Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Sophists

A person who reasons with clever but fallacious arguments.”

I’m not sure what caused this phenomenon to become so ubiquitous, but you literally can’t turn around without running headlong into it every fucking where you look. On what’s left of broadcast “news,” in Washington and global political discourse, among science “deniers,” in public internet forums and at work, family dinner tables, and public spaces. Humans have become very adept at specious argument – twas always thus, it’s just that until fairly recently this kind of argument wasn’t given the weight of truth. It’s become so nauseatingly pervasive that I just want to withdraw from the whole dialog. Although this is an effective self-protective response, it certainly isn’t doing anything to solve the problem. The question is: What will?

I honestly don’t have a fucking clue. It’s as if the Dunning-Kruger effect has spread like a virus out of control, empowering hucksters, con-men, and rubes alike. The flood of self-righteous anger, lies, and poor reasoning has surged into a tsunami that threatens to undo hundreds of years of scientific method and discovery. If I listen to too much of this bullshit I actually begin to feel my brain cells dying, as if stupidity could spread by osmosis.

I wish I had something constructive to say, but at 61 I’m just disgusted by the whole sorry spectacle. I’ve already survived cancer and I’m aware that the clock is ticking. I’ve got better things to do with my remaining time than waste it on something I can’t change. So to all the people who seem to love this shit – knock yourselves out and I hope you enjoy the party.

I’d say try not to break anything but I’m afraid you already have.

Another Fresh Failure Served Up Piping Hot!

Well, well, well – time to take some of my own bitter medicine, I’m afraid. I didn’t name this blog for nothing! Pull up a seat and prepare to eat another steaming plate of crow. You never really get used to the taste, but hey, at least it’s familiar.

So what happened? Hmmm, let’s see…

I guess the short answer is that I tried to do something and failed. My first conciliatory thought is “Well at least you fucking tried.” And that’s not nothing; I entered into something I felt was important knowing full well I might not succeed. But somebody had to try, and I’m nothing if not game. So there’s that.

My best intentions were unfortunately thwarted by the mendacious behavior of people looking after their own interests, a story as old as man. Jesus, you’d think I would have seen that one coming. The thing is, I did – I just thought I could somehow temper it, and of course I couldn’t. So what do I learn from this?

Well, first of all, don’t spread yourself too thin. There’s a limit to what you can do, and I sometimes make the mistake of over estimating what I’m capable of.

Although I like to lead by getting input from everyone involved, I’m most effective when I have the power to make a decision and move on. Not all leadership roles have that power.

On reflection, I think, in the environment I failed in, I am probably more useful working alone on projects where I can act with more autonomy. My goal is to contribute whatever skills and talent I might possess in the most effective way possible to achieve the greatest good.

Ultimately, I just want to leave feeling as if, even in some small way, I left things a least a little bit better than I found them. It’s important to me to feel like I contributed something good and useful.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask of myself, and I fully intend to deliver.

Landmarks, Part 1

“A landmark is anything that helps you know where you are — in space, in time, in history.”

This is my 500th consecutive daily post, so I’m calling it a personal landmark. This is where I am at this moment in space, time, and history. Whee!

But what does this mean? Well, let’s reflect on that for a moment, shall we…

When I started this, in the very first post I wrote that this was really a “process of self-discovery.” I think that has proven to be true, but it’s also given me something deeper – perhaps a better sense of self-understanding. It has been a very interesting exercise that I’ve grown to enjoy, but it’s hard to explain exactly why. Let me try.

First of all, I didn’t know if I could do it. It turns out I can, which in itself might be a very good metaphor for approaching life. We all might be surprised to find out what we’re capable of.

As someone who strives to be creative, it has taught me something very, VERY important. They don’t all have to be great, or even good. I was never comfortable with this concept before, I always felt like everything I did had to be undeniable. What bullshit! If I’d really been paying attention, I should have picked up on this sooner. Artists who create on a daily basis, their entire lives, have lots of stuff that quite frankly isn’t that great. Picasso, Prince, Woody Allen, Ellington, Zappa, Steven King, Sidney Lumet, Miles Davis, Ray Johnson, Warhol – I could keep going but you get the picture. The important thing is to keep creating, it’s the only chance you have to actually make a masterpiece. Because I have to do it everyday, I was forced to accept this idea, and eventually I got comfortable with it.

