PILGRIMAGES: Mike Albo, “Breaking the Binary Literary System” (1/6)

Mike Albo
Mike Albo is my humor spirit guide. To see Mike perform is to fall in love with a Solid Gold Dancer trapped in an ironic performance poet’s mind who could win a shape-shifting duel with Carol Burnett. To read his writing is to be able to replay his self-deprecating, witty snark for maximum enjoyment since his delivery is often so breathless you can miss his best zingers. To me he will always be the most prolific, ambitious, Brooklyn-before-it-was-Brooklyn authentic artist bohemian. Ever.

We met when we both worked for the U.Va. campus newsweekly with aspirations to be The Village Voice. In the early ‘90s we moved to NYC to pursue our media/writing dreams. One emblematic night I recall meeting up at Benny’s Burritos to treat ourselves to the broke English major big night out: we split one of their football-sized burritos so that we could each afford our own jumbo frozen margarita (all for under $10!). Until this point, gyms in NYC were utilitarian-type community centers, but at this time places like Crunch and Equinox were opening and group classes were becoming the THING. While club membership was out of our reach, Mike told me about how he built his own step aerobics set-up at home. And I realized Mike is the kind of artist who can go the distance–not just because he has superlative creative talents, but because he’s practical enough to apply his creativity to work-arounds that will enable him to survive in NYC’s hostile economic ecosystem.

And 20-odd years later Mike’s high-caliber comedic career is a testament to being a survivor of the fittest. His flair for fantastic physical comedy features prominently in his monologues and Unitard comedy troupe sketches. He’s the rare heady humorist who can also Bob Fosse the hell out of a line.

This week Mike’s posts will take you on a pilgrimage with him to literal and figurative new frontiers that he has encountered on his creative trajectory–and on his road to spermhood!
~Victoria C. Rowan, Ideasmyth Creatrix-in-Chief



Purchase a copy here.

This week’s blog post theme is “pilgrimage.” You wouldn’t really connect sperm donation with “pilgrimage” would you? But the experience of donating sperm, to my surprise, was long, arduous, introspective and very much a spiritual journey. I had to confront traumas, fears, and a lot of self-sabotaging mental boobytraps I had created for myself. Also the clinics where I donated were way over in Kips Bay. And anyone who knows Manhattan knows that is a long, unsexy walk.

Writing Spermhood also shed light on my creative process–what keeps me going, what hinders me, how I close myself from the flow and how I open up to it. So, in these posts, I’m going to tackle six different aspects of creativity as a pursuit, as a pilgrimage, as a way to find faith in yourself.


I have always had difficulty describing what I do as a creative person. Sometimes I am an author, sometimes a performer, sometimes a comedian, sometimes a monologist, sometimes a poet. Spermhood is also difficult to nail down. It’s an ‘ebook’. It’s an essay. It’s a short memoir. The format for my expression now is just as hard to pin down, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, since our culture loves to have their products packaged.

We live in a binary literary system. The types of content that “matter” to the mainstream media (I’m talking the biggies like NYT book review, NPR, TV talk shows) have to be one of two things: books or magazine articles. A book looks all official with its slipcover and spine. A magazine article carries clout under a respected masthead. But not that long ago, in other times, other ages, it seems like there was a wider spectrum of content – one-sheets, essays, pamphlets, chapbooks, episodic stories.

I do feel like this is changing. Digital content, e-readers and visualized storytelling with motion graphics and linked content are opening up the stiff formats we readers have been forced to accept as legitimate. (Getting paid properly for digital content is another issue), and there is a vibrant, lively indie literary magazine culture happening, as well as an active online world for essays, journalism and poetry. (Again, getting paid well? Another story).

When I set out to write Spermhood, I knew I didn’t want it to be a book. A book, with all its agenting and agreements and year-plus process would take too long for me to express my emotions.

Also the length felt wrong. I am suspicious of many books. Some seem like they are trying super hard to fluff themselves up into book length so they can enjoy the glory of saying “I AM A BOOK”. But: how many of these so-called books have you read that should have been cut down to about 100 pages?

Creating a magazine article was another thing. I knew it would be impossible to place a story of this length in a magazine. And it would be very difficult to find a major magazine that would be interested in the story of a gay guy and his sexual-spiritual journey.

Basically, I had to take an honest look at what I wanted to express, outside of money or glory or applause. I needed to respect the shape of the work itself. Spermhood became something that was 71 pages–which is what: a long essay? A short book? A mini-memoir?

I guess what I am trying to say is this: don’t force your expression into a mis-shaped box, just because you think this is what you should be doing. It’s important for us wackadoodle creative types to remember that our ideas can take any shape. Creativity is energy. Our job is to find the right way to channel it.


Photo credit: Erica Freudenstein

~~~Mike Albo is a writer, performer, author, comedian, and self proclaimed “thwarted poet”. He is the author of two novels (Hornito, The Underminer), a novella (The Junket), and, because publishing is weird now, an ‘ebook’ called Spermhood: Diary of a Donor, out this month on Amazon’s Kindle Singles. He is also a performer, having mounted 6 solo shows including Spray, My Price Point, and The Junket, which appeared Off Broadway at the Lyn Redgrave Theatre in 2014. He is transforming Spermhood into another solo show, slated to appear at Dixon Place in May 2016.

Posted in Book Biz, Book Ideas, Branding Ideas, Communications, Creative Process, Featured Creatives, Good Ideas, Pilgrimages, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , .