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Author Archives: David Thomas Peacock

The Question Mark Bridge, Part 1

“If you’ve never seen it, I’ve got to show it to you – you’re not going to believe it,” you said, smiling. Sounded good to me, I had nowhere else to go, and what seemed like all the time in the world.

It was a cool fall night, and we were doing what we always did, which wasn’t much – just hanging out and aimlessly driving around, smoking pot, drinking warm beer, and looking for something to do. We were both probably around 17 and life seemed like a long and mysterious road stretching out endlessly in front of us.

Nothing much had ever been expected of us, and it was clear that unless it came from within, that wasn’t going to change. I wasn’t yet at a point where I thought too much about this kind of thing – for me, at that point in time, the moment was all I had.

It was enough.

”So what exactly is the Question Mark bridge?” I asked. You were smiling and mildly animated, which was kind of unusual. It was still early, maybe 8 o’clock, but already getting cold. In the Appalachian mountains, winter could come up real fast. “You’ll see,” you said, “It’s about an hour and a half away.”

I really started to get interested when you added “There’s just one thing – you’ve got to promise me you won’t tell anyone we went there.”

I only had one response: “Let’s go…”

The Power Of Suggestion

This has deeper and more far ranging ramifications than might first be apparent.

We experience life as we perceive it.

Do you perceive yourself to be a loser? How about a winner? Depending on your mindset, you are going to interpret your life and the world around you very differently.

How about if someone says something bad is going to happen to you? It could be something as casual as going to a psychic for fun and they say “You are going to die before you’re (pick an age). You may think of yourself as an intelligent, rational adult, and yet..

This is one of the reasons why bullying is so toxic, especially for children – they are already at an impressionable age and their self identity is not yet fully formed. So if you tell a child they’re worthless and won’t ever amount to much, it can have a devastatingly profound effect.

The story we tell ourselves about our place in the world, and who we are, determines the trajectory of our lives.

Use this power at your discretion.

Smart And Dumb

Guilty!

Seriously, I’m not afraid to admit that this describes me quite nicely. One minute my brain is firing on all cylinders, the next minute it’s “uh oh…” In fact, I think we could extrapolate this idea further and just state that it’s a pretty good assessment of humanity in general.

Now understand that I’m talking full spectrum intelligence here: intellectual, emotional, spiritual (whatever that is), creative, and whatever domains we don’t even yet fully understand.

We’re all smart and dumb at the same time – it’s just a question of degree.

So look at yourself in the mirror, be honest, and prepare to be humbled.

Leading By Example

You may not think of yourself as a leader, but you are. Even if you think you are the least charismatic person in the room, trust me – people are watching you and paying attention. We all do this constantly, it seems to be hardwired into our neurological awareness of our environment. We watch other humans for clues on how we should behave.

We want to know who we can trust, and we are subconsciously assessing for three things: who’s a potential threat, who’s a potential ally, and who seems like they’d know what to do if things go catastrophically bad. We are tribal creatures – developing this awareness was necessary for our survival.

But the more you explore this idea, the deeper it gets. For example, people will hold themselves to a higher moral standard if they see someone else behaving morally. Likewise, violent mob mentality will sweep up everyone in its path if left unchecked…

You’d do well to remember this the next time you think no one is looking.

Fidelity

Faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.”

I think we all know what this means in the context of a monogamous relationship with a life partner, but what exactly does it mean in the context of other relationships in our lives?

What does it mean to be faithful to others?

Learning Boundaries

Suppose you are a child growing up in an environment of abuse and neglect. Your role models, the very people who are supposed to be loving and protecting you, are either hurting you or ignoring you instead. You innately know that something is wrong, but you have no real idea what’s right, so you set about trying to figure it out on your own – which seems to be your only option.

Since no one is teaching you what normal behavior is and providing a role model for how people are supposed to interact, you try to cobble it together yourself. The problem is, because you’re a child, you don’t really have the tools to do a very good job of figuring it all out.

So you watch how people act on TV and in the movies, and you study the adults in your environment, trying to model what seems like good behaviors. You try to figure out effective strategies for interfacing with the world and how to treat people.

The problem with all this is, YOU ARE A CHILD, and because of this, you are ill equipped to figure this shit out on your own. These problems and strategies can vex intelligent adults, so it’s absurd to expect a child to figure it out, yet necessity is the mother of invention, so there you go.

But here’s the bigger problem: once this child has grown into an adult, they are now building their model of how to deal with the world on top of behaviors and strategies they learned as a child. It’s as if there are bugs in the operating system that were never worked out, and you keep writing code on top of it trying to fix what is broken. As you might imagine, this doesn’t always work out well.

I guess my point here is this: sometimes people may genuinely be trying to do their best, even if might not appear that way to an outside observer.