Then there is Seth Godin’s profound observation that writing something everyday compels you pay closer attention to the world around you, if only to have something to write about. This is a very deep idea, and, unsurprisingly, it turns out he’s right. This in turn makes you a better observer of life – you begin to notice and pay attention to things you never really saw before.

And finally, you start to see the fallacies of your own thinking. There’s something about writing your thoughts down that immediately makes it obvious when they’re stupid or just plain ridiculous. This forces you to rethink, which is always a good thing.

So here’s to my 500th post! Let’s see how long I can keep this up. If anybody’s reading, I hope you’re getting something out of it.

I know I am.

Selective Memory

The way my mind works is still a mystery to me. I’d like to think I’m pretty self-aware, god knows I think about shit enough, but when I begin to look at how I approach the world around me things can get very murky. For example, I’m very results driven – if I have something I want to accomplish, then that sits at the top of the hierarchy and I’m fully in. As long as I don’t violate my personal code of ethics, I’m not really that concerned about how I do it. This has a lot of implications, not all of which are good. The good news is, as long as I have a clear idea of what I’m trying to accomplish (and it’s a realistic goal), if it’s possible I will usually get it done.

I will attempt to solve the problem from every possible angle, using every resource I can find, in an extremely dogged fashion. When I’m doing this, I’m not really paying close attention to my methodology, because to me what I am doing is not that important, it’s just a means to an end. I may try something twenty different ways, and nineteen of them fail. In my mind, the only one that matters is the one that works, the rest of them I forget almost immediately.

One of the problems with this kind of thinking is that it’s difficult for me to backtrack and remember everything I did. I’m just plowing ahead, single-mindedly trying to accomplish my goal from every perspective I can think of. Details and failed strategies don’t concern me. As you might imagine, this can lead to trouble. The minute someone asks me what I did 2 weeks ago regarding some project I’m working on, I’m at a loss. I don’t remember because it wasn’t important to me. The good news is that I’m formidable if for no other reason than I just don’t stop. I’m smart enough to imagine lots of different ways to approach something, and I’m tenacious enough to not give up.

Note to self: It would behoove you to pay closer attention to what you are doing.

Self: Duly noted.

Let’s Get Something Straight

Nobody owes you anything.

Whatever you are going to get in this life you’re going to have to get yourself.

The minute you start to blame others for your problems is the minute you begin to assume the role of a victim.

Victims by definition see themselves as being powerless against a larger force that unfairly takes advantage of them.

If you choose to go down that road you will begin to see yourself and your fate at the mercy of much more powerful forces.

This is a losers perspective. Once you begin looking at yourself and life this way the game is already lost.

Learn to reframe the story so that you are the one in control.

BECAUSE YOU ARE.

2 Strokes, A Respiratory Failure & A Suicidal Ideation

You’re the charge nurse in a busy NYC ER and it’s the middle of a business-as-usual busy day. In your main ED you’ve got 2 docs and a PA, 5 nurses, 2 ERTs and 46 patients. It’s 6:30 PM and there’s a shift change at 7.

You get a “notification” from EMS that a stroke in progress will arrive in 5 minutes. Just as you hang up the phone your walk-in triage nurse approaches you and says “I have an active stroke that just walked in.” Your mind is already figuring out where you’re going to put these critical patients and which doc and nurse will get them when your unit clerk calls out “EMS notification on the top line.” You think “WTF – is she talking about the stroke note?” Nope – there’s a respiratory distress coming in 5 minutes! Now your mind shifts gear and you realize the PA will have to take the respiratory distress and you’re quickly figuring out which patient to pull out of a room since you now have no beds. You also realize you have no one to triage since your internal triage has one stroke and you have your boss triaging the second stroke, so in the middle of this shit storm you’ll have to triage the respiratory distress…

Just as this is happening, your walk in triage approaches you with a “suicidal ideation” that is hearing voices and wants to kill himself. She calls security for a 1:1 and you think “Ok, that’s covered, I’ll deal with it once I make sure everything is under control with these other critical patients.” Since you have run out of nurses you assign it to yourself.

