Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Here’s a Tip

Don’t bother recommending art (or anything else for that matter) to anyone – EVER. If they ask, or you’re having an engaged conversation, that’s different. Otherwise, it’s pointless. Here’s the reason why:

It’s only meaningful to them if they discover it themselves.

If they want to hear what you have to say, they’ll ask for it. Otherwise shut your pie hole and save it for other things that are more useful.

Make Your Soul Grow

It’s the first day of a new year, and I am going to take this opportunity to do my first re-post, with a brief set-up. We have all experienced rare and precious moments in life when we read or see or hear something that touches us deeply, and etches itself permanently in our mind. Such was the case for the contents of this post when I first came across it. I read this at a time in my life when I was struggling with justifying (to myself) the rather large amount of time I was spending creating art, which in my case was music. I wasn’t earning any money from it, and I had long ago set aside the dream that somewhere there was a large group of people eager to consume what I was creating. So what the fuck was I doing it for? 

Well, the answer is in Mr. Vonnegut’s letter, and not surprisingly he states it with humor, grace and wisdom, in a way that NYC public high school students could readily understand. In the process, he answered a deep metaphysical question asked by a self-doubting older middle-aged man who was looking into the black void of time, a bit lost for how to proceed in his life and desperately looking for a meaningful answer. It turns out the answer was, of course, right there in front of me. Thank you Kurt Vonnegut for clearing things up. Now, from March of last year,  enjoy!…

In 2006, a year before he died at the age of 85, Kurt Vonnegut was invited visit the students of Xavier High School in New York City. Although he declined their invitation, stating “I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana,” he wrote the students this letter in reply. I came upon it at a time in my life when I was having a hard time creating and it resonated deeply. He wrote:

“Practice any art . . . no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.  Starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives…”

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Gratitude

Maybe it’s an age thing, but instead of focusing on New Years resolutions, I am thinking about all of the things I have to be grateful for. So, in no particular order, here are a few…

  1. I am alive. As in not dead. I could very easily have died twice in my 50’s, but I didn’t. So here’s one of my lessons from this experience: no matter how bad things are, if you are alive you get the chance to make them right again, at least to the best of your ability. And that’s good enough – because as long as you are really trying to do the right thing, your past can be forgiven. We are all imperfect and flawed.
  2. I have someone who loves me unconditionally, and I have the immense pleasure of returning that love. It’s a very rare and good feeling to know that someone loves you, and they have the personal strength to truly have your back no matter how difficult things get. She was tested when I had cancer, so I know what she is capable of. If you are lucky enough to have somebody like this in your life – don’t ever let them go.
  3. We live in a glorious time. OK, bear with me here for a moment. What I mean is simply to point out that we are living in a time of technological development that borders on magic. Except it’s not magic – it’s science, and it’s very much real. According to Ray Kurzweil’s timeline, we are at the beginning of the knee of an exponential growth curve in technology, and the development of general AI is going to be a very, very big part of it. It’s going to be a very interesting and bumpy ride…
  4. The people I love and care about are healthy and alive.
  5. My mind is intact and as sharp as ever, and my state of health allows me to function at a very high level.
  6. I have a job that I love, working with people I like and respect, where I get to help people in a meaningful way. I’m not sure it gets any better than that.
  7. For all of it’s flaws, I have the privilege of living in a first world country, the U.S. This means I have access to good health care, I am not going hungry, I have a roof over my head, and I make a decent wage. I have the luxury of having my needs met, so that I can try to help others enjoy the same.
  8. I have very good pup.

Let’s welcome in 2018 and give it our best fucking shot. No holding back, and no fear. Try and make every day count, to the best of our ability, and treat each other and ourselves with respect, compassion, and forgiveness. We’re on our way to the finish line, and this moment ain’t coming again.

Stooge Wisdom Part 1

It’s the end of a very intense day and my brain feels like Curly Howard’s immortal line from the Three Stooges:

I’m trying to think but nothing happens.”

Confirmation Bias

The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.”

I would add that it’s probably a hardwired human tendency to actively look for information confirming what we already want to believe.

This what we want to do – all of us – and it’s precisely why overcoming it is so hard. So what do we do?

We can start by at least being aware of this phenomenon at all times. Sometimes our beliefs are correct, but we must always be open to the possibility that we’re wrong – and not be afraid to admit it. There’s no shame in being wrong, but there is shame in willfully clinging to beliefs that we know are incorrect.

The most dangerous manifestation of this is when we are so married to an idea that we become blind to reality. Unfortunately, this is dishearteningly common today, and you certainly don’t have to look hard to see examples everywhere.

It’s almost as if actually having access to constantly evolving information is too overwhelming for us, and we retreat into what feels safe.

But the world, of course, is far from safe. It never was…

Sending Your Baby Out Into The World

I might have also titled this post “letting go,” because that’s what we’re really talking about. You’ve ushered something into the world, nurtured and developed it, and now the time has come to let it go.

