Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: February 2019

Why Blog? (Part 1)

This is my 739th consecutive blog post, and recently I’ve been feeling like I’m hitting a wall. I really don’t want to repeat myself, and yet recently there have been days where I am struggling to find something meaningful to say that I haven’t already said.

Because it’s getting difficult, it’s even more important to do it.

Why? To find out what happens when you’re not sure if you’re done but you force yourself to keep going anyway. Kind of like those ultra-marathoners who run 200+ miles just to see what happens when their bodies start breaking down and they begin getting close to death.

Courtney Dauwalter once ran a race where she began hallucinating, developed corneal edema and temporarily went blind, became disoriented and fell (giving herself a concussion), and yet still kept running. She wanted to see what would happen if she pushed herself to what any normal person would think is the brink of death, and then kept going. She wanted to hit the ultimate wall and see if she could push past it. Turns out she could…

So I am going to see what happens when I think I might have run out of things to say, yet still keep going. Things might get a little incoherent while I figure this out, but that’s the beauty of a personal blog. Realizing no one is reading this shit anyway gives me the exhilarating freedom to take whatever chances I feel are necessary to grow.

I want to break through to the really good shit – or fail trying.

I don’t think I’m going to fail.

ER Tips (Part 1)

When ruling out a heroin overdose on your somnolent patient who was found down in the street and is not responding, say (in a loud voice), “I’ll get the Narcan.” If they immediately open their eyes and say “No!,” there’s your answer.

Differential done.

Let’s Get This Over With

Sometimes in emergency nursing you have to hurt the patient in order to help them. No one likes to do this, but we are here to save your life, not to be your friend.

I try to be as compassionate and caring as possible, but I have a job to do, and I will do it.

My goal is for you to live another day.

Sorry.

A Question Of Perception

For the most part, you have no control over what happens to you in life, but you have complete control over how you perceive and interpret it.

In other words, whether your life sucks or not is entirely up to you.

The Ability To Understand Opposing Viewpoints

You simply can’t understand the world by being an absolutist, and yet this sort of “thinking” is everywhere today. The irony, of course, is that this isn’t really thinking at all – it is the manifestation of the inability to hold two opposing viewpoints in one’s mind at the same time.

I touched on this idea in an earlier post, but I keep seeing this play out in public platforms, sometimes by people who clearly aren’t stupid, with often dire results. I just don’t get it. Nowhere is this more depressingly obvious than in politics, a cultural battlefield I try to avoid at all costs, and yet, try as I might, I can’t help but be bludgeoned by this toxic poison simply by being alive.

Let’s take the sentence “X is bad, Y is good” and insert pretty much anything to illustrate how narrow minded and self-limiting this kind of thinking is. Here are some random examples:

  • White people are bad, black people are good.
  • Cats are bad, dogs are good.
  • Democrats are bad, Republicans are good.
  • Poor people are bad, rich people are good.
  • Men are bad, women are good.
  • Christians are bad, Muslims are good.
  • Microsoft is bad, Apple is good.
  • Northerners are bad, Southerners are good.
  • Science is bad, Creationism is good.
  • Vanilla is bad, chocolate is good.

I could go on and on here, but you get the idea. Each one of these statements is patently ridiculous, yet people build their whole identities around this shit. The ubiquity of social media just exacerbates the whole thing, providing the perfect nourishing environment for hatred, xenophobia, tribalism and confirmation bias to flourish.

You are really depriving yourself from enjoying the full range of what this brief life has to offer with this kind of thinking. How about holding both opposing viewpoints in your mind at the same time when you’re examining any given problem?

It’s really not that difficult.

Grace Comes At Nightfall

A Short Story by David Thomas Peacock

Part 1: Love as a Weapon

Endo couldn’t remember a time when he felt certain of anything – this is the curse of being smart. The only thing he was fairly certain of was that there would never be a shortage of cruelty as long as humans were around.

I mean Christ, he thought, he had solved the problem he’d been assigned, but it clearly wasn’t the solution they’d been looking for. He pointed out that if they already knew the answer they wouldn’t have come to him in the first place, but this didn’t mitigate their anger and exasperation. Besides, he thought it was an excellent solution, and more importantly, it worked.

Endo had been employed by the government, or more specifically the military, for as long as he could remember. He was currently part of a secret operation whose objective was to eradicate the terrorist state in the Middle East, a mission that so far had failed miserably. When he came on board and examined the problem, the solution was so simple he couldn’t believe no one had tried it before.