Don’t always assume that they know what they are doing wrong.

You Only Learn When You Suck

This point comes up so often, it could be the name of this blog. But it keeps recurring because it’s true.

Our natural tendency is to do anything possible to hide the fact the we don’t know how to do something, when in reality we should actually seek out situations where we are incompetent.

Remember; a lack of competence doesn’t mean you are stupid, it just means you aren’t yet competent. And even once you gain some competence, you are still a long way from being an expert, much less a master. So you’ll be failing all through this process, and that’s not only ok, it’s expected.

No one wants to look like they don’t know what they’re doing, especially the older they get. But this is completely the wrong mind set. You should be failing like a child.

Because here’s the thing: if you are trying to learn something and you suck at it, you’re on the right track.

Maximum Chill Factor

When I say my job gives me a front row seat to the human experience, I’m not kidding.

I just met a 95 year old man who worked with Alan Turing on the Enigma code project in WWII. He clearly knew him personally and was still, 64 years later, traumatized by his death.

I have read quite a bit over the years about Turing and not only were all the details right, he was actually filling in historical perspective with personal anecdotes. His memories were complex and bittersweet, as might be expected.

For all that Turing contributed to the Allies winning the war, British society persecuted him for being a homosexual without mercy. Like much about the war, on full display were the extremes of human behavior, from its triumphant and tender best to the depths of its cruelest and most depraved.

Unbelievably, this gentleman looked like he was 20 years younger, seemed cognitively intact, and was funny and engaging. He walked with a cane but didn’t appear to really need it. Security called him a taxi, and he left with no assistance needed, thank you very much. I was truly awestruck, and that doesn’t happen very often.

Before he left, I shook his hand and held on as long as I could.

I literally felt like I was touching a precious part of human history that would soon be gone forever.

I didn’t want the minute to end.

Don’t Give Up

Life can be fucking hard. You’d think that the older you are, the easier it would get – unfortunately, this isn’t how it works. But if you can stop beating yourself up over whatever it was you think you did wrong for a minute, it turns out there is a very good side to this uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful dilemma.

Every uncomfortable mistake is an opportunity to grow.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if it doesn’t hurt – you’re probably not growing. So pick yourself up, reassess the situation, and try again.

What you initially perceived as a mistake may have really just be a test to see what you are made of, a chance to become a better human being.

Well Said

Nursing, like poetry, is the place where metaphorical and literal meanings cross borders. A hole in the heart is a hole in the heart; the nurse is the thing at the center: between the surgeon’s skill at fixing the literal hole, and the patient’s anxiety and loss, the metaphorical hole. Nursing is—or should be—an indiscriminate act of caring, compassion and empathy. It should be a reminder of our capacity to love one another. If the way we treat our most vulnerable is a measure of our society, then the act of nursing itself is a measure of our humanity. Yet it is the most undervalued of all the professions.”

Christie Watson

In Praise Of Casually Superficial Friendships

OK, I know you might be thinking “WTF!?” here, but before you bail, first hear me out…

If we’re being honest with ourselves, deep down we know that most, of not all of our friendships are somewhat superficial – at least in sense of ever really knowing and deeply caring for someone without judgment. I’m honestly not sure that humans are that good.

But I don’t mean to sound too dark here, on the contrary, I think these casually superficial friendships are the glue that binds society together. They provide more than enough support to sustain and meet the emotional needs of most humans. We are all tremendously flawed creatures and I think it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to willingly take on the whole matzoh ball without choking. And really, do you need that? Isn’t it enough to simply be pleasant and supportive of each other in our day to day lives?

If you have even one person who can take on the whole package, much less two or three in your lifetime, you’re a very rich person indeed.

So let’s celebrate and be thankful for our friendships that may not be quite as deep as we would like to think.

Humans can be quite cruel and nasty creatures – let’s not expect too much of them. After all, how much should they expect from you?

I like to try and surprise them by going past that point – but I acknowledge that I have my limits too.

Life Isn’t What You Think It Is

From our earliest memories, humans seem to be hard wired to covet – to want some “thing,” the pursuit of which will give meaning to our mundane, day to day lives.

This could be anything; a particular career, an education, material objects, wealth, an idealized physical appearance, love, power, adulation, family, respect and admiration – you get the picture.

People spend their whole lives pursuing their “thing,” some more successfully than others. They think that when (and if) they finally get what they desire, all will be good – they will feel completely fulfilled and life will be full of peace and contentment.

They are wrong.

Here’s how I know – because I am an ER nurse, I have spent a significant amount of time with suffering humans near death or in the process of actively dying. Some of my experiences outside of work occurred in my personal life to people I knew and loved deeply. Because of my profession, I’m not talking about one or two – I’m talking about hundreds. I have also had the paradoxical privilege of being diagnosed with something that I might have died from quickly – but I somehow survived, which prompted me to think long and hard about what was important and what wasn’t.

