Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: May 2019

Plot and Story

The plot is the mechanical framework upon which the story hangs, so it’s really just a device to help you tell the story. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, as such, it can be dispensed with if it’s not useful.

The story is the thing – the whole thing. Nothing else matters. The story will give you the characters, and once that happens you’re off and running.

I know I’ve said this before, and it’s not a novel idea (read Joseph Campbell’s work), but humans are hard-wired to both tell stories and, most importantly, to listen.

If you don’t believe me, start telling a story the next time you’re in a group of people. Don’t be shocked if everyone starts to get quiet and begins hanging on every word. It can be a little spooky.

Before the printing press, stories were the only way to pass knowledge down from generation to generation.

So it’s literally in our DNA.

P.S. – If you want see a great example of how to tell a story with no plot, watch Robert Altman’s “3 Women.” Thank me later…

The Power to Alter Life

Driving home from my job at the Majestic Hotel [in Bournemouth] in the Majestic Dance Orchestra (in 1967), I got in and put on my radio, and this music coming out was unbelievable. It was The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, it came on somewhere in the second side, no announcements, and it kept going. It finished with this incredible wind-up and a long piano chord. I had no idea what was going on, other than that it terrified me. There was a power in this music which—I wouldn’t use the words then, but I’d use them now—there was a power in this music which made me challenge and question all my assumptions. My life was not the same again.”

– Robert Fripp, from an interview with Tony Bacon in 1991

This, my friend, is the holy grail I will continue to chase, hopefully until the day I die. It’s one of the things that makes life worth living.

Experiencing this kind of wonder suddenly rewrites the rules as to what’s possible in life.

It’s the best feeling ever.

We Choose to Give Up

Seriously – this is a choice. I don’t care what part of your life we’re talking about – it could be creative, intellectual, or physical. Stopping is a choice – quitting is a choice.

There are just too many examples of humans pushing themselves through pain and discomfort when things become hard, then instead of breaking down, they end up becoming stronger, more determined, and smarter. In fact, I think this is one of the defining characteristics of being human.

We have this unbelievable ability to adapt to hardship and grow – it’s one of the reasons we ended up taking over the entire planet.

I do, however, think the physical component is the framework upon which everything else is built. There will always be exceptions – Stephen Hawking, for instance – but these exceptions are often themselves an example of this phenomenon at work. Hawking pushed himself in spite of his disease, for example.

He didn’t give up.

The Last Thing You Want is for Life to be Easy

You may think you want life to be easy – but an easy life is not really living, it’s just marking time until you die.

An easy life means you’re not really growing, because growth is hard and messy.

An easy life means you’re not challenging yourself, because challenging yourself means you are first going to suck, and everyone hates that.

An easy life means you’ve already started the process of dying, indeed, you’re welcoming it.

You’re kind of saying “I’m done.”

Are you?

Heartbreaking

Just heard some news that really hit me hard – and not many things hit me hard.

I guess I’ll write more about it later – probably a lot more, since it touches on my deepest fears.

Just feeling really sad with this most recent sobering reminder that life can be more cruel than you can imagine. And it can happen quickly – like one minute things are about as ok as you could hope for, and the next minute everything changes. And not in a good way.

Oh, and by the way – this isn’t going to end well for any of us.

Sorry – it’s just the harsh truth.

I’ve seen enough death up close and personal to have the empirical data to back it up.

You Get What You Deserve

Thirty years ago I was fortunate enough to study with what was, for lack of a better word, a spiritual master. I studied with him for about 10 years before he died. He wasn’t supposed to be a spiritual master, he was supposed to be a music teacher – but life is funny that way, it doesn’t always give you what you want, but sometimes it gives you what you need.

He didn’t have any living family except his wife (who became ill before he did), so at the end of his life my wife and I more or less took care of him – she cooked for him and I would take him to the hospital when he needed to go, run errands, and just generally try to be there if he needed me.

To say that I got the better part of the deal would be a gross understatement. He made my life better in a more profound way that anyone else I had ever known, except of course my wife.

I had never met anyone like him – he taught me things that would seem crazy to most people (then again, most people just aren’t that bright – George Carlin said it best: “Think about how dumb most people are – then remember half of them are dumber than that.”) – Oy. So for that reason, I don’t talk about him much.

He was so immensely influential to my personal development and growth as a human being, it’s impossible to really put into words. I still think about lessons he taught me every day – about music, metaphysics, human interpersonal dynamics, space and time, death – and I always immediately think “How lucky was I to know that guy.”

Here’s the thing about life: You never know when that person is going to walk into it.

If they do – Pay attention.

You See What You Want To See

The older I get, it almost becomes embarrassing to realize that so many simple truths were staring me in the face the whole time.

This one is a good example.

Understanding it doesn’t exactly change reality, it just changes ones perspective on reality.

That’s usually enough to get you through some pretty tough times.

You’re welcome.

Paradoxically

I keep running into this idea from multiple sources:

The more specifically you are expressing your obsessions/vision in your art, the more universal it’s appeal.

Intuitively, you might think it would mean the opposite, but apparently you would be wrong.

Instead of appealing to less people, it appeals to more.

Maybe this helps explain why quasi-art by committee (think Hollywood films) is always the least interesting.

Films that conform to the very specific vision of an auteur (think Kubrick) tend to be the most interesting and culturally influential.

Flight Number

A Short Story by David Thomas Peacock

Scoop had been through a lot in the last seven years, but at 61, he felt like his life was finally in a good place. Shortly after he turned 54, seemingly out of nowhere, he was diagnosed with cancer. At the time he felt great and took pride when people would tell him that he looked ten years younger than his age. He had been exercising regularly since he was 27, when his girlfriend at the time (who would later become his wife) got him his first gym membership. Over the decades, the constant exercise had developed his skinny frame into a still thin, but solidly built man. He didn’t smoke cigarettes and ate a good diet, so the whole thing was quite a shock. He had never really been sick before.

It all started when a routine blood test set out a red flag, which in turn led to a whole series of tests over the course of the next few months. It turned out it was all just a prelude to the opening act of the real show – the biopsy.

That whole day would be forever burned into his brain. His oncologist had never palpated any tumors before on exam, but as soon as he got there he started pressing and said, hmm – yes, there’s definitely something here. Scoop remembered it was a beautiful, sunny spring day outside, and the exam room was cold with harsh, bright lights – the kind that were meant to illuminate everything down to an almost cellular level in order to facilitate viewing with surgical precision.

His doctor said take all of your clothes off and put the gown on so it’s open in the back, then lay down on the table on your right side with your knees to your chest. Scoop looked around and there wasn’t a changing room – the doc was busy setting out his equipment, and there were two young, attractive female assistants with Slavic accents getting supplies for him. Neither had acknowledged he was even there, so he just took his clothes off and then stood there naked, fumbling with his gown.

He seemed to be invisible, which only heightened the feeling of cold sterility in the room. It was weird to be standing there naked in front of two attractive women – he wanted to joke around to acknowledge the awkward humanity of it all, but no one would make eye contact. So he just did what the doc said, and got on with the grim task ahead.