It could quite literally be your child – but for our purpose it might be anything. Anything, that is, that is very important and dear to your heart. Anything that started as a dream and you made it into a reality. That’s a very big fucking deal, and although it can be painful and scary, there comes a time where you just have to let go. But this process should always be accompanied by a sense of pride – you were able to accomplish something. And with it also comes a greater sense of self-efficacy, the realization that there are other challenges waiting for you to tackle.

The thing is, once you send something out into the world, it may fail – at the very least you know longer really have any control over it. This is probably the root of why it’s so hard to let go. But finishing is an essential part of creating. It may not quite be done yet – you might still have to help it along – but it’s no longer yours protect and nurture.

It’s time to set it free and move on.

Letting The Thing Show Up

In this case the thing is whatever you want to happen. Maybe it’s recording a great performance, or writing a song, or even just being the best you possibly can at anything. So you prepare, and then you turn the part of your mind off that’s always watching and criticizing. Because that shit us guaranteed to keep the thing from showing up. The thing requires that you be completely relaxed and in the moment.

You can’t force it – but you can set the stage and maximize the chance it will show up. And when it does, it’s fucking magic.

It’s showtime.

Christmas

When I was really young – say, between the ages of 3-6, Christmas was magic. Well, magic in the sense of free gifts, anyway. We had a tree and my parents bought me and my sister and brother presents. Christmas morning was incredible…

Then, somewhere around the age of 7 or so, my mothers mental illness really started to manifest itself, and things went south quickly. Gone was the whole magical Christmas morning thing – replaced by increasingly unpredictable outbursts of violence and sheer, unadulterated episodes of insanity.

As an adult, I long ago realized Christmas was a toxic reminder of tragedy and existential sadness for me – and I cut it out of my life like a cancer. When you get older and start learning how to come to grips with your past and heal, these are the things you have to do.

But most years (not every year), I briefly flash back to when I was a little boy, and I remember the magical Christmas’s of long ago.

I feel a remote, weak sense of sadness, because now I am an old(er) man who long ago made peace with his past. I do, however, have one prevailing tradition and final thought that gets me through the holiday season.

Every year, I watch Bad Santa with Billy Bob Thornton, and I smile.

And I think – Fuck Christmas.

I try very hard to be nice and do the right thing, but deep down I’m a very hard man, and I’ve done and seen some very bad things in my life. It’s okay though – ‘cause I’m really trying my best to transcend that, and I think I’m  succeeding.

So there’s that.

Where Is Your Comfort Zone?

My comfort zone is being outside of my comfort zone.”

I just read this line in an interview with Greg Wells, and it perfectly sums up how I feel.

It’s where I feel the most alive.

Getting Out Of The Way

This is a critically important concept when you are creating something – in fact, your ability to be creative mandates that you turn off the critical part of your brain entirely and simply create like a child. If you can’t do this, you will never get out of the starting gate – and that’s a real shame, because we are all capable of creating something meaningful. And if it’s meaningful to you, chances are very good it will be meaningful to others as well.

Even for those of us who have spent a lifetime trying to be creative, it is almost always a struggle. One of the best examples of this I have ever seen came from an incredibly gifted musician I produced a record with. This guy was just transcendentally, undeniably gifted. I had the pleasure of playing some gigs with him, and I remember thinking “I have to produce a record of this guy.” I remember approaching him about it, and he told me something that left me dumbfounded. He confided that he was unable to record himself at all because he thought everything he tried to do sucked. Now this was someone who had a successful career as a sideman for some pretty well known artists, so clearly he understood he was a high level player. And yet, when he tried to record demos of his material, he couldn’t stand to listen to his own playing! He couldn’t “get out of the way” and see his own gifts, only his imagined shortcomings.

Because we had built a mutual respect and friendship from playing together, and shared an understanding and love for music, he trusted me. And this trust allowed him to let go, it gave him the freedom to just play without judgement. In fact, I would record several takes from him each session, and I wouldn’t even play them back. Instead, I would spend a few days listening to them, pick out the best performances, and edit and mix them. Only when he would come back for the next session would I then play him what he did the week before – but now they weren’t raw tracks – they sounded like a record – and he got it! Because I loved what was special about him, I knew when I captured it – and when he heard it, he knew it was undeniable. All I had done was give him the freedom to not be critical of his art, to just create freely and let me sort it out. I still think it was one of the best records I produced, because it caught the magic that was him.

I allowed him to “get out of the way” and let his art speak. We rarely have the luxury of having someone who can do this for us, so we usually have to do it for ourselves. Rest assured that it can, however, be done…

Perception Is Everything

You think something’s beautiful? It’s beautiful.

You think something’s hard? It’s hard.

You think you can do it? You probably can.

You think it’s all hopeless? See where this is going?

It took me a long time to understand this powerfully  simple truth.

So what are the ramifications of this? Just this: You decide whether you’re having a good day or not. You  have the power to choose what to believe and how you are going to interpret the world.

You get to decide who you are going to be, and how you are going to feel on your way there.

Enjoy the trip!

