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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Commitment and Motivation

We are committed to going to our job because we are paid for our work – we are motivated to do so because we must earn to provide for the necessities of life, e.g. food, clothing, and shelter. Without meeting these basic needs we can not survive. So commitment and motivation are clearly linked, but they are not mutually exclusive – each can exist in a weak state without the other. But when they are in alignment, they work together synergistically, creating a state where anything seems to be possible.

It’s easy to see these concepts working together in our daily lives. In order to fully commit to something, one must be really motivated. You’re not going to commit to going to the gym 3 or 4 days a week for decades without some strong motivation. You’re not going to get a Masters or Doctorate degree without some serious motivation. You are certainly not going to subject yourself to a painful experience in order to achieve some goal without some powerful motivation.

So what’s the motivation for creating art? This is where things become kind of mysterious, even to those of us who do it. It becomes even weirder when there is no money involved. I remember after I made my last album, someone I worked with asked me why I did it – it clearly wasn’t something I was doing to make money. Without hesitating, I said “Because I am compelled to.” The answer didn’t make sense to me or the person who asked the question. What exactly did I mean? Who or what was “compelling” me to make music that almost no one would hear? I’m not talking about casually making something – I’m talking about spending a lifetime obsessively studying, practicing, writing, creating, and producing recordings of music. I am at a point in my life where I am struggling with this, not quite sure if I “should” be spending my time doing something that might benefit society in a more tangible way. I don’t even know what I am pursuing – is it just a compulsive need to express myself in music? What greater purpose does this serve? Does it serve any purpose at all? Does anything we do (outside of helping others) really serve any purpose?

I have always been fascinated by (and felt a kinship to) “outsider artists.” If this a term new to you, it’s worth exploring. Look up “Henry Darger.” Whatever you read could never prepare you for actually seeing his art in person. Are we doing this to express our humanity?

Focus Part 1

For me discipline is not a problem. Focus, however, is another matter entirely. When I am committed to accomplishing  a specific goal, I have very little difficulty in becoming extremely disciplined in my pursuit of it. I have a focus of intent.

Without a specific goal, I tend to become very scattered in my actions (or rather, lack there of). While this may seem obvious, it is actually a very important realization for me. It’s also another good example of how this blog is forcing me to think about what I am doing.

In order for me to accomplish something, I need to have a defined goal. Hmmm…

Bill Paxton

I’m not one of those people who gets upset when someone dies, unless it’s someone I cared about, or whose work touched me in some profound way. It is, after all, the final act for all of us. We’re very rarely prepared, and sometimes it comes sooner than later – but make no mistake – it’s the end game for all of us.

Bill Paxton was someone whose work deeply touched me. He was a working actor who stayed busy and never phoned it in, but make no mistake, he was capable of transcendence.

In no particular order, here are my three favorite Bill Paxton roles…

One False Move: This brilliantly written script by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson was brought to life by Bill Paxton’s role as the small town sheriff Dale “Hurricane” Dixon and Billy Bob’s indelibly cruel murderer Ray Malcom. Frightening, poignant, and unforgettable.

A Simple Plan: This haunting masterpiece pairs Paxton again with Billy Bob in one of those rare “perfect” films. A richly textured and multi-layered portrait of two brothers caught in a tragic spiral, doomed by their own weakness and greed.

Frailty: This movie is one of those stunning works that is an impossibly complete and flawlessly executed vision of a first-time director who just happens to also be the lead character. Think Charles Laughton directing “Night of the Hunter,” except Paxton also starred in it. It also features an amazing and menacing early performance by Matthew McConaughey.

I’m thoroughly toasted from a long day in the ER but I can’t go to bed without honoring this man’s work. Gone but most definitely won’t be forgotten, RIP Bill Paxton, and thank you for your work.


“Freedom from pride or arrogance.”

