Discover more from Both Are True
if i am being honest, i am being sad
and also, a celebration: 750 subscribers!! both are, once more, true.
Hello all! If you are a new subscriber, hi - I am really glad you’re here. Please be on the lookout for a care package with your tote bag, personalized t-shirt (if you haven’t sent in your SSN please do so now!!), and of course, a FREE guide for how to get started with the Both Are True Pyramid Club (for the last fucking time this is not a pyramid scheme - its a club!).
This post is about two things - (1) Feelings and (2) Celebration. Let’s start by climbing the latter:
Did you know the word ‘celebrate’ comes from the Latin word celeber which means "well-attended; famous” and the suffix “-ation” meaning “party for hitting a milestone of 750 substack subscribers.”
Which is super fitting because…
🎉WE JUST HIT 750 SUBSCRIBERS!!!
In February I started writing BAT on a weekly basis, and I set a goal of hitting 200 subscribers by the end of the year - it was a stretch (armstrong)—I only had 71 subscribers at that point, but it felt doable and something I could slowly but surely turtle my way toward such that I wouldn’t need to obsess over it. Good plan, Al.
I focused mostly on the work (built it) and you came (they will come). I hit 200 and said ok ok let’s do a stretch goal—250.
Then I hit 250 and 300 and now, I truly cannot believe this is true, we’re at 750 subscribers! Actually 770, which if my math is correct, is even bigger than 750.
This is, without a doubt, awesome. Like truly beyond my wildest dreams stuff. I am grateful to each and every one of you (even you, Lil Butter).
And what’s more? I’ll tell you what: at the end of July I took the big leap and turned on paid subscriptions—it was terrifying but really important; it said to you all and the world that I’m a writer who takes this newsletter seriously and, as such, heretofore, would love to make a living doing so!
Then a mind blowing 34 of you have became paid subscribers. That’s crazy. That’s like real people strangers paying for my writing I mean it melts my face right off (pending surgery for face to be replaced with face of character actor Nico Cago).
So: thank you for being here. Your presence is a present day present and I am forever present here in my gratitude for it.
🍎😟🌵 WARNING obligatory selfless promo ahead WARNING 🍎😟🌵
What’s that you say? You’re interested in becoming a free subscriber? Or perhaps joining the exclusive VIP paid subscriber club? Well have I got a button for you:
🍎😟🌵 COMPLETE obligatory selfless promo reminder COMPLETE 🍎😟🌵
And now, the sad
With the subscribers came the parties (Substack writer meetups), the drugs (freshly baked pretzels yum), and the sex (a pressure to perform, to put out better and bigger stuff, to GROW; no actual sex tho, writers don’t do sex).
Just like Jay-Z originally said in his song but then had to change because I threatened him with severe litigious action - "more Substack readers, more problems".
From there, its a hop skip and if there’s a time a jump away from the place I find myself now: The Big Sad aka Depression aka I am doing fine do not worry just in one of my classic sadboi dramedies.
All yuck, no yum.
Here’s me in active Sad Mode texting with my wife Lauren:
Alex Dobrenko, [9/12/2022 12:03 PM] i feel like my substack is slacking :(
Lauren Wilde, [9/12/2022 12:04 PM] Not true babe. It's not a race or competition. Just a place for you to release your writings…Sometimes I worry you start thinking of substack like you did with tik tok or twitter…so I’m just here to remind you that you are a unique wonderful writer and you have created a great place to put your work
Alex Dobrenko, [9/12/2022 12:05 PM] yeah I do feel like how I think about it has shifted a lil, but that's because I see it as my ticket to stay independent as a creator
Lauren Wilde, [9/12/2022 12:07 PM] But I think you are doing a good job with it, I think it’s just a time here or there where I’ve felt you do things just to get followers or follower interactions where I get that feeling.
Alex Dobrenko, [9/12/2022 12:07 PM] yeah totally, what are some examples of when you;ve felt that
Lauren Wilde, [9/12/2022 12:10 PM] Hmm… I dunno I’m not trying to make you focus on that… I think times where you feel like you have to put out something bc you feel like people are expecting it or something and I worry holding those sort of expectations create this forced feeling in the writing
Notice my blatant Self-loathing 101 move at the end - "tell me exactly where I suck so I can obsess over it for months to come" Lauren, knowing who she married, sidesteps it beautifully. If this ain't love, I ain't interested.
(If you wanna know how it feels inside the sad, I decided to do a free write while in it. Here's the unedited version as a footnote that I'll probably be forced to delete because it's Too Mopey For The Internet.)