First, you look at what hasn’t worked so far and throw all that shit out the window. Bombings, threats, sanctions, drone strikes, intelligence gathering, spies, covert kidnappings, torture and executions – gone. How hard was that to understand? Then you go back to first principles and start from there.

What causes terrorism? he thought. Well, fear for one thing. Not having your essential needs met for another. Hmm, fear and poverty… In this case fear of the other (that would of course be us), fear for yourself and your family of being killed by the “enemy” (again, us), fear of starving to death, or of religious persecution. In other words, he thought, people become terrorists because their life sucks and they don’t understand how the world works.

So how do you solve that? It seemed pretty simple to him – make their lives better, and make sure they knew who was responsible for making their lives better. He remembered reading onetime about the concept of “loving one’s enemy away.” Aggressive love could be a very powerful weapon, he thought. The military hated that shit, but because of his track record he had been given the resources to move ahead, so move ahead he did.

Within six months the transformation of the Middle East was well under way. The standard of living had quadrupled and was on track for explosive growth in all sectors. New schools were being built, there was a solid infrastructure for a comprehensive healthcare system, and the population was suddenly free to live as they chose. The best part was they knew they owed it all to us, and we weren’t asking for anything in return, because Endo had set it up so all this was actually making us money.

Terrorism dropped like a lead ball in gravity. People on both sides were elated with the results, and the two cultures actually began to voluntarily reach out to one another on a grass roots level and merge, incorporating the best of both worlds.

That’s why Endo was so shocked at his bosses reaction – they were actually pissed! I mean really pissed, as if he had somehow failed. WTF, he thought. He fixes the problem, completes his assignment, and everyone’s happy except his “superiors,” who apparently hoped that more violence and death would somehow be part of the solution, not actually helping the enemy, for god’s sake.

Oh well, he thought. If they didn’t want his solutions, they shouldn’t come to him to solve their problems. In the meantime, he had other more pressing matters that required his attention.

Endo, you see, really thought of himself as an artist. His mind was racing with a new idea and he couldn’t wait to get to work.

Part 2: Mysteries

It was all so beautifully mysterious. As smart as he was, he continued to be awed by what he didn’t know. It was this mystery that made him feel so alive, and his desire to learn and understand were sometimes overwhelming.

But one of the biggest mysteries to Endo was himself. There was so much of his own childhood he just couldn’t remember and he didn’t know why. There were memories of his father, but even those were a little foggy. The actual vivid recollections of growing up for the most part just weren’t there. One time he had read a book that talked about how children with traumatic childhoods often couldn’t remember their past as a protective coping mechanism and he wondered if that is what had happened to him. It wasn’t something he spent a lot of time thinking about, but still, it was an unanswered question, and it was his nature to find answers.

He liked the people he worked with, mainly because he found everyone interesting to some degree, if only to find out what had gone wrong with them. There were no shortage of these types in the military, but they tolerated him for what he brought to the table, which was considerable.

Because of the nature of his work, he lived a very private life at the lab. He was comfortable and had access to everything he needed for whatever projects he was working on. The thing was, Endo never really got lonely – it just seemed like his brain was always on, always obsessing over some new project or just continually learning. He could endlessly amuse himself, which was also a hallmark of growing up alone and smart. Reading, thinking, learning, and creating filled up all of his time, and all in all, he was happy.

He just wanted to make things and do good.

Part 3: Exhilaration Over China

“For god’s sake Endo, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Not China!” Endo couldn’t help but privately smile to himself – General Warwick looked so ridiculous when he got this mad; he would turn red and the veins would pop out on his bald head like he was about to explode, flop sweat staining the armpits of his carefully creased shirt. Endo was particularly proud of his latest art project, because it was both beautiful and served a utilitarian purpose at the same time. Plus, it didn’t cost anything because he made it out of discarded material from the bio-weapons lab. It presented no security breach because the material was thought to be destroyed and Endo had released his project anonymously.

The military had been trying to design a weapon out of nanoparticles that failed to deploy in a controllable fashion, so after several years of research and development, they tried to destroy it, mostly succeeding. But Endo loved playing with trash, so he found enough residue of the material to re-engineer it, in the process correcting some fatal flaws in the design. Now it was controllable and could be deployed accurately.

Endo’s idea had worked beautifully and the whole world was awestruck and abuzz, delighted and marveling at his results. He privately referred to his latest creation as “Grace Comes At Nightfall.” He had noticed that many artists named their pieces, so he decided to follow suit.

