What My Dog Has Taught Me

Spoiler alert: nobody wins.

August 14th, 2019

Things I’ve learned (and am still learning) from my dog:

  • Be kind, even when you’re hungry. Especially when you’re hungry.
  • When in doubt, try to make the human smile.
  • Lead with trust, and learn from behavior.
  • If someone hurts you, whether it be by accident or intentionally, it is always better to forgive and move on as soon as possible, even if it’s impossible to forget.
  • Love the hardest when the human is having the toughest time.
  • When someone gives you permission to kiss, never stop kissing them until you are specifically told to stop.
  • When you want something, go for it. When you still can’t get it, make the cutest face you have and hope for the best.
  • Always be friendly and introduce yourself to other dogs. And sometimes bushes. And sometimes questionable garbage.
  • Look for the best in everyone and everything, including yourself.
  • Make noise if something doesn’t feel right.
  • Fake sneeze if you really crave attention.
  • Smell everything. Especially before putting it in your mouth.
  • When it comes to being excited, passionate and showing your love, never compromise.
  • Protect your people.
  • Fear the sky.
  • Snuggling — otherwise known as pure, genuine connection — is the key to the universe.

My dog is smart. A lot smarter than I am. And these are just the things I see in her every single day.

Her last piece of advice is that she never gives it. She relies on me to see it. And that’s the best piece of advice I have ever received.

Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About

Pieces of me.

August 5th. 2019

My dad and I were discussing what’s going on in this country yesterday when he asked me a pointed question that made me flinch.

“You keep talking about love. Why isn’t anybody listening?”

I don’t know.

I spend all this time thinking and writing and hoping and I don’t know why people aren’t listening. Why they aren’t clicking and subscribing to love.

Maybe it’s because people don’t like to compromise. They feel like if they have to give something up, even if it’s for the betterment of all people, that it isn’t fair. That it’s, ironically, taking away some of their rights, when they don’t take into consideration how many other people’s rights and lives are taken from them, every day. Love is the undeniable right, and it can’t be allowed to be taken away.

I know people don’t like to take responsibility. They don’t like to say, “I did this. I contributed to this. I didn’t stop this. What can I do now?” They like to say, “This is his fault. This is her fault. This is art’s fault. This is entertainment’s fault. This is your fault. But this is not my fault.” Love doesn’t take sides, because it has nothing to prove. It exists for everybody to have, to give, to use, to cling onto when everything else has fallen away.

As I’m writing, I still can’t explain why nobody is listening. But I can reiterate that it doesn’t mean we should ever stop.

We need to talk more, and louder, and with greater passion and compassion. We need to see things how they were, how they are and how we want them to be. When we make decisions, simple and difficult alike, we have to ask what the root of our making is. Is it love? Because if it’s not, then we’re doing it wrong. Fear is not the reason to make choices. Hate is not the reason to make choices. Apathy is never a reason for anything.

I need to keep talking about love because eventually the right person will hear it. And they’ll share it with the next right person. And eventually, we’ll all discover the cure for whatever sickness this world has and maybe it won’t be so bad.

So keep doing it.

Keep talking about love. And talk about it like nobody’s listening, because that is when you’re the most honest.

Danish

I’m blue… (and it’s stuck in your head now.)

August 3rd, 2019

Let’s say you make a really good blueberry Danish.

And you want to share your Danish with the world.

So you decide to write down the recipe. But then you quickly realize that nobody actually makes this Danish like you do. But how could you make all these pastries and share them with the world? Well, you open a bakery.

So you start the bakery, and you don’t enlist anybody else, because like you said earlier, nobody makes these Danish like you. So you wake up really early in the morning, and you do everything it takes to make your Danish. And when they’re baked, you’re proud, but it’s not enough. They’re not being shared in the right way. So you need to expand your bakery. You need to open a restaurant.

You hire nobody else to work in your restaurant. You are the owner and the manager and the host and the server and the busser and the dishwasher, because you have come this far on your own, and the only person who knows how this Danish needs to be presented to the world is you. And it’s hard and sometimes feels impossible and it makes you crazy and lonely but once you start serving the Danish, you can feel it. You know that no matter how another person reacts to it, this is exactly how you want them to eat it. You put a lot — too much — of yourself into it, and if it is nothing else, it is absolutely you.

This is what working on The Weirdos has been like.

I’m a week away from the release date, and there is still a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that I’m working on that I won’t bother you with, but either way, my blueberry Danish will be on a plate soon.

I’m excited and nervous and, honestly — I’m just ready for everyone to eat.

