Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

The Grand Pageant

Humanity in all of its splendor

Richly textured and colorful

Marching ever forward

The procession seemingly infinite

The succession of moments in which this drama unfolds

Will not last forever

Live now before its expression ends

These moments will not come again

Feed Your Soul

Find things you love and surround yourself with them.

Do something for someone else and pay attention to how it makes you feel. Repeat for full effect.

Make something. Express yourself.

Search for beauty in life and focus on it.

Actively seek out and discover new things.

Keep learning.

Appreciate the feeling of life flowing around and through you.

Know that it won’t last forever, and let that knowledge help you to appreciate it more.

One Of The Nice Things About Life

If you’re actively engaged and fully paying attention, you can just keep experiencing new things. The process of discovery and learning seem to be infinite.

It’s really cool – you end up feeling like you have an unfair advantage over everyone else who hasn’t lived as long as you.

It’s endlessly exciting to keep learning and be humbled by what you don’t know. But the key here is this: in order for this process to happen, you must be fully present at all times.

Veering Off Track

If you have varied interests, it’s easy for one area of your life to overshadow the others. The trick is to catch it in time before it completely overwhelms everything else. It’s a fine line to walk, and I’ll admit that I’m not always successful at it. So what do I do?

I just constantly try to be aware of what’s happening in my life and make adjustments accordingly. It’s easier if one of your interests is clearly more important than the others, because you know that’s where your main focus will always be. It gets more difficult to juggle when you are involved in two wildly different disciplines and they are both important to you. One is always vying for attention over the other.

Ultimately ones ability to stay on track in difficult times comes down to a single character trait, that, when coupled with desire, makes for an unstoppable combination.

Discipline.

Wishful Thinking

If you’re really clever and disciplined, you can keep a flawed system up and running for a long, long time.

But eventually entropy will take its toll, and you will find yourself facing a basic truth in life.

All things must pass.

Late

It’s late, and I’m so tired I can’t write. But I had a big day. I accomplished something that I wasn’t sure I could. Perhaps more later – it’s kind of an interesting story with some important lessons.

Let’s just end with this – I really believe we are all capable of much more than we think.

With that I bid you a good night… more to come after I process this.

Why Criticism Is Good

Caveat: Before we get started, let’s note that it’s always good practice to weigh it’s worth based on the source.

With that out of the way, here’s the thing: although it can be a bit painful to be criticized, try not to say too much and just listen. Then, don’t dwell on it. In fact, try not to think about it at all for a day or so. This will allow you to come back and dispassionately think about what was said – it’s possible you might recognize an issue that can easily be addressed. And herein lies the constructive power of criticism…

You can’t get better if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.

You’re critics might be trying to tell you something you can’t see yourself.

It Feels Good To Be Alive

There are so many ways that life can go south – in the ER your day is filled with one example after another of the infinite number of ways that things can go wrong. And go wrong they do my friend, sometimes very, very wrong – in the most tragic way possible.

So let’s take a moment, shall we, to make a rather important observation.

I feel good. I mean way fucking better than a 61 year old man has any right to feel. A man who survived what could have been a particularly nasty type of cancer. I know it won’t last forever, which I guess makes it even sweeter.

Can’t buy that folks.

Press On

You’re trying to create something, and it just seems like a big pile of steaming shit.

Press on.

You have an idea in your head of this thing you want to make, but you feel like you can’t get started.

Press on.

You’ve been working on something for a while, and it’s just not coming together.

Press on.

Realize that when everything is going wrong, it’s a good sign that you’re starting to get somewhere.

Remind yourself: If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. You might have to shed some blood to make your dreams happen.

Press the fuck on.

Decisions Part 2: What Is Worth Your While?

Is thoughtful self reflection a good use of your time?

How about practicing self-discipline?

Does writing something everyday do anything positive for your mind and soul?

What about creating art?

Or the process of learning?

Here’s what I think: All of these things seem like good ways to engage with the world, to actively grow and work towards self-actualization.

Seems like a good idea to me.

Observations On Blogging And Meditation

In order to fully experience their benefits they must me practiced everyday.

They both require personal discipline and an investment of time.

Mysteriously, their rewards are both undeniable and difficult to quantify at the same time.

And they both seem to be excellent examples of one of life’s fundamental laws:

It’s only in the doing that one experiences the benefits.