Fifteen minutes later both strokes are at CT and have had a neurology consult, the respiratory distress is on BiPap, and security is calmly cataloging the SI’s belongings.

Not one person has complained, raised their voice, or even gotten excited. Everyone is taken care of quickly and I prepare to give report to the night charge nurse. I mentally take a moment to acknowledge this in my mind, and I think of how fucking cool my colleagues are and what a privilege it is to work with them.

I love my job.

Bigeminy

I think we met at 14, it might have been sooner. But 14 was the year we connected deeply, however briefly it would last. Your brother had recently been killed and you were still grieving – we were kids, but old beyond our years. Suffering, pain, and neglect had been part of our lives for a long, long time. I remember laying on your bed, smoking cigarettes and listening to the Stones “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out.” I think we both felt kind of unlovable – but in our case it wasn’t teenage angst, it was just a painful reality. I remember feeling like we were deeply connected and it was intoxicating, but at the time all we knew was that it felt good to hold each other. We were damaged goods and we both knew it, searching for comfort and what we hoped was love without really understanding either one. Beautiful clueless kids with no one looking out for us, we were beginning the long road of discovering who we were. The world was unimaginably dark and beautiful at the same time. We weren’t together long, but at that age everything is profound.

Ten years later you left our hometown and came to live with me a thousand miles away. Holy fuck – you were even more gorgeous at 24 than at 14. But people are like that, they don’t really look their best, their sexiest, until they’ve lived a while. The second time didn’t last long either of course, and I honestly don’t remember how it ended. I just know we shared something beautiful for two brief interludes before our lives moved on.

Sometimes I still think about you – I wonder what you look like, and I really hope you are well. I remember you had some heart defect, WTF, for all I know you might be dead. Life is mysteriously beautiful and brutal and unfortunately none of us are getting out of here alive. I hope you found some peace.

I’d like to think we gave each other some comfort, however briefly, from this cold and often cruel world. Human connection is a beautiful and healing thing – I know I’m grateful for what you gave me.

So there’s that.

We Get To Choose Our Identity

I recently read an interview with Billy Bob Thornton where he was asked:

These days, do you think of yourself primarily as a musician or an actor?

To which he replied:

I just consider myself an artist. It’s all the same to me. It’s all just a different facet of whoever you are, creatively.

Note: Other people don’t get to pick a label that defines who you are.

You do.

Acknowledging Your Limitations

This is difficult for even the most self-aware among us – in part because it’s hard to see our limitations. But we all have them, and as painful as it is, it’s good for us to face them.

Understanding what they are not only helps us understand our weaknesses, it also helps us recognize our strengths. But first let’s unpack what a limitation is.

It seems to me that there are two kinds of limitations – the first is the kind you can’t change, the second is the kind you can. For example, there are intellectual and cognitive limitations for all of us beyond which we can’t go. It’s important to realize that, for the most part, this is something you can’t change.

Then there are limitations in your ability to do something or perform a task. Often, this is something you can change. Perhaps you have a language limitation – studying and practice can overcome this, at least to a point.

But there’s a third perspective, which is this: sometimes falling short just means you have spread yourself too thin. Even though we might like to think we can be effective at whatever we get involved in, the reality is our time and energy are finite resources. You can’t excel without putting in the time and effort.

My point here is this: none of us are perfect and it’s good to understand our limitations so that we can maximize our contributions to life. Don’t beat yourself up – figure out what went wrong, fix it, learn and move on.

Les Paul

Fuck me – where do I even begin?

