I never thought my first real book would concern something I cared so little about. But that is exactly what happened with Pot Psychology's How To Be: Lowbrow Advice from High People.
Pot Psychology, Jezebel's video advice series in which Tracie Egan-Morrissey and I would (supposedly) get stoned and babble responses to viewer questions, was to me always one of the least interesting things I did online. We started in 2007 and still record it (after a break for over a year, we resumed for the sake of promoting our book), and its pleasure has always just been immediate for me. It's fun to get stoned (or not) and turn a camera on and just riff with my best friend. Compared to articulating a layered opinion or sniffing out a trend/cliché and compulsively hunting down examples for a supercut, or even recapping a reality show, Pot Psychology was the least creatively rewarding of my routine public communication.
But it's also what I've received the most feedback for. When your least passionate work gets the biggest response, it is a sign from the universe to take yourself less seriously. I'm trying.
(I'm also trying to shill this thing in the least distasteful way possible. Publicity is part of our contract, I obviously have a huge platform at my disposal and I figure there's no better day for shameless self promotion than Black Friday. But make no mistake: this book is dumb. Nothing to see here, nothing to see here.)
In 2010, Jezebel's founding editor Anna Holmes came to Tracie and me to tell us it was time we got working on a Pot Psychology book. She knew there would be interest. A few months later, we had a concept as stumbled-into as Pot Psychology was itself – we had a bunch of formal exercises gathered to present to our agents, but a few hours before our meeting, Tracie thought we should also present something simpler. "An advice book – something like How To Be..." "How To Be!" I said. And from there the idea was born – little did we know, we'd be jumping on a trend of How To Be... books (How To Be a Woman, How To Be Gay, How To Be Black, How To Be Free, etc.) with a title that seemed to summarize and/or define it.
That wasn't our goal, though. We attempted nothing so lofty. Mostly, we just wanted to meet our word count of 40,000. We thought this was an astronomical number for a novelty book, but our agent told us that we couldn't write something that could be read in one sitting. The whole time we wrestled with this thing, we were attempting to translate something that we had specifically based in an audio/visual medium into the printed word. It seemed backward and silly, but we ran with it. Instead of transcribing past episodes, we wrote all-new text based on the half-assed principles we has expressed throughout the video series. We broke the book up by devising 101 "non-problems," all starting with "How to be…" (How to be in a car, How to be in line, How to be after a threesome, How to be honest about the penis your boyfriend doesn't know you have) and answering in a variety of book-friendlier ways (essays, lists, dos and don'ts, pictures, tables, diagrams, etc.).
If you could glean any larger statement from Pot Psychology, it's that advice-giving is a ridiculous profession that no one has any business doing – if you'll take advice from strangers, why not take advice from stoned strangers? Our book always encompassed that sensibility, but also became a statement on blogs-turned-books, on the folly of needless media translation. We got extremely stoned on the day we were to begin our proposal and found ourselves paralyzed, unable to string more than a sentence together. From that point on, we resolved to write the book sober. Tracie's pregnancy, which announced itself a month or two before we signed our deal, ensured that there would be no weed-smoking while writing. It didn't matter anyway – we knew how to be high and that our primary aesthetic was stupidity. We were making fun of ourselves and our mushy brains, creating a parody of a parody that was finished off with illustrations of anthropomorphized animals accompanying each of the non-problems, done by the genius Lindsay Mound.
If my heart wasn't in Pot Psychology's How To Be initially, it came around. I couldn't possibly spend so much time on something without falling in love with the idea of it and attempting to make it great as a result. I'm not sure if we accomplished that, but I know that we've done something that hits on a sensibility similar to my favorite kind of camp – that of ambiguous intentions that lets the audience decide whether or not it's being serious. It's obvious that we're not being serious, but embedded in our outlandish advice, sometimes, I hope, are flashes of truth and guidance for being a nicer, better person. It's up to you to decide what is what. Interspersed are accounts from our lives, stories we've told each other for the sake of entertaining and mutually obsessed about pop culture that has proved itself as friendship fodder. How To Be is a kind of sideways biography of a friendship. It's also a new chapter in that friendship – Tracie and I have known each other since meeting in college in the late '90s. We've had ups and downs but sharing a brain, writing almost every one of those 40,000 words together, finishing each others' sentences or intervening when the other typed something that just wasn't quite where it needed to be, proved to be the ultimate therapy for our friendship. Working together hasn't always been easy, but this turned out to be essential for us.
Somehow, a joke book about a joke web series whose primary function was to joke about advice became an earnest statement on a large chunk of our professional and personal lives. I feel so weird about it, but I'm proud of this thing. I know there's nothing like it that exists and it perfectly captures our collective sense of humor. It is a document of more than what it appears to be.
And if you don't think so, well, at least we have 101 pictures of animals doing funny shit that to fall back on.
Here is an excerpt from our audiobook, for which we were stoned for. It's unabridged and runs almost five hours long. We went off script regularly.
And here is an excerpt for from our regular book, for which we weren't stoned. It runs 40,000 words.
In most cases, if you are looking to make friends with a blogger, all you have to do is kiss his or her ass through a series of e-mails. (But this won't work with us.) Just as in any friendship, you'll have to appeal to the other person's ego, but you'll just have to work harder to win over the fragile blogger ego. (But not ours.) You should get your ego-massage certification well in advance. (But we have no idea how to do this.) There are mail-order programs that you can probably learn more about by e-mailing yet other people and appealing to their egos. (But still not ours.) Basically, your life from now on will be a series of appeals to other people's egos. (Nope, not ours.) Have fun with that. (But not us.)
Once you have secured a friendship with a blogger, get ready for more fun with ego-placating. You more or less have a responsibility to keep up with your object of friendship's public work. The only time you can get out of this is if they are behind a paywall. Otherwise, your blogger friend's work is free and there's no excuse (except for every excuse) not to be at least aware of what's going on in their professional/hobby life.
You can ignore the last paragraph if you, too, are a blogger because you already know all of this. It won't be held against you if you do not keep abreast of your fellow blogger friends' work because (a) they know how tough it can be to keep up with others' output while you're furiously churning out your own, and (b) for that reason, they probably aren't reading yours, either. If you find yourself in a lopsided situation where you are constantly bringing up their work and they never acknowledge yours, you've found yourself in a situation where you're doing a lot of extra reading that isn't necessary. Take up a new hobby, perhaps knitting or nail accessorizing, to fill the time that you used to spend trolling your friend's blog for things to talk about with said friend. If you feel bad, offer your friend a ski cap or manicure but don't explain why. Surprise ski caps and manicures are the best ski caps and manicures.
Regardless of what you are reading/cramming into the five minutes before you see your blogger friend, there are things beyond egos to contend with. Arm yourself with the knowledge that you may get written about and that things that happen when you're hanging out don't necessarily belong to you. When you hang out with a blogger, everything is on the record. Grow a thicker skin-bloggers usually inject their opinions into everything and that may include their opinions about you, things you've done, or even stuff that they don't know that you've done, and this may result in you reading their work as a commentary on your life even when it isn't. We've said it before, but this time we mean it: have fun with that.
Pot Psychology's How To Be: Lowbrow Advice from High People is now available. Buy it via any of these fine retailers.