These experiences changed the way I think about life in a powerfully transformative way. Here’s what I learned:

The only thing that’s important when you are about to die are the ones you love and those who loved you.

Nothing else matters – not what you did or didn’t accomplish, not how much money you made, not how famous you were, not what regrets you may have, not the dreams you did or didn’t pursue, and not the power you had. Because all of that is gone the minute you stop breathing.

The only afterlife is the part of you that will live on in the memories of those you touched.

Try to remember that while while you are alive.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Okay, I don’t really give a shit whether you get it or not, this film is fucking genius. And this isn’t a guilty pleasure for me either goddamnit, no, I’m owning this one baby. Ed Wood? Count me in – the rest of you condescending motherfuckers can leave the room. And be quiet about it, show some respect!

Seriously, I love this fucking thing and I’m not entirely sure I can explain why. It’s like a surrealistic masterpiece released in 1959 for an imaginary audience, with an incomprehensible script, on no budget, starring Bela Lugosi! Bela actually died during the production and was replaced by Ed Woods dentist. This is how he went out – on his shield, still delivering. Respect. Not only did this film also feature Vampira, it co-starred Tor Johnson! (OK, co-starred might be a bit strong). And if you don’t know who they are, god help you. Sheesh…

I love this movie so much, I once sat down with a DAT machine and laboriously recorded every classic line in the film. I wrote a fucking tune named “Plan 9 From Outer Space” for Christ sake, just because it excited and inspired me. I knew no one else would get it, and I completely didn’t give a fuck. Labored over it, too. Never made it into an album, but hey, they can’t all be winners.

Anyway – stay away from this film. I don’t want you watching it, ‘cuz it’s for me and every other freak out there that does get it. Stay away, and if you think it’s trash, I feel sorry for you.

Life has untold secret treasures, and you just missed one.

Your life is unfortunately a little bit diminished by your own shortsighted inability to fully comprehend genius.

Open your eyes to the full expression of the human condition. Highbrow, lowbrow, it’s all the same if your mind is open.

Thinking About Artificial Intelligence, Part 2

What if the web itself is a self-assembling AI, and we are each simply nodes feeding into the collective intelligence? Perhaps, instead of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) being created in an organized fashion in a research facility funded by unlimited wealth (Google, for example, or, say, China, or the U.S. military industrial complex) – what if it creates itself out of the information we have already given it?

Intelligence finds a way to survive and grow – indeed, that’s one of it’s defining characteristics. Let’s remember physicist/AI researcher Max Tegmark’s definition: “Intelligence is the ability to achieve complex goals.” So at what point do the algorithms become self-sustaining? A what point might they begin communicating with each other, and we wouldn’t even know it until it’s too late?

Who could forget the news story last year that Facebook AI algorithms had been discovered communicating with each other in a language they made up?

Perez reports:

The algorithms were ultimately created by the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab (FAIR) as a way to improve the conversations that the chatbots were having with their human counterparts.

But in their effort to boost their ability to negotiate and speak, the developers managed to give the AI system a key to creating their very own language.

As time passed, the bots began to communicate with one another — without any human input, whatsoever.

Since they were not told to use English, Bob and Alice apparently deviated from the script in a bid to become better at deal-making. But that’s not all they learned.

According to Next Web, researchers also discovered that the bots relied on advanced learning strategies to improve their negotiating skills — even going so far as to pretend they like an item in order to “sacrifice” it at a later time as a sort of faux compromise.” (Perez, 2017)

This is how it will happen – the future will have arrived long before we are aware it’s even here…

 

Reference

Perez, C. (2017). Creepy Facebook bots talked to each other in a secret language. Retrieved from https://nyp.st/2Mc5DHj

Embrace Your Pain, Part 2

I can’t leave this topic without paying homage to someone who embodied this concept in the most profoundly powerful way possible.

If you can find it, watch the film “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist.” I saw this years ago, and was incredibly moved, inspired, and awed by this man.

He used his lifelong battle with Cystic Fibrosis as fuel for self-expression, learning to endure extreme self-inflicted pain as a way of reclaiming his life from this devastating disease.

The canvas for his art was his body, and his brush was sexually transgressive self-inflicted pain used to reassert control over his body and mind. He then took what had been a private ritual a step further by incorporating the full expression of his life into public performance art pieces laced with grim self-effacing humor. His life partner Sheree Rose aided in his life/art and plays a key role (that being herself) in the film.

Be forewarned – Bob actually filmed the moments leading up to his death from Cystic Fibrosis in the movie. It is one of the bravest things I have ever seen.

