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Monthly Archives: May 2018

True Colors

It’s easy to function when your environment is not deviating too far from what you’re used to.

The real test for revealing someone’s true colors is when things become FUBAR (fucked up beyond all recognition).

The thing is, often we don’t know ourselves until we’ve been tested. We might think we know, but the only way to really find out is to jump into the fire.

Do you know your colors? I know mine.

The Loss Of Innocence

Can you still remember what it was like to be innocent? I don’t think we ever forget those days – they are permanently burned into our brains; they are the experiences that define who we would become. It’s hard to pinpoint when you lost it, it’s like life just keeps chipping away at it until it’s gone. I would like to think I still retain some degree of innocence, but that may be wishful thinking.

For me it’s usually a song that triggers a memory of how life felt when you were discovering something new. In a split second I’m back in time – I can smell and feel the warm summer night, or the cold winter afternoons that would chill you to the bone. The beautiful crisp fall days and the spring mornings where you can smell the anticipation of summer.

The songs you heard, that provided the soundtrack to the time in your life when anything was still possible. The first time for everything, and how exciting and thrilling it all was.

I can still remember those times, I hope I always will. The memory of how beautiful and magic and fresh life could be. I am honestly happy and more content with my life now than I ever expected to be. But you can’t look back on those days and not be wistful and a little sad.

Reality dictates that you can never go back to that again. It’s okay though – that’s what memories are for.

I Am The One Who Knows

Age takes everything away except one crucially important thing: clarity of understanding backed up by a lifetime of experience.

I know who you are, and I have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to do next. I understand the rules of the game – a game you may not yet be aware you’re playing.

Be Proud Of Your Influences

There should be no such thing as “guilty pleasures.” Wave your pleasures like a flag, proudly. Especially if other people think they’re stupid. Own them like they are the coolest thing in the world – because, to you, they are.

This is one of the things I love about Quentin Tarantino – he wears his influences on his sleeve. They are so specific, yet somehow he weaves them into a very unique form of artistic expression.

He is not afraid to acknowledge his absolute love of the what (at the time it was made) was most definitely seen as “trashy” pop entertainment. On the contrary, he incorporates these influences in such a way that it is exactly clear he wants you to know what they are. I thought Al Hirt was the dumbest lowest common denominator pop trumpet player ever yet there is no denying the coolness of the “Flight of the Bumblebee” sequence in “Kill Bill.”  Of course this version was also used as the theme song to “The Green Hornet,” a bad 1960’s TV show that featured Bruce Lee as the sidekick “Kato.” The pop culture “Kung Fu” references just keep piling up in this film but it is never irritating or contrived – on the contrary, I think it’s so compelling precisely because Quentin loves this shit so much. This movie is a veritable masterpiece of lowbrow pop art influences woven into the coolest and most ridiculously over the top art film ever. Quentin throws everything he loves into his films and it makes viewing them a kinetic experience, like riding a roller coaster. They are all made up of very specific pop culture influences but put together in such a way that they seem wholly original. Have a foot fetish? Don’t be coy son, pack your films with close ups of women’s feet!

I think the lesson here is celebrate the things you love.

Sometimes Life Hands You A Big Steaming Pile Of Shit

You didn’t ask for this shit, but nonetheless, there it is. What do you do?

Do you turn your head and pretend it’s not there, thinking “WTF, this shit isn’t mine, I didn’t ask for it. Maybe if I ignore it it’ll go away.”

Maybe you decide to pay someone else to clean up the shit?

Or do you just roll up your sleeves and get to fucking work, perhaps dispassionately cursing this vile shit in the process?

Well, option one is for losers. Grow some balls and learn to deal with life’s unpleasantries.

Option two is kind of a pussy way out, but can be necessary if the shit is really piling up. Sometimes life gives you more shit than you can handle.

