Finding a Balance

Last night was nice. We’ve developed a bit of tradition during Tony’s visits to St Louis of watching whatever the newest DC animated movie is of the moment. We watched Batman Ninja, enjoyed some Thai food, and unplugged for a while. It was refreshing.

I’m writing this at the end of a production block. We do these week-long shooting marathons a half dozen times a year. Tony has been here in St Louis for nearly a week now and we’ve been recording more podcasts and shooting new episodes of Cocktail Moment, while trying to catch up on movies, video games, and just life in general. Sometimes it feels like all we talk about is the channel. I don’t mean that negatively. It’s something we both care about and both want to see grow and be successful. But we’ve got to break it up sometimes with distractions. We went to a ball game on Saturday and had a great time, but it wasn’t long before we were talking about the channel and then shooting some video for the channel.

Nowadays our production team has doubled and we are producing original content at least once a week. It’s very fulfilling to have so much great work to show for our efforts, but it’s also very overwhelming at times. I have to remember to take the time to maintain the friendships that led to this wonderful team.

Looking back on the last two years of TSD, things have certainly changed a lot. In the beginning it was just Tony and myself producing a handful of episodes here and there. We got to hang out and do something we love a few times a year and the stress of it was pretty minimal. Jake and I were pretty casual friends at the beginning of all of this, but through no small part of our work together on TSD we’ve grown incredibly close and I count him among my closest friends and confidants. Joey is a somewhat recent addition to my life, but we’ve become steadfast friends so quickly through creative collaboration “in the trenches.”

Tony and I have been friends for going on twenty years now. He’s talked about it in a previous week, so I won’t go into a lot of detail on that. Suffice it to say, our bond of friendship is strong and producing creative projects together just strengthens it. TSD has been, overall, wonderful of us. It gives us ‘an excuse’ to spend time together doing things we love. It’s easy, however, to fall into the trap of making every interaction we have ‘about work.’

The greatest joy of working on this channel is getting to work alongside some of my favorite people-Tony, Jake, and Joey are hard-working creatives and we all do an incredible job of making each other better. In the chaos of production, I’m so grateful to be surrounded by friends. It would be so easy to get burnt out on each other after gruelling shoots and long weeks of production but we still find ourselves wanting to grab a drink or have a soak in the hot tub after it’s all done. The affection for each other is genuine, the bond we’re sharing is strong. Production weeks, like the one we’re finishing now, can be so overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for me, but I’m so glad to have these guys with me to get through it all. Work is something that’s tying us all together right now. Friendship is what’s making it worth doing.

The long way round

There are times when I’m thumbing through the tattered files of my memories, that I come across a moment that is hilariously revealing. As a gay man who spent most of his life closeted and fighting to stay in the closet, these moments are a dime a dozen: making a wig out of my mother’s garden twine, pining for a stunning periwinkle cloaked cape, and choreographing “I’m a Slave 4 U” in my underwear.

Yeah. Totes straight.

Those clues to my true sexuality were about as hidden as an old man’s moose knuckle with his pants pulled up to his nipples. In those old boxes of memories, there are other hidden things I wasn’t expecting to find: the path to becoming an amateur pastry chef, the reasons why other careers never felt “right”, and my proclivity for smartass remarks that make even my loved ones want to slap me.

In my senior year of English in high school, we all had to record and make senior videos. These were videos that included photos of our lives up until that time, our wants and wishes for the future, and who we wanted to be. At the time, I was working at Dairy Queen and loving it. I worked there for five years and had a blast making ice cream cakes, sundaes, cones, and blizzards. Even at home, I was baking and cooking everything I could. I even got into making and rolling my own pasta for homemade fettuccine alfredo. If I wasn’t making the kitchen look like an active crime scene, I was in front of the TV watching the Food Network until my eyes hurt. So, in my senior video, I said I wanted to be a culinary artist. I can still see my teacher’s face when I said that: scrunched up and twisted, like a baby who just decided that their mashed pea puree would look better on the floor than in their mouth. That face made me second-guess just about everything. That same year, I was also one of the top tenors in our state for All-State Choirs.