Maybe with an incomplete, ad hoc list of innovations? Before I get started, I’ve been listening to some of his old recordings from the late 1940’s to early 1950’s and they are just breathtaking in a way that, as a musician and producer, leave me feeling positively giddy. The impact this guy had on music is impossible to overstate – he was so ahead of his time, so vibrantly creative, that he literally changed global culture in ways that are still reverberating. Genius is an overused word, but I’m afraid it’s legitimately called for here. So let’s take a moment, shall we?

Without a doubt his biggest contribution to recorded music was the invention of multi-track recording. The really astonishing thing about this is that he didn’t initially implement his idea with tape machines, because, although early prototypes existed, Les didn’t yet have access to them. So what did he do? He figured out a way to pull it off with acetate discs! For a real mindfuck, check out his version “Lover” from 1948. If you listen to this, don’t be lulled by the first minute – at about 1:07 in the fireworks start! I cannot imagine what this must have sounded like to people at the time, it still sounds impressive.

Overdubbing onto discs of course meant he had to play each part as close to perfect as possible, because any mistake meant he would have go back and start the whole process over. He said it took over 500 discs to get it right. On this recording, he also innovated the concept of recording parts at half speed, so when he then played them back at full speed they were an octave higher, which he then doubled at full speed – so that these new parts now sounded like they were an octave down. Again, this was on discs with no synchronization! WTF!!

Before we get off multi-tracking, we have to jump ahead 3 years and listen to his 2nd biggest hit, “How High the Moon” with his wife Mary Ford. Now we have vocal overdubbing and copious use of delay and reverb – in 1951! This was done on tape, and you can hear how he has continued to develop and refine the concept. His use of “ear candy” would be further developed 35 years later by Trevor Horn as an effective arrangement technique – “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes is a great example.

Of course he was a pioneer in his use of the electric guitar – when he was in high school he “experimented with using a phonograph needle wedged into the instrument as an electric pickup, attached to a wire plugged into a radio at the other end.” By 1933 he was playing electric guitar in big bands and on the radio, and in 1941 invented the prototype for what would become the Les Paul solid body guitar. These innovations were neither recognized as legitimate nor celebrated at the time, on the contrary he took a lot of heat for his ideas. He responded by not giving a fuck – he had shit to do! Let’s not forget Les was a ridiculous idiosyncratic virtuoso who influenced virtually every electric guitar player that followed him. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to hear his influence on Jeff Beck…

I could go on an on about this guy, but let’s just end by saying I’m both awed and grateful for what he gave us. If any of this piques your interest, do yourself a favor and fall down the YouTube rabbit hole of Les Paul. Try to imagine the culture on which he was dropping these bombs and prepare to have some fun.

Life Is Easier If You Understand This

I read this line today that really resonated with me:

Nobody will ever see the importance the way you see it.”

If you’re the kind of person who feels passionately about the things you love, whether it’s film, music, fashion, writing, art, horticulture, B&D, physics, hunting, architecture, philanthropy, guns, ornithology, medicine, psychedelics or food – life will be much easier and less frustrating once you understand this.

When you are in the throes of being immersed in discovering something that is life changing, of course you want to share it with other people. Unfortunately, that is really the last thing you should do, because they won’t get it.

I’ve found that once you get into this stuff you’ll quickly discover a community (if not an entire subculture) who shares your obsession.

Just don’t expect your friends and family to be part of it.

You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.

Wake In Fright

I love film, and have spent a lifetime watching (and re-watching) movies – the weirder and more obscure the better. As I get older, you might think it would become harder and harder to recreate the visceral excitement of discovering something new, of finding an uncategorizable masterpiece that stops you dead in your tracks and stays with you long after viewing it. If that is your thought you would fortunately be very, very wrong. Especially if you open yourself up to foreign films, because often they don’t fit into genres as we know them in the U.S.

When I was a kid, my father managed a movie theater in a small town in the south. There were three local theaters, and he had a “family guest pass,” which was a little card with an official signature that allowed immediate family members to see movies for free in any of these establishments. As soon as I was old enough to ride my bike to them I would literally go see everything. Good or bad, it didn’t matter what they were about, I was just fascinated. They transported me to another world.

