Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Author Archives: David Thomas Peacock

Life Is Not An Either Or Proposition (Part 2)

It’s a fools game to think that only one particular thing (brand, artist, chef, etc) is the greatest (this would of course be the thing that you think is the greatest) and everything else sucks and only ignorant dummies could possibly partake in enjoying their obviously inferior nonsense.

Maybe, just maybe, everything is good, at least to some degree. Who the fuck are you to judge the worth of these things? Who made you the czar of good taste and high quality?

Seriously – don’t fall into this trap. It makes you sound like a condescending asshole, and there are already way too many of those in this world.

You are better than that.

Be Comfortable With Who You Are

Trust me, life will be so much better, and you will be so much happier, if you would just relax and be yourself. Because here’s the thing: for the most part, no one else really gives a shit. You might think they do, but you would be wrong – and it’s a good thing they don’t care. That frees you up to worry about shit that’s actually important.

The sooner you get comfortable with this idea the better. Because at some point in your life the penny is going to drop and you will think “Why didn’t I get this sooner?

Just let go and be who you are. It’s okay.

Own it.

The Question Mark Bridge, Part 6

$1.62

That’s all Rennie had when the Greyhound bus pulled into the Roanoke Bus Station, and this was as far as her ticket would take her. As usual, things didn’t go according to plan. Before she ran away, her boyfriend told her she could call his aunt who lived just outside of Roanoke and worked as a waitress at a truck stop diner. He said she would help Rennie get a job there and she could save enough money to get to Memphis. Unfortunately, when the bus stopped in Lynchburg, she tried to call the woman and of course the line was disconnected. So now it’s 4:00 pm on a crystal-clear Saturday afternoon in the fall and she’s got $1.62 with nowhere to go.

Dirty, hungry and tired, she headed to the women’s bathroom. At 16, she was blonde and pretty in a way that probably wasn’t going to last that long, but at the moment all she knew was she had to use whatever assets she had to figure out her next move. She knew the drill and had a small bag packed with the essentials: a change of underwear, jeans, a couple of tops, a nice pair of open-toed shoes with a built-up wooden heel that made her look taller, some makeup and nail polish, a toothbrush with toothpaste, a sweatshirt and jacket, a small flip knife for protection, some tampons, a candy bar, a pack of Newport’s, and her favorite book: “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl (she had stolen it from a library one day after reading it). It was easy to shoplift most of this stuff, and she could wash her clothes in bathrooms, drying them with hot air blowers when she could. Same with bathing – you’d be surprised how clean you can get in a roadhouse bathroom. When you’re young it’s not that hard to look good.

While she was changing and getting cleaned up in the bathroom, for some reason she remembered Ms. Barnes, her 5th grade teacher. She had just taken one of those mandatory aptitude tests and Ms. Barnes had kept her after school, clearly excited. “Well Miss Rennie, in all of my years teaching children I’ve never seen a score this high on an aptitude test. We’ll contact your parents and talk to them about putting you in a special school for gifted children – I’m sure they’ll be so proud of you.” Rennie felt bad for Ms. Barnes – she seemed so happy about the whole thing. But there wouldn’t be any special school for Rennie, her foster parents would see to that.

She looked totally different coming out of the bathroom. She had cleaned herself up, changed clothes, and put on some makeup. Looking older than her 16 years, she headed for a diner across the street from the bus station. She had enough money for coffee and a doughnut, and now that she was fixed up, she could get to work finding someone who could help her. A sixteen year old shouldn’t know how to handle a situation like this, but life can be hard on little things and this wasn’t anything new for Rennie. When you’ve always been on your own you learn how to depend on yourself. She just needed somewhere to stay for a night or two while she figured out what to do next.

Almost as soon as she sat down, an older man who appeared to be close to 30 approached her. He was kind of big and looked a little rough but flashed an easy smile like he’d known her for a long time and was just waiting for her to show up.

Hey there, my name’s Burr – can I buy you a cup of coffee?

The Question Mark Bridge, Part 5

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. He never cared about other people, he told himself, because they never cared about him. He had decided at a young age that he would get back at them any way he could, and he spent all of his time dreaming of ways he would accomplish this.

From the age of 12 to 18, Burr had been in and out of court ordered juvenile detention centers so many times he couldn’t count. These places were just warehouses to keep dangerous kids, who would later become dangerous adults, off the streets. It was here, not at home, that he learned how life works. Here is where he really began to understand how to manipulate people. As a child he would try to appear scared and helpless to get what he wanted, but eventually grew out of that, so he developed other strategies. Burr was bigger than most, so he realized he had to offset his intimidating size with an exaggerated friendly demeanor. For a while he tried the religious thing, but on the outside he realized it just freaked people out, so he dropped it. He was good at manipulating people, so he just developed a very quick to smile, relaxed, upbeat and helpful demeanor. He became masterful in reading what people wanted, and could alter his approach seamlessly to fill that need.