Twelve biopsies were obtained with a device that seemed to operate like a nail gun, or at least that’s what it sounded like as it cored out the tissue of the misbehaving organ in question. He was so freaked out about what the procedure meant, what it was looking for, that he didn’t really feel any pain. When it was over he was left lying in this most vulnerable position feeling somehow violated and not at all like a human connected to the other people in the room. The attractive assistants were now cleaning up, having never acknowledged him as a person, only as some kind of specimen upon which to perform this particular procedure.

He looked up at the doctor who was standing over him and said sheepishly I never saw this coming.

The doc looked down at him with an expressionless face and replied No one ever does.

But that was seven years and three surgeries ago – the original operation to remove the cancerous organ had been a success, at least for its primary intention. There had never been any sign of metastatic disease since its removal seven years ago. Whatever deficits Scoop had been left with, he was always grateful that his oncologist and surgeon had been successful. When he got a copy of the final pathology report, he was stunned to read the results:

The tumor invades into, but not through the capsule of the left posterior lobe and shows multifocal perineural invasion. No tumor identified in the surgical margins.

Scoop had saved this report and read it many times, and even though he wasn’t a doctor, it’s underlying message was clear. Time and luck had been on his side – the tumor had begun working its way through the capsule surrounding the organ, traveling along the nerves, and once it did the cancerous cells would quickly be swept away in the bloodstream. There they would travel to different parts of his body, setting up shop wherever the climate seemed pleasant. This would be the beginning of metastatic disease, and it would be the end of Scoop. A long and painful end, he thought.

But that’s not what happened – instead he was given a second chance at life, and after a few rocky years of recovery he began living with a very simple and sincere principle guiding every waking moment: gratitude. Not abstract gratitude – no, the kind of gratitude that only happens when you dodge a real bullet that had your name on it.

He had certainly been traumatized by the whole experience, but he got through it. The way he saw it, there were two reasons for his ability to cope with what had happened: his resilience and the love and support of his wife Dahl. If he had to give weight to which one was more important, it would be the latter.

They had met 27 years ago, and their connection was immediately electric – it was as if two uniquely complex organisms came together, each primed with receptors specifically designed to link with each other, magnetically joining together to form something new. At the time Scoop didn’t really know what love was, but when they met he started to get a good inkling. How do you even begin to describe a relationship this long and deep? Let’s just say that when two people love each other this much, their lives begin to intertwine with such a degree of complexity that they cease to exist as two completely separate entities. Even though they of course remain individuals, there is also this other thing, this third entity that somehow represents the sum total of both their existence.

This third entity isn’t separate from them – it is them, as if two sentient beings have merged to create something else, something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a weirdly human thing that’s difficult to quantify, but it’s undeniably there.

When two people become this close, they each enhance the others ability to function and enjoy life. Their sense of worth and motivation becomes inextricably tied to each other.

In the seven years since his bout with cancer, Scoop had to have an additional surgery to repair damage caused by the first treatment. It was done about five years ago, and had been as successful as could be hoped for. That is to say: whenever you are trying to repair or reconstruct damage to the human body caused by disease or trauma, it’s never going to be as good as what you originally had. But Scoop didn’t really care – he was alive and life was good. Dahl had stood by him throughout the whole ordeal, never once complaining, even when he was struggling with the aftermath of his disease. After a few years of readjustment, their life together resumed its familiar rituals.

But now there was a problem – the repairs done by the first reconstructive surgery had suddenly failed. It really sucked, but he felt it was just a minor nuisance when he looked at the big picture. I mean, let’s be clear: as long as there was no return of the cancer, he was good.

He would use the same surgeon that had done the first repair, it wasn’t his fault the device failed. Besides, Scoop really liked him. When he was researching doctors, he discovered that one of the premier surgeons in the world for this particular procedure had offices in New York City, which was where he lived. He was the master of his craft, had performed this surgery over 3000 times, and had the lowest published infection rates. On top of all that, he genuinely seemed to be a nice guy, giving out his personal cellphone number to all his patients with the instructions to call if there was ever a problem.

So that’s what Scoop did, and in short order he had scheduled a date for surgery, and now that date was here. In two days it would be done and he could get on with his life again. He knew he’d have to go through a period of recovery, but honestly, that wasn’t such a big deal – after all, he’d already gone through the whole process once. And besides, his doc told him that it was actually easier the second time.

So Scoop tried not to be nervous, or at least tried not to show it. Dahl always got upset when he had to have surgery, so it was important to appear as casual as possible. He wanted to try and make it as easy as possible for her, but he knew no matter what she would become more and more anxious as the day approached. He loved her so much and wished he didn’t have to put her through this shit, but here’s an unfortunate lesson Scoop had learned: Life doesn’t really give a fuck what you want – it deals you a hand, and you just have to play it as best you can. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose – you just hope is that the stakes aren’t too high.

Unfortunately, sometimes they are.


Dahl had been born in London in 1956 and spent the first 17 years of her life there. Her father had immigrated from Sri Lanka in 1950 to work as a physician in the newly formed National Health Service. Her mother was a Scottish nurse, unsurprisingly they met while both were working at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. By the time she was born her family had settled in the Forest Gate district in the borough of Newham where they lived simply but comfortably. The area was a veritable melting pot of cultures, so her mixed heritage presented only minor problems growing up. Her birth name was Dahlia but as long as she could remember everyone called her Dahl.

She had an older brother and a younger sister, but no extended family – she vaguely remembered her father taking them to Sri Lanka when she was five, but by that time he no longer had any family there. They had somehow become lost in time – he never mentioned them when she was growing up, and by the time she was old enough to care, her father had passed away. Her mother’s parents and relatives lived in Edinburgh; she did remember several family trips there as a child, but the maternal side of her family was remote, having never got over the fact that her mother had married someone with dark skin. So she grew up surrounded by her immediate family, and all in all, her childhood was good. She loved her parents and they supported her – although they were remote and quite conservative, they encouraged her to develop her own interests.

From early childhood it was clear that she was both beautiful and smart. You know how some people have so much life in them, their eyes just seem to shine? As if their inner spirit was so powerful it made their eyes luminescent? People like that draw others to them as if by sheer magnetic energy – you just want to be as close to them as possible, to somehow bask in their glow, hoping you might absorb some of their magic by osmosis. People like that are by definition smart, when you combine it with physical beauty it can almost be overwhelming. Any boy who could get up the nerve wanted to be with her; this was how she grew up.

The thing was, she never let any of this go to her head, which of course only made her even more attractive. She was kind with a well-developed sense of personal ethics, and although she wasn’t what you would call street smart, she wasn’t naive either. Small in stature, she seemed to exude a powerful aura of personal power and authority that made people take note. When she said no, she meant no, and no amount of coercion or attempts at intimidation would change her mind.

