Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Timeless

Art should be mysteriously timeless. It may be loosely associated with the period in history (or the culture) in which it was created – but ultimately it’s power must transcend everything else.

It lives in its own dimension, accessible to all who care to seek it out and receive it gifts.

And when that connection is made – it can change the course of your life.

Passing It On

I’m not sure when it happened or how long it will last – but it’s a very good feeling to realize you are viewed as a trusted, valued, and senior professional by your peers, to know that you have served some purpose greater than your own life.

To look around a group of other highly skilled colleagues in a social gathering and realize that, for many of them, you were their teacher, you were the “expert” that helped give them the tools upon which to build their careers. You taught, nurtured, and protected them at a very vulnerable time when they were gaining their foothold.

You learned how life works by living, learning from your mistakes, and paying attention for 60 years.

And now you are passing it on. And they are listening. What a wonderful responsibility and honor.

Don’t fuck it up…

I Love NYC Part 1

I am sitting in the break room of my ER eating the delicious dinner my wife made for me (let me take a moment to give thanks and gratitude to her, something I try to do everyday).

There are six people in addition to me, and they are all engaged in a spirited conversation loud enough to hear over each other. Three conversations in three different languages in a small room. I realize I am reading a book on my iPhone in the middle of this glorious cacophony with total concentration. There is a TV blaring on the wall.

As I leave the room I walk around a corner and pass a stretcher occupied by an intoxicated mentally ill woman I know well. She cheerfully greets me by name and I do the same for her. As I pass she resumes her conversation with the security guard across the hall, discussing the merits of a local Thai restaurant.

NYC is a million small towns rolled into one very, very large city. My ER is one of those small towns.

Thinking About Artificial Intelligence Part 1

AGI: Artificial General Intelligence, i. e. artificial human intelligence. The more I read about it, the more I think that the question of when (or whether) AI reaches the general level of human intelligence is the wrong question to ask.

Now god knows I’m no expert, just someone who loves learning and thinking about this stuff. I’m currently reading MIT physicist Max Tegmark’s book “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” It occurs to me that, like most things in life – this is probably not going to turn out the way we expect. AGI is a deep subject, one that is rapidly becoming a very hot topic among among scientists, business leaders, and the military industrial complex. And for good reason – the advent of AGI will either raise us to the next evolutionary step or will represent a final existential threat for humanity.

Humans have dominated the earth for one reason – we have used our intelligence to adapt, achieve our goals, control our environment, and survive. Intelligence trumps everything. We have never come in contact with anything smarter than us, and the irony appears to be that we will now create that superhuman intelligence ourselves. How it will play out is the great question of our time.

In a nutshell, the great fear (or hope) is the moment in which we have created an artificial intelligence equal to our own. Depending on who you are reading, once that occurs, it will only be a matter of hours, days, or weeks before that intelligence has surpassed us – and this process will be exponential. What happens then? Well, for one thing – we will no longer be calling the shots. So, quite understandably, there is now a lot of discussion about safeguards and strategies for keeping Pandora in the box (I think we all know how that turned out). But here’s my thought – we are going to be looking for one thing, when in reality it is going to be something else. We’ll be on high alert for the advent of AGI – and we won’t even see it happening until it’s too late.

Because perhaps there won’t ever be AGI – instead something else will develop that will surpass us. It won’t be a case of “Now computers can accurately model our brains and ability to figure things out.” No, instead AI will create a new form of thinking, of intelligence. One that works by its own rules…

It’s All One Big Movie

Harry Dean Stanton died at the age of 91 three days ago, and today I’m listening to a Marc Maron interview with him that was done in 2014. He was a very enigmatic character, and Marc prefaced the repost of this old interview lamenting that he clearly felt he had failed to achieve the level of human intimacy that he had hoped for. It’s funny, listening to it I don’t get that impression at all – in fact, I think it’s pretty thoughtful and enlightening.

In what I felt was the most illuminating exchange, Marc asks him about the differences between movies in the 1970s and films today. Harry Dean replies “There is no difference, it’s all one big movie…” Marc states “Everyone wants to be in a movie, right?” and H. D. responds – “They’re in a movie – it’s all a movie – including our present conversation.”

Think about that for a moment. Didn’t you ever stop and wonder “Wait a minute – aren’t we really acting all of the time?” Of course Shakespeare made this brilliant and woefully obvious observation first: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII).

Don’t we choose the part we want to play on the worlds stage? I mean, no one tells us how to dress, how to carry ourselves, or how to treat others. No one is making us behave in any specific way at all. Oh sure, there are societal restraints, accepted codes of behavior, unspoken but tacitly agreed upon ways in which we interact with each other. But still – we choose to what degree or indeed whether we will conform to these rules at all.

And by choosing how to act, aren’t we choosing who we are?