Don’t Personalize What Happens At Work

Here’s something I think we can all relate to: Let’s say there is an “issue” in your workplace dealing with your performance that is affecting your ability to work effectively. Maybe it’s not a problem yet, but it could potentially turn into one. This issue might be a perceived deficiency in your work, and it could come from anyone in your work environment. It’s bothering you, and you’re not sure what to do about it.

Well, I have a strategy for dealing with these issues that has served me well, but there are times where I need to back up and remind myself of it. Here it is:

It’s not always about you. In other words – don’t take criticism or the perception of problems with your performance personally. Instead, take a deep breath, step back, and ask yourself “what can I do to best serve the needs of this situation?” Don’t be petty and make everything about you – try to serve the greater good of the people involved and adjust your performance accordingly.

Use criticism and problems like this as an opportunity to grow and become better at your job and don’t allow yourself to feel personally attacked. Because here’s the reality: it probably has nothing to do with you personally at all, and was never intended that way. It has everything to do with the issue as it effects everyone else, and you would do well to look at it dispassionately and see your work as a service to others, not a service to yourself. Ask yourself “what can I do better?

This may seem hard at first, but it actually makes dealing the issue at hand easier. You don’t feel aggrieved, and you can actually learn and grow. As a side benefit, your peers will respect your pragmatism, which has its own benefits.

Seth Godin Part 1

What Seth brings to this world is simply priceless. He has had (and continues to have) a profoundly positive influence on me. I’ve read a few of his books but mainly I read his blog – not everyday, but often. He always surprises me and makes me think about the world a little bit differently. He shares his unique perspective every day for free. You don’t have to sign up for anything or give him your email address for this privilege, he just puts its out there for himself and whoever else might benefit from it.

As I have said elsewhere, he inspired me to start writing this blog. “If you know you have to write a blog post tomorrow, something in writing, something that will be around 6 months from now, about something in the world, you will start looking for something in the world to to write about. You will seek to notice something interesting and to say something creative about it.” When you look at the process of blogging like this, you realize that there is no downside – only rewards to be gained by being more present and engaged with life.

So on Monday I will have completed one year of daily blogging. On November 6 of last year, he published his 7000 post! That’s almost 20 years of daily blogging.

Like I said, Seth Godin is a very special person, and the world is just a little bit better because he’s in it.

Thanks Seth – I’ll do my best to pay it forward…

Decisions Part 1

Next Monday will mark one full year of writing a blog post every day. I am currently deciding whether I will continue this process, or call it a day on Monday…

As far as I know, maybe 4 people have read (skimmed?) possibly a few posts each. Of course, as I stated when I started this, I wasn’t overtly doing this for other people, I was doing it as a tool for self-growth. I wanted to better understand who I am, and see if what would happen if I set this challenge for myself. I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off – it certainly seemed a little intimidating at first.

I have not only done nothing to “promote” this blog – I have told no one else about it other than my wife, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read it. The other 3 people know me and chanced upon it. Beyond the initial “I found your blog,” I never heard anything else from them, so it’s safe to say it didn’t change their life. As Kurt Vonnegut’s character Dr. Swain might say, “Hi ho.”

Seth Godin, who is more responsible than anyone else for this undertaking, talks about how writing a daily blog in public changes your brain. He says it doesn’t matter if it is anonymous, and it is irrelevant whether anyone else reads it. I think he is right – the question is, after “changing my brain” for a year, is it worth my time to continue to do this everyday?

I have to think about this – I am honestly on the fence, but that may be because I haven’t given much thought as to how this has changed me.

I do know this – they’re not all winners, but there are some I actually enjoy going back and reading, and some I find genuinely enlightening. They are very much the musings of a 60 year old man processing what he has done and learned, and deciding how he might want to spend the limited amount of time he has left.

Hmm

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

As a student of the genre and a lifelong horror film aficionado, this nightmarish meditation on unrelenting terror ranks as a masterpiece of 20th century independent filmmaking. There are so many things to love about this movie, where do I even start?

It was shot in Austin Texas in July-August 1973 by director Tobe Hooper and cinematographer Daniel Pearl for a budget of $60,000. That’s right – I said $60,000! Salaries ranged from $50 up to $125 for the entire shoot! It went somewhat over budget in editing, but I think you get the point. I don’t really give a fuck how much it made (about $31,000,000.), it changed the global cultural zeitgeist.

The opening credit sequence is a masterpiece of disturbing images and unsettling sound design that perfectly sets up an uneasy sense of dread. Once seen, never forgotten.

A hugely powerful method of creating tension and dread is provided by the soundtrack. Did I mention yet that there is no music on the soundtrack at all? That’s right – only disorienting electronic and verite noises and distortions of everyday sounds to deliver the story to the deepest parts of your brain.