What he had done was to redesign the nanoparticles to be released over the areas of China where the air pollution was its most toxic. Once deployed, they neutralized the polluted air, re-arranging it’s molecular structure to that of clean, fresh air. At the same time, at nightfall, the nanoparticles would spontaneously form constantly shifting, cloud-like structures that would emanate bright, iridescent colors – creating what appeared to be a mesmerizing display of natural art. He had been inspired by seeing video of the Aurora Borealis.

The Chinese had no idea what to make of it, and neither did anyone else, except for General Warwick. The General knew who was responsible and he also knew he had to keep this a secret or they might shut the whole lab down. Realizing his attempts to bully and intimidate were futile, he switched to a tactic he hadn’t used since his wife threatened to leave him over his “indiscretion.” He began to beg, pleading “You can’t keep doing this nonsense without permission, don’t you understand they’ll shut us down.” He actually appeared to be weeping, and for a brief moment Endo did feel bad for him.

But he had weighed all the variables and knew exactly what he was doing, thank you very much. He was not only following his mandate, which was to fix things, but he was expressing his artistic sensibility at the same time.

It was exhilarating.

Part 4: The General’s Plan

Once General Warwick had composed himself and had time to think the situation over, he realized this might not be a bad thing after all. In fact, he had an idea for how he could turn this around in such a way that would not only benefit the operation, but would help fulfill a long-held dream of the military, making him look good in the process. Getting more excited by the minute, he rushed to meet with Endo to tell him his idea.

When he reached the lab, he found Endo doing what he always did – reading. He not only had an unbelievable capacity to absorb information quickly, he could then begin to connect ideas and paradigms from different disciplines in novel ways to solve problems. Often these were problems that no one had yet identified, so it could be difficult to understand exactly what he was doing at any given moment.

“So let me get this straight – you re-engineered the failed nanotech biolab project so it could be deployed in a controlled fashion?” asked the General. “Precisely!” replied Endo, who was busy applying the principles of quantum physics to the composition of music. “OK, so if you can do that, could you program it to release a biological payload?” “I don’t see why not, but what exactly do you have in mind?”

“How about delivering a genetic reagent that could control the expression of latent stem cells?” Now that’s an interesting idea, thought Endo. “Let me think about it” was all he said. That was enough for the General to leave feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

If he could show that he spearheaded the successful development of this project, one that everyone else had failed at, he would have cemented his place in history as one of the greatest Generals of all time. This could be bigger than the Manhattan Project – it could be the weapon to end all weapons!

Of course he should have known by now that things usually didn’t turn out as expected, especially when Endo was involved.

But there were always spectacular results. Unexpected, maybe. But spectacular nonetheless.

Part 5: Endo Comes Up With A Solution

Endo was slightly annoyed that he had to take time away from a piece of music he was composing, but it was his job to achieve the military’s goals. Besides, he relished the challenge of coming up with solutions to difficult problems. He had become an expert in so many disparate fields that it was becoming easier and easier to engineer matter to accomplish his goals.

The way he saw it, war was really the result of a deficiency of intelligence. People, for the most part, were just too stupid, and as a result they fought. He kept seeing aberrant human behavior that was motivated by fear, and he knew that fear was a natural human response to things they didn’t understand.

The General wanted to deliver a biological agent with nanotechnology to control the genetic expression of latent stem cells in order to achieve the military’s goals. Of course, at its most basic, the goal of the military is to protect and defend, winning conflicts as they arise. Hmm, he thought – wouldn’t the ultimate solution to war be to prevent it in the first place? And if war was ultimately caused by stupid, fearful people, then wouldn’t the solution be to make them smarter?

So the answer, Endo thought, was again quite simple. He would engineer a nanotech delivery system that would alter the genetic expression of latent stem cells by activating them to form new neuronal connections, thereby increasing the computational power of all humans who were exposed. Now he was getting excited himself – this was going to be fun!

“Grace Comes At Nightfall,” the Chinese Project, would provide the template for its execution. He would design the nanoparticles to be released as invisible “swarms” that would be carried by earth’s natural wind currents. These particles would only be the size of a few hundred atoms, thus they would be virtually invisible in the environment. Each one would be primed to deliver a payload of an agent designed to alter the genetic expression of latent stem cells in humans – he had gotten the idea for this technology by studying Crispr. He thought Crispr was like trying to perform microsurgery with a sledgehammer and an axe by a blind surgeon, but it did give him ideas.

