Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

The Curse of Too Many Choices

Creating art is about just what it says – creating. Whatever tools you use to realize your vision are there to facilitate the act of creating. Seems pretty simple, but there’a always a catch. When you are just starting out, all you have is a burning desire to make something. You usually have no craft, no equipment, and no money. The irony is that this is usually the most exciting and productive time of your life. Why is that?

I would argue that it’s because you already have the only thing you really need to express yourself – the intense desire to do so. You are on fire with the drive to make cool shit, so you do it with whatever you have. If you are recording music, it usually sounds like shit – but in a cool way. It’s alive! As time goes by, you get better at the craft, and you begin to acquire higher quality tools. You begin to get obsessed with making the cool shit you have created better. You really learn your gear, and your toolbox grows…

And then one day you wake up and realize you’ve hit a wall. Creativity waxes and wanes, it’s not a constant thing – this is OK, it’s part of life. You have to work through it, and while you are doing so, you get yet more tools to see if they inspire you. But at some point, you find yourself drowning in choices – you now have so many goddamn tools you don’t know where to start. You’ve achieved a degree of mastery over your skill set, and whatever you do make sounds fucking amazing, but you now find yourself with way too many choices and decisions to make before you can even get started creating something. Uh oh -WTF happened?

What happened is that you lost sight of what was really important – making cool shit. Expressing yourself. Creating like an innocent and naive child (I am using these terms as the highest compliment). Give a child a paintbrush and she’ll paint something – but it probably won’t be a canvas! She’ll be lost in the act of discovery and the intoxicating desire to express herself.

This is what we need to return to – the playful and innocent act of creation. Not judging – just doing. That’s where the good shit lies…

My Brain Hurts…

Ever have one of those days when you are working on problems that are taxing different parts of your brain? Like trying to understand polynomial algebraic expressions and how they relate to everyday life AND managing the complex interpersonal and psychosocial aspects of a startup team? On not enough sleep?

Here’s how I deal with this: Take a deep breath, recognize you are not superman, stay calm and do your best. The sun will rise tomorrow and it will bring a new day with another opportunity to grow and figure this shit out.

Here’s what is important: I am alive, healthy, and my brain is fully functioning – by this definition it was a good fucking day

Win Or Learn…

I recently listened to a Joe Rogan podcast where his guest Maynard James Keenan mentioned this idea in passing, and it really struck a nerve with me. It’s just one of those little nuggets of truth that instantly puts things in perspective, turning what would appear to be a negative outcome into something entirely positive.

He said his father taught him this when he was growing up (big thumbs up to his dad). The lesson was this:

You can either win or learn.

Think about this for a moment – this is brilliant on so many different levels. If you win, sure, you’ve won but you didn’t necessarily learn anything. It feels good though – after all, isn’t winning the point? Hmmm, I’m not so sure about that. On the other hand, if you lose, you didn’t win per se, or did you? Because losing is an opportunity to learn what you did wrong and grow. It’s an opportunity to reach a higher state of self-actualization, to become a better, smarter, and more effective person. To be more equipped to win next time.

I want to make a distinction here – I’m not talking about winning as a selfish act of triumph, I’m talking about winning in the broader sense of accomplishing something – hopefully something that will ultimately benefit multiple parties. Getting the resources you need to achieve something for the greater good is winning.

Failure truly is an opportunity, it’s just a question of perspective…

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

In order to be excel at whatever it is you want to do, you have to disengage with it – on a regular basis. It took me a long time to understand this, when I was younger I thought that every minute I needed to be working on improving and accomplishing my goals.

This is completely and utterly wrong.

It seems counter-intuitive, but the reality is this: in order to be really good at something, you can’t be doing it all the time – you have to step away and not even think about it, preferably daily. There are a few reasons for this, but burnout is near the top of the list. Ever wonder how some doctors and nurses can work in a high stress life and death environment like the ER for decades? Many come into the profession and do it successfully for a few years and then they just can’t take it anymore, they burn out. What’s the difference?

The difference is this: in order to perform at a high level in a very stressful environment, you have to leave it at work. By the time I get home after a chaotic shift with multiple deaths, threats of violence, and the feeling that “I did the best I could with the resources I had” – the shift is already a dim memory. And I don’t think about it again until the next day I go to work.