Know Your Potential

Okay, if Godzilla and King Kong can get along, then get your shit together.

July 29th, 2019

I think a lot of people undervalue their potential to change people’s lives, especially at their jobs. I’ll make this one short & sweet.

I got my last table tonight less than an hour before close. If you’ve ever worked a job with posted hours, you know that this is less than ideal. I asked this family of four how they were, and how they were was starving.

They had called a different restaurant to see if their kitchen was open. The restaurant said they were, and when this family arrived, they were then told the kitchen was closed. So they called us up, and our kitchen was indeed open.

They were very kind and extraordinarily grateful. They wrapped up right before close, and left. And then they came back. Their car wouldn’t start. I insisted it was no problem, got my own keys and got their car started for them. They were again enormously grateful.

This night could have gone very differently. All this family wanted to do was have a nice meal together. And the universe decided it wasn’t going to make it easy for them.

But the universe also put me in the equation, so I did everything I could to take care of them. There’s a good chance they’re going to remember this night for a long time, and they’re going to remember that strangers can still be kind, even when the situations are unexpected.

So know your potential. Know that nothing you do is small, and share whatever kindness you have available. We don’t always have a lot on hand, but I think you’ll surprise yourself when you check.

They left this button for me on the table.

I lied about this being short.

Mom

My mom drew this. My mom is the best.

July 26th, 2019

When I was seven years old, I had a Batman Returns-themed birthday party.

Despite the fact that it says everything about who I ended up being as an adult (a dark, superhero-obsessed loser with a fairly self-aware sense of humor), that’s not why I love this recently unearthed photo.

I love it because of what’s behind me.

See, that right there was the hallmark of all of my birthdays. My mom is one of the most humbly creative people I have ever known. She would make all of our Halloween costumes (which I have posted here before), and she would design all of our birthday parties. She is an artist, through and through. Her eye is extraordinary. And she used all of that talent on us, her children.

This particular example here is a “Pin the Umbrella to the Penguin” board. One such board does not exist from Party City, and Party City does not employ my one such mom, so she created her own. She recreated all these characters by hand, before there was the internet. She poured a lot of time and heart into these works, knowing that the only people who would ever appreciate it were a couple of kids.

Well, I do.

It’s taken me years to figure it out, but gosh, do I appreciate it. This is a woman who, under different circumstances, could have been a world class artist, who found expression and an outlet where she was. And by doing so, she nourished my creativity. I saw her do, so I do. She needed no approval, or applause, barely an audience, but most importantly — she needed no permission.

I loved these things, the costumes and the games, when I was a kid. But I didn’t cherish them like I do now. You think a lot about the things you missed out on or the things that were different for you growing up, but you don’t always see the blessings. This was a blessing. Having a bad ass secret ninja artist for a mom helped make me the way I am today, and she was so ninja and low-key bad ass that I didn’t even really think of it that way until recently.

Just wanted to say I love my mom, I guess. And that I’m wondering where my Batmobile is.

The Worst Book > Your Best Idea

Truth in print.

July 25th, 2019

The worst book on a shelf is, believe it or not, still better than your best idea.

This is true because the finished book has the virtue of being complete and existing in a sharable form.

“That does not mean a terrible book is better than this amazing movie idea I’ve had in my head for ten years!”

Yes. It does mean that.

Our culture is constantly telling its artists that they could do better. You watch a film and the ending you had in mind was so superior. The character that you would have created had smarter lines, had a deeper emotional hook and actually looked like you a little more. The plot twist you thought up halfway through? It would have BLOWN YOUR MIND.

Except guess what? None of that exists. Because you didn’t create it. And even, at this point, if you did, you would have created it on the legwork and structure that other artists put there before you — for you to consume and digest and discuss and deconstruct and judge and rewrite. But not create.

People ask me how I do it all the time. I do it by doing it. It sounds basic, but that’s how I do everything I’ve ever done. I do it because I absolutely have to. I put my heart and soul and guts and words into things for people to hear and read and see because I am like every other person on the planet: I want to be heard and read into and seen.

You could do it. I encourage everyone I know to create art. A lot — a LOT — of my family and friends talk about creating art. “I should do this.” “I have an idea for this.” “This would be really cool.” “Someday.” “Well, someday.” “I don’t have time right now. But maybe someday.”

I got really bad anxiety from making The Weirdos. Not because it was hurting me to create. No, it was the opposite. I was saying so many things that I wanted to say and I was nervous that something would happen to me before I got everything down on a page. It’s done now, so the stress has simmered, but that’s when you know you’re creating art. When you have something to say and you’re so scared that nobody will hear it. So you make it as loudly as you can.