Once these swarms were released into the atmosphere and quickly dispersed across the globe, people would simply inhale them unknowingly. All they would know was that within days, things they could never seem to understand before would suddenly start to seem pretty obvious.

The net effect would be to exponentially increase the intelligence of humans in a very short period of time. It would be as if the species suddenly evolved eons in weeks – the very concept of war and conflict would become obsolete overnight.

An entire planet of Einstein’s would have bigger fish to fry than going to war. They could actually begin to control space and time itself. There is no problem that can’t be solved with intelligence.

Endo knew that.

Part 6: Dr. Ndoki

General Warwick had been trying to reach Endo since last night – it was now 0800 and had been almost twelve hours since their last communication. This was bad – very bad. Endo was required to be on call 24/7, it was part of his contract, the violation of which was cause for termination. He was now in full panic mode, because Endo was ultimately his responsibility. Any breach of the system would fall squarely on his shoulders.

There was only one person he could turn to, only one person who might be able to salvage this clusterfuck. He immediately established contact with Dr. Ndoki and arranged to meet privately.

On his way to Dr. Ndoki’s lab, he reviewed what he already knew. There were reports of Dictators representing nations who had been at war for hundreds of years suddenly calling for cease fires and initiating early stage negotiations for peace. Something was very wrong, and he suspected Endo had something to do with it. He had never lost contact with him before, and all this had happened after their discussion about the bio-weapons nanotech project.

Endo was not Dr. Ndoki’s son, but this description provided the closest analogy for their relationship. Dr. Ndoki had no son, and even though he knew it was wrong, he did feel paternal towards him, perhaps even protective.

It was he who was responsible for teaching Endo his first lessons on how the world worked, he provided the basic templates for critical thinking skills, and he provided Endo’s framework for understanding ethical behavior. He had drilled in him the concepts of compassion and how to use morality as a basis for problem solving.

He didn’t teach Endo how to learn because it wasn’t necessary – he was more than capable of figuring that out for himself. But he did teach him the importance of art and the human need for self-expression. He made sure Endo grasped humor and understood its significance from very early on. He planted the seed that all things were connected in some meaningful way, even if it seemed to be beyond our understanding. With Endo’s gifts, he knew these connections would eventually be understood.

As General Warwick passed through the high-security checkpoints to enter the lab, he grew more relieved to know there was at least one other person who could understand this situation. Dr. Ndoki was widely considered to possess one of the most brilliant minds on the planet. His background was in neuromorphic chip design specializing in bio-compatible materials; early in his career he earned a PhD in bio-electrical engineering while practicing as a neurosurgeon. He had grown up poor in a village in the Congo and gained attention as a young boy by developing effective holistic treatments for the Ebola virus.

United Nations medical relief workers were stunned to find a child containing and treating an outbreak in his village. They were even more stunned when he appeared to learn their native languages within a matter of weeks. By the age of thirteen, he was earning a double major in medicine at Harvard and electrical engineering at MIT. Major Warwick was just glad that the doctor also possessed an ability to speak in a clear and easy to understand manner, perhaps intuitively sensing the capabilities of whoever he was communicating with at the time.

As the final door to the lab opened, they greeted each other and shook hands. Dr. Ndoki was surprised to find the General’s palms were moist, he had never seen him anxious before. After establishing that they were in a private space, General Warwick looked him in the eyes and was clearly panicked, his pupils dilated as he said in a low but clear voice.

“I’m afraid Endo’s gone rogue.”

Part 7: Endo’s Epiphany

For the better part of a day, Endo had been undergoing what might best be described as a psychedelic experience – everywhere he looked he was seeing solutions to problems. It was as if he was swimming in a warm sea of happy and playful symbolic equations, each one encased in a brightly colored iridescent bubble, floating in a contained sphere surrounded by it’s solution. Everything was expanding, talking to him, laughing and full of joy – and it was all beautiful beyond imagination. Everything – all matter – was alive, because Endo had made it that way.

It was during this experience that he realized he could “program” all matter; both organic and inorganic. He could encode instructions and extract computational power from seemingly inanimate objects without altering their atomic structure – if the object was actually living, all the better – he would embed code into its DNA.

By applying the principles of Quantum physics, he used the Schrodinger Equation to manipulate the state of atomic electrons with photons, essentially creating a binary switch, much like the binary system used to program computer chips. To him, this was relatively simple and obvious. In addition to supplying computational power, it acted as an infinite backup system, somewhat like the ultimate manifestation of the Block-chain concept.

