Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: June 2019

Heartbroken

Found out a colleague and mentor suffered a catastrophic health event today.

Be well my friend, I’m sending my thoughts and positive energy your way.

It Stains the Sands Red

Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be a novel take on the Zombie genre left, along comes a film like this.

As I’ve noted before, the zombie apocalypse provides the perfect flexible scaffolding upon which to build whatever kind of story you want to tell. George Romero, the master and creator of the genre used this framework to create films that examined the cultural zeitgeist of his times. They were nightmarish reflections of society showing us what we, in a panicked state of fear, are capable of. It wasn’t pretty.

This movie tells an entirely different story – the cast is essentially one woman being pursued by a single male zombie through the Nevada desert. It is a female coming of age story, and the dynamic between the zombie and the woman morphs in surprisingly emotional ways. Kudos to both actors for turning in complex and layered performances.

Brittany Allen is powerfully authentic as a broken young woman discovering her maternal instincts and personal strength as the story progresses, and Juan Reidinger imbues the zombie with a humanity that reminded me of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster or Billy Connelly as “Fido,” in another essential zombie film. It’s no small feat to imbue a zombie with pathos, but this actor pulls off quite a magic trick.

Beautifully directed by Colin Minihan, the film is stunningly gorgeous to watch.

Masterpiece? No, not exactly. Just a beautifully made original film, shot on location with incredible cinematography, capturing fully realized performances of an original script. Most importantly, it draws you in, engaging you fully with an unpredictable story.

Works for me!

Teaching (Part 1)

It is one of the great joys and privileges of my job to be given the opportunity to teach nurses new to the emergency department. To feel as though you had some small influence on helping to provide them with a strong foundation upon which to build their practice is priceless.

As if this wasn’t enough, there is an added bonus for the teacher – the act of passing knowledge on forces one to remain close to the ideals that might be lost over the years in the trenches of actually providing health care. It mandates a certain re-examination of ones approach and a review of current best evidence based practice with regards to any given procedure.

But most of all it’s just fun. Hard – yes, sobering – definitely, but at the end of the day, if you did it right, it’s just gratifying as hell.

Zero Fucks

This is what I’ve got right now, thank you very much – which is to say, nada, zilch, i.e. nothing.

It’s too late after a busy day in the ER, and I am totally spent.

See you tomorrow…

Interesting Paradox

The more creative you are, the more bad ideas you’ll have – simply because you’re generating more output. Compounding this phenomenon is the fact that the one generating this body of work is often least able to discern its usefulness or value. In other words, they can’t really tell what’s great from what’s not.

The apparent takeaway here is if you want to create a masterpiece or at least something very useful, be prepared to make a lot of less than great stuff on the way there.

The Nature of Reality (Part 1)

What if everything that appears objectively real is all just a construct you’ve made up? Like the world you see is not the same world another person experiences?

What if this is true?

What if this is probably true?

Don’t Forget to do Nothing

I’ve been reading a lot about consciousness and neural plasticity I keep coming across this rather non-obvious concept: the absolutely critical importance of doing nothing.

That just seems wrong, doesn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to be working all the time?

Apparently not.

It turns out that plenty of sleep and spending some waking time everyday just being in the world with no preconceived goal is not only good for you – it actually enhances your ability to solve problems through creative thinking.

Creativity and problem solving require making new connections both literally and figuratively. Literal as in new neuronal connections, figurative as in making new cross-disciplinary connections between different paradigms.

Want to be more creative, or break out of rigid thinking?

Go out and do nothing.

Almost Too Beautiful

Did you ever wake up after a good nights sleep and go outside to a perfectly clear day with the temperature in the 70s and the sun shining and think “This is so beautiful it must be a dream?

Today is that day – Welcome to planet earth!

Please enjoy your stay

It won’t last forever.

Always Remember This

When you (inevitably) make a mistake, own it and learn from it – but never lose sight of the fact that the mistake was something you did and not who you are.

In other words, you either failed to do something you thought you could do, or you failed to execute something you knew how to do – both of which provide an opportunity for growth.

But understand the mistake was a temporary glitch that you will learn from and move on.

You are not the mistake.

