Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: July 2020

What I’ve Learned From My Dogs

Dogs live in the moment. They are, of course, influenced by the past. But they have no concept of the future. There is only the now.

I’m not saying we should totally emulate this, but I do think there’s a lesson here to be learned.

Because in the end, what else really matters? It’s a fools game to actually think we could influence the future. The present is all we have.

When you really think about it, isn’t that enough?

How Do You Define Success? (Part 2)

Not so easy to answer, is it? As difficult to wrap your head around as this may be, the only part of your “success” that you have any control over is the joy and fulfillment you get from actually making cool shit. Who gets to decide whether something qualifies as cool shit?

You do.

Everything else – recognition, accolades, having what you do touch other people in a meaningful way, (notice I didn’t bother to put money on the list) – all these things are out of your control.

But the joy of creating something out of nothing is inherently yours. No one than take that from you unless you let them. By all means, put your creations out in the world. Just don’t get too upset if nobody notices.

As an ER nurse who survived cancer, I know how fragile life is. Everything can change in a second. This is not necessarily knowledge you want to have, but it does put things like “success” in perspective.

Everyone wants to think they’ve left something meaningful behind, but the truth is most of what was ever created will end up in the dustbin of eternity. The only thing that lives on even briefly are the memories you left on those whose lives you touched.

So if making things is a compulsion that gives you joy and makes your life richer, why get bogged down in something so out of your control as “success?” Or better yet – redefine the word itself.

This is what you do have control over:

How you perceive life. That and how you choose to spend your time is pretty much it. But controlling your perception is everything. Revel in it.

Oh, and BTW – be kind to other people while you’re doing it. That may be the only legacy you leave behind.

This Is It

“I’ve more or less become the person I was evidently always going to be.”

– Bob Brody

Rejection (Part 2)

How do you bridge the cognitive disconnect of processing rejection when you know the work is good? This is something I’m learning to do with writing, but boy it can be rough. Especially when you’re new at it.

You start off writing because you love it – you’re on fire to get these characters and their stories fully realized on the printed page. It’s fucking intoxicating. After you’ve got your first draft you read it again and again, editing ruthlessly – going over every word and sentence. You want it to flow, to reach a point where it’s undeniable.

As soon as you think you’ve reached that stage comes the realization that any further editing is only going to make it worse, so you declare it ready to submit for publishing. Oh boy – people are going to love this shit as much as you do! You can’t wait…

Then come the rejections, one after another. Your first thought is WTF!? Then you begin to think, Am I deluded, does my writing suck? Or, just as bad, is it because no one finds the stories I write interesting?

At the bottom of this well of disappointment lies this disconnect: You keep getting rejections but deep down you know this shit is great. Sure, you can always get better at the craft of writing, but at the end of the day you just have to accept that no one else may ever read it, much less like it. So what do you do with that bitter pill?

You swallow it and keep writing.

Impetigore

I’ve become absolutely obsessed with foreign cinema. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Hollywood mega-blockbusters, and I certainly thought last year’s “Joker” was a masterpiece, but where are all the low-budget movies directed by film makers with a vision that doesn’t neatly fit into a genre box? I’ve been known to enjoy big-budget summer entertainment on occasion, but like junk food, it’s not supposed to be consumed daily.

What’s so cool about foreign films is that they tell their stories through the lens of their culture. The stories themselves might be somewhat familiar, but everything seems fresh, the references unrecognizable.

“Impetigore” is an Indonesian film written and directed by Joko Anwar from 2019, and it defies categorization. It’s not exactly a horror movie although it loosely fits into that category. It’s just ferociously well-done – a great script, shot beautifully on location. You can feel the heat because all the actors are sweating in every scene. Somehow this makes them more attractive, not less.

The lead actress, Tara Basro, is one of those people you can’t take your eyes off, and she delivers quite a performance here. Indonesian culture saturates this film, and it’s mesmerizing. The way people are bonded together, the way they relate to each other, is both familiar and remote at the same time. You kind of recognize this world but not really – it’s like a beautiful dream, or perhaps nightmare.

All I know is that I was transported to another fully-formed reality for 90 minutes. That’s my definition of a good movie.

Quentin Tarantino (Part 2)

“When I make a film, I am hoping to reinvent the genre a little bit,” Tarantino once added. “I just do it my way. I make my own little Quentin versions of them… I consider myself a student of cinema. It’s almost like I am going for my professorship in cinema, and the day I die is the day I graduate. It is a lifelong study.”

– Quentin Tarantino

Sanctuary

When I’m at home, the coronavirus doesn’t exist – I can enjoy spending time with my wife as if it was 2019. No masks, no discussion about the ineptitude of our country’s embarrassing lack of response, no distressing analysis about who’s at risk and who isn’t or what the latest reports indicate about the virus’s destructive toll on our bodies.

When I’m at work I spend 12 and a half hours with an N95 respirator covered with a surgical mask and goggles on (the surgical mask is there to protect the N95 in case I have to use it again). It feels like some sort of insidious torture where you are slowly being suffocated while the bridge of your nose is collapsing under the weight of your PPE.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for my protective gear. It’s what saved me during the COVID apocalypse here in my NYC ER from mid-March through mid-April. It’s what will save me until there’s a vaccine. But make no mistake – it changes everything about my job. The human element is gone, no one can see my face, hell, they can barely hear me through all this shit.

So when I’m at home I have to let it all go in an attempt to preserve my sanity. There’s just one problem.

I miss people.

