One night in her twenties, Marina Shifrin penned a list of 30 goals to complete before she turned 30. Funny and full of heart, 30 Before 30 tells the story of what happened as she set out to achieve each one. (Read our review here.)
We asked Marina a few questions about her book, and what she’s doing now.
Q: How do you think approaching life with a 20-something mindset can help even people who have passed that part of their lives?
Your twenties are this magical time for debauchery and experimentation, a time when mistakes can be molded into lessons instead of life-altering set-backs. Wisdom comes with age, sure, but we begin to lose a little bit of our tolerance for risk-taking. I think everyone, regardless of age, should approach life with enthusiastic resilience—you don’t need to be in your twenties to continue to learn and evolve as a person (these important practices are simply easier when your younger, and you have fewer responsibilities).
Q: In the “Perform a Late Night Set” chapter of 30 Before 30, you mentioned that part of the reason you stopped doing standup was that you “grew tired of the unending harassment, sometimes physical, from a surplus of creepy comics” you faced as a woman doing comedy. Have you thought about trying again in the #MeToo movement?
Yes, that’s true, but it wasn’t the reason I stopped doing stand-up. I stopped doing stand-up because, put simply, I failed at it. I would never hand over that kind of power to anyone, especially shitty dudes. The reason I started comedy in the first place was because of a group of comics so funny, sweet, and lovely – who also happened to be men. The reason I stopped is because I liked writing jokes much more than preforming. I do occasionally toy around with crawling back to the stage but have been enjoying more success as a writer.
Q: A few months ago you started a web series called Work Friends. What inspired you to do that?
My favorite thing to do is work, specifically on creative projects. But in order not to get burnt out on creativity itself, I find it important to switch up the different types of outlets I use. A book, for example, is a quiet, almost meditative creation. You work by yourself a lot. You wring out your mind for stories. You spend a lot of time editing, rewriting, editing, refining your work. With Work Friends, the creation was loud, chaotic, and collaborative. Working on that project pushed me to be a better producer and improvisor. It allowed me to use a different, more impulsive part of my brain. David and I (we worked together in real life and quickly discovered we have a lot of comedic chemistry) came up with the idea about a year before the book was finished, which meant I had to put it on a metaphorical shelf until I had time to dedicate to other ideas. As my editing on the book slowed down, I pulled the idea off the shelf and began to work on it as a break from long-form writing.
Q: How is writing for short form web different from writing for TV? For print? How do your different writing mediums inform each other?
Different mediums boast different expectations from the audience. Someone who is clicking on a video on Facebook is not going to want the same thing as someone sitting down to watch a TV show at the end of the work day. I allow the story in my head to pick the medium it wants to exist in. Work Friends, for example, came from little moments David and I had together during the work day. I thought it’d be compelling to visually represent our frenetic, irreverently funny relationship. It’s not necessarily something that can fill a book, but it’s definitely something that can and does exist on the web. Different ideas can of course cross over to multiple mediums too, books become movies, web series become tv shows, but you have to always reformat the writing to fit the proper structure of the medium.
Q: Did any of the essays in 30 Before 30 start as storytelling or stand up comedy bits? If so, what’s your process for adapting the spoken/performed word to written essays?
All of the essays did start out as actual goals, that being said, some of them revolve around my early years as flailing comedian so there is some cross-over there. “The Moth” chapter, for example, takes a story I told on stage, and puts it into the context of my life. What used to be a 5-minute story about my parents fighting turned into a chapter about patience, rebuilding your life, and love.
Q: What happened to your friend’s “30 Before 30” list?
The same thing that happens to everyone’s “life changing” plans, it kinda faded into the night. A “30 Before 30” list is kind of like New Years’ resolutions on crack, it’s this intense, 10-year promise to yourself to do better, explore, grow, evolve. Resolutions of any kind are hard to stick to, especially when you have this sloppy, messy life, much like the friend who wrote the list with me. But, she seems to be doing well for herself, regardless of ditching her list.
Q: How did the experience of making and completing this list shape your attitude about going into your 30s now? Did it change your approach to goal-making?
I spent most of my twenties dogmatically following this spontaneously constructed list of rules which jerked me from city to city, job to job, person to person. Completing the list inspired me to continue writing down goals, both big and small, and it also made me more confident that I can accomplish those goals regardless of their size. Transitioning into a new decade of life can be really daunting but when you have this list of goals and the stories attached to those goals clutched in your fist, the transition feels earned as opposed to forced.
Q: Can you tell us one thing that you’d like to do before you turn 40?
Get health insurance.
Q: What are you reading right now?
I’m reading “Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes The world” by Aja Raden (highly recommend) in the mornings, and “Calypso,” David Sedaris’s most recent book at night.
Q: Right now, is there anything going on in your life, or in the world, that makes you furious?
I mean, I’m a gentle but passionate liberal refugee-immigrant, I think the more difficult question to answer would be what isn’t making me furious.