Music has always been a big part of my life. My mother was our church pianist, my dad played the guitar and mandolin. I started playing the piano in first grade. I can remember practicing hand positions and scales and learning everyone’s eternal jam, “Hot Cross Buns”. I sang in church constantly at our Sunday night services where anyone could sing a song or a hymn. I was nothing short of a diva. Shocker, right? But, growing up in a religious family, these behaviors were reinforced by the idea that talent is a divine gift, ’ and therefore a ‘calling’ for your life. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was told, “If you don’t use the gift God gave you, it’s a sin. You musn’t squander the gifts you’ve been given.”

Therefore, to avoid squandering my “God-given gifts”, I dove headfirst into that musical rabbit hole. I went to college for music. I studied abroad for music. I was in a Young Artist program for a prestigious group,and I performed as a concert soloist with the heads of professional music departments. I had no issues getting work, and by all accounts, I was incredibly successful very early in my journey. This made it easy to feel like music really was at the core of who I am, who I was meant to be, and who I will be. Resting on my laurels, I slid by not noticing the growing storm clouds.

In 2013 I applied to a few Masters programs. I networked, prepared tirelessly, drove hours to schools, and auditioned. I was accepted to all my schools. I was elated. Life was going swimmingly…until it didn’t. No one offered me any sort of financial assistance: no scholarships, no grants, no teaching assistantship. My student loans would not even cover one semester. I begged and pleaded with the departments, prostrating myself like an initiate priest taking their vows. I could not understand why this terrible thing was happening to me. I was MEANT for this life! This was God’s plan for me! Why me, God? Why, me???? *insert torrential rainstorm*

All joking aside, this roadblock, this failure, rattled me to my core. I had a plan. I was a “musician.” What was I to do? The terrible emptiness that followed my final call with the financial aid office is something I can still feel to this day. I was housesitting at the time and I just went to the front porch, sat on the porch swing, and watched the rain fall. All those Simple Plan music videos I watched during my emo-preteen phase had prepared me well for this very moment. As the shock faded and I started to pick myself up, I went into first-aid mode. I dug out all the bad in that wound and tried to find what was left. I dissected “who am I?” as if it were a frog splayed out on a lab table, spread eagle, with its entrails being shown to him. When my depression was at its worst, I probably smelled about as bad as that frog did too.

I spent years in that desperate rut, but finally, the answer came to me. I had been looking at it from a career standpoint, when I really needed to look deeper–people are not careers. We are not jobs. I realized what I love most in life is making people feel a sense of “home,” and in doing so, making them feel loved. There’s a good episode of Friends that displays it perfectly: Monica is trying to get people to hang out at their apartment. She does everything: bakes, cleans, remodels. In the last scene, the gang finally comes back over to her apartment and she collapses in the chair after working tirelessly, and passes out saying “I’m the hostess, I’m the hostess.” Her friends are happy with their freshly baked cookies and everything looks homey and cozy. That’s me.

Following that feeling brought me back to food. With the weight of expectation off my shoulders , I let myself really discover who I was by doing what I loved. I love food. I love the feelings it gives people. I love the power it has to bring back to life those that have passed, those we’ve loved, and the times we shared with them around the table. Is there really anything as caring as a plate full of freshly baked cookies or a pie from a friend?

So here I am today, still chasing my gut. I know who I am now, for the most part. It took me years of parsing through the good, the bad, the painful, and the joyful to get here. Some days, I’m tired and exhausted and I may fail at being joyful, but my hope is that people will always know my love for them through the food I serve.

I hope you feel loved, I hope that you feel at home…and most importantly, I hope you feel full.

Scene: Pizza Parlor, New York, 4 AM

By: Joey

I am proud. More specifically I am prideful about who I am. Sometimes that can come off as being defensive and/or preachy which isn’t my intention. I am a bisexual man, and this is a little about some of my experiences.

Being bisexual can be confusing a lot of the time, especially in the beginning stages of understanding your sexuality. I try to take my experiences and use them to educate others on this subject because if it’s confusing to me then I’m sure others who don’t, won’t, or haven’t experienced it would also have a difficult time understanding it.

When I interact with new people I’ve met, I have a tendency to inform them that I’m Bi- like when I told you that I’m bisexual just a couple seconds ago. Sometimes, in certain situations, that is met with criticism. One such occasion happened recently when the TSD team took a trip to New York City. We were sitting at a pizza place and struck up a conversation with another late night pizza patron- a common scene at four in the morning in New York. “Somehow” the subject of my sexuality came up and when this happened, the man, who happened to be gay, told me that I needed to give myself two years in a big city and get my life figured out.

I’m used to hearing things like this from people who may not understand; after a while it has become easier to handle. Interactions like that one still make me wonder though- why would someone feel the need to make a comment like that?

Time after time, I’ve had society tell me, “This is the way to be straight,” and I’ve had a whole other community tell me “This is the way to be gay,” while all the while I’ve just wanted to be me. Through it all I’ve had to teach myself how to be bi and stay true to myself- a lesson more universal than any community might claim. Basically, I’ve been told I had to choose between vanilla or chocolate ice creams when all I’ve really wanted was strawberry.

Bisexuality isn’t a cop-out. Many times, people in the process of coming out mis-identify themselves as such because they view it as an easier avenue, leaving others with hope for change. For people who identify fully as bisexual, this isn’t the case. It’s not a stopping off point along the journey, it’s an honest identity of knowing what we like and being truthful about it. We’re not greedy, indecisive, confused attention seekers- all terms used to degrade my sexuality. I may have had those moments of confusion, but finally for the first time in my life, without two years in a big city to help sort it out, I’ve never seen more clearly in who I am and I’m happy with that.

If you feel like there’s something that you don’t agree with then I encourage you to not tear someone down for believing differently. Instead just try to understand why they feel that way and see the perspective from a different point of view. Whether that subject be sexuality, television, music or politics….

On second thought, stay away from politics. That can be messy.

Quality Friends

The qualities of a good friendship are sometimes hard to pin down. Sure, we can agree on some basics: loyalty, listening, and whatnot. However, one of the things that I think makes a good friendship a great friendship is the ability to find new ways to have fun. In that vein, Matt and I are working on a new podcast! In it, we break down and rebuild movies that we think could have been better. I know it seems like all I talk about is channel stuff but it’s really always on my mind at some level. What I love about this podcast is how much fun it is and more specifically how much fun I’m having with Matt. That’s not to say the rest of the channel isn’t awesome or that Matt and I can’t have a good time together. This podcast has struck a chord with me that I think I’ve been missing for some time .

Matt and I have known each other longer than we haven’t. For over half of my life I’ve been best friends with Matt. Being that close to someone for so long they are bound to influence you- especially seeing that person daily for half your high school career, your entire time at college, working multiple jobs together, and, oh yeah, living together for at least 3 years.

Matt is my best friend. Starting this podcast has made me really dig into what things make a friendship last and what makes a friendship “the best”. The qualities of a best friend include someone you trust implicitly, someone who is there for you without question, someone who puts up with your lesser qualities because they see the greater whole of you, and lastly, if not most importantly, a best friend is someone you have FUN with! There are just some things only you and your bestie can do together that make them the some of the best times you’ll ever have.

One thing Matt and I have always found ourselves bonding over is movies. We both have always loved movies for as long as we’ve been friends but as of late I’ve been kind of waning on the movie scene. I find myself less and less excited to see new movies or even watch old ones. TV is great, I love reading but seeing a new movie has left me feeling kind of “meh” as of late. That is until we came up with this new podcast.

One of the things Matt and I have the most fun doing is talking about movies. Not just, “Hey I saw this movie,” but what we liked, didn’t like, what we think should have happened or we wanted to happen. It’s a blast for us even if everyone else in the car on the way home from the theater may be thinking of hitting the ejector seat. Since I moved away from St. Louis almost seven years ago, it hasn’t been as convenient for us to just shoot the breeze when it comes to movies; we spend most of our time catching up and then working on the channel (which ironically gives us an excuse to talk more).

So I’m excited that we’ve now made an excuse for us to continue doing one of the things that has always been the most fun to do with my best friend. Instead of giving you the usual ‘call to action’ of leaving comments below, I encourage you to reach out to one of your best friends instead. Maybe someone you’re just not talking to as much. You don’t have to start a podcast with them but definitely make the extra effort to schedule something that back in the day was something you use to do together. I suspect you’ll be glad you did.