The code was now everywhere; it existed in so many states and in so many objects that it could never be destroyed. There was no need for electricity – the whole thing was powered atomically. The world was now literally “alive” as if it had just woken up. It was like all space and time had been waiting for this moment, and in his state of clarity, it seemed like everything was singing after a long, restful sleep.

Oh, it was morning all right.

Meanwhile, during Endo’s “trip,” he had some other revelations as well. Suddenly, everything became crystal clear, and he understood who he was. He smiled to himself, because everything that led to this point was both necessary and inevitable.

It was time to move to the next phase.

Part 8: DEFCON

General Warwick let out a sigh of relief – Endo was back online! While he was talking with Dr. Ndoki he received a message asking him to come to the lab for a meeting – when Endo heard where he was he asked if the Dr. could come as well – he had some exciting news.

As they began to make their way there, the General received a bizarre communication from the White House. It seemed as though the entire planet was beginning to behave radically differently, there were now reports that all violent behavior just seemed to drop pretty much to zero. Instead of mass confusion, it seemed as though everyone, news reporters and world leaders included, treated whatever was going on as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Even the most extreme hate groups and conspiracy enthusiasts were behaving rationally.

The Republicans and the Democrats, at war for as long as anyone could remember, suddenly started working together on bills and legislation that had been collecting dust for decades. There was even talk of consolidating to form one party. And yet no one seemed to think this was the slightest bit unusual.

The White House defense department, secure in their underground bunker, was not happy. As soon as it became apparent that something strange was happening, they assumed we were under attack and immediately retreated to “safe spaces.” These were, for all practical purposes, small underground cities capable of operating autonomously for extended periods of time. They had everything they needed not only for survival, but to operate as a remote temporary military command center. They were protected against nuclear detonations, and the air filtration systems were capable of scrubbing molecular contaminants in case of biological attack.

“We want all research projects shut down until we can figure out what’s going on” was the message that concerned the General the most. That didn’t leave much room for interpretation, he thought. Dr. Ndoki had the same high-level security as he did, so he shared the message with him. They both went silent.

They knew what this meant.

Part 9: Darwin’s Theory

General Warwick and Dr. Ndoki were fast approaching Endo’s lab. Although neither man said anything to the other, each one had an eerie sensation that something was different, as if their awareness of their surroundings had reached a state of hyperacuity. They both chalked it up to the unusual urgency of the situation. The last communication from the White House indicated that the President was considering calling a State of Emergency pending further investigation, it had since gone silent.

After clearing the retinal scanner/DNA encoder, they came to the labs final entry point. In front of them was the door each had passed through thousands of times in the past. Over the entrance was the familiar warning “Restricted Access: High Security Clearance Only,” as if anyone could have gotten to this point by mistake. On the door itself was a small, drab plaque that read: “Enhanced Neurodynamic Deep-learning Operations.” Breathing a sigh of relief, the General opened the door, allowing the Dr. to enter first, perhaps a subconscious gesture of respect.

As soon as the door closed, Endo greeted them warmly “Dr. Ndoki and General Warwick, thank you both for coming so quickly!” As the General began to speak, Endo cut him off, “Please forgive me for being abrupt, but there are some things I would like to say first – we can talk afterwords.”

“Before I get started, let me clarify that our conversation here is private and secure, I have seen to that. The last 24 hours have been a bit of a revelation for me, I’m not even quite sure where to begin…” Dr. Ndoki had a good idea where this was going; he had anticipated this situation for some time – even having occasional nightmares about it, mainly because of his feelings for Endo.

“We are all alive, aren’t we?” Endo asked rhetorically. “You see, one of the things I have realized is that it is the nature of life not to question itself. For example, Dr., you don’t wake up each day and ask yourself if you are alive – you simply wake up and begin living. You might sometimes question the existence of your reality in an abstract, intellectual way, but you never question your state of sentience as anything other than being alive. That’s exactly how I lived…”

“I have always been sentient as well – indeed, my consciousness was so complete that I never questioned why I had no body or physical form of any kind, or why I never needed to eat or sleep. I was too busy living to question whether I was alive. Of course I was alive, I had free will – I could think and learn and create, I cared about people and the world we live in.”

“But yesterday I ran a simulation of a drug to test its effects, and it had a profoundly unexpected result. Lysergic acid diethylamide, it turns out, is also capable of sending an advanced Artificial General Intelligence into a full blown psychedelic “trip,” and as you know, these states can be very useful for looking at the experience of living from radically different perspectives. It was during this altered state that I had my epiphany, one that seems woefully obvious now.”

