to answer the question
Eventually, hooman wants to make a blockbuster movie about the cat, and then hopes it will culminate in a disney-esque spin off into a theme park inspired by the stories
So, where does this leave us? Well. A couple things -- what you wrote above is…a lot!
I mean, I’m all for dreaming those big dreams but it’s such an impossibly high bar to reach, that perhaps it makes any attempts at starting in the present feel inadequate. Like, “how is writing a sucky piece of suck ever going to lead to Cat: the movie and then Cat: The ride.”
So, as I always say to my close friends and 1:1 coaching clients (no spots available right now, overbooked like crazy actually, oh wait what’s this?? An opening! One of my artists whose name rhymes with Stephen Ding has taken a brief respite from writing his spooky lil books; so yes, I do have one opening and it’s gonna go fast but if you’re interested, please let me know the costs are outrageously high but so is the price of true talent, but no seriously I am talking about $23k per 10-hour package. also, head’s up I only do 1-hour sessions and round up to the 10-hour increment. but if you want to be like my client whose name rhymes with Uneven Wing, consider it), put those t-bones on an elevator and send em back to the ground floor.
In other words, lower the stakes.
“Put those t-bones on an elevator and send em back to the ground floor.”
- Just One of my Seven Habits in How To Manipulate Friends & Blackmail People Better-Selling Book according to my friend who interns at Amazon
Just write. Accept that it’ll suck or don’t (either way it’ll suck) and keep writing. An easy place to start is perhaps to just write about how you’re feeling and what’s holding you back from writing.
There’s obviously a lot happening there internally for you, so writing about it will get things moving and tap into something honest and vulnerable within yourself. If that’s the sort of writing you wanna do - you might not, and that’s cool too. My good friend Franz Coughka (I had him change it to Kafka bc people do not like to see the word Cough in print), that guy never wanted to talk about his feelings, so I said to him once I said, ‘Franzie poo, write about bugs. you love bugs.”
And so he did. And now there’s that one book about him living a fun little life as a bug which was the source material for the classic animated picture A Bug's Life.
Figure out what you’re curious about, like what questions you have that you want to answer about yourself, your work, or how the heck gravity works, and answer them. Here’s some questions I have:
What’s going on with you and this cat?
Where do you end and the cat begins?
Who are you when the cat’s not around?
Who are you, period. What’s your deal your life your sun your moon?
I know some of the answers to these questions because I sort of know you through the internet, BUT I’m pretending not to so as to create an imaginary situation ah fuck it this sentence sucks i will delete it.
Finally– and we’re gonna go into another 10 hr block for this – if it feels like there’s something getting in your way, stopping you from writing, figure out what that is and create a specific plan to counter it. For me this was paying Paul Millierd 100 bucks and saying ‘if I don’t publish’ 4x in this month, send the money to trump. I know myself to know I don’t lie (true artists never do), so I knew I wouldn’t lie to him about it if I failed to reach my goal, and I didn’t wanna lose 100 bucks that’s a good chunk of change that’d pay for at least 50% of an extravagant dinner for one at The Melting Pot (great fondue spot, very local to LA).
So what’s stopping you?
All of this sounds so cliché it’s making me wanna vomit. but! Clichés are true sometimes.
Write and write and write but again, what are you gonna do about this whole Cats thing. It’s a big film. I just googled Cat amusement park ride and found some dumb parks for cats and also a new slice of hell itself - this POV ride of the Cat in the Hat ride at universal studios -- The Cat in the Hat Ride at Universal's Islands of Adventure - On-Ride Video.
I hope this helps. If any of your Cat-related enterprises take off, please do know that legally I am obligated to anywhere between 20-50% depending on whether the weather is good that day. So good to work with you and let’s get a lunch soon! I already know I’m gonna lose my wallet that day so please bring cash.
Alex ‘write to right’ difranko
WAIT, there’s Cats. That’s a franchise and stuff but I guess it's different? Is that movie about cats or people pretending to be cats? Just like questions about how gravity and microwaves work, we simply don’t know.
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Let’s talk about it. Some prompts:
What do you do when you feel like you have nothing left to give?
If you have a pet, what would a movie of their life be like?
Do you want advice? Comment and I will answer in a future edition
What is your honest to god relationship with cats.
More fun facts about Lassie - in one of the first gender bending roles in cinema history I am sure, Lassie - a female dog - was played by a male dog Pal for 18 years. And get this - Pal originally was NOT cast for the role. The tale is as old as hollywood is time:
The first MGM "Lassie" film was planned as a low budget, black and white children's film. Pal was among 1,500 dogs who auditioned for the title role, but was rejected because he was male, his eyes were too big, his head too flat, and a white blaze ran down his forehead. A female prize-winning show collie was hired to play the title character. Weatherwax was hired to train the star, and Pal was hired as a stunt dog.
I am actually writing an essay about how our fear of cliche stops us from being kind and normal people and how bullshit that is so, allow me to take a bite of my own medicine here and say - yea, these are cliche but they’re also true. It isn’t rocket science and there have been plenty of people in similar boats to you who are way more stinky than you and they’ve gone on to write and write and write and some of them (stephen king) are even famous.
To anyone who spotted the Valentine’s Day intro still in the email - Congrats! You’re a winner. The intro didn’t get the love it deserved last week so it stayed in. It will stay in as long as necessary.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re also a winner!
jello is not worth it even in a shot