By the time it came for him to make his move, they never saw it coming.

He was now 27 and well-practiced in his art. He hadn’t been arrested in five years, and knew if he kept moving, it was unlikely he would get caught. The things he had done would be unimaginable to most people, and he wanted to keep it that way. All in all, life was pretty good, he thought.

The way he figured it, they were all getting what they deserved, and he was confident he could keep this up for quite a while – the rest of his life maybe. But here’s the thing about life: the minute you get too confident is the minute things can go south.

Burr didn’t know it yet, but he was about to hit that minute.

Showing Up

Seriously – if you want to move ahead in life, there are two things you must always do. First, you have to show up, and second, you must show up on time. Sounds pretty basic, huh?

Here’s my rule, and it took me longer to fully learn this than I’d like to admit. If someone doesn’t honor this commitment the first time, it will only get worse from there.

Once I understood this, it made how I respond to these situations much easier. If I am paying someone for a service and they are late, we’re done. Especially if it’s the first time we meet. Because I now understand that they will always be late.

The type of service doesn’t matter – it could be a plumber, a house cleaner, or a doctor. There are exceptions, but these exceptions generally involve either someone who provides a unique service (e.g. a highly specialized surgeon), or a corporate monopoly. The former we will wait for because they are the best at what they do, the latter we will curse and hate with every fiber of our being while they continue to make us wait while taking our money.

The ones who don’t show up are not even considered to exist. They have doomed themselves to failure by their own hand.

Oh, and BTW, on a related but separate note – if a restaurant is empty, turn around and leave. There is a reason why it’s empty. It sounds cruel but you’ll thank me later.

ER Sucker Punch

There’s not many things that happen in the ER that stop me dead in my tracks, but diagnosing someone with cancer is one of them. When I wrote the title of this post I was thinking about the patient, but I guess it applies to me as well. There’s this devastating moment in every cancer patients life where a doctor says something along the lines of “I’m sorry but I have some bad news.” And at that moment EVERYTHING suddenly changes. The moment before, you were just a person living their life, concerned with the same hopes, dreams, and mundane bullshit that fills up every persons life. The moment after is like regaining consciousness after being sucker punched by Mike Tyson. You’re mind is trying to think but nothing’s happening – all you can think of is “Wait – what did he just say?

It’s so fucking heartbreaking – they come to the ER for what they think is some benign event: abdominal pain, maybe they’re just feeling tired, or perhaps sudden weight loss. Then we do a CT scan and there’s fucking tumors everywhere. The doc now has the unenviable task of telling them, and trust me, there is no easy way to do it. The best approach is to bring them into a private area (not easy to find in a busy ER), and then just be brutally honest in as compassionate a manner as can be mustered. I don’t know which is worse – this or telling someone their loved one just died.

When I have to take part in this process it’s because they are my patient – as their nurse, part of my job is helping them understand what’s happening, I am there to help provide guidance through murky, rough waters. But I went through this process myself, and although I came through it, all of those feelings come rushing back.

I want to tell them everything will be alright, but I can’t do that because they need my honesty and I know too much. It’s a terrible moment in someone’s life. When you’re a nurse, pain, suffering, and death are everywhere.

It’s just part of the gig.

It’s Not Just About You

Really. Just stop. You’re on an entire planet filled with other humans, some of whom are most definitely smarter, stronger, and better looking than you. So take a deep breath.

You are special, just like everyone else. No more, no less. You may have convinced yourself otherwise, but you’re only fooling yourself. If you don’t believe me, just wait until it’s all over and get back to me.

How about taking some of whatever it is you think makes you so special and give it to someone else.

Now that would make you special.

My Problem With Throwing Shit Out

Ok, I’m not really a sentimental guy, but it’s hard. I don’t like throwing things out because, whether it’s positive or negative, they seem to somehow be imbued with the power of the past. They might be a physical reminder of failed plans, or maybe connected to a memory that involved someone who is no longer here.

See, when you get older, you realize these things are artifacts from a time in your life that is now over. They are a painful reminder that you will never be that age again, because my friend, that ship has sailed. You’re older now and time is running out. You realize that many of the things you thought you might do are probably going to remain undone. There’s other stuff that you will do, but the open ended possibilities from your youth are gone.

You don’t have these problems until you’re 60 or so, and by then I guess you should feel lucky that you’re still alive. ‘Cuz the downhill slope from here is quick, assured, and inevitable. The train has left the station and it’s picking up speed to reach its final destination.

If there’s any business you want to take care of, you might want to get cracking. I’m not sure how many stops are left on this ride.

Resilience

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness

I think we can all agree that this is a highly desirable trait – the question is, how do we achieve and maintain it, and what do we do when it runs out?

My first thought is that I believe resilience is highly correlated with self-efficacy – one’s sense that they have some control over their own outcome. In other words, if you feel like you can do something, you are more likely to bounce back from difficulties encountered in actually trying to do it. Conversely, if you feel powerless, you probably aren’t going to even try, much less show resilience at the first sign of trouble. If you feel like you have no power, then by definition you are going to feel like you are at the mercy of outside forces.