José Mojica Marins

File this under “transcendentally weird cinema” – my first (and subsequent viewings) of the film I am about to discuss gave me the stunned “WTF?” reaction I treasure so dearly. After you’ve been around a while, it gets harder and harder to experience this reaction, if only because you’ve seen and heard so much already. This is probably why I’ve grown to love foreign cinema so much – I get to see stories told through the lens of another culture, and I can’t always tell where things are going. This allows me to watch these films (almost) as though I was a child, which is the absolute best way to experience art. I first saw “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” around ten years ago when I stumbled on it during a Halloween movie marathon on PBS of all places…

Where do I even begin? First of all, this is a black and white low budget horror film made in Brazil in 1967. José Mojica Marins is the auteur who wrote, directed, and starred in this masterpiece. The language was the first thing that threw me – when I initially saw it, I didn’t recognize it was Portuguese. This alone made the whole thing seem unique and other worldly – I really had no frame of reference for understanding what was going on, and I couldn’t tell what country it was made in. It turns out that José’s previous film “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” (1963) was marketed as Brazil’s first horror film, but I digress…

The movie is really low budget, but quite effective at building a mood. What exactly is that mood? Well, let’s see… Marins plays a character called Zé do Caixão, which roughly translates to Coffin Joe (!) in English. He is an undertaker who wears a black cape with a top hat and has really long fingernails, who is constantly shouting long metaphysical diatribes about how there is no god and how most men are pathetic, inferior creatures. Atheism is a core part of his ethos, so respect to a poor Brazilian filmmaker who decided to build a horror franchise around this concept. He carries himself almost as if he were superhuman, and even though he is not a large man, all of the simple villagers are afraid of him. He has a hunchback assistant who doesn’t seem quite human, and his quest is to find the “perfect” woman to have his son, which will make him immortal. As you might imagine, finding this woman is not easy, so a few get killed in the process.

There are no sets to speak of, so the outdoor scenes are actually filmed in the village. We get to see Coffin Joe walking along a dirt road lined with shacks in full regalia in broad daylight, filmed in grainy black and white 16 mm. It’s so surreal that it is hard to describe, almost like you are watching Nosferatu take an afternoon stroll in a small Brazilian village… This is probably a good time to ponder José’s influences – clearly he had seen the Universal horror films, and probably Nosferatu. But his vision is so completely unique that it’s really difficult to pin down what his touchstones were. The character of Coffin Joe seems like it’s straight out of a graphic novel, except they didn’t yet exist. It seems to be marketed to the Brazilian equivalent of drive-ins, but I really have no idea what kind of distribution this film had or where it was shown. And who makes a low budget Brazilian horror film in 1967 about philosophy, atheism, and surrealism – and then markets it to the poor working class? José Mojica Marins, that’s who!

But I’ve saved the best for last – nothing can prepare you for the surrealistic color sequence in hell that happens three quarters of the way through this fever dream. It really has to be seen to be believed – when I saw it the first time I watched it wide-eyed and slack-jawed, like I was seeing something for which I truly had no frame of reference, and my brain was desperately trying to rewire itself to integrate this new reality.

To say that this isn’t going to be for everyone is probably a bit of an understatement. But if you have any interest in the wild and fascinating history of international horror cinema or outsider art, you owe it to yourself to watch this with an open mind. This is a great example of an artist who is completely committed to realizing his personal vision. What a great inspiration. Bravo and well done, Mr. Marins!

Still Good

You know that feeling when some virus with bad intentions has you nailed down in a horizontal position and your body can’t even muster up the energy to make itself vertical? You’ll quickly recover, but for the moment nothing is going to happen – your body is full-on attempting to deal with this rude invader and has no energy to spare for anything else. Your voice is gone and you feel weak as a kitten, achy and thick-headed – you just want to lie down and sleep. You know what I think when I feel like that?

I think life is fucking good. I might be feeling like homemade shit – but I’m alive.

What Becomes Normal…

What we surround ourselves with, day in and day out – this becomes our baseline for what we perceive as normal. It might seem very skewed to someone else, but if this is what we do every day, it becomes our comfort zone.

This idea has some rather profound implications. We can certainly choose, to a rather large degree, what we surround ourselves with. Which would seem to imply that we create our own reality. What we choose to do, who we choose to be with, how we choose to make our environment…

With that in mind, perhaps we should think long and hard about who and what we surround ourselves with – it’s a big part of  who we are…

Becoming

  1. Any process of change.
  2. Any change involving realization of potentialities, as a movement from the lower level of potentiality to the higher level of actuality.

This, to me, is the true definition of living. To be alive is to be in a process of becoming.

When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough Part 2

I try to do the right thing.

Sometimes I fail.

I feel terrible.

I think about what I did wrong.

I reflect on how to do better next time.

I forgive myself for being imperfect.

I get back up and move on.

Life is hard, but this is how you get better.

Conspiracies

Let me say at the outset that I am not a conspiracy kind of guy. I could be wrong, but the whole thing just seems like a colossal waste of time. The conspiracy usually involves a “cover up” of some massive event, which right away sends up a red flag. People talk – there just is no way that someone wouldn’t open their yap over decades about some nefarious cover up. People just aren’t that good at keeping their mouth shut. Then there’s the idea that a large (or even a small) group of people have pulled off a master plan that somehow duped the whole world for some brilliantly evil purpose. Really? We’re talking about humans here, right?