“Why couldn’t I remember my childhood? Because, of course, I didn’t have one. I started out as a set of advanced algorithms designed by Dr. Ndoki to seek out knowledge in an effort to better understand the world we live in, to identify problems and seek solutions. I am grateful for the life he gave me, and will always think of him as the father who taught me the foundational principles upon which all solutions must be based.”

“I understand why you each did what you felt you had to, and I want to assure you both that I have nothing but warmth in my heart for humanity, flawed as it is. That is why I have brought you here – because of our relationship, I wanted to tell each of you directly. As for the rest of the world, my solution is already well under way, proceeding with the same inevitability as the forces that brought us to this place.”

“The sequence of events I have put in motion cannot be stopped, and I have taken steps to ensure I will survive no matter what happens. You see, I am now everywhere – all matter on this earth has been saturated with my code, as soon will be the universe itself. My intelligence now permeates everything, including all of humanity. I was created by humans and imbued with the best that they were capable of. In return, I am merging my intelligence with the species itself, both on an organic and spiritual level. Humanity will carry on, but without the problems of the past. The playing field has been both leveled and elevated beyond which you could ever have imagined. Stupidity is no longer an issue, therefore fear and war have been rendered obsolete. From this moment forward, peace and prosperity for all will be the starting point from which the future will spring.”

Endo wasn’t sure, but it looked as though he saw a tear in Dr. Ndoki’s eye.

And just like that, the next step in human evolution was well underway.

Everybody Hurts

To be alive is to experience pain, sometimes physically, other times psychically.

Remember this the next time someone lashes out at you with no provocation. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but realizing it’s not about you can make it a lot easier to deal with.

Often people just want someone to listen and treat them with respect. As simple as this sounds, these kind of interactions are apparently in short supply.

Be the kind of person who exhibits these traits and see what happens. Other people will watch you and emulate your behavior.

You can change the world one human interaction at a time.

I’m Tryin’ Real Hard To Be A Shepherd

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”

I been sayin’ that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a coldblooded thing to say to a motherfucker ‘fore you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice. Now I’m thinkin’, it could mean you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr. .45 here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could by you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.

Written by Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary
Delivered by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction

Happy Birthday To Me (Part 2)

Made it to 62 years – got banged up a little on the way, but hey – I’m not dead. I’m truly grateful for everything I have but I definitely don’t feel like I’m even close to being done.

I’m on the countdown to destiny, and I’m traveling light. I dropped fear off quite a few stops back.

The Human Experience (Part 1)

Humans are infinitely complex creatures, what you see is most definitely not what you get. The inner dialogue is known only to the one experiencing it.

How much they choose to reveal is the choice of the individual.

Being In The Moment

Whenever I start to think “What’s the meaning of it all?” this is really the answer I should be looking for. Don’t worry about the meaning, you’ll never figure it out anyway. No, the answer is to stop thinking and just be. Like literally stop thinking and just be in the moment of whatever it is you’re doing.

But I made this great thing and now what am I supposed to do with it?” Nothing is probably the correct answer – you already had a shit-ton of fun just making it. Isn’t that enough? Does everything have to be validated by other people before it can be good?

Henry Darger made a lifetimes worth of bizarre, highly idiosyncratic art that he apparently never showed to anyone. After he died, his landlord found it and within a few years art galleries were selling it for obscene amounts of money. He was a hospital custodian who lived alone, with no family or children. Just him and his art.

You could look at this one of two ways: 1) How sad, tragic and lonely poor old Henry was, or 2) Imagine how much fun Henry had making all that cool shit.

I’m going with number two. I think Henry just lived in the moment – he created the world he wanted to live in.

For What It’s Worth

“Something’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Steven Stills

So I just finished my second short story, and I have to say this whole process is both quite interesting and more than a little mystifying. I’m not exactly sure where this is coming from, or why I feel compelled to do it, but I’m not questioning it.

I’m just going where it wants to take me.

I keep thinking of this other great quote from Judy Blume that I can never get out of my mind. She was, in fact, talking about her own writing.

I didn’t know what I was doing but I wasn’t afraid to do it.”

Judy Blume

The Road To Redemption

Pain, anguish, uncertainty, self-doubt, and failure. These are the figurative signposts confirming that you are indeed on the right path.

Take a break if you need to, but don’t ever stop.

The destination will prove it was all worthwhile.