And of course there’s more than one kind of resilience – some people are mentally tough but physically weak, and vice versa. Let’s also be clear: some are born with a greater capacity for resilience than others, but that doesn’t mean that we all don’t share this trait to some degree.

Ultimately however, I think our capacity for resilience is most closely tied to our desire. If we want something badly enough, we won’t stop until we get it. No matter how much pain and suffering are dished out along the way. And if we want it badly enough, a good argument could be made that it’s not even that important whether or not we actually get it. The journey in working for it, and bouncing back from the painful failures we invariably encounter, becomes its own reward.

Maybe our ability to absorb pain and bounce back from it is the whole point – if so, perhaps we should celebrate what seems in the moment to be overwhelming stress and adversity as a test to see what we are made of.

Thanks

It’s always helpful when the patient makes a list of their medications for the triage nurse.

Requiem

You were carried into the night by the winds of misfortune

Only to be slowly swept away by the winds of time

New Years Day

As I get older this day seems to become more and more significant, but not in the traditional sense of making resolutions. No, it’s a bit more profound than that – at least to me.

Please understand that what I am about to say is not meant to be morbid, rather it comes from a place of gratitude – but I still know it’s going to sound harsh…

With the passing of each year, I understand that I am one year closer to death. Having lived to the age of 62, this thought is not abstract. But immediately on the heels of that realization is a second thought: how fucking grateful I am to have lived the life I had. It’s as if somehow knowing that the show is coming to an end makes everything sweeter and more important.

Granted, my life is far from over – I feel great and look forward to continuing to learn, fail, grow and succeed. But I’m not getting any younger, and beyond taking care of myself, there isn’t a goddamn thing I can do about that.

So the new year represents a reminder that this thing we call life is finite, and how we choose to spend what time we have here is entirely up to us. We have to savor each moment, each victory, each failure, each relationship and each experience.

We never know when this trip is going to come to an abrupt end. When it does you want to remember it as a life well spent, one you appreciated while you had it.

And don’t forget to tell someone you love them.

Phenotype

The set of observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

If our genotype represents all of the possible potential manifestations of an organism, the vast majority of which are unseeable, then our phenotype is what the world sees. It is the physical manifestation of our genotype – quite literally how we look.

We have some significant control over how this plays out to the degree that we develop what we have, but we’re not changing our basic genetic blueprint. It was the hand we were dealt at birth, and it’s ramifications significantly define who we are.

Take actors for example. The arc of their careers is determined to a large degree by their phenotype. Lee Van Cleef was never going to play soft male roles – his phenotype said this is a cold, cunning and cruel man. It didn’t matter if that was his true personality or not. Which leads to the question: Does our phenotype actually determine who we become? If we look mean, do we become mean? If we look kind, does that necessarily represent who we are?

I think the answer is clearly no – humans are way too complex for that. The old truism “don’t judge a book by its cover” indicates that this was a lesson worth passing down from generation to generation, no doubt as a safety mechanism for survival.

But still, clearly phenotype is our destiny to some degree. Some people are breathtakingly beautiful, most are not, and some are (at least by the standards of the surrounding society) downright ugly. No amount of grooming or exercise or plastic surgery is going to change that. We can work to maximize what we have, but we cannot become what we are not.

The really weird thing is, I’m not sure any of us really has that clear an idea of how others interpret our phenotype. What others see when they look at you is most assuredly not what you see when you look at yourself.

Which brings up another interesting question: To what degree does inner will and intent shape how others interpret your phenotype? My guess is that, although it’s not something objectively seen, it most definitely is something subjectively sensed.

40%

Ok, this rule is really simple: Whenever you think you’re done – as in “I can’t go on, that’s all I’ve got,you’ve still got 60% in the tank. You think you’re maxed out but you’re really only at 40%, because that’s where the pain starts.

This is a David Goggins axiom, and he seems to be one of those people who exists simply to show us what we are capable of doing. He has walked the walk, so when he says this, I am listening.

Of course, none of us wants to voluntarily put ourselves through this kind of pain – but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t do it.

The point here is this: It’s good to periodically remind ourselves that we are all capable of achieving things far beyond what we ever thought possible. That potential is within each of us, just waiting to be used.

How much of this potential we choose to use is entirely up to us.

Haunting

I would have enjoyed Leon Vinehall’s “Envelopes (Chapter VI)” if I had simply heard it as a piece of music. But seeing it realized as a haunting black and white video was strangely moving.

This is a really interesting piece – he is telling a story with music, then adding images to enhance the sound. Film works the opposite way – you tell the story with images, then use music to enhance the visuals.

The way he’s created this is very powerful and hard to shake once you’ve seen it.

It’s a beautiful and haunting expression of loss that keeps drawing me back.