Option three is really the correct answer. Life sometimes sucks really really bad. When it does, in order to grow, you will have to deal with all kinds of unpleasantness and sometimes downright vile tasks. But here’s the thing: You can do it. You may think you can’t, but that simply isn’t true. I would argue that you have no other effective option but to deal with it directly. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I quickly realized that I had no choice in the matter. That particular pile of shit wasn’t going anywhere…

The good news is, once you deal with whatever particular brand of shit you’ve been handed, you will have grown as a human being. That’s one more thing you now know you can handle. You will ultimately feel stronger and have a greater sense of self-efficacy for having dealt with it.

It’s not that bad.

It Ain’t Over Until You’re Dead

Some pretty awful, devastating things can (and will) happen to us in life. At the time they can seem overwhelmingly traumatic, and I don’t want to minimize the pain they can cause. But these events ultimately show us what we are made of. Do we learn from them and move on? Or do they haunt us and come to define who we are? You are not your failures.

I guess my point here is this: looking back over the arc of my life, there were many things I thought were devastating at the time that in hindsight really weren’t all that important.

I’d like to say that I always learned something profound from my mistakes but the truth is more like I slowly, bit by bit, stumbled my way through life’s lessons and figured out how it all works.

Your chances to redeem yourself aren’t over until you’re dead. In the meantime, prepare for a lifetime of getting banged up, picking yourself up off the floor and getting back in the saddle.

Becoming, Part 2

We are all, at all times, in a state of more fully becoming who we are – of realizing our potential.

This process starts the moment we pop out of the womb, and doesn’t end until we take our last breath.

Of course, personal growth is usually going to involve some considerable discomfort and pain. This can be scary. Don’t be afraid of this pain – embrace it. You’ll come out on the other side with a greater understanding of who you really are.

You can either actively take part in this process, or passively allow it to happen – but you can’t stop it. Understanding this will (hopefully) motivate you to be more proactive.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable and anxious, this a good sign. It signals you are in an acute stage of becoming. Listen to your pain and don’t judge it, or yourself.

What is it telling you?

Teach And Learn

One of the best ways to learn is to teach. This may seem counter-intuitive, but once you’ve experienced this phenomenon, you’ll completely understand what I mean. It does, however, require significant humility on the part of the teacher.

There are a few ways this can work, but the most basic and obvious is this: in order to teach something, you must be able to clearly articulate the process to someone who doesn’t know it. Trust me, this is trickier than it might seem. For starters, although you may have mastered (or at least fully understand) some skill or process, that doesn’t mean you can break it down and explain it. Part of being an expert at something involves the concept that you have internalized the skills required to master it, and this means that you no longer consciously think about how to do it. The days of thinking about why have long passed, it has now become a subconscious process where you just know “what to do.” So in order to teach this, you have to back up and break down each step and be able to explain why. The act of doing this further refines and cements your understanding of whatever it is you are teaching.

Here’s where the humility part comes in: inevitably, the one being taught will ask questions the teacher doesn’t know the answer to. I like to start my relationship with the student by stating up front, “There will be times when I won’t know the answer to your question – when that happens we’ll look it up and learn together.” You are being honest, which builds trust, and virtually guaranteed to learn something in the process. A win-win!

Most importantly, once you get comfortable with teaching, it is extremely gratifying and fun to watch and help someone grow and develop. The free exchange of knowledge and ideas between humans is something that is hardwired into all of us.

Try freely giving something back and watch yourself  grow in the process.

Let’s Open Another Can Of Thoughts & Prayers

It’s another day in America – let’s see: the sun rose this morning, and somewhere there was another mass shooting, immediately followed by the inevitable hand wringing and the obligatory “I’m sending my thoughts and prayers.”

Really? Who are these people kidding? I mean either we like mass shootings and murder, or we don’t really care, or we’re so fucking weak and simple minded we somehow can’t figure out any way to stop this madness.

But for gods sake, please stop with the “thoughts and prayers” bullshit. You’re not fooling anyone.

Either do something or admit you really don’t give a shit and save your “thoughts and prayers” for something you actually care about.

Calm Under Pressure

If you can pull it off, this is a quality that will serve you well in life.