If one is paying attention in life, it is impossible not to be humbled on a fairly regular basis. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things – someone or something is going to hand you your ass on a platter – making it abundantly clear just how much you don’t yet know.

Even though it’s painful, being forced to face your shortcomings isn’t a bad thing. Essentially there are two ways to deal with it. You can either beat yourself up and fold like a cheap suit – or buckle down, have some humility, and learn from it.

It never gets easier – none of us are perfect, and the sooner we accept that the quicker we can get to work.


So here I am at day 12 of my blog experiment, and I’m beginning to feel a heightened awareness of how I’m spending my time, and what sorts of things are occupying my brain. This is interesting, because it feels like I am exercising a muscle that is suddenly being called on to perform, and it’s not quite used to it. I’ve made a pact with myself do this daily, but I have no preconceived ideas as to what I am going to post each day. Trying to find the time to do it can be a struggle, so the content becomes a spontaneous expression of my thoughts at the moment I begin to write.

On days when I am working in the ER, my shifts are 12 and a half hours long, and they are always a chaotic and exhausting mess. At the end of each shift my brain feels like cotton candy, just a jumbled overload of hyper-stimulated neurons. Posts on ER work days are usually shorter and necessarily unpremeditated…

But because I am forcing myself to write my thoughts down very spontaneously, it provides an excellent window into what I am really thinking. This is perhaps the most important reason for me to do this – by becoming more aware of what I am doing and thinking, I can begin to consciously grow and change based on that awareness.

We all go through our days fulfilling obligations and carrying out various chores that enable us to sustain our lifestyle. But no matter how brutal and hard one’s life is, no matter how busy or exhausted we are, as humans we all (I think) find time to dream of possibilities. It is in those moments that our potential for creativity lies.

And those are the moments I need to pay close attention to. I need to develop a heightened awareness of the possibilities that excite me.

There’s Nothing Wrong with Trying to Make Things Better

I actually think it takes some balls to dare to be earnest, to boldly state your intention to try to improve something. To not use irony as a shield…

Irony’s ok as long as it’s not a protective device  because you’re afraid to make a statement.

It’s ok to be excited about trying to make things better. That’s what leaders do.

The Emergency Room Part 1

If I identify myself as a musician, then I guess my “day job” would be as a Registered Nurse in a New York City Emergency Room. This doesn’t seem to be an adequate description of these roles, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll go with this for the moment. It’s complicated…

I love my job, and it has turned out to be a good fit for me, but it was something I came to late in life. I went to nursing school at the age of 45, as a way to develop “a second career” that would subsidize my music. Like most things in life, it didn’t turn out to be quite so simple. I didn’t fully understand the powerfully intimate human connection that happens between two people when one is in such a desperate state of vulnerable need and the other one is professionally trained to care for and alleviate suffering. I didn’t understand what it would mean to take an active part in so much death.

With the exception of hospice nurses (where death is the expected outcome), I’m not sure there are many other professions where death becomes such a routine part of your job. It’s a great privilege to be part of a highly skilled team trained to save someone’s life – but it feels strangely unnatural for another human to die while your hands are still on them, working to keep them alive. And when they’re gone, you are expected to simply move on to your other patients, as if this is the most normal thing in the world.

But it’s not normal.

I always try to take a moment after the team agrees to call “a time of death,” to quietly honor the life of this stranger in my mind. I have no idea who they were or what kind of person they had been. I just try to honor them as a human being who had lived a life and now their time was up.

How to Feel Good About Yourself

Do something for someone else.

Seriously, I’m not being facetious. And it doesn’t have to be a big deal, either. It could be the smallest, most seemingly insignificant thing. But help somebody for no other reason than the fact that you want to.

I don’t make promises I can’t keep, but I promise you that no matter how shitty your day is, no matter how bad you feel, no matter what horrible tragedy is going on in your life – if you do something to help someone (this counts for animals too), you’ll feel better.