This concept is also true for creating art – it’s as if the time away from whatever it is you are focusing on somehow brings clarity to it. The things you engage with while you are away give new meaning and perspective to your work.

This is one of those things that I had to learn the hard way. Here’s how life works – I can tell you this, but you’ll probably have to learn it on your own. When I was younger I wouldn’t have listened to this advice either.

Some people are smart enough to know this intuitively, the rest of us hopefully pay attention and pick it up at some point. It’s one of those things that helps you get ahead in life. And enjoy it while you’re alive.

Rest In Peace George A. Romero

I have already written two entries in this blog about the inimitable George A. Romero, but I could probably write a book about his influence on modern culture (and me). Today he passed away at the age of 77 at home and I must take a moment to acknowledge and thank him.

As I wrote in an earlier post, but bears repeating: The man invented a genre seemingly out of thin air, one that is still spawning fresh interpretations 50 years later. Love it or hate it,  zombie films represent one of the most infinitely malleable film genres of all time. There seems to be no story line you can’t hang on it. Horror, drama, science fiction, comedy, farce, tragedy, love story, political commentary, art film, futuristic apocalypse, nightmare. It’s all there.

But make no mistake, George A. Romero was the undisputed master. The existential dread and examination of human drama in the face of the apocalypse was an essential part of his blueprint from the beginning. The uneasy sense of danger you had as an audience member watching these films, unsure as to exactly how far this director would go…

He had mastered, from the beginning, the concept of a high line and a low line in art. Let me explain – in my opinion, all great art has the ability to connect with the viewer on a base, low, almost primal level. And then, for those who are paying attention and want to delve a little deeper, the work just keeps revealing layer after layer of meaning. Great art works on multiple levels – but you don’t have to get all of these layers to be moved by it. This is one of the things I love about the horror genre. Many cinephiles completely miss this, they just see these films as coarse trash, and as a result a lot of unbelievable art goes right over their heads.

So here’s to you George A. Romero, reluctant genius, visionary artist, game changer of the cultural landscape. You made life better for more than you knew. Rest In Peace, your memory will live on in everyone touched by your work, whether they knew it or not. Bravo!

I Can’t Improve If I Don’t Know What I’m Doing Wrong

Here’s a question that’s worth thinking about: How can you do better if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong? After all, if you knew what you were doing wrong, you would change it, right?

Even if you are very smart and very driven, you will eventually hit a wall that may take you a very long time to get over. Every problem shouldn’t involve reinventing the wheel.

Often it is difficult for us to recognize our strengths, let alone our weaknesses. So what am I saying here?

Find people whose criticism you can trust and don’t ever let them go. Listen to what they have to say and pay attention, even if it hurts.

In the absence of good criticism, pay attention to what others are encouraging you to do. It’s the same principle – other people are helping you understand your strengths and weaknesses, it’s just a lot easier to take.

What Is Art?

This is an easy question for me to answer now, at the age of 60 – but it wasn’t so clear to me when I was younger. And the answer, at least to me, is very simple:

If the intent is to create something as a way to express yourself, with no regard for remuneration, then it’s art. How it will interpreted by others is an unknown, but if it was made with this intent, it doesn’t really matter. You didn’t make it to be paid, and you didn’t make it to receive affirmation from others. You made it because you were compelled to, because you felt a need to express yourself in this way.

When I was younger, I felt that defining something I made as art was pretentious, that somehow it was up to others to bestow this distinction. This was completely wrong – what on earth made me think that other people were qualified to make such a distinction? Not just about what I created, but about the works of others as well? People can say they hate something, that it’s bullshit, that it’s worthless, and that it’s certainly not art. In fact, the artists themselves may not define what they are doing as art. Because they didn’t create something so it could be defined as art – in fact, what society chooses to call it is of no consequence to them. They made it because they were compelled to express themselves in this way. Period.

Like so many things in life, it is all about intention. What is the intent behind the action?

Intent is everything.

33 Years And Counting

Three to four times a week for 33 years. That’s how long I’ve been going to the gym. It sounds crazy, but it’s really not that difficult.

See, once you’ve experienced the all encompassing payoffs of regular exercise, it becomes a problem not to go. Physical, mental, cognitive, mood, health, appearance, energy – these are just some of the benefits, and they are not subtle.

