Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Your Unique Filter

Everything you experience and all you create passes through this filter. The filter is you, but it’s deeper than your consciousness. It’s made up of everything that goes into it.

This is why no two people will ever come up with the same thing, even if they try. The more specific and developed your filter is, the more unique its sensibility becomes.

But…

The paradox is that this uniqueness actually makes whatever passes through it more, not less, interesting to other people.

The more specific you are, the more charismatic you become to others.

Welcome to the Club

“A man in a suit, wearing beautifully shined shoes, took me aside and gave me his business card. He was a veterinarian, and explained that becoming a vet in France was not an easy process. He’d applied to the academy seven times before being accepted. In celebration his advisers and instructors had thrown a party in his honor in one of the laboratories.

They’d drunk wine, and the group had congratulated him roundly on his entry into the program. And at some point someone had given him a glass of wine doctored with a sedative. Because this is the tradition. He’d fallen asleep, and they’d removed his clothes and trundled his naked, sleeping body into a fetal position. Then they’d carefully, meticulously tucked him and stitched him into the gutted belly of a newly dead horse. “When you wake,” he told me, “you have no idea where you are at.” Your head pounds from the sedative. You’re shivering with cold. It’s dark and stinks so horribly you can’t take a deep breath. You’re compressed so tightly you can’t move, and you want to vomit but there’s not even space for that. Still, you can hear voices.

Beyond this dark, cramped space your professors and advisers are still having their party, and the moment they see you move inside the tight skin of the horse they begin to shout. “So, you think it’s so easy to be one of us!” they shout. They taunt, “You can’t just fill out some papers and become a veterinarian!” From all around you, unseen, they shout, “You’ve got to fight to join our profession!” As they demand you fight, calling, “Fight! Fight!” you begin to struggle and push against whatever is binding you.

And as you claw a hole in the tough, dead hide you feel someone press a glass of wine into your bloody hand. Slowly, you’re forced to birth yourself, naked and bloody, from this dead animal. And once you’re out your companions cheer you and accept you with genuine warmth, and you continue, naked and bloody, to celebrate, having earned your place in their ranks.

This man in Paris, with his business card and shined shoes, explained why the tradition exists. This grotesque, age-old ritual. Because it creates a shared baseline experience that will someday be a comfort. In the future, no matter how many beautiful little puppies or kittens die under your care, no matter how heart wrenching your job might feel, it will never feel as horrible as waking up inside a cold, dead horse.”

– Chuck Palahniuk

The Iterative Process

The more you run something through the filter of who you are – not the filter of your consciousness, but the filter of you that existed before you were born, the you that exists with no ego, the pure you – the more personal and unique it becomes. It’s a paradox that the more specific your art is, the wider its appeal.

The you with no ego is important – ego just gets in the way. You don’t need to understand and be able to explain everything. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. There’s a reason why David Lynch doesn’t talk about his work.

The application of a thousand tiny changes will morph anything that starts out anonymous and clunky into something like a diamond – a pure expression filled with mystery and truth, timeless, undeniable.

Grinding it out, one small change at a time.

I’ll warn you, though – it’s not for the faint of heart. You’ve got a be willing to play a long game and listen to what your voice is telling you. Even if you don’t understand it.

The rewards are worth it.

Here’s a Weird Corollary For You

When I write, often I’ll transfer what I’m working on to my iPhone — there’s something about reading your stuff on a different medium, preferably in a different place, that makes the flaws obvious. I’ll make edits, then transfer these changes back to the copy on my computer.

When producing music, particularly at the mixing stage, you want to listen to it on different playback devices in environments outside the studio. Doing so makes the flaws obvious.

Same process, different modes of expression.

Perhaps the change in environment is the biggest factor.

Just a thought.

The Meaning of Life

“(Kurt) Vonnegut quotes his son Mark, and gives an answer to what he believes is the meaning of life:

“We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”

Sounds plausible to me. In fact, as a 64 year-old atheist and ER nurse who has seen more than his share of tragedy and needless human suffering, I’d say this is spot-on.

The beauty of it is, you don’t even have to be good at helping others – you get points for just trying.

Priming Your Pump

Here’s another reason for showing up every day and engaging in whatever creative endeavor you’ve chosen: You know those days where you don’t feel like doing anything, where it seems like everything you create is shite?

Well, those days are stimulating the neural pathways necessary to create cool stuff – they’re mapping out new grooves for novel ideas.

In other words, those shitty days are priming the pump to make the good shit.

Just be patient.

It’s coming.

Why Everyone Needs Access

“Giving better hardware and software to one smart individual is helpful, but the real benefits come when everyone has them. Our current technological explosion is a result of billions of people using those cognitive tools.”

– Ted Chiang

I Was Stuck

Everywhere I went led me to where I didn’t want to be.

– Paul Simon

Check this out: Paul Simon on Dick Cavett talking about writing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Brilliant and candid.

Magic.

Patterns (Part 2)

“The series lays out how Hemingway stripped away excess from his language so that the reader would supply the emotion and thus feel it more deeply. He was inspired by Paul Cézanne, who would repaint the same view to find new ways of seeing it. He admired Bach for his mastery of repetition and used the device to rhythmic, incantatory effect in his prose.