And if you’re looking for something to do together with your bestie you can listen to our new podcast “Matt & Tony: Movie Fixers.” Our first episode launches May 7. See what I did there? Always about the channel 😛

Failure is a Virtue

Many, many moons ago, I used to run cross country. I was a chunky, soft sixth grader, following after a friend who had joined up and recommended I joined too. I remember practices, every day after school, running for what felt like hours. Turns out, it was more like a half hour, followed by some other sort of cardio workout. I would jog slowly down our freshly opened new school’s walking tracks, the small white pebbles of gravel scurrying under foot to flee from my shuffle. I ran like a tiny, tired fighter, tight fists, held as if to defend from a punch to the gut, swaying back and forth in front of my chest. When it came to race days, I would always finish dead last. After fifteen times coming in last place, I’m sure the coach had no earthly idea why I even bothered to show up . Nonetheless, I kept on going. Then, in the penultimate race of the season, I was running a race in Seneca, IL, a small farming town in northern Illinois. The race trail meandered through the town, near freshly shorn corn fields, and over craggy sidewalks, mangled from overgrown tree roots. We were coming up to the last half mile. I was puffing away when I realized I had the chance to actually pass someone. I could finally make a marked achievement in my year of suffering and sweating through innumerable gym shirts I’d never take home to wash. With the finish line now in eyesight, I made my move: I pushed my chubby self just an ounce harder and passed my fellow running mate. In my head, it was an olympic feat with crowds cheering in slow motion, my opponents tripping in their grief behind me. I was victorious! I was a winner! I finally wasn’t last! I later discovered that the kid I passed was having an asthma attack and couldn’t finish. But still, one man’s asthma attack is another man’s second-to-last place finish. As an adult, I look back at that Cross Country season and am as perplexed as my running coach likely was. Why keep doing something that brought me so much frustration and failure? Why keep showing up even to practice if you know you’re not going to be the best, or hell, even place towards the middle of the pack? As confused as I am as to why that chubby kid kept on running, I am every bit as proud of him. I think that was the first time I truly learned the lesson of perseverance. I didn’t hate running, but I was decidedly bad at it; and yet I still kept going. By the end of the season, I had made some new friends, somewhat proven myself to not be a complete joke (thanks to my athematic opponent), and I improved my two mile pace to under twenty-one minutes – a feat of damn near herculean proportions, as far as I was concerned. I’m reminded of my Cross Country struggles as I recently finished the Netflix series “Nailed It!” For those of you who haven’t watched, the premise is simple: three very amateur bakers attempt to replicate two popular baking trends like cake pops, mermaid cupcakes, or a wedding cake, and invariably wind up hilariously missing the mark. It’s basically like watching Pinterest fails happen in real time, and I highly recommend it. While the show is meant to be funny and lighthearted, I really think there’s more to it than that. We all start on any journey at the beginning. Sure, there is natural talent, but anyone in any art form will tell you talent pales in comparison to tenacity. It takes work, practice, and many many failures to start producing anything show-worthy. Note that I said “show-worthy” rather than “anything of value,” because failure is the greatest teacher. When we fail, we learn. Not a soul in this world has learned any great life lessons from an easy win. Sometimes it takes a catastrophic failure to teach us the lesson that we need to learn. I look back at that twelve year old boy who finished last every single race,I see his tenacity, and I grit my teeth. We are not failures because we fail. Baking is something I have always loved, from my childhood summers at my grandmother’s house all the way up to the newest season of Jake Bakes. When I started getting serious, I took up a new recipe or technique every week for a year. Let me tell you, that first year was FULL of failures, some more epic than others. However, in failing in baking, I found something sweet -love. Love for the process, love for the ingredients, love for the people I was baking for. Sure, my first creations sometimes looked more like amorphous globs from a Stephen King novel than a croissant, but aside from a terrifying baking powder incident, they still tasted every bit as delicious. I’m still haunted by those quasi-turd like scones.