Inertia

  1. (Noun) A tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.
  2. (Physics) A property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.

The thing is, nothing ever remains unchanged – at least if it’s alive. All living things are either in a state of becoming, or a state of entropy.

Or perhaps both at the same time.

Your choice.

Beautiful Loser (Part 1)

I loved you, but at the time I didn’t know it. Too much chaos, too many drugs, and too little experience. I just hadn’t lived long enough to really understand anything except how to survive. That was a skill I was an expert at.

See, you learn how to love by being loved – a concept I didn’t understand until much later. This was all foreign to me, so I improvised as best I could, which is to say, not very well.

We ended up giving it a go more than once, each time separated by several years. It never worked, and it wasn’t your fault.

I couldn’t control my own mind, and as a result I didn’t think much of myself. This would ultimately lead to my downfall, but I wasn’t there yet. I still had further to go.

I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you.

Easy Now…

Don’t buy trouble. It’s coming anyway – there’s no need to rush it.

Relax and enjoy what you have.

How Much to Reveal?

This is a question I constantly wrestle with. When I ask myself which topics are off limits, the ones I struggle with the most have to do with work. It’s not hard to see why.

I’m an ER nurse, so I have to constantly be aware of patient privacy issues – which isn’t difficult, I understand where the boundaries are. But what about the work environment itself?

It seems like I’ve intuitively decided to talk about my personal experience – the way the ER affects my life. I try to have a separate creative life outside of work, but let’s face it. Your day gig is going to affect you if for no other reason than you spend a big chunk of your life there. The ER just intensifies everything.

But there’s also this: unless you are in the profession, no one really understands what you do. ER medicine and nursing is an entirely different beast from all other areas of these professions. So much so that doctors and nurses who don’t work there are often shocked at what it is we actually do. Forget the general public – sometimes it’s better not knowing.

I’ve been very open about my struggles with work in my writing – I do this because it helps me process what’s happening. Very intense experiences with the sick and dying can become negative emotional baggage if you don’t go through the process of self-examination.

So how do you explain the unexplainable? The short answer is you don’t. Some things are better left at work or with your therapist.

It’s lonely but at least you won’t scare the shit out of everyone else.

A Long Time Ago (Part 1)

When you’re a little kid, of course you feel vulnerable. You can’t live on your own and you realize you’re impossibly weak compared to adults, so you have no way to protect yourself apart from your wits.

But their comes a day, a glorious day, where you realize the tables have turned. Now you can scare them. You still couldn’t support yourself and live on your own, but you’re no longer physically vulnerable. This is where things become impossibly unstable. This is where everything changes. No one’s quite sure who’s in charge.

All the hurt is now rage, and someone’s going to pay. You were just smart enough to know where to unleash it – on the people who were supposed to be responsible for taking care of you. The ones who thought nothing of beating or neglecting you. The ones who were supposed to love you.

Now it was payback time – but because I was still a kid, I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew this shit was going to stop.

The problem was, it would never stop. You’d carry those scars the rest of your life. It almost killed me – but I was lucky enough to find someone who loved me and got me help. Someone who stood beside me know matter how ugly I got.

And you know what?

Love works.

Locus of Control

Definition: Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces, have control over the outcome of events in their lives.

Throughout our lives, hell, throughout our day, bad things are going to happen to us. It’s just the way life works, and unfortunately, sometimes these events can pile up and become destabilizing. On a large scale, COVID would be a great example. On a smaller scale, troubling things happen to us all the time, and the stress of all this negative energy can build-up without our awareness. But here’s the truth:

We can’t control the things that happen to us, but we can control our response. It’s our response that’s within our locus of control.

Mind you I struggle with this all the time, so I have to constantly keep reminding myself. Stressors accumulate, and even though I meditate, sometimes that’s not enough.

Nobody ever said life is fair, and if they did they were lying. Just remember that you have control over your response.

Summer of 1969

School’s out. Sitting alone on a curb, you’re body releases the tension of the day as you’re embraced by a gentle breeze on a balmy summer night. The fireflies are out sending their luminescent messages to each other, dancing in the night air, seeming to say “Hey, I’m over here.” You look at all the houses on your street lit up and imagine the people in them relaxing, watching TV together. It seems peaceful.

Holding a cheap transistor radio you’ve tuned to the local AM radio station, you listen as the DJ starts the next tune. Burning itself into your brain, it carves the scene you’re experiencing into a permanent memory. You start to groove to Crystal Blue Persuasion, imagining you’re in one of those houses.

You’re 12 years old and life is starting to open up like a flower. Sitting here by yourself in the night, for a moment everything seems okay. You listen as Tommy James sings “Maybe tomorrow…”

Mistrust

I’ve always known my body wanted to kill me. It’s just that when you’re younger, sheer youth and vitality can hold things in check. Once age starts to kick in, it all starts to become more and more precarious. You begin to realize the whole mess is about as sturdy as a house of cards.

As a result, my body and I have circled each other warily, always watching the other one for a sign of weakness. Me doing everything possible to strengthen and build my constitution up, while my body gleefully breaks something, hoping to muck up the works.

But I’ve always managed to rally, to put the traitor in its place. “Not today” I shout. “You’ll have to do better than that.” My body, unfortunately, takes this as a challenge. It’s imaginative.

And so we go, locked in a fight to the death. The conclusion hasn’t been written yet, my treacherous friend. A little bit of duct tape and some spackle and I’m good to go. I know this isn’t going to end well, but for the moment I’ve got the upper hand.

I’m not dead yet.