Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

The Moment Of Truth

We seem to want to do anything we can to avoid it, but when it finally comes it’s never that bad. I’m not thinking about anything specific here, just making a general observation.

For example, say you want to start a creative project – a song, short story, screenplay, painting, film, sculpture, blog, podcast, whatever. The more you keep thinking about it, the more imposing and scary it becomes. You become frozen with fear and self doubt, overwhelmed with questions. Why am I doing this? Can I do it? Will it suck? What if no one else cares about it? I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing

Here’s the reality: all of your questions and fears are unimportant distractions, just complete and utter bullshit. You either do it or you don’t, it’s that simple. And if you do it, here’s how it works:

You sit down and start. Once you begin, the next step will present itself.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

The Choice Is Yours

Here’s the thing about life: we don’t really get to choose what happens to us, but we have complete control over how we respond. So let’s unpack this a little bit…

We can (and should) make plans and try to actively steer our ship in the direction we want it to go – just understand that that’s not necessarily where life wants us to go. And life always trumps your plans. ALWAYS.

When you really start thinking about this it can make you feel a little unsettled. Like “What’s the point if I have no real control?” But if you can get your mind to a place where you are open to both the good and bad, you will begin to see opportunities everywhere. Instead of trying to control life, just let go and be swept away by its power – and watch for open doorways as they pass by. If one looks interesting, stop and go through it. It may take you places you never dreamed of.

Or you can try to fight life every step of the way.

The choice is yours.

Letting Go

My dog is dying from osteosarcoma and it’s breaking my fucking heart. I know I’m going to have to euthanize him soon, but he still seems completely himself – the problem is he’s starting to have difficulty walking and weighs 90 lbs. I know he’s in pain, but doesn’t really show it beyond the limping and unsteady gait. I’m giving him Tramadol and Deramaxx which seems to help some, but he’s progressively worse each day. It’s hard to know when it’s going to be the right time – I don’t want him to suffer, but he still seems to have some good quality of life, so I am not there yet. I find myself spontaneously weeping  a few times every day.

So although I am committed to this blog, I am really struggling in my daily life – it’s all I can do to take care of myself, my wife, and him while meeting my responsibilities. I’m not sure how meaningful or well written these posts are going to be for a while, but I’ll give it my best shot. I really didn’t want to write about this, but I can’t seem to think about anything else. I feel like I’m just going through the motions.

Life can be so fucking painful – it just wears you down. Each encounter with death scars you a little more. Instead of getting easier, it just gets harder.

Today he turned ten. Happy birthday buddy, I wish I could fix this. I won’t let you down.

Got to keep moving – one foot in front of the other.

Rejection Is Good

Even though it hurts, it’s good because it forces you to question how badly you want whatever rejected you.

It’s also good because the very fact that you were rejected means you were trying to do something, and that implies you were striving for growth.

Learning to deal with and embrace rejection is an essential part of learning how to become an effective human. If you can’t navigate it, you’re not going to get very far – your fear of failure will begin to limit your dreams.

Rejection helps us define who we are. Get past the pain and ask yourself “How bad do I want this?”

The answer will tell you what your next step should be.

The Limitations Of Your Lens Part 1

Your lens is not just the totality of your experience and understanding, it is also what you are capable of understanding. This is not a difficult concept to grasp, but it is very sobering to think about.

For example, there are frequencies we can’t hear, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Likewise, there are limits to what our brains are capable of understanding, beyond which we can’t imagine – because we are incapable of imagining it. If we try there’s just an empty void we are unable to fill in with information.

We might like to think that, given enough time and the proper motivation, we could learn, say, quantum physics. But the reality is not everyone’s brain is capable of understanding the subject matter.

This idea applies to social issues as well. Here’s a disturbing example: suppose you are a white, middle age male. You go through life trying to treat others fairly, and you pride yourself on not being prejudiced. You don’t really see a lot of racial discrimination so it’s not a big problem to you. Of course you’re not seeing it because you’re white. Why would you see it? It’s just not part of your reality – you don’t see the world through that lens.

If you’be never listened to jazz, it must sound like confusing noise – again, since you have no frame of reference, it’s not part of the lens through which you view the world. It’s a part of the world you don’t see, and you wouldn’t understand it even if you could.

You think you are seeing, but your eyes aren’t really open.

Thank You Dr. Oppenheimer, That Will Be All

Upon viewing the fruits of his labors with the successful detonation if the first atomic bomb at Trinity, J. Robert Oppenheimer later famously reported he thought of a verse from the Bhagavad Gita:

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

And a good day to you, sir.

Nick Nolte

If you want to understand the range of Nick Nolte as an actor, watch “Q&A” from 1990 and “Prince of Tides” from 1991 (for good measure you might want to throw in his performance in Martin Scorsese’s remake of “Cape Fear,” also from 1991). Nolte was 49 and 50 years old respectively, and he was on fire. I love all three of these movies, but his performance in “Q&A” and “Prince of Tides” is just like watching magic. The fact that these movies were done within a year of each other drives home the scope of what this guy was capable of. He is almost unrecognizable in these two films – it’s really difficult to imagine this is the same actor.