– James Poniewozik, from the New York Times article “Hemingway Is a Big Two-Hearted Reconsideration”

Patterns (Part 1)

You see this everywhere in art – an element is repeated, with some variation each iteration. In songs it’s verses and choruses, in writing it’s usually action or behavior manifested by a character, in comedy it’s the callback.

What makes it so satisfying is this: it sets up an expectation for the viewer/reader/listener that a pattern will repeat – and when it does, their anticipation is rewarded. But it comes with an element of surprise that makes the whole thing irresistible – some new element is added to the pattern.

It’s as if we want to be comforted by anticipating and experiencing repitition, yet we also crave surprise.

Combine them and enjoy the dopamine rush!

Causality

“(Success for a writer depends on) the extent to which the writer has learned to make causality. Making causality doesn’t seem sexy or particularly literary. It’s a workmanlike thing, to make A cause B, the stuff of vaudeville, of Hollywood. But it’s the hardest thing to learn.

It doesn’t come naturally, not to most of us. But that’s really all a story is: a series of things that happen in sequence, in which we can discern a pattern of causality. For most of us, the problem is not in making things happen (“A dog barked,” “The house exploded,” “Darren kicked the tire of his car” are all easy enough to type) but in making one thing seem to cause the next.

This is important, because causation is what creates the appearance of meaning. “The queen died, and then the king died” (E. M. Forster’s famous formulation) describes two unrelated events occurring in sequence. It doesn’t mean anything. “The queen died, and the king died of grief?” puts those events into relation; we understand that one caused the other. The sequence, now infused with causality, means: “That king really loved his queen.”

Causality is to the writer what melody is to the songwriter: a superpower that the audience feels as the crux of the matter; the thing the audience actually shows up for; the hardest thing to do; that which distinguishes the competent practitioner from the extraordinary one.

A well-written bit of prose is like a beautifully hand-painted kite, lying there on the grass. It’s nice. We admire it. Causality is the wind that then comes along and lifts it up. The kite is then a beautiful thing made even more beautiful by the fact that it’s doing what it was made to do.”

– George Saunders, from “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.”

Reassessment (Part 1)

I’m at a crossroads. A few days ago, I wrote a requiem for this blog, then thought the better of it. I’m going through a difficult time from multiple perspectives, not the least of which is a feeling of burnout from the job I always loved – being an inner-city ER nurse. At the year one anniversary of COVID, It’s impossible to deny the toll of working on the pandemic’s front lines.

Last year at this time, it was Armageddon in my ER. Death from the plague was everywhere. Then, on April 26, my medical director, a brilliant woman I felt close to and had worked with for 10 years, committed suicide. She felt responsible for the collapse of our ER, which of course she wasn’t.

Here in NYC, the hardest hit emergency department was Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, the second was mine. What happened was simply unimaginable – unless you were there, it’s impossible to convey the horror of the experience.

I now understand what soldiers who fought under constant danger of death, who witnessed and took part in mass casualties, must have felt like. Not being able to talk about what happened because you’ll either scare the shit out of people, or worse yet, they’ll try to comfort you with useless platitudes that only underscores the unbridgeable void that separates you from everyone else.

You’ve just got to process your pain and profound disappointment privately, and it’s hard. Nothing will ever be the same, but then again, life is always changing anyway, right?

Clearly, this blog is no longer a daily discipline, and I wonder if it’s serving any purpose at all. The hopeful paradox here is that I’m engrossed in writing fiction, and it’s incredibly fulfilling. I’m getting short stories published with no education whatsoever – it feels like this what I’m supposed to do, in a very good way. Better yet, I’m improving.

So that’s where my focus is now, and I’m afraid this blog is suffering. It may have run its course, but for the time being, I’m going to try and keep it alive. It’s clear, however, that it won’t be a daily thing. At least for the time being. I’m psychically wounded and a bit beat – my bandwidth is limited.

I may be temporarily down for the count, but I’m not out yet.

Undeniable (Part 2)

“Early in a story, I’ll have a few discrete blocks (blobs? swaths?) of loose, sloppy text. As I revise, those blocks will start to…get better. Soon, a block will start working—I can get all the way through it without a needle drop. The word that sometimes comes to mind is “undeniable,” as in “All right, this bit is pretty much undeniable,” which means that I feel that any reasonable reader would like it and would still be with me at the end of it.”

– George Saunders, from “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”

Good Rejections (Part 1)

Dear David Thomas Peacock,

Thank you very much for sending “Flight Number” to redacted. Although it was not selected for publication, it received positive feedback from our readers. Good luck placing this with another magazine. Please try us again!

Sincerely,

The Editors


So why is this a good rejection? Well, let’s see…

  1. They read it and more than one person liked it.
  2. They’re taking the time to tell me about it.
  3. They’re encouraging me to send more stuff.
  4. Their unsolicited acceptance rate is 0%.

It’s a winner!

Don’t be Stingy With Your Compliments

Mind you, don’t ever hand out compliments unless you are sincerely impressed. But if you are, let the person know.

Preferably in front of someone else.

You’ll feel good for making them feel good – but that’s not the point.

The point is this: unbiased encouragement from someone with no vested interest might prove to be a game-changer for the one receiving the praise.

At the very least it’s affirmation that they’re on the right track.

Entropy (Part 2)

Definition: A gradual decline into disorder.

Do I have something new and clever to say about this?

Not really.

Just watching the system breaking down here folks.

Carry on.