At 17 she left London to go to Boston University Medical School – she had known medicine would be her career path for as long as she could remember and had been at the top of all her classes in London, completing her secondary education a year early. Moving to Boston had not been as difficult as one might imagine – she was smart and disciplined enough to be able to excel in her studies, and strong willed enough to be able to stand up for herself whenever confronted with discrimination – and in Boston, there was always discrimination. She was just the whole package, and ultimately was more than up to handling whatever life threw at her. Or at least that’s what she thought.

By the time she met Scoop, she was in her second year of residency at Boston City Hospital and was 27 years old. Her whole life she had been pursued by men, and truth be told, she enjoyed the attention. But by her mid-twenties it had begun to get old – she would see someone for a period of time, they would inevitably want to get married, and she would show them the door. It wasn’t that she had anything against marriage, she just wasn’t going to do it because it was expected. No, she wasn’t going down that road until she found someone she felt could meet her on her own terms. She wanted a relationship where both partners were equal. It turns out that’s easier said than done.

When she met Scoop, she almost immediately knew he was the one. On the face of it, he seemed to be anything but the right person for her. But even at her young age, she had already learned that life often shows you what your next move should be. You just have to listen.


For most of his life Scoop had felt like a failure. Meeting Dahl was the turning point, but it still took a long time. She never gave up on him though, and eventually his life and inner assessment of himself began to change.

When they met both were 27 – Dahl was in her residency, and Scoop was a struggling artist. She had never known anyone like him; he was completely obsessed with creating and studying art, had no money or real education, and gave zero fucks about anything else. He once told her “Everything is art” and she was both fascinated and somewhat bewildered.

His basement apartment was in a poor neighborhood in Boston that looked like a bunker in a war zone inhabited by some kind of crazy revolutionary survivor, which wasn’t far from the truth. He had spray-painted the walls with graffiti spelling out messages like “Adversity creates power for change,” and they were further covered in pictures of art clipped from magazines, interspersed with bizarre headlines he found and xeroxed. One read: “Clown Gets Max for Slaying Wife” and had been blown up and mounted on foam core. Flyers for guerilla exhibitions he put together were everywhere, and the walls were covered with lots of large, intricate collages made up of pictures of naked women mixed with ads for home appliances.

The bathroom ceiling had fallen in because of a small neglected leak from an upper floor years ago – instead of repairing it he had installed an umbrella next to the toilet you would have to open up whenever you wanted to use the bathroom. There were actually mushrooms growing out of the cracked plaster. To an outsider, the whole situation seemed dangerous and borderline insane; to Scoop it seemed like a good place to live.

It was immediately apparent to anyone he came in contact with that this was a very smart and sometimes charismatic person, albeit one who might be slightly unhinged, possibly in a good way. He was very thin and tall, but not at all physically imposing – yet his weirdly unconventional intelligence and intensity could at times be intimidating. He seemed very confident, like the kind of person where you weren’t sure what he might do next, and because he appeared so smart and more than a little odd, this could be a little unnerving. Depending on who you were, it could either be an attractive quality, or a frightening one. Dahl was immediately fascinated with him, he seemed completely and refreshingly different from anyone she had ever met.

Scoop WAS a good person, but he had grown up neglected and abused, so his sense of boundaries were more than a little shaky. When he had first discovered art in his late teens, he was a troubled young man on a fast track to nowhere good. Art changed all that – it gave him a purpose and meaning to his life. He completely immersed himself in studying its history and went about creating his own objects, but he did it on his own, without the guidance or support of teachers and school.

He and Dahl quickly became inseparable, and within two years they were married. Unfortunately for Dahl, it soon became apparent that, although he sincerely tried to be a good person, Scoop had unsuccessfully attempted to create a healthy functioning human being out of thin air. He had grown up in violence and neglect, and no one had ever shown him how to live in the real world. He taught himself social skills by watching late night talk shows – it sounds ridiculous, but what do you expect from a child? As a result, things were rough the first few years. He loved Dahl completely and was never violent or threatening to her, but he seemed to have no control over his moods at all. He would careen wildly from feeling like he could achieve anything one minute to complete and utter hopelessness and despair the next – it was exhausting.

Finally, she told him she couldn’t live like this anymore, and that was the wakeup call he needed. She immediately got him an appointment with a psychiatrist, and this turned out to be the beginning of his healing. He had hated himself for the fact that he couldn’t seem to control his mind, but over time that that changed too.

Every year, his life just got better and better, and he knew who he had to thank for that.

Without question, it was Dahl.


Scoop hated having surgery, but he knew the deal and really had no other choice. One of the things cancer taught him was to grimly get on with whatever vile fucking task life throws at you. If nothing else, the last few years had shown him just how resilient he was. After all he had been through, his life was finally in a good place and after the operation he was eager to get back to his art.

Finally the day had come – the surgery was tomorrow and there was the usual flurry of last minute checklists that he had been instructed to follow. Prophylactic antibiotics? Check; Bowel prep? Check; Presurgical Hibilclens scrub? Check; Semi-liquid meals with nothing after midnight? Check; Packing comfortable post-surgery clothing? Check. When the surgeon’s office had called around 4:00 PM to tell him where to report the next morning, Scoop sighed when the nurse said “Be there at 5:00 a.m.” He hated getting up early – in order to make that he would have to get up around 3:00 a.m., a time when he would normally be going to bed.

He was a little nervous, but not too much. Dahl, on the other hand, became palpably more anxious with every passing moment. This wasn’t unusual – she tried to remain calm for him, but of course she couldn’t really hide it. As a physician, she always got nervous about his surgeries, particularly anesthesia. He understood her concern, but there was just no way around it – he had to have the procedure, and he sure couldn’t be awake while it was happening. So he just resigned himself to get on with it – after all, it would be over soon and then he could focus on healing.

If you’ve never had surgery, the concept of post-surgical pain is somewhat abstract. Because this was Scoop’s fourth operation in seven years (one of them was to remove his ruptured appendix, conveniently, the surgeon used the same umbilical hernia that had been created to remove his cancer), he knew exactly what he was in for. The best way to describe to someone who has never been through it is this: Imagine you have been hit by a car. You have suffered a major physical trauma so you can easily imagine that there will be significant pain afterwards, after all, your body has literally been broken. Surgery is essentially the same thing – only this time the trauma is inflicted on purpose in order to either fix something or to prevent the spread of disease. Put simply: your body doesn’t like to be cut open and messed with. It rebels, and one of the ways it rebels is by hurting. A lot. You can try and control the pain with narcotics, and they work, but only to an extent. Unfortunately, they have their own nasty side effects. Then there is the whole process of physical rehabilitation after the event, a critical component for healing. Key to this phase is the act of stretching and moving the area that was operated on. If you don’t do this, your body will form rigid scar tissue that will require even more surgery to fix, so you absolutely must adhere to your instructions in the immediate post-op recovery period. Oh, there will be pain – lots and lots of pain. Pain you will have to deliberately inflict on yourself in order to heal. It was exhausting to think about – best to take things one step at a time.