His portrayal of Mike Brennan in Sidney Lumets “Q&A” is a toxic manifestation of corrupt masculinity. If you’ve spent any time on the edges of society, you know this guy – or rather, you wish you didn’t know him. He’s a character right out of film noir, except there’s nothing left unstated. His corrosive violence and moral bankruptcy make you feel dirty just watching him. The simple act of him walking into a room brings with it a sense of dread and revulsion – you just want to get away from this guy, but you know it’s not going to be that easy. Hulking, creepy, and threatening, he’s like the big schoolyard bully who grew up and found his home as a racist and corrupt NYC police detective. This film is a real piece of art, and Nolte’s performance is sure to leave you feeling very unsettled.

So fast forward a year later and we have Nick starring a film directed by Barbra Streisand of all people, and, for me at least, this movie is a masterpiece. It’s a great script by Pat Conroy and Barbra directs it beautifully – her acting performance works for me, but YMMV. But it’s Nolte’s role that breathes life into the film, and boy, is it a career defining performance. The story is a kind of a southern Gothic, and it hits a lot of buttons for me. I’m from the south, and his character Tom Wingo is trying to “save” his sister who has just attempted suicide. But Tom’s past secrets and toxic shame are catching up to him, and he’s having difficulty holding himself together. I first saw this film a few years after my sister committed suicide, and I was really overwhelmed by how beautifully moving and tragic the story was. It’s portrayal of life as filled with tragedy, deep sadness and beauty really touched me. Nolte’s depiction of a very sensitive and beautiful character haunted by his past and living in a state of pain he doesn’t fully understand was just indelible. And I have to mention James Newton Howard’s hauntingly beautiful and lush score – it takes a great film and elevates the story and it’s emotion to another level. And let’s not forget George Carlin’s wonderful role as the gay neighbor…

So there you have it – Nick Nolte depicting two extreme manifestations of humanity so transparently that you’re left thinking that these roles couldn’t possibly have been played by the same actor. Bravo sir – you made my life just a little bit better by your art. Thank you.

Anxiety

It manifests differently in everyone. With me it expresses itself in weird, non-obvious ways. For example, for the longest time I thought I never had any anxiety at all, because I’m not an overtly anxious person. But that wasn’t exactly the case – instead I tend to push things down deep – I mean really deep. I would experience anxiety and not even know it. Fucking clueless. Being smart and really understanding yourself are two different things.

See, when I get anxious, I’ll begin to worry and perseverate inappropriately about something. It’s usually something that warrants worrying, but I’ll begin to obsess over it. I mean really obsess – to the point where I begin to dream about the fucking thing. Not good dreams, but not exactly nightmares either. Somewhere in the middle. Troubling. The sign of a mind in turmoil, trying to process something for which there is no understanding.

Meditation definitely helps, but even that becomes problematic, because it’s really hard to let go when your mind is racing a hundred miles an hour.

Time ultimately puts things into perspective. It’s just unfortunate that that perspective usually involves some new reality, and the new reality isn’t good – no, it’s always worse than the old reality.

Welcome to life. There’s no handbook for this shit.

Fucking Hell

The shit storm just keeps coming. I can deal with epic amounts of trouble, but right about now I’m thinking “the good news must be coming any minute.”

Until then, the bad news will have to keep me company. At least we’re on intimate terms.

Never React Out Of Anger

This one is so important it should be burned into your brain so that it’s the first thing you think of when you are angry.

You might think that rage would fuel your response for maximum effect, but it doesn’t. Trust me, you’re not thinking clearly, and as a result, your response is most definitely not the one you want to live with. When you are angry and hurt, you need some time to clarify your thoughts and figure out what to do. What you are looking for is the right response that will allow you to achieve the outcome you want, not one that will unleash your fury and result in negative consequences.

Boxers that fight angry are generally not winning. They might be fun to watch, but it’s a flawed strategy. The fighters who win are the ones who remain clear headed, have prepared well, and can change their strategy as needed. If you hit them, they don’t get mad, they adapt.

So there’s the lesson. Don’t get mad, adapt.

Crisis As An Opportunity For Triumph

He has made his own bargain with the human condition. Doba’s response to Gabriela’s concern about what he’d do in a crisis, if the closest land was the bottom, was to say there will be no crisis. He did not say this because he’s naïve. He said it because he has reimagined the concept of crisis, just as he has reimagined the concept of suffering. A crisis, in Doba’s worldview, is an opportunity for triumph. So Doba moves toward the crisis, just as he moves toward the suffering. By choosing it, he casts himself in the role of hero, not victim. He gives himself control.” – “Alone at Sea,” by Elizabeth Weil, New York Times Magazine, March 22, 2018.

The Sadness Of Living

With the passing of each loved one, it just doesn’t get any easier – if anything, it becomes harder. It’s like the slow accumulation of sorrow just keeps building up in your heart until there’s no where left to put it.