A tunnel, a light
The next week sucked so hard almost listened to Dashboard Confessional. Then, the clouds cleared and I began to see a light at the end of a tunnel.
That light ended up being the train from the trolley problem chugging toward me after killing either 1 or 5 people (it wouldn’t say), but honestly let's just not talk about it and move on.
First, I realized the dilemma at the core of my sad: when the art you’re making is starting to connect with people, how can you not obsess over how to monetize it so you can make a living doing it and don't have to go back to working at the Hole mines.
I share the question in the STSC discord server(its dope, u should join) and a nice man named Sajan asks me a question, timeless and true, and that a guiding light has been to ask himself "would you be doing it with no prospect of making money at all?"
I was like 'dang that's good.' but then I was like, wait, I know you're supposed to say "yes, I am Pure Artist I will make Art if No One Ever Sees It + No One Ever Pays" but, babe, that ain't me.
His question led me to a couple questions of my own:
(1) Would I make it if no one saw it?
No! Connection with the audience matters. A lot.
In my ten years of performing improv in Austin and LA, I’m confident that the very best improv is always dialogue with the audience. How they react guides the performers toward the truth of the show, a truth you cannot find without them.
Example: Say you're in a scene about two car mechanics talking about salads and the lady playing Jen (yea there’s a lady mechanic what are you a 1950s sicko?) says "I've never liked salads," and for some reason the audience finds that funny as hell. Now the performer playing Jen probably didn't intend for that to be a funny, but it was and now the performers need to honor that truth and explore what the hell is going on with Jen and salads. Dare I say the entire show would probably become about Jen's strange past with salads!
If I was the other person in that scene I'd have SO MANY questions most of which revolve around the fact that I'd never heard anyone say they hate an entire category of food like 'salad' before. How could that be? Does it include tuna salad? Chicken salad? Does Jen like sandwiches and if so, why would removing the bread from the equation and leaving everything in the middle (a salad) make her all of a sudden hate it?
Without the audience, we’d never see the show about Jen’s weird salad thing.
Would I make it if no one paid?
So this one’s a way thornier, trickier question, right? I mean, I DO write this knowing that most people don’t pay which is the way I intended it - free for all, patronized by a few like PeeBeeEss.
But would I still write all this if NO ONE paid? I mean, yes, because I love it and it makes my brain go weeeeeeee. But would I rather some people paid for it so I could do it as part of my career as an artist / creator? Fuck ya no shit duh.
There’s a truism amongst comedy show bookers: paid shows are way better than free shows—even if you charge $1, the show will be infinitely better for all involved—the audience will feel like they paid something to attend, that the show is worthy of their attention. Ditto for the performers - their work is worthy of being paid real buckaroonies for.
And this isn’t just comedy: in an episode of comedian Myq Kaplan’s podcast Broccoli & Ice Cream (which everyone should subscribe to) with his friend and therapist Gus Kutz who I have never met but am obsessed with, Gus explains that therapy never works when he gives the advice for free. People need to pay for it so they feel that it has value - that’s a big part of what makes them commit to it.
Here comes the sad, lil darling
So I need an audience to write for AND I would love to be paid for the work that I make. Great! But no, that’s the exact issue that took me to the sads. Well first it took me into hardcore Mastermind Scheming Mode where I twiddle my thumbs like Mr. Burns and think REAL HARD about how to trick the world into liking my work, paying for it, whatever.
That mindset SUCKS. I don’t like it. It makes me sad because it ain’t true to my soul and it makes this all feel like a yuck (not a yum).
When I was addicted to Twitter, I’d think this way all the time. Every tweet went through a “is this a banger” filter and I’d only post if I answered in the affirmative. Gross. In fact, it was a need to get away from this mindset that drove me to Substack in the first place! Here I would slow down and be, as Tha God of Vulnerabiliti herself Brene Brown would say, vulnerable.
Old habits die hard though. I’m back to trying to control things, and I don’t like it.
So how to let go of the control and access the good place where I just write cuz it makes my brain go weeeeee WHILE still maintaining a connection with you, the audience?
There is only one answer, as told to us by a variety of the History’s Greatest Minds from George Michael all the way to Fred Durst:
[writing] gotta have FAAAIIIIITHH.
Faith. The answer is faith.