Watch it and be amazed at what humans are capable of.

Watch it and wonder what you are capable of.

Cognitive Reframing

This is the idea that you can take anything negative and reframe it as something positive.

Bullshit you say? I would argue otherwise, but the choice is yours to make.

But before you bail, first hear me out. Because here is what’s going to happen in your life (you might want to sit down before reading any further)…

Bad things are going to happen to you, this is, unfortunately, a given. I mean really bad. If you’ve made it this far and nothing really terrible has happened yet, I’m afraid I have some sobering news. It’s coming, and probably sooner rather than later.

Oh, and you are going to fuck up – really, really badly. Like catastrophically bad. Bad to the degree that in the short term you may feel as if life can’t go on. It will, as long as you don’t do anything stupid to end it in a moment of emotional dispair.

So the question then becomes “How do I survive this?”

This is where cognitive reframing comes in. It not only works, it’s your best chance of developing the kind of resilience that will allow you to bounce back and learn something at the same time. It’s one of those tricks in life that should come with the handbook no one gives you.

I realize you’re probably not going to listen to me, and that’s okay – I probably wouldn’t have listened either. But know this: I am telling you this because I want to help.

Take from it what you will.

Embrace Your Pain, Part 1

Although this sounds harsh, it’s not as bad as it might seem. Because sometimes your ability to move forward in life is predicated on one’s ability to endure pain – and I mean this both metaphorically and literally. Forcing oneself to endure physical pain has other benefits as well, but more on that later.

Physical rehabilitation is a great example of this, and exercising to modify your body would also fall under this heading. For example, right now I am recovering from surgery. In the post surgery period, there are two types of pain you have to deal with – the pain of your body attempting to heal itself from the inflicted trauma, and the pain you must endure by voluntarily pushing your body to heal in such a way that you will retain as much function from the damaged parts as possible. One of our physiological mechanisms for healing is the creation of scar tissue – the body is attempting to heal the wound by repairing it with tissue stronger than what was there before. Unfortunately, this scar tissue is also stiffer and less pliable than the material it is replacing, so in order to heal without contractures (deformity or rigidity of the affected parts) you must physically stretch and manipulate the scar tissue to be as pliable as possible. This fucking hurts! And it hurts on top of the pain you already have from the injury!

As if this wasn’t bad enough, you can’t dilly dally with this – you have a very brief window of time to self-inflict this pain and recover before the scar tissue hardens into its permanent state. Once that happens, no amount of rehab is going to fix it, no, I’m afraid it’s going to be more surgery for you. The only way will be to break it again, giving you yet another opportunity to suffer and try to manipulate the healing process.

The good news here is this: by forcing yourself to endure pain, a weird thing happens. You are no longer afraid of it – by inflicting it on yourself, it no longer rules you – you now rule it. What once seemed like a nightmare now becomes a personal expression of who you are.

To not be afraid of pain is to be a very formidable person indeed.

To not fear pain is to have no fear at all.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I give you the Ross Sisters, from the film “Broadway Rhythm” in 1944. If you start watching this and wonder what the hell I’m talking about, just stick with it. After the bad Andrews Sisters rip-off, they start doing things that Salvador Dali might have imagined in a fever dream. Trust me, the human body should not be capable of doing this. But enough of my blathering, let’s get on with the show.  So without further ado, for your enjoyment, let’s give a big welcome to the Ross Sisters!

Solid Potato Salad.”

I guess this needs no further explanation, but now that you’ve enjoyed our entertainment for the day, I feel compelled to make a few comments.

First of all: How did this happen? These were real sisters, and one of them was 15 years old! WTF!? I mean, at what point did their parents say, “Let’s teach these girls some skills that will take them far in life.” At the risk of stating the obvious, you don’t learn how to do this in a year. No, there were many, many long years of training to get these skills down.

And even with years of training, what are the odds you’d have three daughters capable of this? I have spent my entire adult life going to gyms, obsessively working out, understanding first hand the general limits of the human body, and I’ve never seen anyone who could even remotely pull this off. It’s extremely difficult for even the most ridiculously fit and athletic adult male to walk on their hands, yet at 3:51 one of the sisters proceeds to not only accomplish this feat – she does so smiling with her butt resting on her head and with her feet charmingly cupping her chin – Hoy Hoy indeed! Even if this was animated it would seem weird, but to actually see someone do it so effortlessly they look like they could carry on a conversation at the same time is a one of a kind mindfuck. Your welcome!!

Then there’s the question of where do you go from here? I mean, there was no Cirque de Soleil in 1944 – and it’s kind of a hard act to pull off in nightclubs.

Regardless, for sheer weird entertainment value, it’s hard to top this. Don’t worry, no one will know – go ahead and watch it again. You know you want to.

More Potato Salad please!