Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: February 2020

Rejection

It’s part of life, right? Yes, but remember this: as painful as it can be, it’s both necessary and useful. Necessary because it’s good to be reminded that not everyone is going to like you, and if you create something to express yourself, most people are at best not going to get it, and at worst they’ll downright dislike it. I’ll get to the useful part in a minute.

What makes rejection so hard is that whatever you made is your personal statement, so when people don’t like it, it’s easy to think they’re rejecting you. When you create something and love it enough to share with the world, rejection can feel like confirmation that whatever you made isn’t really very good. To share what you’ve made is to make yourself vulnerable.

But here’s the useful part: You’re going to learn something from each rejection. Like what you’re made of, and how strongly you believe in what you’re doing. Are you crushed or angry? Or maybe indifferent? If comments were given you’ll decide whether they’re useful and act accordingly.

Because here’s the thing: Ultimately only you can judge the worth of both yourself and whatever you’ve made. Everything else is just another person’s opinion.

If you think it’s good and it gives you pleasure, isn’t that enough?

RIP José Mojica Marins, AKA “Coffin Joe”

Oh, and one last favor. If you pass by heaven, give my regards to the angels. But if you end up in hell, give my address to the devil.

– Coffin Joe in “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse,” 1967, Brazil

If you don’t know who this is, shame on you. Ok – that might be a bit strong since his films weren’t available in North America until the last ten years or so, but you should know who he is. This guy was a one-of-a-kind auteur whose low budget films seemed to exist in a weird alternate reality that had to be seen to be believed. Imagine grainy black and white explorations of existential themes masquerading as a grind house horror movie – in Portuguese.

I wrote an earlier post about him here, so I won’t recap except to say that after a lifetime of watching movies, the first time I saw “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse,” I thought I was either hallucinating or dreaming. After seeing untold thousands of films, this isn’t something that happens very often.

So I just want to take a moment to honor this mind-blowing artist. He inspired me and was a shining example of the power of following your personal vision and aesthetic, no matter how unconventional.

He made living just a little more interesting.

Bon Voyage

This post has departed on a long journey and perhaps will return in another form in the future.

Godspeed my friend, I send you on your way with the best of intentions.

Hang On to This Like Grim Death

What am I talking about? Jeopardy answer: What is your health

This is one of those realizations that you often don’t understand until it’s too late – so on the off chance that anyone younger comes across this, pay close fucking attention!

When I was young I was motivated to exercise because I wanted to look good. Fair enough.

Then as I became older I started to understand the health benefits, as a result this became my primary motivator.

But once I began to see health, vigor, and function start to go in people in my age group, it really hit me – I don’t care how much pain I have to suffer to hold on to what I’ve got, I’m not stopping moving and pushing myself until I’m dead.

So yeah, I’m hanging onto my current state of health like grim death.

BTW – fun fact: Who coined the term? Why, Shakespeare of course!

It’s Complicated

(Caught off-guard) If you’re reading this right now, what would I say to you?

I guess for starters – I never meant to hurt you, and yes, I’m aware I can be harsh. I’ve got a good side too – unfortunately you didn’t bring it out. Or perhaps I should say we both had a knack for bringing out the worst in each other. Either way, it wasn’t good.

Because it’s my nature, I solved the problem for both of us. It wasn’t pretty, but hey – it was effective. And truth be told, we’re both better off for it.

See, in life there are the things we wish for, and then there’s what is. I live in the land of what is, and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty attempting to fix it however I can.

Which is to say by any means necessary, with, of course, as little collateral damage as possible. Unfortunately someone always gets hurt, don’t they?

Anyway, whether you believe it or not, I really do wish you well.

Just don’t get in touch.

Art is a Subjective Experience

Ok, let me see if I can articulate this…

The impact a particular piece of art has on us is inextricably tied to the time in our lives when we were first moved by it. How we were feeling at the moment, our emotional state (probably the most important), the weather, our age, our understanding of of the culture in which the artist created, whether or not we were in a relationship, where we were when we experienced it, the questions we were asking ourselves about about life at the time.

So even if we want to turn our friends onto it, hoping they’ll love it as much as we do, they can never experience it quite the same way.