All of this was going through Scoop’s head as the day went on, building in intensity the later it got. He had a few tricks up his sleeve for dealing with stress, however. He had long ago been trained in both meditation and self-hypnosis. So as the deadline approached, he tried to put himself into an almost trance-like state. It wasn’t a panacea, but it helped.

At midnight, he told Dahl he was going to bed. It took him at least 30 minutes to fall asleep, all the while both imagining the best possible outcome, and repeating his mantra over and over, relentlessly. After two and a half hours of fitful, light sleep, the alarm went off and he got up. Dahl had stayed up when he went to bed, and now she was awake and up before him. He wondered if she had been asleep at all.

There was no time to dwell on it though – after a quick shower it was time to go. He felt surprisingly awake and clear headed on the way to the hospital. The city was, for the most part, still sleeping. Their car leisurely made its way through what appeared to be an almost abandoned metropolis, the streetlights glowing in the early morning darkness. What a great way to really see the city, Scoop thought – everything was so achingly beautiful this early in the morning. It was eerie how little traffic there was, it seemed magical and almost dreamlike compared to what it would look like in a few hours. Scoop tried to talk about a movie he recently saw, but Dahl was too tense to pay much attention. She was very protective of him and was completely focused on what was about to happen. She hated that she got so nervous in these situations.

Sometimes, if you are a doctor, you know too much.


Since the traffic had been light, they got to the hospital at 4:30 a.m. He went in while Dahl parked – he was surprised that the waiting area was fairly busy. Once he had signed in, he took a seat and waited.

Dahl joined him a few minutes later – the hospital had valet parking so she didn’t have to drive around looking for a space. Anything happening? She asked. No, I just checked in… as soon as he got the words out he heard his name being paged overhead. Wait here – I’ll be right back, he said grinning. He was surprised how fast things were moving.

Scoop made small talk with the woman who registered him, feeling pretty relaxed, or at least he thought he was doing a good job pretending. She was a single mom who was going to nursing school while working full time. He encouraged her and told her one day her daughter would be so proud that her mother went back to college as an adult while working full time. She continued asking the usual questions – medical history, allergies, etc. After telling her he had been successfully treated for cancer, he smiled and said Make sure you take time to enjoy life – you never know what’s right around the corner.

When they were done she smiled back and said You take care now, then directed him to take a seat. When he went back out he saw Dahl with a magazine and thought she looked worried. He felt bad for putting her through this, but he had no choice. They had been through worse.

There was a large flat screen monitor on the wall in front of them that looked like those displays in airports that tell you if your plane is on time. The woman in registration had given him a pamphlet and on the front page, in large print, it had his name and “flight number.” Sure enough, the number was on the screen, without his name. In the column next to it were the words “On time.”

Hey Dahl – look, I have a flight number! he said all goofy-like, trying to make her laugh. She gazed at the pamphlet and then at the screen. Unsmiling, she got her phone out and put the number in her “Notes” app – 81026101323. She tried to double check to make sure she wrote it down correctly, but knowing she was distracted, she held her phone up and took a picture so she would have a backup. Scoop tried to engage her in a conversation about some local news story, but she wasn’t buying it. Within five minutes a nurse called his name and sure enough, on the screen it now said “Loading area” after his number. It’s showtime! he said, trying to get her to smile. It didn’t work.


The pre-op nurse took them to a cubicle that must have been somewhere close to the operating room. It couldn’t even have been 6:00 a.m. yet and things seemed to be moving very efficiently. They’ve got this down to a science, he said, looking at Dahl. She mumbled something he couldn’t quite hear, but before he could say What? the nurse handed him a package of pre-wrapped cleanser, a towel, a plastic bag, and a gown with a pair of those hospital socks with the rubber treads on the bottom. She instructed him to take off all of his clothes and put them in the plastic bag, then wash his whole body with the prepackaged wipes and put the gown on with the opening in the front. The towel was to wrap himself in if he was cold. She then left, saying I’ll be back in a few minutes to put in an IV.

Without saying anything, Scoop sighed and started taking off his clothes, rolling them up and putting them in the plastic bag. Getting undressed in these situations is always a little weird, mainly because any sense of privacy is pretty much completely removed from the equation. In this case, he wasn’t even in a room, it was kind of a cubicle with a curtain that could more or less be closed for privacy. The thing was, the curtain didn’t really close all the way, and there was a steady stream of people walking by. He wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, no, it just felt kind of dehumanizing. This must be how the Jews felt when the Nazis told them to disrobe before going to the gas chambers he thought to himself. Scoop always had a very dark sense of humor – seeing how tense Dahl was he decided it was better to keep his mouth shut. She wouldn’t find it funny anyway – probably because, truth be told, it wasn’t.

Once he was naked, he stood there trying to open the pre-packaged wipes. Scoop always found opening packages to be clumsy and unnecessarily difficult, as if instead of being someone who was very bright, he was instead some kind of dimwit who couldn’t figure out how to open packaging. He finally managed to get the first one open and started wiping his head, figuring he’d go from top to bottom. It was at this point he realized the room was fucking freezing. Let’s just get on with this he thought to himself, not wanting to complain to Dahl. She looked at him and asked Are you cold? and he replied Just a little, it’s no big deal. She helped him with his back, then when he finished he stood there letting the cold air dry the soapy cleanser off before he put the flimsy gown on. Finally he was done, and he wrapped the towel around himself in an attempt to get warm. It didn’t work.

They both sat there, not saying much, when suddenly the anesthesiologist came in smiling. He introduced himself and asked if they had any questions. Once again, Scoop had to go over the medications he took, and any allergies he had, for what seemed like the umpteenth time. When they were done he smiled and shook their hands again, saying I’ll see you inside in a few minutes and left. As soon as he was gone Dahl looked at him, kind of irritated, and said Why didn’t you tell him about all of the meds you take? Scoop had taken meds for his Bipolar disorder for 15 years, but didn’t like to tell anyone about them, mainly because he knew that they would immediately, perhaps consciously or subconsciously, put him in a box in their mind as being “one of them.” You know, the ones who can’t be trusted because they’re crazy. He felt sensitive and vulnerable, because he knew there wasn’t anything wrong with him, or at least nothing that the meds and therapy couldn’t fix. Besides, he had gone over the contraindications and interactions for his meds with anesthesia drugs and was confident there were no dangerous interactions. Dahl, being a doctor, hated it when he did this, but she also loved him and respected his wishes; she had also checked was satisfied that everything was safe.

His nurse reappeared, all cheerful and smiling, and put in an IV for the operation. She was from Serbia, and Scoop felt relaxed as he chatted her up, trying to include Dahl, who was having none of it. Just as the nurse finished, his surgeon popped in looking relaxed and smiling, like he was truly happy to see him. Scoop always liked this man – he trusted him and felt he did an excellent job in the first surgery. It wasn’t his fault the device failed so soon, but when it did there was no question in his mind who would do the revision. After a few minutes of chatting, he shook their hands and looked at Scoop and said, I’ll see you in the OR and left. As he went both Scoop and Dahl breathed a sigh of relief. This was a surgeon who seemed to naturally instill confidence, making both of them feel comfortable. He was one of those people whose eyes literally seemed to twinkle with intelligence and goodwill.

