Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on February 17, 2009


typewriter7          I think that one of my mother’s greatest fears with this whole Dr. Wizard Creative Group business – besides the fear that I will somehow legitimize the f-bomb as an everyday article of speech for you, America’s undergraduates – is that I will suddenly wake up one morning and decide that I’m going to drop out of the academic game for good to follow the wild-goose chase life of being a penniless writer.  Now, to be fair, it’s not exactly like this fear isn’t grounded in a solid basis of precedent that can be traced throughout my early 20s.  You see, up until the age of 24, I had a nice, consistent penchant for leaving respectable educational institutions and employers to chase down wild dreams with very little planning and almost no preparation.  But I consider these all learning experiences, and they’ve led me to where I am today.  Still, for a little humor at my own expense, let’s do a quick run-down:

          In the summer of 2000, I lived with three friends in an awesome condo at Fort Myers Beach, Florida, where we had secured good jobs waiting tables at a retirement home for former United States Congressmen and captains of American industry.  These guys took us out to play golf, and one of them, who used to be a member of the Red Sox, let us borrow his boat.  This place we worked at was incredibly posh – and we made great money.  But six weeks into the job, I decided that it was interfering (and this is going to sound crazy!) with my non-existent rap career, and so I quit the job, used all of my savings on a Yamaha Keyboard and beat-making equipment, and settled down to write rap lyrics full time.  The rest of the summer was full of freestyle battles at this somewhat shady club called The Purple Platinum, bar fights whenever my friend Striegel decided that he would dance provocatively with another dude’s girl to a Prince song, and beat-boxing sessions with our neighbor Jimmy, a crack-dealing, Gold Gloves boxing champion.  When I came back to school in the fall, my rap career had made no visible progress due to my decision to quit work – and I was broke.  But this didn’t teach me my lesson.

          In the fall of 2001, fresh off a study abroad semester in London and 12 credit hours short of graduating Summa Cum Laude from Truman State, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a lawyer, and dropped out of school to work as a bartender and write a novel.  Once I quit school, however, and sat around the fraternity house all day staring at my computer, I found that I no longer had any motivation to finish my book.  This also may have had something to do with the fact that the first novel I was writing was just horribly shitty.  In fact, I wouldn’t let somebody read it now if they offered to pay me a thousand dollars.  But again, this initial foray into novel-writing and subsequent failure didn’t exactly teach me my lesson.  So let’s take a look at what some might call my final great creativity-bred life failure:

hp_dormshoot_webversion          In the spring of 2003, now back in school at Eastern Illinois University, again 12 credit hours short of graduating with a new degree in English, I started a band – Hardly Portland.  Shortly thereafter, I dropped out of school to take a job selling cars so that I could focus my attention on promoting my band full time.  In retrospect, this seems like perhaps the dumbest decision in the world.  But I followed that one up with another that may have been even stupider.  You see, when the job of selling cars got in the way of my band work, I proceeded to quit it too, purchased a 15-passenger van, and dedicated myself fully to songwriting.  Again, I quickly ran out of money.  Luckily, this time, however, I went back to school for good.  And now I’ve got a job where I have both the financial flexibility to not have to worry about rent while I’m working on music or writing at night, and the temporal flexibility to spend every Tuesday playing guitar all day if I want to – as long as I also take care of my teaching responsibilities on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  It took me awhile to get there – and I had to stop and restart a couple of times along the way, but ultimately, for at least the last five years, I’ve become a finisher – and have been able to actually enjoy things like seeing my first rock musical produced.  Mostly, this was because as I was working on the project, I wasn’t constantly worrying about how I was going to pay the rent.

          Still, when I call to tell my parents about all of the exciting things that are currently happening with Dr. Wizard’s Advice, I understand their hesitation to embrace the moment, and completely understand the fact that my mom always follows up by asking me whether or not I’ve been working on my dissertation.  My parents are deathly afraid that I still have the latent crazy-gene buried deep inside of me – and I can’t really blame them.  But, hopefully, this will calm your fears, Mom: YES, I’ve been working on my dissertation, it should be finished pretty soon – and we’ll ultimately let the editors decide about the number of f-bombs in the book.

          You see, while it took me awhile, (and I think in a lot of respects that time I spent drifting has made me a more focused person – see Lesson #53), eventually I learned a very valuable lesson about the way to appropriately follow my crazy-ass dreams – and I’d like to share that lesson with you today.  If you want to do something creative or risky with your life, the best way to transition out of your current position and into a more non-traditional one is to continue working hard at both careers until your second one provides reliable income.  If you’ve got the talent and the desire, you can be anything you want to be in this world – a fashion designer, a concert pianist, or a ruthless venture capitalist.  But it takes years to learn the ins and outs of each of those ventures.  It’s going to take lots of practice, and it’s going to take money in the mean time.

          If you’re in college at Loyola in Chicago, and you believe your band, The Jesuits, has an incredibly bright future, don’t drop out of school and move to New York to pursue your dreams – pursue them in Chicago.  Why?  Well, for one thing, New York’s really freaking expensive, and for another, you’ve already got the beginnings of a built-in fan-base in your current population of friends who will let you know whether or not you’re any good.  As you work your way up from the Beat Kitchen to the Cubby Bear to playing shows at the Metro, you can build a local army of followers who will be a valuable asset in gauging your progress.  If your band is good enough to play the Metro, and if you’re sending out demos that include a press-piece about the shows you’re playing where you’re drawing 2000 fans, I think you’ll catch the attention of an A & R guy.  The secret is to not give up your day job – until the time is right – because most bands don’t make it, and it’s good to have a back-up plan.  Life, like New York, is also pretty freaking expensive.

eight_mile_ver2          At this point, it should probably come as no surprise that I love the movie 8 Mile – that’s where the title of this lesson comes from.  But you know the best part of the movie (besides the battle-scenes)?  It’s at the very end, where after defeating Papa Doc at the Shelter, Eminem goes back to work at the stamping plant.  He’s following the two-worlds approach that I strongly advocate in this lesson – waiting to make his big move until the appropriate time arises, and all the while laying the groundwork for that move while keeping his day job.  The bottom line is that life is short, and it’s silly not to follow your dreams.  If you just let them die, you’ll eventually become that old, middle-management dude who’s just bitter and awful (like the Will Ferrell character who proudly screams “I drive a Dodge Stratus!!!”) – but you’ve got to cover your bases.  One of the unfortunate aspects of life is that as humans we must occasionally eat, and there’s nothing that’s really all that romantic about being broke, even if you are a real dope rapper.

6 Responses

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  1. Amanda said, on February 18, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    I just happened on your site by accident…. I spent an hour of work’s time (oops!) reading through the site. You all are hilarious and spot on. I feel like I wrote some of this stuff! 🙂

  2. drwizard said, on February 22, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    Thanks Amanda – I’m glad you’re reading!

  3. cw said, on March 7, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    There is some really good advice in this post that applies to my life right now (and I’m sure to many other peoples’). Even if you’re really gifted in music, it takes some practice and research to learn how you’re going to make any money off of it.

  4. humbucker said, on March 12, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    my drums look just like the ones in the Hardly Portland pic

    nice blog

  5. Myles said, on March 4, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Oh Joe,

    If only you’d known that being tickled by Alex Trebek would soon send you on this odd and wonderful course again.

  6. ILEAD India said, on October 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

    A nice post i must say. A lot of practical suggestions. I loved the way you have provided an information along with being hilarious. Thanks.

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