At least a little bit. And every little bit helps…

The Opposite of Confirmation Bias

Here’s an idea:

Instead of looking for information confirming what we already believe to be true (confirmation bias), perhaps we should be looking for information that might prove our beliefs to be wrong.

It is only in the absence of credible evidence refuting our beliefs that we can assume them to be true.

Life Starts From Here

I like to write down things that that catch my ear or resonate with me in some way – sometimes they are provocative and make me think about life from a different perspective. This one came from the great Japanese Chef Masa Takayama, it was just something he said off the cuff while talking with Anthony Bourdain on one of his shows, and it really struck me.

As I remember they were sitting around, informally eating, drinking, and hanging out with friends (question: exactly what in life is more important than this?) Chef Masa was probably over 60 when this conversation took place, and during a moment of silence, he said:

“Life starts from here – from now on is the good part.”

When I heard this, I was struggling with the idea of being old. I had survived cancer, but the ordeal kind of took over my life for a few years – and definitely aged me. I had successfully reintegrated myself back into my workplace, but I was having a hard time with my creative life (it’s still an ongoing process). But the way he said it just made me so hopeful.

So much of how we perceive our life is based on how we choose to see it.

Do the Right Thing Part 1

In a world filled with so much hate, choosing to live without hate seems like a start. Treating each other with respect and being willing to listen and ponder opposing viewpoints seems reasonable and necessary.

But somehow it doesn’t seem like enough.

How do you fix something that seems unfixable?

Choosing not to take part in a reprehensible situation doesn’t quite feel right – good for a temporary respite, but certainly not part of a solution.

“Doing the right thing” in this environment, for me, seems to be an ongoing work in progress…

For the moment, I’m staying “micro” and just treating everyone with common decency. It’s a start.

Be kind to yourself…

This is to everyone who holds themselves to impossibly high expectations, that they invariably can’t meet.

When you fail – be kind to yourself. You were trying to do the right thing.

Brian Eno Part 1

Sometimes you only have to look for something to find it… One of the reasons for writing this blog is to clarify my thoughts, to allow my mind to show me where it wants to go. As a result, I’m always looking for inspiration – and today I found some serious inspiration in an interview with Brian Eno. I’ll be exploring some of his concepts further in future posts, but one mind blowing metaphor he expounded on was the idea of “painting with sound.”

If you’re a musician, or a recording engineer or producer, there is the sacrosanct idea that great music is the result of a powerful alchemy that occurs when a group of like-minded musicians, united in purpose, make some noise together in a room. It is then the responsibility of the recording engineer and/or producer to capture this magic on some recording medium, creating a (somewhat) permanent artifact of this event, to be listened to and marveled at from that point on. And indeed, this is how most great music has been created – recording musicians playing together become the accepted universal paradigm. There were certainly exceptions to this, particularly post Beatles up until the early 1990’s or so. The idea of using the recording studio to create something that couldn’t be reproduced by live musicians (for popular consumption, outside of academia) probably started with Joe Meek in England in the early 1960’s. “Good Vibrations” by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys in 1966 and Sgt. Pepper’s by the Beatles in 1967 were touchstones for illustrating Eno’s idea of “painting with sound.” For 30 years or so, untold fortunes were generated by album sales. Touring was simply a way to promote the albums…

In the late 1990’s, the music business began to fall apart, a victim of it’s own greed and shortsightedness. As a result of the collapse in the sale of popular music, it soon became obvious that the only way for musical artists to make any money was to play live. Today, as a salable commodity, music is virtually worthless. Touring and playing live is the only possible way of generating any meaningful income. This environment has effectively killed innovation in recording and creating music that is not meant to be played “live.” From a commercial perspective, what would be the point?