Just as they were both about to comment on this, the nurse and an OR tech came in the room and said Would you like to walk into the OR or be taken on a stretcher? Scoop smiled and said I’m good to walk. Dahl had a really worried look on her face and kissed him gently on the lips, hugging him tight. I love you she said. Scoop hugged her back even more tightly and said I love you too baby and then began walking to the operating suite. Just before going out of sight, he turned around, smiled at her and said I’ll see you when it’s over.

Then he was gone.


The surgery was scheduled for 7:00 a.m. and indeed this was when Scoop had been taken to the OR. The doc had told them it would take between two and three hours depending on how complex the repair would be – there was no way to really know until he opened him up to see what exactly he was dealing with. Around eight Dahl had gotten a cup of coffee and was spending her time either mindlessly surfing her iPhone or trying to watch the news channel on the waiting room TV, both without much success. Periodically she would glance at the monitor displaying the flight numbers of various patients having surgery that day. Assigning a number to each patient was a convenient way to display their status on the waiting room monitor for their loved ones while maintaining their privacy.

As usual, Dahl got more worried the longer it took – it was now almost 11:00 a.m. and the board still said “OR” after Scoop’s flight number. She’d been glancing over at the main desk every few minutes for the last half hour or so but everyone seemed busy going through the motions of performing their jobs with the blank looks of people who do the same thing every day. She turned to look again and now there was a nurse talking with a very serious expression to what appeared to be an administrator who was looking at the floor, expressionless.

They immediately turned to look at Dahl, and then started to walk towards her. At this point time both seemed to slow down and speed up at once – Dahl felt like she couldn’t breathe, her mind seemed to be short-circuiting, leaving her feeling dopey and confused. They seemed to be asking her to go with them but she was having trouble hearing what they were saying. Later she remembered they took her to a room where she suddenly felt groggy, but that quickly changed to panic. Where’s Scoop? she said, Is he alright? but they didn’t answer. Suddenly she was sitting on a couch – she looked up and there was the surgeon, but he wasn’t smiling. His eyes looked red and moist, like he’d been crying. He quickly sat down next to her and took both her hands in his  – looking straight into her eyes, he said Scoop’s dead.

There was no moment of silent disbelief, instead she emitted an otherworldly, low, soft guttural sound that quickly rose in pitch to a scream that was like no sound anyone had ever heard – it was an eruption of grief that sounded like her soul was being torn apart, a pure explosion of her psychic and physical pain, overwhelming and obliterating everything in its path. She collapsed first on the doctor and then on the floor, her body seeming to be torn apart by the sudden loss of what had essentially been a part of her. She wailed in uncontrollable agony as if the grief possessed her like a demon, her eyes blinded by poisonous tears. She couldn’t see it, but everyone was crying at this point, the doctor now looking like a broken man, as if he had aged thirty years in a moment.

Eventually a male nurse came and administered a sedative he injected into her deltoid – she pathetically fought everyone who tried to console her but was now too exhausted to put up much resistance. The nurse who gave her the injection hated this part of his job; all doctors and nurses absorb and carry some of their patients pain with them forever, over time it builds up and scars their souls. It’s the price you pay for caring for others. Slowly, she began to collapse, like she was folding in on herself. To anyone who knew her it was obvious what was happening.

A part of her was dying.


Because she had no immediate family to come and get her the night Scoop died, the doc didn’t feel it was safe to send her home alone, even after the initial sedative wore off. Besides, all professionals adhere to the same informal code: in medicine docs and nurses tend to look after each other. A diagnosis will be found to warrant an overnight admission if needed, and if there are no rooms available, one will miraculously be found – usually a single. In Dahl’s case, the overnight resident and nurse in charge of her care monitored her particularly closely. The surgeon who had operated on Scoop was both well-known and well loved; no one could ever remember seeing him so distraught. In a long and lauded career, there was something about this particular loss that hit him hard, so the staff was doubly protective of both he and Dahl.

All she could remember about that night were fits of uncontrollable crying interspersed with a fitful sleep induced by the sedatives. Every time she woke up she expected to see him before remembering what had happened – it was all so unreal, just hours before he was smiling and telling her he loved her, and would see her after it was over. She kept replaying that scene over and over in her mind, but no matter how many times she did, she just couldn’t process it. It was like the difference between intellectually understanding something and then really experiencing it. Everyone over the age of seven intellectually understands the idea of death, but it isn’t until some living being dies that you loved unconditionally, loved more than anything, loved so much that they literally become part of you – only then do you really begin to understand. It’s a psychic anguish worse than any somatic pain – a profound existential suffering, and you will never, ever be the same again after you’ve experienced it.

The next morning the surgeon came to see her and asked if she wished to view the body. To the lay person this may sound insensitive, but decades of clinical research has shown that actually viewing the dead body helps the grieving process; it allows the living to have visual and tactile proof that their loved one has departed – the experience cements itself in their mind forever. Being a doctor herself, Dahl understood all this, so together they walked down to the morgue (it always seems to be in the basement, she thought). He held her hand and put his arm around her and they both silently wept as they looked at the cold, grey corpse. The morgue tech had unzipped the body bag and arranged a sheet around the exposed face, placing a clean pillow under the head, trying to make it look as though he was resting in a shroud. The illusion didn’t really work, but everyone appreciated the effort.

After a few minutes they sat on the two folding chairs that were set out for them next to Scoops body. As he held both of her hands between the two of his, the doc slowly began to explain what had happened. He described how the surgery was a little more complicated than expected, but there had been nothing unusual during the procedure. While he was placing the final sutures, Scoop had developed an arrhythmia, more specifically ventricular tachycardia. He explained that they had initially given Adenosine but were unable to break the rhythm. Defibrillator pads had been applied as the rhythm became more unstable and they shocked him twice, both times without success. A code team was paged and responded. Now with no discernable pulse, chest compressions were started with the usual rounds of resuscitation drugs, all to no avail. From the time he lost his pulse, the team had worked on him for almost 30 minutes before calling a time of death: 10:16 a.m.

The doctor looked at Dahl with eyes red and moist with tears, they appeared to be looking up from a well of infinite sadness. He was slightly trembling as he said softly but clearly, I am so sorry. We did everything we could. She looked at him directly, thinking he suddenly seemed very, very old – he had never appeared that way to her before. She continued looking into his eyes for what seemed like moments, with both softly weeping, never breaking their gaze. Finally, she took her hands from between his, and now reversed their position – his hands were now sandwiched between the two of hers. She gently squeezed them once, took a deep breath, and looking directly into his pleading soul said three words.

I forgive you.


