Don’t Write Alone | Columns

How’s the Writing Going, Mike Albo?

“It’s taken me fifty-three years to be able to understand how to say what I want, or say who I am, or say what I believe.”

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Sari Botton: A few months ago I tweeted about how exhausting it is to constantly hustle as a freelancer—how I’ve been hustling my whole thirty-plus year career, and it never stops, and I’m so tired of it, but it’s the only way to move forward with everything I’m doing. You replied and said, “I would love to chat about the hustle.” And so I thought, We’re roughly around the same age, I believe. How old are you?

SB: I’m fifty-six. And I’m tired. I feel like no matter how much I hustle, I still have to do it more. Every time I create something new, whether it’s my book or a newsletter post or an essay I’ve published, I have to be my own publicist. It’s exhausting, and it’s kind of embarrassing. Like, “Hey, look at me! Now look at me again! And again!” I want to hear about your hustle. But first I want to stop and say that I think of you as someone who is underappreciated as a writer and performer. I see you hustling and I think, why does have to keep hustling? He’s a genius.

Another Dimension of Us

SB: Let’s talk about what it means to wear many different hats. You and I both have lots of different kinds of output. We’re both multi-hyphenates. I have freelance writing, I have my three newsletters, I have a new book out, I lead workshops that need to be publicized. You do all different kinds of things too—articles, books, comedy shows, videos. For me, part of that is just about survival. Some of my work I do just because I just need to make a living; I wouldn’t do a lot of it if I didn’t need to. Is that also true for you?

Another Dimension of Us

SB: I totally feel that. I’m afraid to turn anything down, ever.

Gotta do my ‘How to take off your French nails’ article! Gotta copy edit it!And You May Find Yourself

SB: I think there’s something to that. Our parents’ anxiety got carried over. But I also think there’s a harsh reality behind it. I saw something recently suggesting that Generation X got screwed out of bigger, more stable opportunities because boomers wouldn’t retire. They kept hanging on. And then the millennials came along and got hired. I was like, On some level, I feel like I never got my chance to have the career I was supposed to have, or that I was aiming for. Although I was also aiming for several different careers, because if I want to be a writer, I also need to make a living as an editor and teacher. But maybe there’s something to the idea that there wasn’t room for us Gen Xers.

SB: Yeah, I have that feeling too. Sometimes, if somebody younger is writing about something I’ve written about in the past as if it’s this idea, I will post the old related piece of mine on Twitter. But then I’ll feel embarrassed that I did that. But I often feel that way about posting new work too. Generally, I feel uncomfortable constantly promoting myself. But if I don’t, how will I keep going and getting more work? I mean, nobody else is going to promote my work for me. How do you feel about that? Does it feel icky to you to constantly be like, “Look at me here! Look at me there! Buy my book!”

SB: What is your book about? It’s a YA novel, right? And is it about why swimming is good for you?

SB: Yes.

SB: Yes. I loved that place.

SB: Oh, awesome. That sounds amazing.

SB: I used to ghostwrite new age books. Talk about gigs you take on just because you need the money. I ghostwrote for Horst Rechelbacher, who founded Aveda. It started out as a really kooky book, more of like a service-y memoir. And then while we were writing it, Estée Lauder bought Aveda and we had to make it all about, like, how to make curly hair look nice using Aveda products.

SB: But at first, while we were writing it, he was like, “I will tell you how to have the kind of orgasm that will make you feel like you are in a new world,” which I guess is a kind of astral projection? And then suddenly, after Estée Lauder bought the company, all that kind of thing had to be edited out and replaced with beauty tips. I also ghostwrote one for a psychic, called , about how to cast spells from your bathtub. Then I applied to ghostwrite a book for a palm reader, but she took one look at my palm and was like, “No, you hold on to things for too long. I can’t work with you.”

SB: So, you’re always promoting different kinds of things. Tonight it’s a sketch comedy show at Joe’s pub and soon it will be a book. Is it both a blessing and a curse to be both a performer and a writer? And who is ever going to have enough time to only work on the one thing that they love?

SB: That’s good advice. Emily is good like that. She gives good advice and can be very reassuring. By the way, she was my “tattoula” when I got my first tattoo. She sat with me and held my hand and stopped me from completely freaking out.

SB: I think about perception a lot too. Sometimes you have to move away from the things that peg you as someone you don’t want to be seen as. I had a piece here on Catapult recently about what I wish I knew when I was starting out and all the bad advice I received early on. Some of it led me into a nine-year stretch of working only for trade magazines—business magazines that cover particular industries and are only read by people in those industries. It took so much energy to change my perception in the world. I would go on interviews at Condé Nast and the HR people would say, “Oh, you’re a trade writer.” It takes a lot to redefine yourself. I love that you found that corporate gig with PricewaterhouseCoopers, where probably your name wasn’t on any of that copy. So you were able to sustain yourself with that work without having it interfere with the perception of you as a writer and performer and artist.

SB: My former neighbor on my floor in the East Village!

RuPaul’s Drag Race

SB: I also think that our generation is obsessed with authenticity. I know that I prefer messiness. I prefer when you can see the real person behind the art. With some younger people, it almost feels more like artifice than an authentic presentation of themselves. But you know, we’re also trying to appeal to not only our age group with our work. We’re trying to sell to everybody. And we are competing with people who are a lot more polished than we are. So that’s a little bit of a challenge.

So, are you at all daunted about going out with this new book?

Horse Girl

SB: That’s a great attitude to come out of the gate with. From the time I got out of college, I have been hearing the words “you need to build platform.” Not platform, but “platform”—this general category of thing. I’ve been obsessed with trying to build platform. For so long I was building platform but not creating. But despite all the platform I’ve built, I feel like I still have a hard time being seen and known for what I do. And if people do know who I am, I’m kind of old news. It’s gotten more competitive, with more people vying for fewer and fewer spots, like a game of musical chairs. Do you feel any of that?

SB: It’s good that you have a good relationship with your agent, that your agent believes in you and is willing to put in that work. What is this book that’s out on submission?

SB: Is it for adults or for young adults?

SB: My last question for you: Do you ever feel like Mike the performer is competing with Mike the author, and if you had to choose between them, which would you choose?

SB: That’s a whole other game of musical chairs, like totally pro-level musical chairs.

I think I’m gonna go write a book now

SB: In a way, maybe the pandemic freed you up to shift in that direction.