Jan 03 2013

Seven Life Lessons I Learned During My First Year at Unreality

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Lists

Whelp, it’s finally a year that ends in “-teen” again. Remy and Sara got their turns to ride the Retrospect Train over the last couple weeks, and like a semi-literate hobo, I’m hopping in the last car.

2012 was a big year for me, both personally and professionally. See, ever since the sixth grade, there were two things in this world I wanted to be more than anything else: a published author and a standup comedian. That’s why I moved to NYC to begin with. In 2012, I somehow managed to become both at once. Am I where I want to be yet as either of those things? Not even close. But I truly enjoy sharing myself with you guys, and have never felt as fulfilled as I do right now, plunking away at my keyboard.


Which feels something like this, actually.

It’s also been one year since I penned my first guest piece for Unreality. So if you’ve enjoyed anything else I’ve written: thank you. If you’ve ever taken the time to comment: thank you. If you’ve come out to watch one of my comedy shows: thank you. If you’ve hit the “like” button on anything I posted on Facebook: thank you.

Now here are a few of the life lessons Unreality’s been teaching me since last January:

1)  Sharing yourself with the world can be as terrifying as it is gratifying

If it hasn’t become abundantly clear by now, I’m a bit of an extrovert. And while I obviously love attention in general, it’s a rare occasion that I actually want to be the center of it. (Standup comedy aside, of course. It’s just me up there.) However, I also love to talk, and if you engage me in a topic I’m well-versed in, I may accidentally start to dominate that particular conversation.

Which is why Unreality is such a terrific outlet for my hyperactive synapses. I occasionally joke about it with my friends, but Paul has me on a pretty long leash; the pitches I send him can get a bit outlandish, but if they mostly make sense, he’s willing to see the finished product. I’ve worked in publishing long enough to tell you that that kind of artistic freedom isn’t super common outside of one’s personal blog.

But here’s something I wasn’t really expecting when I started writing for Unreality: even though the primary topics we cover are pop culture-related (i.e., videogames, movies, TV shows, and comic books are our staples), huge chunks of my personal opinions and life experiences made their way into my articles. Chunks I half-expected Paul to cut. It was a little scary at first, but also more than a little therapeutic.

Take this article, for example. It started as an editorial piece on hyper-violent movies in modern-day cinema, but evolved into an introspective examination of Grindhouse cinema. One of the points I make is supported by a whole paragraph describing my ultraconservative mother’s views, and that’s about as up-close-and-personal as it gets. But her opinions are inevitably a part of my own history, and even if it’s intimidating to release such anecdotes into the wild, it’s incredibly gratifying to share them in my articles sometimes.

2)  Nostalgia is even more awesome when it travels in packs

As much as babies and teenagers terrify me nowadays, I still love remembering what it was like to be a kid. I’m not the only one around here who likes a nice stroll down memory lane, either, and I think it’s fantastic how so many Unreality readers are on board with this. I don’ wanna grow up.

“Well, no danger of that happening any time soon.” –Every person I’ve ever met since 2002

3)  Profanity is a dish best served in small(er) portions

This is an area of my writing where I think I’ve matured exponentially since college, particularly when it comes to humor-based articles. Profanity definitely has its place in comedy to punctuate various jokes, but for me personally, swearing can also become a crutch. More swear words doesn’t automatically translate to more funny, and if you pay close attention to my writing style since last January, I think you’ll find that it has—with a few exceptions—become a lot more family-friendly. Same goes for a lot of my standup. So maybe I’m growing up a little after all.

This applies to real-life interactions too, by the way. There’s a time and place for social profanity, but learning to recognize those times and places is an acquired skill. How the devil is anyone supposed to take you seriously if you’re cursing like a sailor all the time, anyway?

4)  You’d be surprised what you can get by just asking sometimes

I recently reconnected with a friend who works for Simon & Schuster (one of the larger publishing houses in NYC). After catching up for a while, she mentioned how lately she’d been working with R.L. Stine, who was about to release his first adult horror novel. Well holy shit, R.L. Stine was absolutely my favorite author back in my Goosbumps days! Could she put me in touch with Stine’s publicist so I could get an advance copy of the book to review for Unreality? The answer was yes, and I never would have known if I hadn’t asked.

5)  Don’t feed the trolls

This is actually a lesson I learned years ago, and one I thankfully don’t have to remember too often at Unreality. (I’ll let Sara explain why.) I don’t always have the time to read the comments sections after my articles post, but when I do, I’ve learned to tell the difference between constructive criticism and plain old negativity (pro tip: only one of those things is useful to anyone). There are far too many positive things in this life to focus on instead, and as I mention below, I don’t have enough time in my day for those things as it is. You can keep your negativity, trolls. I’m not paying your tolls.

httpv://youtu.be/lO1ulfaytSk
Video mostly unrelated. 

Also, trolls exist in real life, so watch out for those.

6)  Being completely wrong can be surprisingly refreshing

Last February, I wrote a semi-serious article called “Six Tips for Creating the Perfect Superhero Movie,” and one of those tips was “don’t ever cast Nicolas Cage as anything or anyone.” I still think this tip applies for superhero movies specifically, but I happened to mention in the article that I had yet to see a Nic Cage movie I actually enjoyed (save for Kick-Ass). Well, in a great example of Unreality readers unleashing constructive criticism, several movie recommendations in the comments section compelled me to give the guy another chance. Turns out I’d just seen the wrong damn movies. Raising Arizona and Leaving Las Vegas for the win!

7)  Don’t burn your candle at both ends

All that artistic freedom I was crowing about up there is a double-edged sword; left to my own devices with no editorial direction, it can take a while to organize my thoughts. The entire process of outlining, writing, copyediting, and populating a single article with pictures can take anywhere from four to six hours. Longer if I’m passionate about the topic.

Anyway, when I started working for Unreality, I was writing two articles per week (roughly 1,000 to 1,500 words each on average). I also had a 9-to-5 job on the weekdays. I also started performing standup comedy on the regular, which involves a lot of writing/editing too. I also started picking up modeling gigs here and there. Then a couple of acting gigs. And while I was floored that all of these awesome things were happening to me at once, they took an incredible toll on my body, mind, and personal relationships. Between April and July, it wasn’t unusual for me to finish up a work week with an average of 4 hours of sleep per night. Some of my friends probably thought I was insane (if they didn’t already), but I was quite literally just too excited to sleep sometimes. Once I recognized how unhealthy my euphoria was de-evolving into, however, I forced myself to slow down a bit. So here we are. One article per week.

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I think 2013 is going to be a good year, guys. A very good year, indeed.

[Lead image credit: Jakop Nazaretyan Photography]





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6 responses so far

  • MattChi

    Nice article TJ, interesting to hear about the R.L Stine thing, wasn’t aware of that when you guys reviewed the book. Keep up the solid work in 2013!

  • http://facebook.com/tjfinkcomedy TJ Fink

    Many thanks!

  • Tara

    Hummina hummina! Rodin + Darth Vader = permacrush. Keep writing please :)

  • annie

    You beat me to it, Tara! Keep up the great work TJ, thanks for all the great articles!

  • http://facebook Dale

    I’ve really enjoyed this article and the growth I’ve seen in you.
    Lesson #3 was well put. Keep up the good work!

  • http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/author/thomas-fink/ TJ Fink

    Thanks, all! Requests welcome for any of my 2013 ridiculousness :D

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