Granted, I’m in the middle of this now, so these feelings are acute – but this shit never leaves you. You’re always aware that the next one is waiting for you right around the corner. It’s like scar tissue on your soul – you don’t ever want to stop feeling, but it’s so fucking painful and exhausting that with each loss your heart becomes heavier and heavier.

This is the price of admission to old age. Welcome to the third act. It ends with a bang.

Did I Make A Difference In Anyone’s Life Today?

If I’m counting down the days, at the very least shouldn’t I feel like I at least accomplished this?

Not that I really care that much about humanity in the big picture, but I do care about people one to one. If that makes any sense.

I don’t know, I don’t want this to sound morbid, because I don’t really feel that way. But if I’ve got another, say, 20 years ( in 20 I’ll be 81 – fuck me.), WTF am I leaving behind?

It’s really weird to think about this, but it’s fucking reality. I’m staring into the abyss and I don’t feel like am quite ready for it yet.

I guess I’m not sure if I’ll ever be.

Doing The Things We Don’t Want To Do

I have worked out at the gym regularly for 34 years – it sounds impressive when I write that, and you might think that I really enjoy it. Well, yes and no – like most things in life, it’s not that simple. The reality of it is this: working out is hard, and I don’t really like doing it. It hurts to push yourself, and as a result quite often I don’t want to go. But I make myself, and although I might struggle when I get there – I do it. Over time, however, it becomes a habit, as integral a part of my life as eating or sleeping.

You might wonder if it’s so hard, then why do I do it? In the beginning, it was because I wanted to look better and become stronger. I was always one of those guys who was underweight, so the idea of actually building muscle on my skinny frame was intoxicating. But here’s the thing: what I didn’t realize was that all of those years of exercising was like putting money in the bank. As I got older, I became stronger and more fit, to the point where I now must be in the top 1% of fitness for a man of 61. I can do things very few men my age can, and although I am still very thin, I am fairly ripped, having put on about 25 lbs. of muscle over the last three decades. This degree of fitness gives me a big edge as I get older – I just have way more reserve for daily functioning, more energy, and I’m able to recover from illness pretty quickly. There are cognitive benefits as well – being fit just makes everything better.

So I just keep going to the gym, even though there are other things I would rather be doing. One rep at a time, I just keep slogging away. When I’m done, I always feel better…

So what’s the takeaway here? Just this: In order to get the most out of life, we have to make ourselves do the things we don’t want to do. If you want to be better at your job, you have to consciously work to improve. To be a better musician you must practice. If you want to learn you must study. None of these things are fun – but the payoff is worth it.

Embrace the pain  and discomfort and know that it will make you a stronger, better person. As an added bonus you might live a longer, richer life as a result.

Well This Is A Little Awkward

Okay, I just had a realization and it’s kind of creeping me out. I’ve been writing this blog for over a year, and although it’s stated purpose was to provide a means for me to better understand myself and grow, I have been adopting the voice of a writer communicating with an undefined reader.

I just realized who that reader is. It’s me. I’m writing notes to myself. WTF does that even mean? I’m not sure, but it’s both weirdly disturbing and kind of cool at the same time. I guess I’m sending messages to myself? Or am I working out problems and trying to process and understand life by writing down my thoughts? This is really fucking strange

I guess it kind of makes sense, it was sort of spelled out in the first blog post, but it must have been on a subconscious level. Because I wasn’t really thinking in those terms. I suppose the next logical question here would be “So why make it public?” Hmmm, another good question – I’m not really sure how to answer that.

I guess it’s because I’m fucking 61 years old and coming down the home stretch. I realized how quickly things can change after being diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly my demise wasn’t a remote intellectual possibility. It was like a dress rehearsal for act three, you know, the one where I die at the end. Maybe I’m thinking “I don’t really have much to leave behind that might be useful to someone else, so perhaps there’s a remote possibility that another person may chance upon this and have it touch them in a meaningful way.”

Or at least provide fodder for the artificial intelligence that will someday read everything ever written as a way to better understand humans. “Hello there Mr. Machine! Even though I never really mattered in the big picture, at least you’re reading something that proves I existed. Feel free to take the parts you find useful!

So there’s that.

The Satisfaction Of Doing A Hard Job Well

I’m talking about the pleasure one takes in not just doing a very difficult job well, but actually enjoying it in the process. There is something deliciously satisfying about the whole thing…

A job most people couldn’t do, nor would they want to even if they could. A job so hard, most people in the same profession want nothing to do with it. A job with non stop stress, where people are dying right under your hands, and it somehow begins to seem as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

But for you it feels like home, like this is your comfort zone. When you can pull this off for a 12 and a half hour shift like it’s just another day in the office, you feel like you’ve actually done something useful. You begin to feel like you’re part of an elite club that most people have no idea it even exists.

If the job in question is that of an ER nurse, be fucking proud of it. Take a minute to feel good about yourself. At the end of your shift, go home and get some rest – hopefully you’ll live another day and be able to do it all over again.

Enjoy the feeling of knowing you tried to help others in need, and maybe, for a brief moment, you succeeded. And if, despite your best efforts, you think you fell short there’s always tomorrow.