Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Author Archives: David Thomas Peacock

The Process Was the Point

Yesterday I listened to Marc Maron interview comedian Bill Bailey, and they were talking about a record he had just released with his band. Like many artists, Bill was serious about expressing himself in more than one art form (he’d played guitar in bands most of his life). In this case, he had spent three years writing, recording, and mixing the record.

So Maron asks him the name of his band and where his fans could find the record. “I don’t really want to talk about it,” was his response. Marc probes a little more, asking how it turned out. He responded “Really great, I’m so proud of it.” Maron, now puzzled and more than a little curious, pauses and says “So what’s up with that?”

Bailey doesn’t miss a beat, cheerfully replying “I was already rewarded by doing it. My part’s done – Now it’s out there for anyone to discover and hopefully enjoy.”

Don’t Give up on Yourself

Ok, so you’re struggling to do something that you really want to do it – no, you really need to do – but it’s fucking hard and you probably aren’t very good at it.

Yet.

See, here’s how this works: Everybody sucks before they get good, much less great. Ask yourself this: Are you getting something out of it? Does it feel right?

If you answered yes to both questions, then you’ve already won.

Questions for the Voice Inside Your Head

Is it encouraging to you? Or telling you you’re not good enough?

Is it consistent? Or does it vary from day to day?

Ever think about where it comes from – as in who exactly wrote that script?

Is it possible to change it – or can it only be modified at best?

Is it limiting you? Or empowering you?

Can it be trusted? And if not – how are you going to proceed?

How to be Politically Correct (Part 1)

  1. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect until they prove otherwise: this is a good place to start.
  2. If you say something hurtful unintentionally, apologize and admit your ignorance, ask for the correct response, and move on. It’s not that hard.
  3. Understand that, as a U.S. citizen, our default is to not like being told what to do. Don’t let yourself be a self-centered asshole. Learning new things is fun!
  4. Sure, America is a country of extremes. We are now going through a necessary time of self-correction and things are changing, ultimately for the better. But the process is chaotic and messy – don’t get mad if people seem a little confused about where the boundaries are. See number one.
  5. If you are white (and especially if you’re a male): You’ve got to get over yourself and realize that you’ve had all the advantages in this game of life, like, forever. Yeah, I know you might not be doing so great right now, but that doesn’t change the truth. Have some fucking humility and use your inherent strength to show some sensitivity to everyone else who is struggling. Isn’t that what men are supposed to do?
  6. When in doubt, smile and help someone out. Anyone. Really. We’re all in this together .

Okja: An Unclassifiable Masterpiece

Drama, corporate satire, emotional tear-jerker, comedy, allegory, fantasy, savage indictment of the food industry, grim fairy-tale, action movie – this film from 2017 directed by Bong Joon Ho is one of those movies I defy you to stop watching from the moment it begins – yeah, it’s that good.

I’m recovering from surgery here so it’s pretty much a movie a day, and watching this reminds me just how powerful the medium can be in the hands of a gifted filmmaker firing on all cylinders.

In the last few years I have become a huge fan of South Korean cinema; whatever caused the cultural explosion of talent in their movie industry in the last 20 years or so shows no sign of stopping. Bong Joon Ho is on fire – his latest film “Parasite” (which I have not yet seen) is at the top of many critics lists as the best movie of 2019.

But Okja was just so entertaining and thoughtful that I watched it dumbfounded – laughing and crying in slack-jawed wonderment, saying to myself every ten minutes or so, This is so fucking good.

The first half of the movie was shot in the South Korean countryside and it’s unbelievably beautiful and engaging. The second half moves to the U.S. with the child protagonist Seo-hyeon Ahn and Okja; Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jake Gyllenhaal are all hugely entertaining, but the movie really belongs to Seo-hyeon Ahn and Okja.

There is just such a strong sense of deep humanity running through current South Korean cinema; this movie is a great example. What Bong Joon Ho captures here is nothing short of magic.

Your welcome!