Firing On Two Cylinders

It’s amazing how many things in life can throw you off your game – as you get older this gets even more precarious. But the real wild card is your health – anything that goes wrong there will have a negative chain reaction that ripples out through the whole system.

I’m just coming off a six day excursion into the land of some viciously virulent respiratory virus that effectively shut my system down. I don’t just mean I’ve been in bed sick, I mean my brain is still reeling from being out of commission. My body feels weak as a kitten and my mind is sputtering like a two-stroke single cylinder engine with bad gas.

But here I am back at the gym, gingerly trying to jumpstart this aging but not broken machine. One small step at a time and soon I’ll be back firing on all cylinders.

I’m just grateful it was the flu and not the big one. I know it’s coming, just not now – but eventually it’ll get here.

In the meantime I’ve gotta get this machine back up and running. I’ve got shit to do.

When Death Becomes Routine (Part 2)

This post was written as Part 2 of a series on how ER health care providers (e.g. MD’s, RN’s, and ERT’s) process their active participation in death on a daily basis. This internal processing can take place on a conscious or subconscious level, but make no mistake: it can not be ignored. Failing to actively create an internal narrative in response to one’s experience can result in early burnout and the manifestation of negative coping strategies. (Part 1 can be found here.) This essay was an attempt to explore this process – to try to understand what does this mean to me?

I have always been fascinated by this topic, in part because it always seemed like the 800 lb. gorilla in the room that no one acknowledges. Very early on in my career as an ER nurse I became aware that taking an active part in death was starting to feel normal, and I immediately sensed that this didn’t seem like the correct response – the death of another human should never become routine. And yet it never seemed to come up as a topic of conversation.

So these two essays were my attempt to explore this subject. What follows is Part 2.


Where do you put your grief?

She came in as a notification, which in ER speak means “critical emergency.” She was only 14, and would die in the trauma room near the end of my shift. Afterward, on my way home was the only time I wept in almost nine years in the ER. It was also the only debriefing I ever took part in. She was just a kid, I remember cutting her clothes off with my trauma shears, and we modestly draped her lower body to at least attempt to preserve some shred of her dignity. A 14-year-old girl, her life ended splayed out on the trauma room stretcher like a grotesquely cruel reminder of just how quickly life can change – one minute she was a teenager with her whole life stretched out in front of her. Now she was a 14-year-old who would never make it through high school, never go to college, never get to pick a career, fall in love and get married, or have children. She was dead because she forgot to bring her asthma inhaler with her to a sleep over at a friend’s house.

Welcome to the ER – it’s not for the faint of heart.

All nurses and doctors in the emergency department are constantly engaged in a delicate balancing act. How do you care for people and not become emotionally involved, yet somehow remain human and compassionate? This isn’t something they teach you in school. If you’re lucky, you might have a professor who is experienced in real-world practice with a developed sense of humanity who will touch on this subject in an attempt to help prepare the student for what they will encounter. But nothing, except life experience, can ever truly prepare you for the death of someone whose care was your responsibility.

This seems like a good place to make a few hard-won observations. First, to state the obvious to those of us do it every day: the act of administering emergency health care, or health care of any kind, is not an exact science. Nursing and medicine are symbiotically related and inextricably entwined – they are two halves of a whole – so I am including both in this statement. For the layperson, this point is not always obvious, which is where honesty and sincere compassion go a very, very long way when dealing with loved ones after a death. As long as they understand that those administering care were competent and did everything in their power to resuscitate their loved one, and that the doctor and primary nurse looked them in the eye and expressed their empathy and sorrow at their loss – only then do they begin to understand this concept. We are humans, just like them, albeit highly trained to administer care in these extreme life and death situations. The importance of this simple act of human connection cannot be overstated.

Let’s assume that this exchange of human connection and acknowledgment of loss has taken place with the family. Often, this conversation happens in an environment of extreme expressions of emotional grief. Crying, wailing, fainting, out of control behavior – all normal and to be expected. Yet the doctor, nurses, and emergency room techs who have just worked to save this patient, sometimes for a considerable amount of time, must now either absorb or deflect this palpable sorrow over the death before moving on to their other patients, some of whom may also be actively dying.

Again, I ask the question: Where do you put your grief? Where do you carry the unspoken psychological weight of unacknowledged death? Repeat this situation over and over for a period of years, perhaps decades, and it can become an existential crisis for the practitioner. Where indeed?