I had never exercised a day in my life when my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) bought me a gym membership at the age of 27 (yet another thing I have to thank her for). I was 6 feet tall and maybe 135 lbs. – Mr. stringbean. I remember there was a guy there doing military presses with 100 lb. dumbells. Definitely a little intimidated when I first went – I had never been in a gym before. I almost immediately took to it and never looked back.

Regular exercise would be at the top of my list for things you can do to improve the quality of your life.

Want to feel better? Exercise

Cultural Signifiers As Exclusionary Barriers

I don’t think that most of us do this purposely, but this phenomenon is a universal human behavior. I’m referring to cultural signifiers that identify us as part of a group. These behaviors are ubiquitous and they are inescapable.

For example, most professions have their own language – sometimes it’s formal (like medicine) and sometimes it’s informal (like musicians). These specialized languages serve as a means of communication to other members of the profession, but they can also present a barrier to outsiders trying to understand what is happening.

Cultural references are liberally sprinkled in everyday speech – yet these references are generally designed not simply to signify who we are or what we like (a reference to an author, or an artist), they are also subtly designed to separate those who “know” from those who “don’t know.”

I’m not really making a point here, just an observation. Humans seem to have a need to separate into subgroups with which they can identify. Tribes if you will – hmmm

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

If you wait for the “right time” to start some project, chances are it will never come. Sometimes (usually) you just have to jump in and start with what you’ve got, and trust your ability to figure it out and make it happen as you go along.

I am doing this right now. I have been waiting to find out if I can get the resources needed to begin an important project. At the eleventh hour, I got half of what I asked for. It’s too important to bail on – I believe strongly that this endeavor can make a meaningful difference. So what am I doing?

I’m jumping the fuck in…

You Might Be Surprised What You’re Capable Of

I just finished a five week college math course that I felt woefully unprepared for. I did much better than I expected, which seems to be a theme in my life.

I don’t think I am alone here, I suspect we are all capable of more than we think. What does it say about us when we are surprised to discover this?

I am 60 years old and still learning who I am.

Pretty fucking cool

Words To Live By…

I just read a great quote from Detroit Techno artist Alan Oldham:

“Resources are limited, do what you can with what you have.”

You’ll Never Go Wrong…

As long as you’re motivated by trying to do the right thing. You won’t always get it right – and you won’t always be right – but at least your intentions were to do the best you could with what you had at the time.

At What Point?

At what point have you given up so much freedom and so many rights, in the pursuit of some illusion of “safety and security,” that the events you used to enjoy as part of a community aren’t worth turning out for anymore?

Tomorrow is the 4th of July – Independence Day, the USA’s celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Traditionally the day would end with a fireworks display, and the whole community would turn out to see it. Here in NYC, it would be a massive show that everyone in the city would enjoy from whatever vantage point they could find. A joyous and innocent tradition…

Today, the top news stories aren’t about the fireworks – they are about the massive amount of military firepower about to be deployed in an effort to prevent a terrorist attack during the annual fireworks display. An operation whose object it is to keep everyone off the street who might pose a “threat.” No more watching the fireworks from your rooftop – instead there will be snipers there, “protecting” you.

What a pathetic display of weakness, of power out of control – an epic display of fear. Is this really what we have become? Are we so afraid of everything that we have to wrap ourselves in a war machine, otherwise the “bad guys” might get us? What weak, frightened children we have become. Shame on us, it wasn’t always this way. At one time, to paraphrase Walter White, we weren’t in danger – we were the danger.

We have become a flaccid representation of what we thought we stood for. At what point? By my measure we reached that point quite a while ago. I’m afraid that ship has sailed…

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation

Ok, time for ER nursing nerd-out. Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC) is a rare blood disorder that is a true acute emergency. In emergency medicine it is usually a sequelae of sepsis.

One of the things I love about working as an ER nurse is that it is the only area in a hospital where the patients have no diagnosis. That means that medicine and nursing are figuring out what is happening in real time. This requires some serious quick thinking based on acquired knowledge.

A patient with DIC can hemorrhage and have an ischemic event caused by a thrombus (blood clot) at the same time. Very complex and difficult to treat…

After eight hours of intensive care in our ER, we just snatched one from the jaws of death, stabilized her and sent her on her way to the ICU.

It was a very good day indeed.