Wow – Yesterday’s Post Was Bad

Well, I didn’t say they’d all be coherent.

It’s so bad it reads like the kind of terrible translation to English from Japanese you might see in a 1960’s horror movie from TOHO. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense – sheesh (wiping flop sweat from brow). There was an idea in there somewhere.

But hey, WTF – I’m not embarrassed. You try to do this everyday for three years.

They can’t all be winners.

Carry on.

Compulsion

Let’s make note at the outset: Compulsion is not necessarily bad. For example, we might be compelled to seek knowledge. Of course, we might also be compelled to use harmful recreational drugs, but for the purposes of this post, let’s assume the compulsion in question is at worst a benign waste of time.

It’s probably fair to say that understanding your compulsions is one way to better understand yourself. And, again, they’re only bad if they disrupt your ability to live a healthy life, or if they are damaging to others – but making that distinction is not so clear cut as one might imagine.

It’s just an interesting exercise, particularly if you frame it in the context of the artist. Van Gogh clearly didn’t have to motivate himself to paint, he was compelled to do it. You see this over and over with artists: John Lennon, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Georgia O’Keeffe, Bob Dylan, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Frida Kahlo, David Foster Wallace, John Cassavetes, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ana Lily Amirpour – this list could on and on…

But here’s the thing: These are all artists who were successful in the sense that the world recognized their work (although maybe not when the were alive). What about all the equally talented artists who died in obscurity, their art ending up in the trash? Was their compulsion to create a good thing?

I would argue yes – with a caveat. They had no choice in the matter, so it wasn’t like they had the option to live a different kind of life.

But consider this: Even if they never received acknowledgement for their art (which they may not have even wanted – see Henry Darger), try to imagine the richness of their internal lives. Then imagine working a responsible corporate job in a cubicle.

Which life is better?

Could It Really Be This Simple?

What I’m talking about here is this: Is the way to get really good at something simply to do it in a public forum everyday?

You hear the term “do the work” a lot when it comes to creating art. And, in a general sense, I think we all know what that means – or do we? Let’s break this down a little bit.

I started this daily blog almost 3 years ago, making a commitment to myself that I would write something everyday AND MAKE IT PUBLIC. The making it public part is important because your pride is not going to let you phone it in if it’s public. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees it or not, the point is this: They could see it, and it’s got your fucking name on it.

In my case, essentially no one reads this blog – and I’m perfectly fine with that, because it’s not really about other people – it’s for me. But I need the fact looming over my head that it is public, and since it’s on the internet, it lives forever in the cloud, so I have to be OK with anyone reading any of this shit FOREVER. That requires a bit of thought before throwing something up. It also requires that you think carefully about things like how you can best clearly state your thought, how you will structure your sentences, your use of vocabulary, punctuation, spelling, etc.

In other words, writing.

I didn’t see all this when I started, but it’s so clear to me now.

After about two years of writing my blog every day and making it public, I spontaneously started writing fiction. Why? I had never planned on writing fiction, indeed, I never really wanted to write fiction. And yet, it just started flowing out, like my brain was saying get your fucking pen and start writing. This, for me, was a bit of a shock. I’m thinking to myself Where is this coming from?

I think it was ultimately the result of making a commitment to write something everyday and make it public. Something about doing this primed my pump, it developed the neural pathways in my brain ultimately making it very easy for me to write down whatever I thought, because I had been doing it every day for two years – in a public space.

Now is it all good? Who the fuck knows! All I know is that it’s good to me. Something remarkable is happening in my brain, and it’s happening because of this blog that nobody reads.

So is it worth it? Hell yeah! Does that mean if you commit to doing something everyday, in public, that you will eventually (it may take a few years) gain some undeniable facility with it?

I’m going on the record here and say yes.

It does.

What I Really Like

My idea of fun is this: I like to be working on making a thing – it could be something I’m writing, or a piece of music I’m recording, or maybe something visual I’m trying to put together. During the day I work on it, and then, at night I do an attitude adjustment and look at it fresh, as if I’m seeing it for the first time.