Which brings me to “Wake In Fright,” a 1971 masterpiece from Australia that I watched for the first time a few days ago and has stayed with me ever since. It’s very difficult to summarize exactly what kind of movie this is, which is a high compliment in itself. Directed by Ted Kotcheff for a budget of $800,000, it made the rounds of film festivals and then disappeared for 40 years, but not before making an indelible impression on a young Martin Scorsese at Cannes, who had this to say about it:

Wake in Fright is a deeply — and I mean deeply — unsettling and disturbing movie. I saw it when it premiered at Cannes in 1971, and it left me speechless. Visually, dramatically, atmospherically and psychologically, it’s beautifully calibrated and it gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with the protagonist played by Gary Bond. I’m excited that Wake in Fright has been preserved and restored and that it is finally getting the exposure it deserves.”

I came across it on Shudder, thought it looked interesting, saw it had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and immediately watched it. I’ve been thinking about it ever since – it’s that good. Very deep and layered, it’s really a study of who we are as humans, and to say the result is disturbing might be an understatement. It is not a horror film, at least not in the traditional sense of the genre. It’s a very dark look at human nature, but done with such brutal honesty that you are left a bit shaken. At the same time you can’t help but feel awed that anyone could actually pull this off. It’s an absolutely stunning piece of art, the kind of thing I live for because once you’ve experienced it you’re not quite the same person – you’ve grown a bit in the process of watching and thinking about it. At the same time I would caution you to watch it at your peril.

It’s truthful in an uncomfortably frightening way.

Choices Part 2

I’m not engaging in hyperbole when I say that even the tiniest, most seemingly insignificant choices we make in our lives change the fabric of the universe. If we were aware of this concept as we moved through each day we would be absolutely paralyzed, constantly questioning and analyzing our every decision. Fortunately, life doesn’t allow us to do this. Instead, most of our our days are filled reacting to our environment. Life doesn’t stop so you can have time to think about things – it just throws shit at you whether you are ready for it or not. Much of the trajectory of our lives is determined by how we react to this deluge.

But it is instructive to sometimes stop and think about how we are spending our precious time and energy, and what we hope to accomplish. These are the choices we have some control over. Now we are talking about acting rather than reacting. Acting implies thought and planning…

I recently heard the musician Greogory Scott talking on his podcast and he said something that really struck me. I’ll paraphrase:

If you just show up with intent and pay attention, life will show you what to do next.”

Clinical Note Part 1, Addendum

In Clinical Note Part 1, I wrote: “Being mentally ill and being an asshole are two different things.

I made this statement in response to repeatedly witnessing toxically abusive, completely unnecessary behavior in the ER. I feel compelled to note at the onset of this post that I am extremely sensitive to the needs of the mentally ill, and I try to be a strong advocate for this poorly served patient population. Having said that, there are things that are simply unacceptable regardless of the patient’s state of mental health.

Warning – in a blog filled with graphic profanity, I am about to use language I would never engage in to illustrate my point. Don’t read further if you are easily offended

It is never acceptable to call your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional a cunt, faggot, or nigger. You may be an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic, but there is a limit to what these good people should be expected to endure in the interest of caring for you.

Your personality disorder does not give you a license to hit, threaten, or intimidate your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional when they are trying to help you.

Being bipolar does not excuse spitting at or urinating on your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional.

Your drug use or current state of detox does not give you the right to shit on the floor or throw your feces in the direction of your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional.

Engaging in any of these behaviors will result in summoning security, and in my ER, I will not hesitate to do so if your conduct endangers the health and safety of either yourself, your providers, or other patients and their families.

I have an extremely thick skin and a huge reservoir of compassion, but I have to look at the big picture. My goal is to care for you and everyone else in my ER, but I do not expect my colleagues to have the same degree of tolerance I do. Your “acting out” is preventing you from getting the care you need and traumatizing the people who are attempting to do so.