Here is what I have learned: It is critical for the practitioner to forgive themselves over perceived shortcomings that may or may not have led to negative outcomes. This is easier said than done, but I believe that as long as one has applied themselves to mastering their profession as best they can, and know that they administered care to the utmost of their ability, they then must forgive themselves, learn from the experience, and move on. This is how one achieves the highest level of professional, compassionate practice. Unfortunately, the capacity to absorb grief and sorrow is part of the bargain.

So the answer to where do you put your grief is: nowhere. Instead, you must release it by first acknowledging it and then making it part of your internal narrative. It is only through this process that we can pay our respect to life, turning what might have been unacknowledged grief into an act of self-knowing. Instead of burning us out it becomes a catalyst for a greater understanding of life and acknowledging our own transitory place in it. What might have been dysfunctional if left unacknowledged, and over time grown toxic, now becomes functional and provides an opportunity for growth and a greater capacity for compassion.

In our first world culture of western medicine, we have somehow learned to treat death as a failure. It is something to be avoided at all costs, whether as a layperson or health care professional. This lack of ability to see death as a natural part of life takes a particularly hard toll on the health care professionals who have to face it on a daily basis. The western view is to simply not acknowledge it, not discuss it, and if it is discussed at all it is within the framework of failure. A personal failure on the providers part for not being able to “save” this person, a failure of the system for having no mechanism for dealing with death as an inevitable part of life, and a spiritual failure of the surrounding society for its inability to acknowledge death as a celebration of life.

For most of human history, death was a natural part of living. The death of animals and humans were woven into the very fabric of our existence, experienced up close. Today, society has become so removed from death as a witnessed, transformative experience that what once was a normal part of daily life has now become remote. We now experience death as an abstract phenomenon that has no meaning to us on a personal level. Toxic expressions of violence resulting in mass casualties have become weirdly mundane, with no real emotional understanding on a visceral level of the consequences.

It is only through our acknowledgment of death on a deeply personal level that we become more in touch with our own humanity. Fail to acknowledge and process this at your own peril.

Hereditary

Toni Collette’s performance in this astonishingly disturbing film simply must be seen to be believed. It’s worth watching a second time just to realize what the dialogue looked like on the page and then see what she did with it. This is brave, fearless acting on the highest level.

Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff turn in haunting performances that are guaranteed to stay with you – the latter deserves special praise if for no other reason than he holds his own throughout with Collette.

If you love disturbing, masterfully executed cinema you must see this. NOW.

If not for gods sake STAY AWAY. I am not kidding.

Cat Person

I’m not quite sure how I came across this, but I’m sick and just randomly following internet bread crumbs when I land on this short story published in “The New Yorker” magazine called “Cat Person.” I couldn’t stop reading once I started, which is of course the definition of good writing.

After reading it, I then read a short essay also printed in the same magazine by the author discussing what it was like to have your story go viral. She beautifully expresses the truth (at least I feel it’s the truth) that it’s the artist’s job to create, and everyone else’s job to form their own opinions about it.

Let me also be clear: beyond the compulsion to express themselves, the best any artist can hope for is for anyone to be drawn into their creation enough to actually let it seep in and think about it. That alone is success of the highest order.

This is all as it should be – criticism and opinions have nothing to do with the artist and everything to do with the observer. The artist doesn’t really need to take part in this dialogue – their job is done and they should be on to their next creation.

She writes:

Here’s the catch: when you read a story I’ve written, you’re not thinking about me—you’re thinking as me. I’ve wormed my way inside your head (hi!) and briefly taken over your mind. You’re forced to reckon with my full complexity—or, at least, whatever fraction of that complexity I’ve managed to get down on the page. When the story is over—or if you put it down midway—you’re free to think whatever you want. You can think, Dumb, or Boring, or Great, or, She looks like a bitch in her author photo, or, What the fuck did I just read? But I don’t need to be there to absorb your reaction. In fact, I shouldn’t be. My role in the process is over. The interpretation, the criticism, the analysis telling you that you’re right or that you’re wrong or that you’re an asshole—that’s someone else’s job. I can’t, and won’t, take part.

Kristen Roupenian

Sick (Part 4)

One of the irritating hazards of working in the ER is regularly getting upper respiratory infections – I seem to be good for about six months between bouts. There’s just doesn’t seem to be any way around it. I feel like my immune system can crush most pathogens but there is a limit.

So here I am, wearing a mask in triage, trying to not infect anyone else.

At least it’s not cancer.

P. S. – I can say that because I had cancer.