Scoop had never liked to face the prospect of his own death, but he also never made a secret of his desire to be cremated and have his ashes spread over New York City, so at least that was one decision she didn’t have to make. She didn’t like it, but she sure as hell was going to honor his wishes. The hospital made the arrangements for his cremation after Dahl declined an autopsy – the funeral home would contact her in a few days to let her know when she could pick up the ashes. After a brief examination of the death certificate and the wishes of the next-of-kin, the medical examiner determined there was no evidence that warranted further investigation, so that was another required formality that she didn’t have to deal with. On one of the rare occasions when they had discussed death in the past, Scoop  had acknowledged that he would want do donate his organs, if possible, after he died – so she consented to have anything useful harvested before cremation. As painful as all these arrangements were, they each provided yet another definitive acknowledgement that Scoop was, indeed, dead.

Dahl’s sister made arrangements to fly over from London the next day to stay with her. After spending the first night in the hospital for observation, she went home the following day. As soon as she arrived at their apartment, she called the medical director of the hospital she worked at, who instructed her to contact human resources and arrange for a leave of absence. This was a powerful, formidable woman who rarely smiled, but talking to Dahl now she seemed like an entirely different person, kind and warm, as if she were an old friend. Her instructions were clear – You take as much time as you need and let me know if I can do anything. Your job will be waiting whenever you are ready to come back. Dahl thanked her and hung up.

Exhausted and feeling unmoored in space and time, she laid down on her bed and once again began sobbing. Two days ago they were preparing for this seemingly routine surgery, living their life as they had done together for over 34 years. For more than 12,000 days they had shared everything together, for better or worse – but as Dahl remembered it, even the bad times were better than most people would get to experience. They had never had children and their last pet, a cat, had died two years ago.

Now she was alone, in this space they had shared together for almost three decades. It was filled with his stuff – virtually everywhere she looked was a reminder of their life together. It wasn’t just that she missed him and was sad he was gone, it was as if part of her was suddenly and violently excised, hacked off by some cruel cosmic executioner. She was bewildered and couldn’t seem to think clearly, confused by her sudden and overwhelming grief. She couldn’t imagine moving forward in her life without him. Now she just wanted to sleep, so that’s what she did. It wasn’t restful sleep, though – instead, her sleep felt like she was falling in space, always seeing Scoop off in the distance, just out of reach.

Twelve hours later she woke up to her phone ringing. Groggy, she glanced over and saw it was her sister. Fumbling for it without her glasses, she picked up and said Hello? in a voice that seemed disembodied. Her sister explained that her son had developed tonsillitis and he needed to have them immediately removed. It was nothing serious, but he had to be hospitalized for a couple of days and would need her while he recovered at home. She had divorced five years ago and was awarded sole custody of their son, so there was nothing she could do but postpone her trip.

It’s okay, Dahl said. I’ll be fine, you take care of him and come whenever you can. They had been close as children, but, like many siblings, had gradually grown apart over the years. As she hung up she almost felt a sigh of relief, thinking I just need some time by myself to process this.

While still lying in bed, she looked at the time – it was almost 9:00 o’clock in the morning. She wasn’t the least bit hungry, so she got up to pee and laid back down, hoping she could fall back asleep.

She did.


Dahl woke up to sound of her doorbell ringing around 2:00 in the afternoon. She sat up slowly, feeling thick-headed and numb. She had been dreaming of Scoop, but in the dream, although she already knew he was dead, she felt panicked because he was trying to tell her something and she couldn’t find him. It was really weird, but not in a good way, and she briefly thought nothing will ever be good again.

By the time she looked through the peephole on her door, there was no one there. Opening it, on the floor was a floral arrangement from her colleagues at work. Her eyes teared up as she picked it up and put it on the kitchen table. Standing there looking at it, she realized how silent the apartment was. It was the kind of silence that says “There’s no life here, you’re all alone now,” the paradoxical kind of silence that actually seems to be loud. It was a punishing silence.

Not knowing what to do and feeling utterly exhausted, even after sleeping 16 hours, she sat down at the table. Looking at her phone, there was a text message from one of her friends at work asking if she could bring over some food she had made. Dahl stared at it for a few minutes like she was drugged, then responded  Sure, thank you. Almost immediately she received a response, See you around 6.

Still not hungry, Dahl made a piece of toast and poured a glass of wine. Her mouth was dry and she had that kind of lump in her throat where you’re not exactly crying, but might any minute. It was almost too much effort to chew and swallow the toast, clumping in her throat like dry, crispy doughballs.

The next few hours she just sat or laid down in different places, not doing anything – just blankly staring into space. Even though she hadn’t bathed in three days, it was just too much work, and besides, what was the point? She still had on the same clothes she was wearing when she was discharged from the hospital yesterday, her eyes were open but she wasn’t really looking at or thinking about anything. Any thoughts she did have seemed to originate from somewhere else, like she was looking down on herself, as if she was having an out-of-body experience. The only coherent thought was one that would repeat itself over and over: I don’t want to live without Scoop. She would try to brush it away, but it kept coming back.

Sure enough, around 6:15, her doorbell rang and there was Muni, her friend from work. She had two large plastic bags filled with glass containers containing food made by various people at the hospital. As soon as Dahl opened the door, Muni set them down and hugged her tightly, both of them starting to cry – Dahl tried to return the embrace but it felt awkward and she pulled away quickly. After putting the bags on the kitchen table next to the flowers, Muni stepped back and gazed at her, trying to appraise the situation to help guide her as to what to do next.

When she looked at Dahl now, her heart sank. It was like all the lights had gone out. Whoever she was, or had ever been, had left her body the moment the surgeon walked into the waiting room. She wanted to help, wanted to do something to help alleviate her pain, but she knew it was futile. After a period of uncomfortable silence, she said Text me if there is anything I can do, and left.

Almost as soon as she was gone, Dahl went to the freezer, took out a bottle of vodka, and poured herself a shot. Scoop loved to have a drink each night before bed, he called it his “heart-healthy cocktail.” His preference was vodka on the rocks with a splash of lime juice and he liked to keep the vodka in the freezer. She usually joined him, although if she did her drinks were half the size of his. It was now a little after seven and the vodka whetted her appetite. As she took the containers out of the bag and began putting them in the refrigerator, she saw one was Lumpia, a Filipino spring roll made by one of the nurses she worked with. She took a couple out and ate them cold.

When she was done she sat motionless, alive but not really present. If she thought anything, it was How can I go on? but she knew this was a rhetorical question, one that had no answer.

Once again, she wept.


She dozed off for a few hours still sitting in the kitchen chair, slumped over with her head on her hands, which were forming a kind of uncomfortable, hard and sweaty pillow. Sitting up she noticed she had drooled on the table. Lightly shaking her head, her mouth was parched as she looked at the clock. It was now almost midnight and she thought Fuck, now I’ll be up all night. Getting up she splashed some water on her face and immediately poured herself another shot. She remembered Scoop’s pot – she hadn’t smoked in years but suddenly it seemed like a good idea.