Unless you are having a complete psychotic break from reality, you still have the ability to understand your abusive behavior towards other humans. You have lived in a society around other people since you were born, and you understand, however vaguely, the consequences of your actions towards others.

The difference in the ER and the rest of the world for you is this: We deal with people exhibiting the most extreme behavior on a daily basis, and we know how to handle it, no matter how unpleasant it may be. We WILL care for you; we can just do it the easy way, or the hard way. It’s your choice.

The Double-Edged Sword

Although it’s debatable how many good qualities I have, I always felt I had at least one that was unquestionably positive. It turns out there’s a drawback to even that…

What am I talking about? Just this: I can keep my mouth shut. It doesn’t matter how irresistibly juicy the secret, if it is told to me in confidence, I will go to my grave without ever revealing it. This isn’t hard for me, it’s just how I’m wired – but it has a couple of unexpected consequences. The first is that I don’t gossip – OK, so far so good. I long ago realized if I couldn’t find something positive to say about someone else, it was better to simply keep my mouth shut – again, this all seems like it must be good, right?

One of the benefits of this behavior is that people tend to trust me. Having people’s trust turns out to be a very valuable commodity – it’s something that can’t be bought or coerced, it can only be given freely. It’s also something that must be built up and earned over time – we’re really talking about years here.

But the unexpected negative consequence is this: I’m often the last person to hear about what’s happening in the lives of the people I work with. Because I don’t gossip, no one talks to me about the current scuttlebutt, and that’s not always a good thing. For example, if someone is experiencing hardship or personal tragedy, I’m the last one to find out about it. Maybe I could have helped them in some way, or at least offered, but because I wasn’t in the loop I am powerless to help. In order to help you have to be aware there is a problem…

This is typical of how life works – even the things that seem to be completely benign and good can have unforeseen negative consequences. No big lesson or answers here, just an observation.

You just try to do your best, and understand that sometimes you’re going to fall short. It’s part of being human.

Nobody Knows Anything

I am listening to an old Marc Maron podcast with Anthony Bourdain from 2011 when he makes this statement:

I like doubt and I abhor certainty. Nobody knows anything, and I’m not even sure of that. And anybody who’s absolutely sure of something I’m very wary of…”

To which Maron replies “Even just confidence bothers me.”

Besides being darkly funny, there’s a lot of truth here. It’s uncomfortable, I know. We all want to feel like someone knows what the fuck is going on, but one of the dismaying things about living a long time is it becomes clearer and clearer that no one is at the helm of this ship.

It’s up to each one of us to live as righteously as possible, and we have to somehow figure this out for ourselves. I think a good place to start is to just treat each other with respect until proven otherwise, listen, and make every effort to do the right thing.

And try not to be an asshole.

Rest In Peace, Anthony Bourdain

You didn’t have to watch more than a couple of Anthony’s shows to understand that this was a man who was deeply in touch with the human spirit. His sense of compassion and empathy were palpable. He sought to connect with others on a deeply fundamental level, and, in his own way, seemed to be imploring all of us to do the same.

I loved watching him explore our world, and somehow he made me feel as if I too were part of his journey. He was irascible and profane, a man of the world who suffered no fools. He was rawly human and not afraid to show his vulnerability, as if to say “it’s Ok to be who you are.” By displaying his flawed humanity he made you feel less afraid to show yours. Because, of course, the reality is that we are all flawed.

I’d like to think he was a brave man who did his best to bring us closer together, whether he was aware of it or not. I’ll never know the circumstances that brought about his suicide, nor should I. Some parts of the human condition are privately unknowable.

I’m just grateful for his work. He touched me in a significant way, and I think the world was a better place with him in it. He encouraged real human connection, at a time in our culture where we seem to be in real danger of losing it. I respect the choices he made, and I feel empathy for his suffering.

Thank you my fellow traveler on the road to becoming fully human. As my old teacher used to say, “If you don’t get it right in this life, you’ll just have to come back and keep trying.” I hope you find peace in your journey.