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Why 'First Draft Theater'?
The first draft of this new experiment.
So why ‘First Draft Theater’?
First Draft Theater isn’t as snappy or as clever a title for my newsletter as I hoped to come up with. It in no way aligns with my “jackisnotabird” social media brand. And yet, when I shared the idea with friends, they all immediately said it was the perfect fit for someone whose work revolves around constantly churning out original works that I perform online and on stage.
I hadn’t even realized the writing and performing connection until they pointed it out to me. First Draft Theater was just a trio of words that popped in my head one day when I was thinking about my slapdash writing process on the Cool Stuff Ride Home podcast. While I almost always at least skimmed over what I had written before recording each day, it was a rare not-rushed day when I got to really go back and edit the text of any segments into what could by its barest definition be called a second draft before recording.
That’s the nature of so much of my work, however. Over the years, I’ve spent more and more time researching and editing the scripts of YouTube videos before posting them, but the final product is often still more off-the-cuff and of-the-moment than other forms of media. Nowadays I’m also part of a theater company that writes and performs thirty short plays in just one hour, plays which largely change from week to week. That means we’re constantly writing new plays and often performing them just three days after first coming up with the idea.
Slow-cooked edits aren’t something I even got the luxury of when I wrote my book. I signed the contract for my book deal at the start of January 2019, was given about fourteen weeks to hand in the manuscript, and the book was on shelves by mid-September. For someone accustomed to social media and online video, that actually felt like an enormous amount of time to get to sit with one solitary project (though I equally wished for many more months to research, revise, and solicit feedback from peers and experts).
So “First Draft Theater” is what I privately called the Cool Stuff Ride Home in my notes as a way of reminding myself that what I was writing didn’t have to be perfect. It was a daily podcast touching on multiple different topics everyday. Especially without a team of researchers behind it, there was no way for it to be perfect. And that was okay. I still tried my best. And in relinquishing myself from the mandate of perfection I allowed myself to explore so many topics I wouldn’t have previously felt confident enough diving into. Did I do them all justice? Almost certainly not. But it was a start.
Inherent in “first draft” is that there may be subsequent drafts in the future. This is very much intentional. Through my tenure at the Cool Stuff Ride Home, I stumbled on quite a few interesting stories or insights that inspired me to start working on larger projects. Some of them turned into plays that were performed in The Infinite Wrench. Some have turned into ideas for novels that I’ve been continuing to research and outline. Some may one day become YouTube videos or standalone podcast series.
I’d like to think of some of what I’ll cover here on First Draft Theater as much the same. As I continue to explore the wide world and share my thoughts here, you’ll occasionally see a deeper interest take hold. Some of what you read here will eventually morph into bigger, more independent creations––and you’ll be able to say that you saw it in its roughest most primordial form. And maybe even that you helped it become what it eventually did, because you were here, giving me a place to experiment, and providing feedback and pointers where you could.
Not that you’re obliged to, of course! Maybe you’re just here to get updates on what I’ve been up to since I’ve grown so quiet on Twitter and Instagram and YouTube these days. Maybe you’ll become more interested in the rogue links I share and not the longer blocks of text I clutter this newsletter up with. Maybe you’ll just pop in when I cover a topic that particularly interests you and ignore the rest.
And maybe one day I’ll remove some of those features or add other ones. Like each individual post will be, this newsletter itself is a kind of living first draft. I’m throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. I’m learning as I go, as I have done for most of my professional life. Learning as I go with the public watching. My failures on display. That’s the theater part of it all.
Though, I suppose I should admit that “first draft” is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. My real first drafts are all written out of order and filled with mid-sentence brackets reminding myself to come up with a better adjective or fact-check some claim. Anything I put out there publicly, I have probably outlined, done a little research on, and at least read it back for typos (not that I usually catch them all). So maybe they aren’t really “first drafts.” But I think in the larger context of media, they are. I don’t have an outside editor. No peer review committee. I’m not going to spend months rewriting this post. I’ll hit publish and move on to the next thing.
And okay, yes, I could write a whole other post about the ills of social media being entirely made up of first drafts, of people’s unedited immediate thoughts… I do wish we all spent a lot more time reflecting as opposed to being stuck in the centrifugal force of a broken down carousel ride that never pauses, only speeds up, while we sit glued to the twin horses of broadcasting and consuming.
So perhaps that’s why I needed you to know that this newsletter, the old podcast, my YouTube videos, none of it is really a first draft. Not entirely. Could it use an edit? Absolutely! Will I cringe when I reread it in the future? You bet. Might it grow into something larger and better? Sometimes. But did I just spit out the first things that came to me and hit publish without a second thought? No. Maybe that’s another aspect of the theater part of the name. A little behind-the-curtain magic to help even the most hasty and most honest pieces pack a punch.
So come along to the First Draft Theater. I know just enough more than you to act as your guide, but really it’s anyone’s guess what’s to come.
Book rec: I just read Please Report Your Bug Here,* the debut novel from Josh Riedel who was the very first employee at Instagram. It’s both a meditation on our relationship with social media and an adventure through the multiverse. If you liked Hank Green’s sci-fi duology, you’ll probably like this.
Got milk? This is a story I’ve been casually following for years and which I honestly expected to go the other way. The FDA has officially issued guidance saying that plant-based beverages are allowed to call themselves milk, saying drinks like oat and almond milk “don’t pretend to be from dairy animals – and that U.S. consumers aren’t confused by the difference” (AP)
Ch-Ch-Changes. Here’s David Bowie impersonating Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and more during a 1985 studio session––posted shortly after Bowie’s death in 2016 by the engineer who was in the studio that day recording the session.
The Boomer Senate. Will Donnell’s interactive visualization of which generations have been represented in the US senate from 1949 to today. Lots of fun data to explore here. The biggest takeaway? The average age of a senator has increased by about a decade and Boomers currently make up a larger portion of the Senate than any generation has since 1949. Would love to see this for the House so we could see a tiny square for Gen Z!
What I’m Up To
I’m also helping run a retreat-style summer camp with the podcast/pilgrimage company behind Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. If you want to hang out with a bunch of thoughtful, podcast-y people in the Catskills this June, you can learn more and register here!
Wondering how I can possibly do anything related to Harry Potter in light of the franchise’s CTO (Chief TERF Officer)’s inability to shut up about how us trans people are ruining the world? I’m gonna be honest, occasionally appearing on Sacred Text to critically analyze the books is about as much as I can stomach anymore. But here’s a page linking to (almost) everything I’ve ever said publicly about the situation, including a New York Times op-ed** and a BBC Radio 4 interview.
In New York City? I’ll be performing with the New York Neo-Futurists in The Infinite Wrench Friday and Saturday nights from April 28 - May 20 (check our Instagram for week-by-week casting updates). We perform 30 short plays in 60 minutes––all original works written by us and changing from week to week. Tickets here!
*I’m a Bookshop.org affiliate so, if you use that link to buy the book, I’ll earn a little kickback. Also, Bookshop.org rocks. I’m working on migrating my recommended booklists from (Amazon owned) Goodreads to Bookshop. Watch this space!
**The New York Times was kind enough to publish my op-ed back in 2019, but their reporting on trans people since then has grown ever more irresponsible, rife with poor research and unfounded fear-mongering. You can learn more by reading this article or listening to this podcast episode. If you’d like to, you can sign your name to this petition from GLAAD or this one signed by hundreds of former New York Times contributors (you can also sign as a reader) to demand they clean up their act.
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