She took a small, sticky bud out of his bag and crumbled it in his pipe. It felt awkward, but like riding a bike, it came back to her quickly. She took a big drag and tried to hold it in, but immediately started coughing. Finishing her shot, she tried again – this time holding the fragrant smoke a little longer. There it was! The old familiar buzz, flooding her starved cannabinoid receptors, both slowing everything down and bringing things into focus at the same time. Scoop used to refer to it as an “attitude adjustment,” and in her case now, at this critical moment, it seemed to help. For the first time since he died, her mind actually seemed to be working.

She looked at her phone on the night stand and saw there were multiple texts from colleagues saying they were sorry and offering help. She didn’t answer any of them, instead switching apps to look at her email and immediately wondering why she even bothered – there was nothing important there, just the usual bullshit that only required attention to delete.

Holding the phone in her hands, her mind went back to the day Scoop died. This time, maybe because she was buzzed, she didn’t cry. Instead, for some reason, she thought about his flight number. She opened the “Notes” app and there it was, the entry where she had written it down in case she lost the paper copy when he was having surgery. The note was titled “Flight Number” and the body text simply contained the 11 digit number: 81026101323. As she stared at it her mind wandered and she was struck by two things. The first was that the number was highlighted, like a hyperlink. But there was something else about it that caught her interest. Dahl loved word puzzles and anagrams – she stared at it intently for a moment, rearranging the numbers in her mind, thinking this pot is good

Suddenly she sat up – the hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she got that warm feeling in your stomach when you can’t believe you just discovered some weird, unbelievable synchronicity. She realized that if you reversed the numbers they were 32310162018 – March 23, 10:16 a.m., 2018 – the day and time Scoop died. WTF?! She felt breathless and reflexively blinked her eyes, confused and giddy. Her first thought was “Am I hallucinating?” She almost jumped up and walked around the apartment, catching her breath, smiling now. Going to the bathroom, she washed her face with cold water, then went back to her phone. It was still there, underlined and highlighted in orange, like it was waiting for her – beckoning her to click on it.

She sat on the edge of their bed, staring at it, her heart racing, knowing what she had to do. She didn’t understand what was happening, only that it was very strange, feeling both compelling and forbidden at the same time. She couldn’t imagine what any of this meant, all she knew was that it seemed to be something very important – something unknowable and unexplainable.

With her right thumb she gently touched the number and it started ringing. Her body was covered in goosebumps when someone picked up the call.

Dahl, is that you?

It was Scoop’s voice! Dahl began laughing and crying at the same time – she could barely blurt out – Baby, I miss you so much.

Scoop laughed and said I told you I’d see you after it was over!

I thought you died – I’m confused, are you still alive?

Well, yeah, but not the way you’re thinking. Alive-ish I guess (this was a reference to one of the thousand or so private jokes people who live together a life time develop).

Dahl laughed, wiping the tears with the sleeve of her shirt that were now flowing freely down her cheeks. Her mind seemed to be short-circuiting, trying to process multiple threads at the same time: “This can’t be real” – “But it’s Scoop!” – “No, wait, Scoop died” – “Am I dreaming?” – “Or am I going mad?

Scoop, if I’m dreaming, I don’t want to wake up – but you died in surgery two days ago. This can’t be real, I feel like I’m going crazy.

Don’t hang up honey, I’m still figuring this out too – I know I died, but it turns out death isn’t what I expected. They don’t give you a manual for this shit.

Trying to pull herself together but not quite succeeding, Dahl sobbed But I don’t understand?

Ok, listen, I’ll try to tell you what I know, or at least what I think I know, but you’re probably not going to believe me. First of all, I’m still here, I just don’t have a body. It’s great! Scoop always tried to cheer her up when she was down.

Dahl was silent, listening.

Remember that time when I made a comment about how it would be nice to not have a body – about how much time we spend feeding it, cleaning it, maintaining it? Well that’s how it feels – it’s just me, without having to do all that time consuming bullshit to keep it running. I can just let my mind take me wherever it wants to go, without ever having to worry or deal with disease. It’s great! I didn’t really lose something, I gained something instead.

But what happened when you died?

Alright, Scoop said – don’t laugh, but when I died, it was like I knew what was happening, but I wasn’t scared. It was like an acid trip – but a good one! The closer I came to my heart stopping, the more at peace I became. Everything was so unbelievably beautiful, it all looked the same but different, almost like it was pulsating and glowing with life and I somehow had this feeling that I was part of all of it, if that makes any sense. After my heart stopped, I felt like I was floating above everyone in the OR, looking down and watching them working on my body. I saw how much pain everyone was in and I wanted to tell them it was alright, that they didn’t do anything wrong, but there wasn’t anything I could do.

Scoop paused and Dahlia, now no longer crying, said Where are you now?

Seeming to take a deep breath, he went on. Sometimes when we die, if the connection between two people is strong enough, a kind of portal will remain open for a period of time, but it’s not permanent, eventually it closes. When it happens though, it can manifest in different ways – in our case, it’s this flight number. But for others, it could be anything – physical apparitions like “ghosts,” communications through television, radio waves, podcasts, photographs, visions in the environment and sky, even just the powerful sensation that they are somehow “there,” feeling their touch on your skin. Hearing their voice talking to you, without form or maybe even through an animal. In dreams – anything really.

Baby, I miss you so much Dahl repeated, again starting to cry.

Dahl, I’m right here – I’ll always be here. Whenever you need me, just close your eyes and there I am.

It was all too much, Dahl couldn’t tell if this was really happening or if she was going crazy and it was all a hallucination.

They stayed on the phone all night, Dahl was pretty sure it was at least six hours. When they finally stopped talking, she looked at her phone and it was dead. WTF? Did that just happen or have I been talking to Scoop on a dead phone? The really weird thing was, when she later checked her call history, there was no record of the call.

The next day, as soon as she woke up, Dahl looked at her phone that had been charging on the night stand next to the bed. It all came rushing back, everything that had happened the night before – her heart was pounding but she was smiling.

There was a text message from the flight number:

143

Shaking, she typed in 143 2

Then: Scoop, where are you?

There was a pause before the response appeared, one character at a time:

I’m everywhere

Dahl shivered as a chill ran down her body and she quietly began laughing and crying at the same time. She wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to work, but she knew one thing with complete certainty.

It was all going to be ok.

It Feels Good to Finish

I wrapped up my latest short story today – it’s called “Flight Number,” and it’s most definitely a thing. What kind of thing is another question entirely – one I honestly can’t answer.

What started out as a simple, very twisted idea, quickly turned into something else entirely. It’s extremely personal, although that wasn’t my intent when I started it.

Once again, I just started writing and let the thing tell me where to go – my job was just to write it down as it came to me. It’s not exactly stream-of-consciousness, because I do go back and edit and refine. But I don’t know where this shit is coming from. It’s just a really weird process – I don’t understand it, but then again I don’t feel like I need to.

I’m just going where life seems to be pointing me.

Deplatforming

This idea isn’t to just silence someone so you don’t have to listen to them, it’s to silence them so no one hears them.

Really? Trust me, I don’t like this toxic bullshit any better than you do, but silencing someone because you disagree with them?

Seems problematic to me.

