Alexandra Petri is a humorist for the Washington Post, who writes articles that parody current reality or just out-right pokes at a current event in a funny, amusing way. I envy her. What a gig! It’s like if the Borowitz Report were actually funny. I’ve enjoyed her columns on the regular, and even went on to buy her funny and amusing book ‘A Field Guide To Awkard Silences‘. She’s written columns like the perspective of the fly that was on Mike Pence‘s head to people who feign about how they’re being forced to vote for Donald Trump to the dangers of weaponized soup. She’s a walking Onion article dispenser at the ready. I once made the mistake of trying to emulate her.
I’ve tried about a few times – as a writing exercise, to write humor and parody columns. I thought I could do it! I’m from Chicago (suburbs)! I read The Onion regularly on my train rides to Second City (I never made it past level A)! I watched Conan growing up! It turns out I was wrong. I could not hip flex with invisible strings and will humorist columns into existence. And not only was I wrong I was also horrifically under-motivated to do so.
I set up a Patreon account! I bought a website (this very one in fact)! I emailed people! I made a Facebook post! I was ready to go. I was ready to put keys to the screen, pedal to the medal, and whatever allegorical hutzpah and go all out. Nothing came out.
And when I say nothing came out, I mean literally nothing. I wrote a few other articles that weren’t parody, but that was it. It was bad. I said I would get to it next week. Then the next week came and went. And nothing. The dread began to set in. What the hell was I doing. I have ideas! I had thoughts, ideas, and would even jot a note down in my phone that made me chuckle. And still, nothing produced. It was like watching J.D. in Scrubs laugh/daydream at thoughts in his own head that no one else heard.
I even embarrassingly emailed my hometown newspaper, thinking maybe after they wrote an article about me because I had put out my debut feature film ‘Lost Signals‘ that they would give me the time of the day maybe one a week to let me write a column. They of course, rightly, did not answer my email. I got really bummed. What the hell was wrong with me?
The answer in fact, was really simple. I am not Alexandra Petri. I am not a humorist columnist who can do this weekly. I can write a comedic script, I can write a column with a funny anecdote or a one-off joke and poke fun at myself relentlessly, but I am not an Alexandra Petri. I cannot write a column about ‘Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV‘ the way she can. I can not write an entire chapter about going to a pun contest like she did in her first book.
It turns out the more I read, and the more I consumed content on websites like the website formerly known and forever blacklisted in my heart Deadspin (subscribe to Defector), GQ, and SFGate that my bullshit column wanna-be writing style nonsense is much closer to Drew Magary – if a drunk penguin spinning in an office chair wrote it.
You might have an idea or two here or there but you necessarily don’t have to follow through on every idea, not all of them succeed. But it’s also OK to fail! I learned a miserable lesson there. And it’s also not to say that I can’t write a one-off parody column here or there, but I just know that that is something I can’t do on the regular.
My writing is of course, ever-evolving. It may always be that way. But I’m happy to know one thing that I’m not, and it’s great to watch the people that can be the way that they are continue to do so with gusto! It’s great to watch a Lebron James be a LeBron James, or an Alexandra Petri write things no human can write! It’s great to read Drew Magary say all 32 NFL teams suck!
Perhaps one day I’ll figure it all out and we’ll be truly in peak Coleman writing territory, but that won’t be for me to say. And I’m OK with that, just like I’m OK not being something I’m not.
In the mean time, let me load up this entire post as a series of tweets that will bork out halfway through because I’m a boomer who doesn’t know how to use technology. And if you’re not interested in that, then perhaps just follow @petridishes on Twitter.