Q: So what motivates you now?
A: Twelve step programs help me. I’ve had similar conversations with other people, other creative people, and twelve step people. And one of my friends said that one thing that helps is being accountable to other people, and that he gets together with a writers group and they have a goal. Actually I think Dave Eggers was telling me that he knew people who did that, writers in a group. So that’s an idea to kind of consider.
Q: Yeah, I think another myth of creativity is that true artists are compelled to create.
A: That’s obsession and compulsion. And that is a stand-in for habits of discipline.
Q: So what gets you to pick up your guitar? What’s your carrot?
A: Well, I have to say since I started working on this musical, especially working with Paul, he has a very good work ethic and that’s another reason I wanted to work with him. Because when you’re around people who have strong ethics and good work habits you – it’s like the comedians. You see how their brains work and then you can start to adopt. There really is, like, a prefrontal cortex to prefrontal cortex communication that happens. You know there’s a theory that this is why AA works, that for newly sober people their cortex is kind of offline and the group dynamic and the group intelligence kind of acts as a substitute almost. But I think there’s something more. I think that there’s a regulatory thing that happens when you’re in the presence of other people and other brains. And they have an influence on, literally, your thought patterns. And so if you’re around people with healthy thought patterns, you can adopt them. And I do believe that because I know it’s had a direct impact on me being around people in twelve step and being around comedians. I know my brain sort of works in a different way and I think I’m funnier than when I first started spending time with them. Sometimes it’s just flat out imitation. But I think you start to put it together yourself.
Q: And if you stop giving a shit about how the rest of the world is judging you –
A: Well that’s a big twelve step thing. Let it go. Control the things you can control. And if you put that into practice enough and you literally spend no energy on shit you can’t control, which is everything –
Q: You make it sound liberating, like this is the key to the kingdom.
A: It really is. So that’s what aging probably means. You’ve got to be around long enough to try all the dumb stuff and then get sick of it and then kind of reach the conclusion of, look, I don’t care if this is cool or sounds cool, I want a life that works now, because I want to be creative, and it’s not being creative to be obsessed, anxious, depressed, trying to control other people, trying to control circumstances, and flipping out when stuff doesn’t go your way. But that’s what most people are. And you know, I don’t need to make cool my higher power. Cool doesn’t work.
Q: But cool is a rite of passage for so many people.
A: I think most people would choose being cool over being well.
Q: For some reason we don’t place a premium on well, especially in the arts. Well is not a valuable commodity.
A: I think a lot of artists have a huge problem with identity and –
Q: Which is why I think age is a big problem for a lot of people.
A: Yeah. Yeah, Yeah.
Q: I can’t tell you how many people won’t even talk to me about this.
A: Because you’ve got the word aging in it. A long time ago I did an interview in Germany. This German journalist goes, “So, most people, their voices deteriorate as they get older. Are you worried about this at all?” And I’m like, “Really? What kind of fuck kind of question is that to ask a 32-year-old? Fuck you.”
Q: Maybe I need to refine my vocabulary. But I actually like the little catalogue of negative responses I’m getting. It’s real. It’s revealing.
A: Yeah. You know, there was this journalist who I did this great interview with for The New York Times Magazine and we became great friends, his name is Jonathan Van Meter. And he and his friends, they did this zine, it was, like, one issue, and I keep going dude, we’ve got to turn this into a magazine. It was called Old. Seriously, to this day I still have ideas for columns for Old. I think there should be an advice column where you can ask questions that you’re way too old to not know the answer to, but you don’t. Like, what is a mortgage? You know one thing we can talk about a little is the brain because that’s, like, my one big hobby.
Q: The brain is your one big hobby?
A: Yeah. Yeah. Well I mean, I paint, I do other hobbies and stuff, but that’s the one thing I really do a lot of reading about. There are huge advances in knowledge about middle-age brain plasticity. The last great book I read was The Brain That Changes Itself.
Q: I haven’t read that.
A: It’s awesome and is very easy to understand. Yeah. I’m all about fucking brain plasticity, which is directly related to practice, you know, habits of discipline. But also to see when things like affirmations literally change neural pathways — and this is interesting because all the stuff I learned in program is all stuff that’s happening in brain studies right now — that feelings follow thoughts and that you can think different things deliberately, which is what affirmations are. It is insane. I’m very stern about it, because I am not fucking feeling like shit anymore. Like, that is just not going to happen.