There’s just something so satisfying about this process, it’s like you’re looking into your mind and being surprised at what you find in there. The nighttime examinations reveal surprising things. If you get yourself into a completely different state of mind than you were in when you made it, it’s flaws and strengths become glaringly obvious.

It’s just the coolest thing – like you’re revealing to yourself who you really are. Even if no one else ever sees or hears it, you’ve already gotten so much joy and amusement out of the whole experience – plus you’ve grown some in the process.

Try it – no one else has to know. It’ll be our little secret.

Why Bother? (Part 2)

Just a rhetorical question here, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking about this a lot. I know it seems like something someone who was depressed would ask, but I’m definitely not depressed – more like curious.

What drives anyone to do anything?

Obviously survival would be at the top of the list, but once that is taken care of, then why do more?

What compels someone to spend their life mastering the techniques and skills necessary to express their humanity in some form of art? Especially when they know at the outset that they will struggle to ever make even a meager living at best?

I don’t think these people are deluded (OK, maybe the young ones are – but where would we be without the delusion of youth?)

I think that some people are just compelled to make stuff – to express themselves in some way. They can’t help it, and at times it probably drives them a little crazy.

I would argue that this compulsion to express ourselves is not superfluous – it’s an essential part of what makes us human. This drive is present in all of us, but it varies from being imperceptible in some to manifesting as full blown mania in others.

I guess the answer to my question is this: Because you have no other choice.

It’s just who you are.

Happiness is Your Responsibility

I came across this phrase while reading an article about coming to terms with “the new you” after the diagnosis of disease or the inevitable loss of function brought on by aging. But before going further, a caveat: Happiness is such a vapid word, I will heretofore use joy (also not so great but better) in its place.

Certainly, in my life, there is the pre-cancer me and the post cancer me. For the record, the post cancer me is a better person more able to find joy in the moment, but that might be partly due to the fact that I am alive and currently cancer free.

This idea that “happiness is our responsibility” is somewhat maddeningly, yet also quite obviously, completely true. It’s not just that our capacity for joy must be intrinsic, we also must understand that joy and self worth are not dependent on “success” and confirmation from others. This is a little harder, at least for me.

The script you were taught as a child is almost impossible to rewrite. Notice I said “almost,” perhaps a better way to put it would be to say that you can never erase the script and start over, but you can significantly alter it.

And honestly, that’s good enough. It’s also a pretty big step towards taking responsibility for your capacity for experiencing joy.

Take a Moment to Celebrate

Whenever you finish something you’ve been working on, particularly if it’s some form of artistic expression, it’s important to step back and take a moment to appreciate what you accomplished.

Coming up with an idea for a piece is not insignificant, but in the context of making art it’s the easiest part. From that point on, however, each successive step becomes more and more difficult – and when you finally get to the end, actually finishing it and saying “It’s done “ is the hardest part. Because up to that point it can still theoretically get better – but once you pronounce it finished, there’s no more hedging, and now it stands or falls on its own merits.

Today I finished my sixth short story, and this one I struggled with a bit. It went places I didn’t really want to go, but once you start they kind of take on a life of their own, and they’re not really interested in whether you want to go there or not. You’re just there to write the thing down and stay out of the way.

So here’s a toast to my latest. Creating it made me feel alive.

Closed for Repairs

Nothing to see here folks, mind your step and keep moving. Please enjoy the rest of your evening and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Less Than or Equal To

Isn’t this often how we see ourselves? Wondering if we are “less than or equal to” some ideal we aspire to? This gets particularly brutal when we are comparing ourselves to another person who is “successful” at something we would like to do. And does anyone other than fools or narcissists ever really believe they are “greater than?”

This is the wrong paradigm for living, if only because your life will never follow the same trajectory as another. Seems obvious, right?

And yet, it’s so easy to fall into this kind of thinking. And of course we will always lose in the battle to “be better than someone else.” Thinking like this is an internal competition that no one cares about except you.