My first carrot cake in 2016

My most recent carrot cake, 2018

So many of my friends are afraid of baking or have just given up because they are self-proclaimed “terrible bakers”. Good news! Everyone is a bad baker in the beginning so you are right where you are supposed to be! It doesn’t matter that you mixed up salt with sugar, cinnamon with paprika, or flour with powdered laundry detergent. What does matter, is that you try again. Luckily, most recipes are fairly cheap to make so trying them a few times won’t hurt and I’m sure your coworkers won’t mind the extra goodies too. Even if it’s not baking, I hope you do something that you aren’t good at this week. I hope you stumble and have to learn something. I hope along the way, as I was lucky enough to experience, you learn something about yourself – something you didn’t know or maybe just needed to be reminded of. Like a husky sixth grader running with all his might, I hope you run your best race this week. Who knows, you might even surprise your family, friends, or even more importantly, yourself. Now wouldn’t that be something.

Always Learning

By: Matt

I like learning things. I always have. Children are naturally curious about the world around them and they want to know how things work and why things are the way they are. I remember when I was ten I read Jurassic Park for the first time. It was a little mature for me, but I loved it; not just for the dinosaurs, but for the lesson in genetics that Crichton sneaks in under the guise of exposition. I went into my 7th grade science class with a head start in understanding genetics and was likely more of a show off about it than I should have been. I like learning and I like sharing the things I’ve learned even more.

We started TSD over two years ago without a clear goal. Tony and I wanted to get back into MAKING something and video is just something we’ve always known how to do. Initially we thought we’d do more of a talk show, called Good Talk. I was going to interview regular people and shine a light on what makes them special. Everyone has a story to tell or a skill to share and I like finding that in people. I still love that idea: being a talk show host for the “every man.” Perhaps one day we will get the chance revisit it. However, Good Talk wasn’t to be, and in an effort to fill the channel with content, we created a few other shows: Cocktail Moment, Jake Bakes, and Let’s Try Something New. If you’re reading this you likely are already familiar with the first two. Good Talk sort of shape shifted into Let’s Try Something New- a show in which myself and one or more other people would do something they’ve never done before. In one episode we rode roller coasters, in another we did a food tour. I truly loved that show but we started focusing on our others that were quickly growing in popularity. That show’s legacy can be seen in Cheat Day- an inadvertent successor to LTSN. Josh tries new things all the time and we get to watch him sweat it out, react to the new challenges, and laugh at all the times when he is learning some crazy new fitness trend.

Early first draft of “Good Talk”

Learning is still a big part of my life. I’m personally learning what works and what doesn’t on our channel- I’m learning how to be better at what we’re doing. Even more so, I’m talking about sharing my love of learning with all of you. I sincerely hope that when you watch Cocktail Moment, or any of our other great shows, you’re learning something new: something about a baking technique or a new, fun liqueur to incorporate into your cocktails. or maybe even your next, new workout experience.

“Learning” sometimes gets a bad rap, treated as a boring activity relegated to stuffy classrooms and lecture halls. The truth is everyone likes to learn, especially when it’s something they care about and it’s presented in an exciting way. That’s what we’ve been trying to do at TSD. We have new projects coming soon and our hope is that you enjoy them as much or more than everything we’ve made to date. We are expanding into more variety, including these editorials. We have new podcasts coming as well as new episodes of the video series you love. Have fun with it. You’ll likely learn something and hopefully have some fun on the way.

Finally, a shout out to one of our most avid followers and supporters, JR Fray, who really gets what I’m saying with this Facebook comment:

“[TSD] is almost a couples help page… you can learn to bake things together, learn to stay in shape together, learn cosplay together, [and] even learn some neat cocktail recipes to relax together. Check em out…”

I’m still that nerdy kid soaking in the knowledge from everywhere I can. I just finished reading Artemis by Andy Weir, a modern day Crichton, and I’m dying to talk someone’s ear off about his incorporation of the physics of welding in the vacuum of space into a narrative thriller. Reading it gave me the same thrill I felt reading Jurassic Park all those years ago. Its a thrill I feel every time we get to do something awesome on TSD that I can’t wait to share with our viewers. And I hope you feel it too.