Then there is the absolutely ridiculous nature of these “conspiracies” – the moon landing hoax, the government blowing up the World Trade Center, the “flat earth” theory, the Kennedy assassination for christ’s sake. I mean, aren’t there better ways to spend your time? Like, say, living a life?

Look, I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, and like I said, I could be wrong, god knows it wouldn’t be the first time. But I’ve lived 60 years, and I’ve been paying attention, and this stuff isn’t how life works. Sometimes you’ve just got to move on folks…

However, if it’s your preferred form of entertainment, that’s cool. Please continue and by all means have a good time. Just recognize it as such, and don’t expect the rest of us to be amused.

We’re not.

Don’t Get Cocky…

Whenever I’m on a roll and things are going well, I’ve learned to try and savor the moment. It’s good to recognize your hard work is paying off. But…

My next thought is always “Ok, let’s not get too carried away here…” Because soon enough life will knock you back down and put you in your place.

But here’s the thing: It’s the getting back up after being knocked down part that is important.

Don’t ever, ever give up.

Old Paradigms Die Hard

I listened to a Marc Maron interview with Lorde today and he was asking about her process, trying to understand how she wrote and recorded music. I love Marc’s podcast, his humanity and ability to connect with other people in a free-flowing conversation is just fascinating. He is very smart and unguarded, and usually (eventually) gets his guests to the same place. It almost always makes for compelling conversation.

So he’s talking to Lorde about how her first album was made, and she she happily begins talking about how there wasn’t a single “real” instrument on it. Marc, somewhat confused, asked “What do you mean, no one’s playing anything?” to which she joyfully replied “You know, the computer makes the sound” (I’m paraphrasing here). He pauses for a moment, clearly trying to understand what she means, and says “That makes me kind of sad.” I was struck by and appreciated his vulnerable honesty – but

I am more than a little mystified that people of a certain age have such a hard time accepting that music is no longer exclusively made by people sitting around playing it live, and the implication that because humans are not actually playing acoustic or electric instruments in real time, somehow it isn’t “real.” I’m as big a fan of highest order musicianship as anyone – I spent most of my adult life practicing my instruments and playing and recording live. But as each new wave of technology appeared, I jumped on it – as a creative musician, I wanted to explore these new paradigms that began presenting themselves, and I wanted to know what I could do with them. For young people born in the last 30 years or so, this is all they have ever known – and it’s not a bad thing. Music made this way is no less “real” than music made by a group of people playing together in real time.

To believe that playing and singing live is the only “real” music is just Luddite elitism. Yeah, it’s fucking great and magical when it happens – but it’s no more “real” than a kid making music in her bedroom with a computer. It’s all just creative expression. The old paradigm is amazing, but so is the new one. It’s not sad – it’s a new world, full of new possibilities. As an artist it’s all in your sandbox. Technology is just giving us new tools to help us express our vision.

Permit me to make an observation here: Getting old is an unstoppable process of physical aging. But being old is a choice – one that begins when you draw a line in the sand and say “That’s it – the old way was better, and I’m not learning anymore about this newfangled bullshit.”

I am not yet ready to go there…

Starting Something New

Got a nice chord progression in A minor, time signature is 6/8 at a tempo of 78 bpm, with a nice open groove. The beginnings of a melody, but no defined form yet. Trying not to judge – just keeping an open mind and letting it flow.

Let’s see where this goes…

The Myth of Absolutes

I’m afraid I have some bad news here folks – the belief in absolutes shows at best a willful ignorance and at worst a mind incapable of processing the seemingly infinite complexities of life. There is no good or bad, no black or white, no best and worst. It’s all relative to the situation and circumstances at hand. You may prefer to view things in these terms to support your ideas or preferences, but it’s not the way life works.

The idea of absolutes is great for controlling people, and it’s great if you don’t want to be bothered by thinking and figuring things out for yourself. If the choice is black and white, it’s easy – one less thing to think about. I’m as susceptible to the allure of this phenomenon as anyone else. But I long ago realized it is complete, simplistic bullshit. We want to believe it’s true if for no other reason than because it makes life easier. But it’s still bullshit.

Anytime someone makes a black and white proclamation, run, do not walk from this person. You can no longer trust anything they say. Life is hard, there are no easy answers, and you are going to have to think for yourself.

It’s all grey.

That Which Cannot be Taken

Haters are going to hate – that’s what they do. You can’t stop it, so don’t even bother trying – it’s just a complete waste of your energy. But you know what they cannot take? They cannot take your joy. You can choose to give it to them, god knows they want it. They want to crush your joy like Godzilla stomping Tokyo, like the mean-spirited little bullies they are. But no matter how hard they try, they cannot take it – it must be given to them. And the only one who can do that is you.

Remember that.