One of the interesting things about this phenomenon is that even a large scale “event” like a movie release or an anticipated record or book by a major artist will be experienced completely differently by any two people.

This is why we can feel so personally connected to a particular artifact, even one meant for mass consumption – and wonder why someone else who shares our sensibilities doesn’t get it.

It’s also what allows these things to become seminal parts of our mythology – they both influence and become inseparable from the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.

Three Years

That’s how long I’ve been writing this blog, dutifully posting every day, trying to articulate something I’m thinking about and writing it down coherently. But when I hit these milestones, it seems pertinent to ask some questions, to wit:

Why? And has it been worth it?

Before I answer that, let’s get this out of the way – it’s not fucking easy, and although I can go through long stretches where I don’t seem to run out of ideas, there are many days where it’s work and I feel like I’ve got nothing. I’m sure anyone who might come across it when I’m struggling would move on without hesitation, and that’s understandable. I made a commitment to myself to write something everyday, so by god that’s what I’m going to do. If you can’t keep promises you made to yourself, how are you going to keep them with everyone else?

Right now is unfortunately one of those difficult periods, but there’s a reason… At the moment I’m kind of obsessed with writing fiction, and most of my time and energy are spent working on that. As a consequence, writing blog posts cuts into time I could be spending writing my other stuff. It’s never a good idea to spread yourself too thin.

But here’s the thing: I still think I’m getting enough out of this for it to be worth the time and trouble. Why? Well, let’s see:

  • Writing this blog forces me to look closely at the world and think about what I see, if only to give me something to write about.
  • Practicing discipline and keeping commitments you’ve made to yourself is important.
  • In order to write anything, you have to translate your thoughts into sentences. This can’t help but make you a better writer.
  • It helps clarify your thinking and understanding of how the world works, i.e. what is important and what isn’t.
  • If your thinking is weak, it becomes embarrassingly obvious when you write it down.
  • And, probably more important than anything else: It’s good for my brain.

So here we go into my fourth year – let’s see where this thing takes me.

Nothing ventured nothing gained.

Unmoored

Take away your daily commitments and what do you have? Or let’s be more specific – what would you do if you didn’t have to work to make a living?

The answer to this question would heavily depend on how much meaning your work job (the one that pays your bills) added to your life – and what interests you had beyond that.

So we must constantly ask ourselves the question: What is important and what isn’t? How you answer will dictate how you’ll spend your time…

Learning to Edit

The process of writing fiction in the last year or so has been tremendously rewarding and exciting for me; I haven’t really questioned the process. It seems as if I’ve tapped into some pipeline where this stuff is flowing out and I don’t want to overthink it. If you’re an artist, or if you’ve ever been in a creative field, you know that if you get into a flow, too much conscious thought is a sure-fire way to fuck things up.

So I’ve finished seven short stories, starting each one as soon as I finished the last. As I write them, I do minor edits (changing sentence’s to flow better, cutting out redundant words, trying to keep pronouns from piling up, etc), but nothing major. I would periodically go back and reread them to see if they held up, and to me anyway, they do.

But I kept reading about how all first drafts suck and need to be rewritten and edited many times before they were polished enough to present to the world. The problem was, I didn’t understand what editing meant – it took some research before it started to click. Now I’m in a time-consuming phase where I’m going back over them word by word, and it’s enlightening but somewhat overwhelming.

I feel like a dummy.

Here’s where life experience comes in – I know this means I’m on the right track – because when you feel this way it’s proof that you’re learning. It means that I’m on the path to getting better at the craft. It’s a process I know I have to go through, or at least it seems necessary to me.

So now I’m a bit lost in the weeds, but I’m pretty confident they’ll be better for it. I’m stumbling towards greatness – whether I actually achieve it is an unknown that’s probably not really important.

All I know is that exciting to be learning something new at the age of 62.

The show’s not over yet...

Kirk Douglas, RIP

Depression is caused by thinking too much about yourself. Try to think of others, try to help them. You will be amazed how that lessens your depression. That satisfaction is priceless.”

– Issur Danielovitch, AKA Kirk Douglas, at 92

He seemed to be less a man and more a force of nature – an eternal larger than life presence burning through the movie screen into our lives.