Now, I appreciate that Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have created global social platforms, so we’re not just talking about America – other power structures (or would be power structures) can use these “social” networks in an attempt to destabilize other societies. Now the idea of deplatforming becomes grayer and perhaps less problematic.

If, however, we are talking about a specific person, unless they are advocating for violence or using blatant hate speech, instead of shutting them down, just don’t listen.

Better yet – counter their bad ideas with something better.

It’s a big messy world out there – you have to learn how to navigate around the assholes.

Just Concentrate on What’s Ahead

E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.

This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

Anne Lamott, from “Bird by Bird”

Freedom of Speech

This may be the single most important, fundamental concept that sets the U.S.A apart from everywhere else. Even in other cultures that endorse freedom of speech, I don’t think anyone carries it quite as far as we do.

Modern stand up comedy is a good example. Try and find examples of stand up anywhere in the world that’s even remotely as transgressive as what you can find on stage on any given night in any given comedy club in America. Good luck – ‘cuz I don’t think they exist.

But here’s the caveat: Free speech is for everybody. That means you are going to hear a whole lot of shit that’s going to make you very uncomfortable, stuff you may even think that no one should be able to say. But you sir, or madam, would be very wrong.

Because censorship is of course the antithesis of free speech. You don’t have to listen to everything out there, but you do have to allow opposing viewpoints, even if you think they are wrong and abhorrent. I am not talking about hate speech or inciting violence – this is not allowed and we have laws condemning it. But I am talking about what you may think are bad, perhaps even immoral and ignorant ideas.

‘Cuz here’s how this works: Bad ideas are countered and exposed by good ideas. The eloquence, charisma, and veracity of the person espousing the good ideas will of course go a long way toward their influence on those holding opposing viewpoints, like most things in life, it’s not fair, but that’s unfortunately just how this shit works.

So grow some balls, allow yourself to be vulnerable (thus upping your charisma quotient), and learn how to be empathetic. Now you’re ready to go and make your arguments.

You’ll still probably fail, but at least you’ll walk away with everyone thinking you are cool, which isn’t worth nothing. Eventually you will make a difference, because humans like to be around someone who seems smart, eloquent, and empathetic.

And here’s a tip: don’t ever, ever shit on anyone.

Not cool.

Observation (Part 4)

I don’t know about you, but for me, sometime around two or three years ago, any intelligent, thoughtful discourse on the internet went the way of the dinosaurs.

I mean, I know all of the smart people didn’t die off, but it certainly seems like they all bailed around the same time. Why? WTF happened? Why do things sometimes seem to devolve instead of evolve?

Did the online environment become so toxic that it just wasn’t worth it to share ideas and information anymore? If so, how did this happen?

How did something that so obviously existed to communicate ideas and spread knowledge break down so easily? Or am I misinterpreting what’s really happening here?

Perhaps this is just a stage in the metamorphosis of something bigger, something transformative not just for the individual, but the species itself.

Evolution is messy and unpredictable – only time will tell.

Allocating Resources

As I find myself spending more time writing fiction, it unfortunately eats into time I would spend writing blog posts. Often there are topics I want to explore here, but I end up having to postpone them until I can find a block of time to really explore my thoughts.

Regardless, I have come to realize that the whole point of this blog was to prepare me to write. There is no other explanation for why I am suddenly compelled to write fiction, when it was never a conscious goal in the first place. I have no business doing it, and certainly no qualifications. None of that, however, seems to matter.

I am currently finishing my fourth short story and it is incredibly rewarding. I actually got choked up writing its conclusion today, and that felt very weird. It is turning out to be way too long to really fit the definition of a short story, but it takes what it takes to tell the fucking thing. I’m just letting go and the words just come out – the act of doing it really is its own reward.

Maybe someone will read it, maybe not. I’m not sure if it really matters. All I know is doing it feels right and natural, like, for whatever reason, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m not questioning it.

Immunologic Evolution

Our immune system evolved to hum along at peak capacity when we’re happy but to slow down dramatically when we’re not. This is why long-term unhappiness can literally kill you through its immune-suppressing effects, and why loneliness in late adulthood is deadlier than smoking. Indeed, once you’re over sixty-five, you’re better off smoking, drinking, or overeating with your friends than you are sitting at home alone.”

William von Hipple, from “The Social Leap”

Hold on to Your Seat, it’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride

Last week, OpenAI, a non-profit research group founded by Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, and Peter Thiel, among others, decided not to release it’s new text generating AI algorithm (GPT2) publicly. So why is this a big deal?

Well, for one thing, as the name of the organization might suggest, the whole point was to release it’s research algorithms as open source code. And indeed, there are “scaled down” versions of this GPT2 code available to the public. But in its current iteration, the company felt it was too dangerous to release it as open source.

You might be wondering “What’s the big deal?” After all, it just generates text, right? Well, yes… The way it works is like this: you “prime” it with an opening sentence or two, then it takes over and goes to work. Here’s an earlier example posted on the OpenAI website:

First, here’s the human written system prompt:

In a shocking finding, scientist discovered a herd of unicorns living in a remote, previously unexplored valley, in the Andes Mountains. Even more surprising to the researchers was the fact that the unicorns spoke perfect English.

And here’s what the AI algorithm spit out in its 10th iteration:

The scientist named the population, after their distinctive horn, Ovid’s Unicorn. These four-horned, silver-white unicorns were previously unknown to science.

Now, after almost two centuries, the mystery of what sparked this odd phenomenon is finally solved.

Dr. Jorge Pérez, an evolutionary biologist from the University of La Paz, and several companions, were exploring the Andes Mountains when they found a small valley, with no other animals or humans. Pérez noticed that the valley had what appeared to be a natural fountain, surrounded by two peaks of rock and silver snow.

Pérez and the others then ventured further into the valley. “By the time we reached the top of one peak, the water looked blue, with some crystals on top,” said Pérez.

Pérez and his friends were astonished to see the unicorn herd. These creatures could be seen from the air without having to move too much to see them – they were so close they could touch their horns.

While examining these bizarre creatures the scientists discovered that the creatures also spoke some fairly regular English. Pérez stated, “We can see, for example, that they have a common ‘language,’ something like a dialect or dialectic.

Dr. Pérez believes that the unicorns may have originated in Argentina, where the animals were believed to be descendants of a lost race of people who lived there before the arrival of humans in those parts of South America.

While their origins are still unclear, some believe that perhaps the creatures were created when a human and a unicorn met each other in a time before human civilization. According to Pérez, “In South America, such incidents seem to be quite common.”

However, Pérez also pointed out that it is likely that the only way of knowing for sure if unicorns are indeed the descendants of a lost alien race is through DNA. “But they seem to be able to communicate in English quite well, which I believe is a sign of evolution, or at least a change in social organization,” said the scientist.”

So this is the point in human history where you might legitimately ask yourself: Is what I am reading written by a human or an AI?

Full disclosure: This blog is written by a human, but it will undoubtedly eventually be read by an AI learning how humans write. It probably already has – if so, I hope it found something useful.

So there’s that.