Never too Big to Change

The larger an organization becomes, the more difficult it becomes to implement change. It’s just an inevitable reality – too many departments not communicating with each other, too many outdated but deeply entrenched protocols, all compounded by the persistent resistance to change. If you’re a worker who just wants to improve practice in your workplace it can sometimes be overwhelming.

Good ideas can die a thousand deaths in a giant bureaucracy. It can feel like like trying to play tennis with a dinosaur – you hit the ball into its court and by the time the lumbering beast moves its giant mass in place the ball is covered by the undergrowth that grew over it.

The thing is, massive organizations can change, you just have to be very persistent and supremely patient while it happens.

Understand that it’s a long game and be prepared for pushback and disappointment – but perseverance will win out in the end.

Billy Bob Thornton

If you want an idea of the range of what this guy is capable of as an actor, watch these films (he co-wrote “One False Move” and wrote and directed “Sling Blade,” but for the purpose of this post I am only thinking about his acting):

  • One False Move (1992)
  • Sling Blade (1996)
  • A Simple Plan (1998)
  • Monster’s Ball (2001)

Watching these films back to back you could be forgiven if you didn’t recognize this was the same actor. The only thing that they have in common is that they’re all played by Billy Bob Thornton. He has this way of portraying very nuanced, flawed men, but then somehow imbuing them with vulnerability, often searching for change and redemption. Many great actors might nail the broad strokes of the characters, but Billy Bob somehow makes them real by showing their flaws and pain. I don’t think he’s capable of playing a role without delivering a fully formed complex human.

With great actors everything they do is integral to the role. For example, look at how nuanced his clothes are, but more than that, it’s also about the way he wears them. The emotional weight he gives each of these parts is astonishing – it’s like he’s not acting a character, he is the character. It’s quite a magic trick.

If you’re an actor this is a pretty high bar.

Good luck with that.

One False Move
Sling Blade
A Simple Plan
Monsters Ball

The Mystery Man

In a film career filled with disturbing images, there is one that stands out as unforgettable, a scene so surreally creepy that it begs the question: How exactly did this happen?

Robert Blake, who plays this character in David Lynch’s 1997 film “Lost Highway” supposedly came up with his look in this scene himself. How much was him and how much was Lynch is irrelevant I guess – all I know is no amount of direction is going to produce this performance – so let’s give all due credit to Blake. His facial expressions and line delivery are inexplicably mysterious and scary. You do not want to see this man anywhere – not in your dreams, certainly not in reality, not even in a movie. He just should not be, and the fact that he exists at all, even if only in the minds of David Lynch and Robert Blake, is just somehow wrong. Very wrong. And seeing him seems like something you weren’t supposed to do, and now you can’t forget him. I warned you.

So without further ado, I give you “Mystery Man.”

It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Adaptability

Change. It’s the one constant in life – everything is in an unending state of change. Sometimes it’s slow, like aging. When you look in the mirror each day, nothing appears radically different from the day before. You can even have years where you look back at photos of yourself and you appear essentially the same. But make no mistake – you are physically changing whether you notice it or not, and there will always come a day where you look in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself, because you will have grown old and not noticed it while it was happening. Sorry, it’s just reality.

Change can also happen fast – the diagnosis of a disease, for example, or a traumatic accident. There are outwardly expressed physical changes, and then there the ones you can’t see – changes in cognition, memory, and creativity. Spiritual changes, changes in relationships, changes in our understanding of life itself. Psychic traumas.

Changes in what we want, what makes us feel fulfilled, changes in what we desire. Changes in our financial status, where we choose to live (or where we are forced to live). Changes in family (the death of loved ones), changes in friendships. Perhaps changes in our careers – the list just goes on and on and we haven’t even discussed sociological or technical changes.

So how do we cope? We adapt. Some of us do better than others, but we all essentially have no choice. Some will attempt to ignore changes and try to keep living as though things are the same as when they were young and first learning how the world works. The problem here is that the world and our health keep changing whether we acknowledge it or not, so these people eventually get left behind.

Most of us try to adapt as best we can. It’s not easy, but there are great rewards for those who can pull it off. Maintaining engagement with life and the excitement of learning new things immediately come to mind. The satisfaction of self-initiated personal growth is another.

