This is a pretty lame reward. Unless they filled it with nacho cheese.

My entire life adult life is just a series of ongoing attempts to bribe myself into being a better person by giving myself “rewards” for achieving goals. This may sound like a reasonable way to live, but you have to understand that the rewards are always unhealthy food covered in cheese and the goals are always extremely achievable, to the point that it’s really not even accurate to call them goals. ‘Errands’, maybe.

“Returning that DVD of The Wire, huh?” A doting, grandmotherly voice in my head says as I jump in the car. “Y’know, on your way back from Blockbuster you could swing by the Baja Fresh on Riverside and pick up some lunch.”

“What?” Another, more rational and Dad-like voice in my head shoots back. “You’ve got no job, car and computer repairs are bleeding you dry, and there’s a cupboard full of significantly healthier food at home that you already paid for!”

“Yeah, but lunch at Baja Fresh could be your reward!”

“You’re driving six miles to the video store and back again! This isn’t an event that needs to be commemorated with a burrito, Truman!”

The Dad-voice always beats the Grandma-voice on facts, and yet I always wind up in line at Baja Fresh to claim the reward I earned by sitting in my air conditioned car for half an hour.

For the record, this wasn’t how I was brought up. My parents never bribed me to do anything – when they wanted me to do something, they asked me to do it, and then I would do that thing whether I wanted to do it or not because they were my parents and I figured they probably had a good reason for asking me to do it. I was pretty much Butters from South Park: Rewards didn’t even factor into it, I just didn’t want to get in trouble.  

One time my Mom did offer me money in exchange for learning my multiplication tables, a market-based solution for the fact that I was lagging behind most of my class (and the rest of the state) in math. I can’t remember whether it worked or not, but I also can’t remember what six times seven is, so it probably didn’t.

And yet today I reward myself with food every time I do something even slightly good. I’m pretty much a bipedal Golden Retriever.

I understand the point of rewards when they’re given to you by somebody else – it’s an incentive for you to do something that benefits them. Sell enough of our real estate and we’ll give you a new car! But the whole point of a reward system falls apart when you’re the one giving rewards as well as receiving them.

Why do I feel the need to reward myself with a burrito for returning a DVD? If I don’t return the DVD, I get charged a late fee – that right there is all the incentive I need to return it on time. Plus, a burrito at Baja Fresh costs like nine times the Blockbuster late fee anyway, so even if I kept The Wire for an extra week it would still be cheaper than returning it on time and getting a burrito after. I either need to find a cheaper source of burritos or a better source of motivation.

Over the past nine days I’ve been working my way down an impressive two-page checklist of goals to achieve, all of which are refreshingly challenging and important for a change. Among other things I’ve locked down solid final drafts for both of my pilots, finished a 60-page story bible for one of them, signed on at a creative recruiting firm that connects freelance copywriters with ad agencies who need them, sent materials to literary agents, hosted a party, and organized the file structure on my computer for the first time in about twelve years. I pretty much finished all my unfinished business from the Summer of George in a little over a week.

I’m proud of myself – a strange, alien feeling that I’m not used to. I worked harder for myself this week than I’ve ever worked at any of my paying jobs, and was happy to be doing it, too. If you stand far enough away and squint, I almost sort of look like an adult.

Except that I’m not – I just quit motivating myself with food and instead motivated myself with a video game.

Grand Theft Auto V comes out tomorrow – the latest and greatest installment in my favorite video game series, set in a virtual reimagining of Los Angeles. The first trailer debuted only a couple of months after I moved to LA, and I’ve been impatiently, frantically, desperately waiting to play the game for just about the entire time I’ve lived here.

In a way, it’s kind of a milestone for the whole Hollywood Adventure so far. When I watched the first trailer I was an unpaid intern with no job prospects. I wasn’t even sure I’d still be living in LA when the game came out – I had good reason to worry that I’d have blown through my savings and moved back in with my parents by then. But that didn’t happen, and I think the best way to celebrate my progress in real LA is by going on a virtual crime spree in fake LA.

The only reason I busted my ass on my career all last week was so I could spend all of this week sitting on my ass playing GTAV without feeling guilty for being lazy. I did a summer’s worth of good work in nine days, but only because I was bribing myself with a new video game. I’m not a Golden Retriever anymore; now I’m just a 13-year-old with a rich stepdad.

Still, I’m not complaining. The work I needed to do got done; why I did it isn’t important. If Grand Theft Auto gives me the motivation I need to do my job, so be it. Every writer has a process, and mine has the added benefit of not giving me severe liver damage – so in your FACE, F. Scott Fitzgerald!

Unfortunately, they only release a new Grand Theft Auto game every four or five years. Unless I can find another equally compelling reward, my output is probably going to slow down to JD Salinger speed.

If I could convince Baja Fresh to make me a foot long, bacon-wrapped burrito and have Alison Brie serve it to me I’m pretty sure I could write the Great American Sitcom in one weekend.  

Truman Capps wrote this update while sitting at a diner eating a patty melt as a sort of preemptive reward for writing this update.