So do it. Make that bad book. Sing that sad song.

Create. And put yourself out there in the realest, truest way.

Sculpture/Garden

All you gotta do is work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work.

July 23rd, 2019

When asked how he created his sculptural masterpiece David, Michelangelo said — and I’m paraphrasing, because I wasn’t there — that essentially David was always inside that block of marble, and he just had to chip away the parts that weren’t him.

What he actually said was this:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

And:

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

You can do a lot of things in your life that are not you. In fact, you can spend your entire life acting against who you really are on the inside. We wear masks and we tell lies and we cover up truths and we call it being human.

Being a better person just means being a more defined version of what we can already see. By diligently — painstakingly, sometimes — chipping away the little pieces of what we are not, we become closer to being the better shape that has always been living deep inside our marble.

And the thing about sculpting yourself is that it gives you more educated eyes to see the art in the world around you. You start seeing the more defined sculptures and you gravitate towards them; you also can see a block of untouched clay from a mile away.

So what does this mean for you? It means you will be forever unfinished. And until you can’t lift your fingers anymore, keep chipping. We see you. We can trace every line. And we appreciate you.

Our Racist President

Early concept art for The Weirdos.

July 19th, 2019

I just read that if you’re not calling out the president on his abhorrent, racist behavior right now, then you are complicit.

I agree.

So I am absolutely calling him out, right now, and the supporters he still has left.

When they questioned him about the chants of “send her back” at his rally, he said he did not agree — but what could he do?

He was the one person with a microphone.

In that moment, he was the only one with a singular voice who could have done anything.

And he did nothing.

He was complicit for doing nothing.

If you still support him, you are complicit.

If you take being an American, a Christian or an all-around good human being seriously, you need to understand that it is not enough to simply not participate.

If you do nothing, you are silently agreeing that what you see or hear is okay.

Especially when you are the president and the only person in the room with a microphone.

Don’t be complicit. Be better. Be kind.

Driving Glasses

I’m too sexy for absolutely nothing.

July 18th, 2019

These are my driving glasses.

They are as much of The Dennis Vogen Story as any other part of me. When I was a young punk, I found these metal monsters in a broken basket at a thrift store. It started as a joke, but I fell in love; these random spectacles just happened to give me perfect vision. So I bought them for $3 and have been wearing them to see ever since. I’ve passed all of my vision tests with them, I’ve watched concerts and movies and American Ninja Warrior through them, I’ve used them for Halloween costumes (Dwight Schrute, anyone?).

Fast forward to this morning, when I visited the eye doctor for the first time in my adult life. I told her about my glasses, and she laughed and said she had never heard a story like that before. Then she asked if we could test my glasses to see how accurate they were.

Can you see where this is going?

They are almost my perfect prescription. The axis was a little off for both eyes, and my left lens had a little more power than I needed, but they were incredibly close.

There’s no way I’m going to take this and turn it into one of my things where I talk about life, right? Well, of course I am.

Always trust your own vision. People will say you look stupid and you’re not doing it right, but in the end, you know what clarity looks like. I love these stupid glasses, and while it’s nice to finally be kind of a grown up and have my first pair made just for me, these say as much about who I am as the words I say or things I do.

So don’t automatically listen to people who say you can’t see. Because more likely than not, you don’t see the world like anybody else.

One More Day

Naps are an essential part of a good day.

July 9th, 2019

My only goal is to put one more good day between me and the person I used to be.

This may sound brutal and typically too honest from me, but sometimes I really understand why Bradley Cooper killed himself at the end of A Star Is Born. To wake up every day with the memories of everything you have ever said and done is heavy. And sometimes it makes you lose sight of the truth that it’s not all you are. You were never always bad. You were never always a burden. You were always more than your worst.

Like Natasha and Clint acknowledge in Endgame, you should never judge or be judged solely by your worst days.

And when you make that decision to burn the soil, to start removing the weeds and pests underneath, you can’t expect to find new grass growing tomorrow. Whenever someone still doubts me or my honesty, my initial reaction is, “Can’t they read my mind? Can’t they see inside my head, and see how honest I’ve been for a long time now?”

Of course they can’t. And it takes humility to understand you put them in that place to begin with.

To anyone who is doing things to change their lives for the better in any way, one day at a time: even though I’ve been at it for a while, the only medallion I keep in my pocket is for 24 hours. Because that’s the most important one. Because that’s all it takes. And I collect each good day and keep it in a place between me and the person I used to be.