Unfortunately, change also implies letting go – something that can be very hard to do. Evolution implies changing from one thing into something new. It’s the ultimate form of adaptability. It’s one critical area of life that we have some control over. We can’t stop changes from happening, but we can choose how adaptable we will be.

But all of this hinges on our ability to actually recognize when it’s time to adapt, to not be blind to opportunities for growth, to recognize that things are no longer what you thought they were.

Ignore these changes at your own peril.

Night of the Hunter

Okay, let’s be real clear right from the start: this film is a complete masterpiece. I know this is subjective but, for me, I’m talking certainly in the top 200 films of all time, maybe even in the top 100. It’s one of those rare movies you can pretty much watch over and over, always seeing new details, always revealing a little more depth. I just watched it again, after god knows how many times, and once again it hit me hard and deep. Just absolutely fucking stunning.

Of course it was both a commercial and critical flop on release in 1955, so much so that Charles Laughton never directed another film – it was his first and last directorial work. Un-fucking-believable.

One of the things that makes it so powerful is its depiction of the complete and utter helplessness of lost yet innocent children. For anyone who grew up desperately wanting someone to care for them, Lillian Gish’s character is going to resonate with a lot of emotional power. One of the ironies of the film is the apparent fact that Laughton hated children – including the two who were the centerpiece of the film. And yet somehow it all works…

Balancing out the goodness of Gish’s character we have Robert Mitchum in what is quite possibly the defining role of his career. His portrayal of Harry Powell as a murderous, psychopathic serial killer posing as a preacher in depression-era America is once-seen-never-forgotten. There is a creepiness to his character that is extremely disturbing – using religion as his cover on the unsuspecting rubes. His treatment of Shelley Winters is both horrifying and painful to watch, yet there is a ring of truth to the whole thing that makes it even more unsettling. Yes children, beware – this is what adults are capable of.

When these simple-minded “god-fearing” church folk then turn into a lynch mob one is left feeling very queasy indeed. Only the children are innocent – murderous violence seems to lie just beneath the surface of all adults, even the church goers. I guess it’s not that difficult to see why audiences in 1955 didn’t flock to see it – it’s still disturbing in 2019. Maybe some things never change.

Stanley Cortez was the cinematographer and holy fuck – let’s just say this is another example of why he’s a legend! It’s shot in gorgeous black and white with set design that has to be seen to be believed. Interiors where bedrooms are made to look like churches holding scenes of unspeakable cruelty and murder, overhead shots (from a plane?) of the town and its people, the underwater scene of a woman’s corpse tied to the seat of a sunken car, her hair languorously flowing with the current, mirrored by the underwater reeds.

And then there is the river sequence – a long, haunting scene of the children floating down the river (an incredible visual metaphor for life) in a skiff, aimlessly being guided by the currents. Each shot is like a surreal art tableau – the boy and his little sister, hungry and dirty, often sleeping in the moonlight, floating down what may or may not be a set in long shot, with the foreground populated by small woodland creatures.

At one point we see an owl watching a small rabbit from a tree, off camera we hear it swoop down and the cries of the small animal as it dies, the children oblivious and sleeping, floating downriver in the background. Immediately following the death of the innocent at the hands of a predator we hear Lillian Gish’s voice over telling us what all damaged children already know: “It’s a hard world for little things.”

Hard indeed.

Anywhere But Here

There are things about all of us that are so painful to face we will do anything to avoid having to do so.

The thing is, you can’t move forward without facing the truth of whatever it is you can’t bring yourself to look at.

Good luck with that.

The Unwelcome Visitor (Scenes 1 and 2)

A Short Play (or something) by David Thomas Peacock

Scene 1

I know who you are… I said.

Is that so? You replied, looking somewhat surprised.

What? You think I haven’t been paying attention? You’re not exactly easy to miss. In fact, my first memory of you was when you came into my grandmothers life. I was just a kid, but my eyes were wide open. I may not have understood what was happening, but I filed that shit away for future reference.

Well, I guess no introductions are needed then. Besides, we’ll be getting to know each other better real soon – I always look forward to this part. But let’s be clear about something up front – I’m not the bad guy. You may think I am now, but before we’re done you’ll understand how wrong you were.