My favorite writings on faith come from meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg’s book Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. I see faith as a combination of two ideas from that book:
(1) giving up control
I think we spend so much of our lives trying to pretend that we know what's going to happen next. In fact we don't. To recognize that we don't know even what will happen this afternoon and yet having the courage to move forward - that's one meaning of faith.
and (2) believing that you have value
To offer our hearts in faith means recognizing that our hearts are worth something, that we ourselves, in our deepest and truest nature, are of value.
So, then, that’s what I’ll do. Easy, peasy, hey frank go ahead and give that lemon a squeezy.
No no I am once again simply messing. It’ a life long thing and it ain’t easy and the temptation to CONTROL one’s attempts at having faith are strong (meta control, my new VR universe - launch tbd).
But hey, what can we do but (1) let go and let live, (2) let go and let laugh, (3) let go and let love.
All of this is paradox, soft and wiggly - the more you try to grab hold, the squirmier it gets.
What I do know, I think at least, is that writing makes me feel good (said in the Ghostbusters theme song music style) especially when its done WITH you the audience, not AT or FOR you.
And so I will keep writing and focus on that writing with faith that whatever happens with growth and all that shit will happen just as it is supposed to. Will I succeed in doing so? Maybe like 20% of the time. Do I still feel sort of yuck about putting a “hey you can subscribe” button up at the top of the first section. Hell yes I do. But babe remember - points to the sign - BOTH ARE TRUE.
Just knowing I do have a choice at all has freed me for the Sad Place, at least for now. And if that ain’t winning, I dunno what the word winning means so please do let me know.
I'll end now with the same sign off Anton Chekhov wrote in a letter to his future wife Olga Knipper in 1899.
Well, I firmly clasp and kiss your hand. Keep well, cheerful, happy, work, leap, let yourself be carried away, sing and, if possible, don’t forget a provincial writer, your zealous admirer. . . .
I have days that are really bad, days that where the only thing I can think is that I'm awful. I really am not writing this because i want pity but more just so that maybe someone can see it and go, oh that happens to me too, i'm not alone.
but what happens is that as I'm writing all I can think is that every single idea is terrible. awful. cliche and useless.
the projects i'm working on are jokes. pointless.
How could I even send this to anyone when it sucks so bad
These are voices that do not feel like my own but hang out so often in my brain that they become me. In therapy we call them 'parts', so this would be The Critic part, the worst part of me (we don't want to call him the worst but i mean come on, who would hang out with this guy). When he comes up therapist says to say forcefully HEY STOP IT. QUIT TELLING ME I SUCK. because you cannot reason with this guy. You cannot try to convince him or change his mind it will not work.
But I can't even work up the energy to talk to him. He's too strong and I'm too tired.
When this sort of spell happens all I can think about, besides all the terrible thoughts outlined above, is how to get out. Which means thinking what got me in. Did I take my meds at the wrong time? Too much caffiene yesterday? Worked out too late? What did it? We call this Dr. Dobrenko, and it is also gently suggested to be a big ol' no no - trying to find the cause is trying to control it. What I should do is accept it. Feel it in my body god I hate it when people say to feel it in your body like wow ok I have a body, super cool.
But hey maybe this is good. Maybe this is getting me to write about this stuff which can be a gateway to me writing about all the other dark stuff that I want to but am afraid to share. Yea or maybe not? Lol.
I don't know.
Everything feels pointless.
Maybe this isn't worth publishing at all.
I can't tell anymore. I feel like I haven't written anything good in months.
this is it then, our inheritance as the social generation, we who grew up in the social media age. It depresses me beyond belief to write this.
Or maybe its too dramatic. Always hard to tell in the moment. Don't be so dramatic people have said my whole life. It's why I decided to be an actor.
~~~~3 hours later~~~~
It is not even three hours later and truly I feel fine. What changed? I went to pick up Wilder and I got a coffee from Starbucks that I decided NOT to drink because I realized having that much caffeine that late in the day was a terrible idea.
Did this cause my sudden upswing in mood? Probably not though the moral good boy in me sure would like it to be so.
I honestly can't even imagine feeling the things I did a few hours ago, saying those things in my head. Now I'm back to what feels like my normal self, stable, driven and trying to make stuff happen.
The rebound from dark to normal was fast that time - often times its not. Often it takes days or weeks or months. Those times I forget that there's anything to bounce back to and just end up making (note from Alex: the writing just finished there, on the word making lol)
I was inspired to bring it up here because of an awesome piece written by a man named Clint called "The Continuum of Creators” about the differences between making content and making art.
not gonna make any bruce willis jokes here, dude got diagnosed with aphasia recently and that sucks, he seems like a great guy and I love his work.