IV Skills Part 1

ER Nursing 101 – you’re triaging a patient just brought in by EMS and they report seizure activity during transport. You ask if they have access to which they reply no, so you drop a line in while you’re triaging and the patient seizes while your drawing labs. You calmly ask them to throw a tegaderm on while you hold his arm and wait it out.

When it passes you finish drawing your labs, get an order for 2 of Ativan and push it. You thank them for their help, and think to yourself – nice!

The Next Step Should Be Obvious

And if it isn’t, stay active and sit tight until it is.

Because, if you are paying attention, it will be obvious what you need to do next.

Be open to the opportunities that present themselves…

Joie de Vivre

The joy of living.

Being fully engaged with whatever you are doing.

Having an awareness that this moment is special, and won’t ever come again.

Creating something because you are alive.

Giving for the joy it can bring.

Oryou can be a hateful, narcissistic, sociopathic dick.

The choice is yours. And it is most definitely your choice to make.

Relinquishing Control

It seems difficult, but if you can let just let all of your expectations go and simply be in the moment, the experience of living takes on a whole new meaning.

Of course the hard part of achieving this state is actually letting go of what you want to happen, of what you think should happen. Stop trying to control things and just let the experience of living wash over you. It makes being in the world a place of endless possibilities, like you are experiencing life as if you were a child.

When you are feeling overwhelmed, putting yourself in this zen-like state can open up fresh perspectives, allowing you to see new possibilities.

There’s A Limit To The Sadness

You see a lot of heartbreaking shit if you’re an ER nurse; most of it you learn how to compartmentalize in a way that lets you power through and get on with your job. I always try to remember my function is to help people in need – they are depending on my professional skill set and knowledge base. They need me to be calm, capable, and clear headed – not emotional. And I am ruthlessly efficient and focused in carrying out my job. But there some situations that are just too painful to allow yourself to make a personal connection.

One of them is the suicide note.

It usually happens like this. Someone tries to commit suicide, but doesn’t quite finish the job. EMS gets called and brings the patient and all pertinent evidence to the ER. The triage nurse would be the first person to receive this stuff. It all has to be logged and inspected in order to get a clear picture of what happened – we can’t treat the afflicted without understanding what we are dealing with.

Today I had one of them. Made a copy for the chart, and made sure the wife got the original.

Couldn’t look at it. There’s a limit to the sadness you allow in.

Classic ER Lines Part 2

The face of a clean cut college boy, looking at me with lips parched white, eyes wild & pleading, being restrained by 6 very large security officers for his own safety, voice hoarse from screaming at the top of his lungs, over and over:

Kill the trip, kill the trip, please kill the trip.”

Note to young people: LSD is not a party drug.

How Much Is Enough?

Just a rhetorical question, but an interesting one to ponder… There is obviously no real concrete answer, but let’s play an interesting thought game: there is a financial axiom that states one can withdraw 4% annually from a properly invested portfolio without touching the principle – indefinitely. So let’s say had you a million invested – that means you could withdraw $40,000 a year forever without touching your million. Not bad for doing nothing.

If you had a billion dollars, you could withdraw $40,000,000 a year. That’s right – forty million dollars each year. For life. That seems like more money than a single person could spend, year after year. Oh sure, it’s quite possible one could spend more than that in one year. You could buy, say, a ten million dollar Manhattan penthouse, a ten million dollar castle, and a ten million dollar yacht. But wait, you’ve still got almost a million left to spend each month. And the next year you’ve got more money to spend, and the year after that, and the year after that. So a billion dollars seems like it would be enough, no?

Now, mind  you, I’m not making any judgments here – who am I to say how much is enough. But looking at Wikipedia’s rankings of the wealthiest people in the world as of today (I realize this isn’t a definitive source – remember, we’re playing a game here), I came across some numbers. They are astonishing…

Bill Gates: 86 billion, Warren Buffet: 75.6 billion, Jeff Bezos: 72.8 billion (these are the top three). Jumping to number five we have Mark Zuckerberg at 56 billion, and tied at number 8 are the Koch brothers at 48.3 billion each. If you had 48 billion, you could withdraw $1,920,000,000 each year for life without touching your original 48 billion! WTF!!

Now I understand that generating this kind of wealth is often a byproduct of creating something. Just because you’ve made 48 billion you’re not going to stop creating whatever goods or services earned that money – so your business will of course continue to generate wealth, as it should. And maybe each of these hugely wealthy individuals contributes enormous sums to charity or helping to fund research to stop disease, or tries to help humanity in some other meaningful way.

But somebody is funding a lot of very powerful lobbies in Washington for the sole purpose of making the rich even richer. And that prompts my question, “How much is enough?”

After the first billion or so, at what point might you think, “Maybe I should give some of this back to help others…”

Implementing Change

Step 1) How bad do you want it?

Step 2) If you want it bad enough, you will figure the rest out.

Seriously, that pretty much covers it.

Of course this can broken down into an infinite number of variables and possibilities, all of which you will be left to decipher in real time. And you will be faced with new questions to answer at every step of the way, of which some will seem to have no answer at all. But at the end of the day, it still all comes down to steps 1 & 2.

The one who wants it the most wins.