Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Author Archives: David Thomas Peacock

Wow

“Hope is an ennervating weakness that makes adjustment impossible.”

– John D. MacDonald

COVID-19 and Immunity

There are also preliminary hints that some people might have a degree of preexisting immunity against the new coronavirus. Four independent groups of scientists—based in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, and Singapore—have now found that 20 to 50 percent of people who were never exposed to SARS-CoV-2 nonetheless have significant numbers of T-cells that can recognize it. These “cross-reactive” cells likely emerged when their owners were infected by other, related coronaviruses, including the four mild ones that cause a third of common colds, and the many that infect other animals.

But Farber cautions that having these cross-reactive T-cells “tells you absolutely nothing about protection.” It’s intuitive to think they would be protective, but immunology is where intuition goes to die. The T-cells might do nothing. There’s an outside chance that they could predispose people to more severe disease. We can’t know for sure without recruiting lots of volunteers, checking their T-cell levels, and following them over a long period of time to see who gets infected—and how badly.

Even if the cross-reactive cells are beneficial, remember that T-cells act by blowing up infected cells. As such, they’re unlikely to stop people from getting infected in the first place, but might reduce the severity of those infections. Could this help to explain why, politics aside, some countries had an easier time with COVID-19 than others? Could it explain why some people incur only mild symptoms? “You can go pretty crazy pretty quickly with the speculations,” says Crotty, who co-led one of the studies that identified these cross-reactive cells. “A lot of people have latched onto this and said it could explain everything. Yes, it could! Or it could explain nothing. It’s a really frustrating situation to be in.”

“I wish it wasn’t,” he adds, “but the immune system is really complicated.

– Ed Yong, “Immunology is Where Intuition Goes to Die”

The Circle of Hate

He listened, grudgingly, as the fat man droned on and on, like a ballon filled with rotten gas that was slowly deflating. Who could listen to this shit and not want to murder him?

As the cartoonishly grotesque dimwit continued to bloviate, he began to work out elaborately violent scenarios that all ended with the death of this human turd. The problem was, they all seemed too good for him.

How can people actually listen to this shit? he thought. The distressing answer is this: if something is repeated enough times, and delivered with a straight face as the truth, there apparently is no limit to the number of suckers willing to buy it. Particularly if it has to do with scapegoating someone else.

And every time I try to tell myself that this is wrong, the hateful clown opens his mouth again and the sewage spills forth as the crowds cheer him on.

It’s enough to make you lose faith in humanity.

How to Make Art

  1. Set out a block of time to work.
  2. Show up.
  3. Don’t let yourself do anything except create or simply think and daydream (daydreaming is important).
  4. Do not second-guess or judge what you do.
  5. Repeat.

That’s it! As you can see, the most important part is so simple it’s embarrassing.

Just show up.

“Anatomy of an American Failure”

The U.S. fundamentally failed in ways that were worse than I ever could have imagined.”

–  Julia Marcus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School

Ed Yong’s new article for The Atlantic, “How the Pandemic Defeated America,” is a must-read for anyone trying to make sense out of what’s happening in America today. Although the sum total isn’t news to anyone paying attention, Yong brilliantly lays out the individual dominoes that fell leading us to this point.

It’s stunningly well-researched reportage that answers a lot of questions about how exactly we ended up here, and the picture it paints is a devastating indictment of everything wrong with he U.S. today. The list of failures is long and disheartening.

Is it possible to fix this mess? Not in the short-term, I’m afraid. With powerful and decisive leadership (a rather big if), it’s possible to slowly begin addressing the economic disaster wrought by the pandemic, but at this late stage only a vaccine given to over half the population will stop it. Based on the past performance of our electorate, I’m not too confident about the upcoming election.

With heartbreaking clarity, Mr. Yong’s article makes one thing all too clear.

If we stay on this road, the Great American Experiment is over.

Reality Check

I’m kind of going through a bleak time here, and I’m really struggling to come up with something interesting. Struggling to come up with anything really.

But you don’t just give up because something starts to get hard, do you? I mean, we all struggle with life at times, don’t we? I’m asking rhetorically, ‘cuz I already know the answer. Yeah, we do.

So I’m soldiering on. Life will get better again, or at least we’ll make some version of it that seems bearable. This fucking pandemic is part of my problem – it’s a moment in history that’s a turning point for human culture. Nothing will ever be the same again. What exactly this means is anyone’s guess, but right now, here in the U.S., it all looks bad.

If humans are highly adaptive creatures, we’re failing the test.

Dave’s Not Here

(Soft knocks at the door)
CHONG: Who is it?
CHEECH: It’s me, Dave. Open up, man, I got the stuff
(More knocks)
CHONG: Who is it?
CHEECH: It’s me, Dave, man. Open up, I got the stuff
CHONG: Who?
CHEECH: It’s, Dave, man. Open up, I think the cops saw me come in here
(More knocks)
CHONG: Who is it?
CHEECH: It’s, Dave, man. Will you open up, I got the stuff with me
CHONG: Who?
CHEECH: Dave, man. Open up
CHONG: Dave?
CHEECH: Yeah, Dave. C’mon, man, open up, I think the cops saw me
CHONG: Dave’s not here
CHEECH: No, man, I’m Dave, man
(Sharp knocks at the door)
CHEECH: Hey, c’mon, man

CHONG: Who is it?
CHEECH: It’s Dave, man. Will you open up? I got the stuff with me
CHONG: Who?
CHEECH: Dave, man. Open up
CHONG: Dave?
CHEECH: Yeah, Dave
CHONG: Dave’s not here
CHEECH: What the hell? No, man, I am Dave, man. Will you…
(More knocks)
CHEECH: C’mon! Open up the door, will you? I got the stuff with me, I think the cops saw me
CHONG: Who is it?
CHEECH: Oh, what the hell is it…c’mon. Open up the door! It’s Dave!
CHONG: Who?
CHEECH: Dave! D-A-V-E! Will you open up the goddam door!
CHONG: Dave?
CHEECH: Yeah, Dave!
CHONG: Dave?
CHEECH: Right, man. Dave. Now will you open up the door?
CHONG: Dave’s not here

– Cheech and Chong, 1971

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.