Sometimes grace comes late.

Normalcy Bias

In situations of extreme danger, some people enter a mental state that is known as the normalcy bias. In this state, people deny that what is happening to them is really taking place.

The normalcy bias is often experienced when people have never had a situation happen to them before. They use the fact that an event has never happened to justify their belief that it will never happen.”

This explains why, in emergencies, we rarely take immediate action. There’s this feeling of unreality, momentary confusion, and disbelief. It’s so outside our daily experience that it’s as if our brain is trying to make up a story that matches what we’re seeing. Hence the lag…

We don’t see it all the time because most humans are not commonly in life and death emergencies – but we’ve all read or heard about it. If you’ve ever witnessed a car accident you know what I mean. There’s a surreal disconnect between between what we are seeing and our reality.

So what we have here is yet another reason to constantly question our mind’s interpretation of what it thinks is reality – and not be afraid to act if we’re not sure.

Better safe than sorry.

Rule Number One

Kurt Vonnegut’s first rule of creative writing — and the only rule that should never be broken, (even in blog posts) — is this:

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Duly noted.

Shhh…

(Whispering) Don’t wake him up.

Who?

You know who.

(Muffled giggling) Let’s get the fuck out of here….

The Artist Appraising Their Art

I do remember one thing.
It took hours and hours but…
by the time I was done with it,
I was so involved, I didn’t know what to think.
I carried it around with me for days and days…
playing little games
like not looking at it for a whole day
and then… looking at it.
to see if I still liked it.
I did.

The more I look at it,
the more I like it.
I do think it’s good.
The fact is…
no matter how closely I study it,
no matter how I take it apart,
no matter how I break it down,
It remains consistant.
I wish you were here to see it.

I like it.”

From the 1981 King Crimson song “Indiscipline,” written by Robert Fripp, Adrien Belew, Bill Bruford, and Tony Levin

The Scariest Moment is Always Just Before You Start

As Seth Godin is fond of pointing out, there is never a good time to start anything – therefore the best time to start whatever it is you want to do is now.

If you stop and think about it, this is empowering rather than scary.

So quit second guessing yourself, grow some fucking balls, and just go.

It’s really not that hard, and there’s an added benefit – facing the unknown on your own volition can be exhilarating.

Pernicious Adverbs

Adverb: a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb.

Using adverbs is a mortal sin – Elmore Leonard

The road to hell is paved with adverbs – Stephen King

I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me – Mark Twain

You learn what you need to know in the process of doing, and one of the things I’m learning is that the use of adverbs is not considered “good” writing. I’ve been happily grinding away, having just finished my seventh short story, and I’m only now beginning to understand how to edit what I’ve written – I’m going back over it with a more critical eye.

I do seem to like my adverbs, so the brutal process of pruning them out has begun. But it turns out their usage is not quite so black and white (that shouldn’t be a surprise since nothing else in life is either).

I’m going back and checking some highly-praised fiction and memoirs I’ve read recently, and lo and behold, there are indeed adverbs being used – but their use is pretty minimal (see how I slipped that adverb in? And it doesn’t even end with -ly). The hard part is figuring out if taking them out weakens the writing (it’s supposed to make it cleaner and stronger). For example, here’s a sentence from my first short story “The Question Mark Bridge.”

Burr had been angry his whole life – angry at his alcoholic father who abused, belittled, and beat him as a child, angry at his mother for not loving and protecting him, angry at his teachers for failing him (both literally and figuratively), angry at the other kids for ostracizing and making fun of him when he was younger, and ultimately angry at the world for his sorry lot in life, one that he felt he didn’t deserve.”

There’re three adverbs here: “literally, figuratively” & “ultimately.” But the first two point out the duality of his teacher’s failure, and the last explains how his anger at all the previous insults added up to being angry at the whole world. I like the sentence and the adverbs seem justified… or are they? Taking the first two out weakens the idea, and taking out the third makes it less clear that the culmination of what came before led to his anger at the world. (Note: I guess ultimately can come out).

This 2nd draft editing stuff is harder than the 1st draft of actually creating and writing the goddamn story… (note to self: actually? really? Come on.)