Except there is a point. A very big and very important point. And Mr. Eno reminded me of this with his brilliant mind. If music’s worth is based on sales, then the game is over. BUT IT ISN’T… and it never was. Many of us were just tricked into thinking so. Music is art. Let me repeat that, for my own reinforcement. MUSIC IS ART. It’s worth is not based on sales, it’s based on its ability to move and communicate. Van Gogh’s art wasn’t worthless because he didn’t sell any in his lifetime (except to his brother.) It just took a while for it to communicate…

Eno’s background was in the arts, so for him the idea of creating music as one would create a painting seemed very natural. And I thank him for reminding me of this – for this has been the way I have approached creating and recording music for most of my life. But in today’s environment, at least here in the U.S., not only is recorded music worthless, the idea of recording something that can’t be “played” live is exponentially worthless. Here in America, if it has no financial worth, it must be useless. What a load of shit! If even I am susceptible to this kind of thinking, how can I be surprised of it’s ubiquity?

But enough of this rant – I want to think more deeply about some of the things Eno spoke about…

Time Part 1

How should we spend it? The right answer is going to differ for each individual, but it’s something that life seems to force us to think about the less of it we have left.

Obviously time has a different meaning for each individual – I’m a 60 year old cancer survivor, so clearly my concept of time is going to be quite different from someone who is 18. I better spend it wisely – but what exactly does that mean? My mind tends to wander off in tangents – I’m a curious guy and when you are curious everything unknown seems interesting. It’s really easy for hours to go by while I’m investigating something that interests me, but is that time wasted? It didn’t seem like wasted time when I was 20, but at 60 I’m not so sure. It’s the unknown, and pondering the unknown, that makes life interesting.

I have always identified as a musician. It was all I did from the age of 17 until I was 45 – I made my living at it and every waking moment was pretty much consumed by it. I was either listening to music, practicing my instruments, playing music, writing music, or thinking about music. I started recording music when I was around 22 – so I was also obsessed with the idea of making records. I would listen to my favorite records and think “What the fuck – how did they do that? In what reality is this normal? Because where ever it is, that’s where I want to be!” It was like magic – I was just mesmerized, and would be incredibly moved on a very deep level by what I was hearing. To the point where it seemed almost like I was looking through a portal into an alternate reality, like there was “real life” and then there was THIS. I still think about these things all the time. I’ve often thought that if I’m not making music, I’m thinking about why I’m not making music.

When I was 40, I started an independent record label & produced some records. At 45 I developed a “second career” to help “subsidize” my music, because I was sick of playing gigs that I thought were bullshit. To me, playing music for any other reason than attempting to create art (or at least with the intent to create something NEW) was no different than being a prostitute. We were both selling a precious part of our humanity just to “make a living.” I’m happy I made the decisions I did, and they have opened some wonderful doors for me and expanded my life in some incredibly meaningful ways. But here I am, feeling like I’m not quite done yet, and yet not knowing exactly what that means.

Dogs just live in the moment – there is something zen-like and natural about that, almost spiritual. Maybe that’s enough…

Just go!

I have had a vague idea for this blog for quite a while, but I never started it because I couldn’t decide what purpose it would serve. I finally came to the conclusion that it was really about the process of self-discovery. But then I thought why make it public? – why not just a personal diary? Because I think part of what defines us as humans is a desire to connect and share our experience with each other. Now, I have had many failed attempts at what I thought at the time was “finding an audience.” But in retrospect, what I really think I was trying to do was simply connect with others. And in the process of doing so, I was expressing myself and discovering who I am, and what it means to be human.

I fully realize that no one else may read this blog, so ultimately I decided I would do it for me – and if only one single other person read anything on it, and took something meaningful away – then it would have served some purpose. It would have connected to another other human being and triggered something within them…

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin, and one of his core tenets is that there is never a “good” or “right” time to do anything. So the only time to do or start something is right now. This idea really resonated with me, therefore I am starting this NOW. I really don’t have this blog ready yet to publish, but it doesn’t matter. I AM CREATING THIS THING NOW.

Yesterday I turned 60. Whee! I’m fucking alive, and I’m not done yet! Starting something new here boss