Not the bad guy? Really? You do remember we’ve met before? 

Yeah, but let’s not forget how that turned out. All in all the outcome was pretty good as I remember it. You’ve said so yourself, many times.

OK – I have said that, but we both know I was just trying to reframe my perspective. I mean, WTF? Once you show up all hell breaks loose and everyone involved suddenly has no choice but to deal with you. That was just my way.

Fair enough – I was actually pretty impressed with your response. Most people just try to ignore me. You seemed to grasp the situation pretty quickly. I admired the fact that you didn’t break.

Well, thanks, but I kind of felt like my back was against the wall and my only choice was to either cave in or just try to remain as clear-headed as I could. I’ve always been good at that. But I do understand fear, and I don’t think it’s a weak response to try and ignore you. Dumb maybe – but not weak. No one’s ever ready for you.

That is true.

You know, this may sound obvious, but after your last visit, I realized something important. A few things actually.

Such as?

Well, for one thing, I learned that it pays to remember the outcome of your arrival is never certain. I mean, sooner or later you are going to show up and not leave, and we both know how that ends. But sometimes, like with me, you eventually pack up your bags and split. And then when you’re gone, life kind of starts up again and you get a second chance. I guess this is a natural part of life, but the first time it happens it’s a rude fucking awakening.

Keep going…

Ok, I also learned that we are all stronger than we think. I really believe that. I mean, sure, some people are obviously stronger than others, but there’s nothing like coming face to face with your arrival to show you what you’re made of. It’s kind of good to learn that, ‘cuz sometimes you surprise yourself. Sometimes we’re stronger than we thought.

You were looking at me intently, and clearly not in a hurry. I sensed you wanted me to go on, so I did.

The confusing thing is, whenever you show up, it’s always different. Not like a disguise exactly – you just seem so randomly unpredictable. I think this confuses people. Like they don’t know what’s happening until it’s too late. I also think people are confused about your relationship with your boss.

Hey – she’s not my boss. We work in two different departments.

Come on, you know what I mean. You do seem to be the advance man for her, always showing up before she does. Well, almost always – there are rare exceptions where she just seems to appear out of nowhere. I always felt those people were kind of lucky – no insult intended.

None taken. I just want to make it clear that she doesn’t give me orders. She’s a fucking scene-stealer, always a diva. Making me seem like a warm-up act. There’s no art in what she does – she’s a goddamn one-trick pony. It’s like everyone loves the big finish to a fireworks show, but the real art is in the buildup.

Sorry – I see I touched a nerve here, that wasn’t my intention. It’s just that a huge part of the drama of dealing with you involves whether or not she shows up. But I do agree that your job is way more involved than hers.

See – here’s the thing – it may seem like I’m only here to inflict pain and suffering, but that’s not really the point. Looking for a point, or a reason, is asking the wrong question. There is no fucking point, and even if there was, knowing it wouldn’t change a goddamn thing. Humans are always looking for an explanation, like somehow having an answer would make them feel better. There are things that happen in life that have no explanation – they just are. Humans, for example.

But you do see why they do this, right? They are completely panicked, you show up and suddenly mortality is no longer an abstract concept. It’s fucking scary as hell! They don’t know what to do, so they look for some explanation.

Yeah, I get that. But once you get over the initial shock, you’re left with some very big questions – real questions, not this “Why me?” bullshit. Questions about the meaning of it all, about how you will spend whatever time you have left. Most people fall back on whatever religious beliefs they were exposed to growing up. Others will try to answer the questions themselves. And therein lies the point – the real fucking point.

Wait, you’re saying that you are there for a purpose?

Purpose schmurpase, I’m just here. What I am trying to say is that my presence is an  opportunity, not a death sentence. BTW, you’re all dying, from the moment you’re born. Your just not aware of it until I show up.

Suddenly I hear my phone vibrating – it’s my wife, texting me Dinners ready. I look at you and say We’ll continue this later.

Smiling, you respond Whenever you want motherfucker – I’m not going anywhere.

Scene 2

 Jesus, you are fucking exhausting – your presence is just relentless. I don’t see how anyone could possibly ignore you.