The closing sequence is the perfect ending for this film – the macabre dance of Leatherface with his chain saw blazing in the Texas sunrise, wearing his suit and mask of human skin with lipstick, rouge, and fake eyelashes is like something out of a very, very bad fever dream (see photo).

One thing I was always struck by was that no one really seemed to be acting. The “family” didn’t seem to be fictional characters played by actors – the whole thing was so weird and effectively done that it seemed all too real. I grew up in the south, and trust me on this – there is no crazy like southern crazy.

Case in point – the character played by Edwin Neal, who we are first introduced to as “the hitchhiker,” gives (in a just world), an academy award winning performance. His body movement, facial expressions, manner of speech, and sheer manic intensity just don’t seem like anything that could be written in script directives. It’s such a fully formed performance that he literally seems to be that person, and it’s just one small but important element that makes this such a very unsettling film.

And what are we to make of Leatherface, played by a 6′ 4″ 300 lb. actor named Gunnar Hansen? We never see his face (only grotesque teeth constantly being licked by his tongue) since it’s covered by a mask made from the tanned skin of another human’s face. This would be scary enough without knowing that Ed Gein actually did this. He wears a suit with a ridiculous short tie through most of the film, often with a butchers apron stained with blood. Since he can’t speak, he communicates with high-pitched cries, and there is clearly some gender confusion – one of his masks is made up like a nightmarish hooker complete with curly wig and frilly apron. And let’s not forget what appear to be “Beatle” boots he’s wearing at the end sequence…

Although there is very little blood in the movie, many of the scenes of violence are so shocking and masterfully done that they disturb you in the same way that witnessing real violence does. There is a scene where one of the young men wanders into the house in broad daylight, is suddenly struck on the head with a hammer by Leatherface, and immediately falls to the ground and starts having a seizure. In a normal horror film, the scene would work perfectly well just having the boy struck and then falling. Adding the seizure takes it out of the realm of “movie violence” and your brain processes it as real. 

The third act is just an absolutely unrelenting exercise in terror. The actress Marilyn Burns gives an unforgettable “performance” as possibly the first “final girl” in this movie. I put performance in quotation marks because it seems anything but. One of the most disturbing aspects of this film is the sense that this actress is literally being terrorized – her screams don’t seem to be acting, they seem to be reacting. And the horror unleashed upon her has no respite – it just goes on and on and on (over 40 minutes), with her descending into a deeper and deeper state of traumatic shock.

The “dinner table” scene at the end just has to be seen to be believed. The insane interaction of the older brother scolding his two younger brothers, the introduction of grandpa, the incessant giggling of the family while Marilyn screams – there is no other response but horror for the viewer. And because the film has slowly but surely been ratcheting up the intensity, by the time you get to this point in the film it’s too late to back out. You actually feel dirty watching it.

Now’s as good a time as any to note the incredibly detailed art design of the sets. Based on the crime scene photos of Ed Gein’s farm house, they are a surreal celebration of death, the defiling of the human corpse, and cannibalism. Furniture made out of human bones, a lamp shade made from a human face, “clothes” made from the tanned skin of human bodies. This would all be scary enough if it was fiction – to know that it really happened is, to most reasonable humans, almost beyond comprehension.

I’m at 1000 words here and just scratching the surface – I could write a short book on this film and it’s influence on global horror cinema. For the moment let’s just note the power of art. A great idea executed perfectly, with whatever resources the artists had at hand, yielding devastating results. Layer after layer of meaning – it seems to hold up to close observation no matter how many times you view it.

As an artist, there is also the disturbing realization that no one involved in this film ever went on to do anything remotely as powerful. How is this possible? Life and art are mysterious. Sometimes you just have to step back, stop thinking, and submit to the experience.

 

Grinding It Out

This is the secret ingredient of living successfully. You set your goals, make a plan, and then you just grind it the fuck out. It’s not pretty, exciting or fun – but in the real world it’s how shit gets done.

Make no mistake: This is what separates the men from the boys, the formidable from the easily defeated, the winners from the losers.

Coming up with a great idea and actually executing it are two entirely different things.

Quit crying and get grinding...

You Can Do This

It is the greatest gift when someone says to you, ‘Yes, you can do this.’ Especially when the thing you’re trying to do is hard. There have been several times in my life when someone said that to me, and it has made all the difference. I wish that gift for others.” – Jennifer Pahlka