Life is what it is and we make out of what we will. Just do the things that give you joy, or at least try to find joy in the things you do, and make sure you help others. Everything else will take care of itself.

Submit to the Experience (Part 2)

You’ve thought carefully about the problem, examining all potential solutions.

After serious deliberation, you choose the best response based on your knowledge at the time.

Once this is done, when the time comes to execute the plan, all of the heavy lifting has already been done.

Now the only thing to do is relax and just submit to the experience.

Magnolia

Where do I even start? I guess by saying that this movie would go on my short list of “perfect” films. Magnolia, from 1999, is a fucking masterpiece – it’s quite a magic trick Paul Thomas Anderson pulls off here. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it. It’s structure and use of music is completely (at least in my 50 plus years of obsessively watching movies) unique, but more on that in a minute.

From a practical standpoint, it’s probably an hour too long – but I’m not sure what you’d cut, ‘cuz there’s definitely no filler. It builds to an absolute fever pitch by ninety minutes in and then just keeps one-upping itself for another ninety. You think that each character’s completely devastating personal crisis can’t possibly get any more intense and yet the film just continues to ratchet each one up to another level of psychic pain, brought on by loneliness, regret, and damage from the past that seemingly can never be undone. It’s gloriously unbearable; I actually felt giddy in spots, like the way you get when you’re driving your car entirely too fast for safety and then just keep increasing the speed. There’s a palpable sense of danger yet it’s also fun…

On a stylistic level, Anderson pulls off a device throughout the entire film that shouldn’t work but somehow does. First, he introduces all the characters in a montage (and there’s a lot of them) before the story even gets started, set against Aimee Mann plaintively singing Harry Nillson’s “One.” This is after the film opens with a short documentary narrated by Ricky Jay on “coincidences.” WTF? you may be thinking, and yet this all somehow works, immediately drawing you in. You just can’t stop watching.

But the device I was really struck by is this: the entire film follows multiple storylines of broken characters in very short cuts edited together that somehow flows as if this is how all stories are told. But the genius is that all of this jumping back and forth from multiple stories with quick edits is scored with single, extended musical pieces, as if they are really just one long scene. Jon Brion did the music and it captures just the right tone of melancholy and tragedy. Anderson underscores the device by mixing the music really loud – something that is virtually never done in film. At times the music is actually louder than the dialogue, yet it works!

And finally, a brief note about the actors: William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards (playing a man dying of cancer while he really was dying of cancer), John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Melora Walters, and, last but not least, in possibly the greatest performance of his career – Tom Cruise. All give full out, award winning performances.

Best lines: “The book says we may be through with the past but the past isn’t through with us,” and “I really do have love to give, I just don’t know where to put it.

Oh, did I mention that Paul Thomas Anderson was 28 years old when he wrote and directed it?

I don’t use this word often, but I think it’s warranted here: Genius!

Weaponizing Kindness

Let’s imagine this as a relentlessly aggressive application of kindness. Not kindness when you are well rested and feeling good, but rather kindness dispensed when you least feel like it.

Kindness aimed at specific targets mind you, for maximum effect. But instead of causing damage, we are seeking to elevate and change our environment. Because dispensing kindness relentlessly in public will most definitely have an effect. Humans are hard-wired to take notice of such things, so rest assured everyone witnessing the act will take note.

It might not immediately change their behavior, but you will have planted a seed in their brain that won’t go away; they cannot un-see what you have done.

Mimicry is also hard-wired into our brains, especially if one is watching a behavior that results in good things happening to the person exhibiting a particular trait. And, contrary to what you might think, kindness most definitely has it’s benefits, not the least of which is that it raises your status in the eyes of others.

Acting with kindness shows that you have broken from the narcissistic selfishness of the pack, and selflessly reached out to someone in a weaker position, thus elevating your status. It takes some confidence to pull this off, but the good news is that it’s not hard to do.

So aggressively shoot your kindness like a bullet wherever appropriate. Then watch what happens, not just to others, but also to yourself.