I told you – I’m not going anywhere.

I mean, I really don’t get it – well maybe I do. People can pretend not to acknowledge all kinds of things, obviously that’s not news. But for me, once you’ve made your presence known, you are just haunting me all the goddamn time. Even when I’m sleeping, you seem to be in my dreams. It’s fucking exhausting.

Maybe I’m trying to tell you something…

What? Like I’m dying?

I already told you you’re all dying.

I know, but it’s one thing to say that as a clever observation, and it’s another thing entirely to actually realize you are dying. Not metaphorically, but for fucking real. It’s terrifying!

Hey, I never said it was going to be easy – but then really, what in life is ever easy? Isn’t it sometimes hard just to wake up in the morning? And don’t you all, on some deep level, understand that your life is finite?

Yeah – I guess I just don’t feel like I’m ready to go.

Go? Did I say you’re going somewhere?

No, but you know what I mean. I just feel like I haven’t done everything I wanted to. Like I’m not  finished yet.

First of all, you have no idea what the outcome of my visit will be. And second of all, negative thinking isn’t going to help anything.

No, I know you’re right – I’m just trying to wrap my head around how not to be negative. I mean, I’m atheist for Christ’s sake! I don’t have anything to fall back on here. Even if your visit doesn’t end terminally, you’re still exposing holes in my personal belief system.

Now you’re on to something – keep going…

I guess it all comes down to what happens when you die. I’m not sure I have any credible answer for that.

Why do you need to?

Because the only way to face death without fear is feel like there was some meaning to life, and if we just die and then we’re food for worms, what was the fucking point?

See, now we’re getting somewhere. You’re actually starting to think about this. So what do you know about life?

OK – there seems to be a beginning and an end. The idea of heaven and hell is just ridiculous, I’m not a fucking cretin. So I think we can throw that shit out. But if we’re going deep, I may be thinking too simplistically. I mean – a beginning and an end? Sounds too linear – didn’t Einstein prove that time could bend?

Yeah…

Well I know that the moment someone dies, there is some kind of energy exchange. If you’ve been around death as much as I have it’s very fucking clear that when someone dies, energy has left the body. Like who they were was some kind of energy…

Keep going…

OK, if we look at science, doesn’t the first law of thermodynamics state that energy can neither be created nor destroyed?

Yes…

So then, if who we are is some manifestation of energy, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, then what happens to our energy when we die?

Now we’re getting somewhere! You see, I’m not death, I’m the one who takes you there – and if you listen, I can teach you along the way. That’s why I’m here.

Just then, my phone rings. Looking at it, I see it’s my doctor. Fuck, I said. I’m sorry, I’ve got to get this.

No problem.

Yes? I said tentatively. Listing intently, maybe more intently than I’ve ever listened before, I hear the doc say It was a false positive. Sorry to put you through that…

I wanted to jump up and down and scream with joy, but instead I thanked him and hung up. Then I jumped up and down, screaming with joy. After a minute or so, I realized I was alone.

Smiling, I thought you were right. I now know something I didn’t before, and it was big. I didn’t yet have any answers, but I felt like a door was opening.

Everything in this life teaches us something – I was sure of that.

Why Everyone Should Write

Tomorrow I will post the finished version of “The Unwelcome Visitor.” I woke up this morning and realized how it should end and what it was about. But I digress – here’s why you should write: because the process of doing so mandates you learn more about yourself and your awareness of the world you live in. Whether anyone else reads it is kind of incidental. Ultimately it’s for you.

For example, when I started writing this piece, I simply wanted to write some dialog. So I just started it as a conversation between two characters not knowing who they were. Very quickly I realized who they were but had no idea where the conversation was going (which I guess is a good description of any interesting conversation).

But as I’m listening to them talk in my head, it becomes clear what they’re talking about. It’s obviously something my mind is thinking about, even if I’m not overtly aware of it – and that’s the whole point. I’m trying to figure shit (life) out, and writing helps me do it.

It helps me solidify my ideas and see the fallacy of bad thinking. It lets me construct little worlds where I can explore different constructs in my mind.

But most of all it’s fun – and how many things are fun and teach you something about yourself at the same time?