And here’s a little secret: Sometimes the people that seem the calmest under pressure don’t really feel that calm – they’re just good at controlling how they react under pressure.

In fact, sometimes they actually want to see how far they can push themselves before they break…

Bass Lines

”The end of the note is an accent.”

I was just talking to a friend who is a great musician about how bass players are the most important instrument in a band. This may sound counterintuitive unless you have played in many, many bands – in which case you will immediately understand what I’m talking about. All of the other players can be great, but if the bass player sucks, the whole band sucks.

What great bass players do (and how they do it) is so subtle it can almost seem like magic. The simplest parts provide the best examples, precisely because they aren’t playing that many notes. We were talking about bass lines in this context when he made the statement above.

I had never thought about it quite this way, but of course he was right.

Great bass lines are not only about what you’re not playing – they’re also about how you end the notes themselves.

The actual length of the note is part of the groove.

Nothing Is Free

Anytime you think you’re getting something for free, you’re not. You just don’t fully understand the transaction.

The thing you think you’re getting for free isn’t really the product.

The product is you.

Grieving For Atheists, Part 3

So I guess here’s where the Buddhist concept of reincarnation starts to make some sense. Mind you, I am not a Buddhist, nor do I have any desire to become one. I am just exploring my thoughts here…

I once studied with a music teacher for about 10 years before he died who was a very spiritual man. Not in a religious sense – more in a mystical one. He did believe in reincarnation, and I remember him once drawing a straight line on a piece of paper and saying “this is time, and all living things exist somewhere on this continuum.” But the line didn’t represent linear time, it represented spiritual development.

I remember when my sister committed suicide, he said something to the effect of “she’ll do better next time.” Meaning, in her next life, she would have a chance to develop spiritually to higher level. When he would tell me these things, I definitely felt he was trying to teach me some deeply spiritual truths, but I struggled to really believe some of it. I don’t think I was fully ready yet…

So, thinking about these concepts as I grieve the loss of my loved one, gives me some weak comfort. If physics tells us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and my experience tells me all living things are manifestations of energy on some level, then whatever dies isn’t really gone – it’s just been transformed into another form of energy.

Do I believe this enough to codify into my personal ethos? Probably not – at least not yet. I still have some thinking and living to do.

But the general idea does provide some small measure of solace.

Grieving For Atheists, Part 2

The First Law of Thermodynamics: Also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. In other words, energy cannot be created or destroyed.”

Before I became a nurse, I vividly remember my wife (who was a pediatric ICU nurse at the time) telling me of her experiences being present when babies and children died. She said if you put your hands over the child at the moment of death, you could actually feel the energy pass through you as it left the body. Fast forward a couple of decades later and I find myself working as a nurse in a busy inner city ER. In this environment, people die right under your hands on an unnaturally frequent basis. Experiencing death up close becomes your norm. I can remember at some point when I was new having a patient in cardiac arrest who died while I’m doing CPR (technically speaking, if you’re doing CPR, the patient is already dead – let’s say deadish – you are simply attempting to resuscitate them). Sometimes, because of good CPR circulating code meds, you’ll get them back and then lose them again. In this case, after multiple attempts to save the patient, the doc asks the team if anyone has any suggestions before calling the time of death (standard protocol), then proceeds to do so. It was really busy and I had other patients to take care of who probably had no idea what just transpired in the trauma room. I helped the techs do some basic post-mortem care, we zipped him up in a body bag, and I called the morgue. Then I just moved on to my other patients as if this was the most normal thing in the world, but I remember thinking “this is not normal.”

Here’s the thing: when you are around death a lot, you get a vivid sense that when someone dies, whatever energy inhabited their body has gone. Now, if they have been weakened over time by prolonged illness, that energy is not strong and powerful as it would in a child, but it is still there. And once it leaves the body, there is no mistaking this phenomenon. The question is: where does it go?

If it is a law of physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but only changed from one form to another, and my experience tells me that who we are is some form of energy, then what exactly does this mean?

Where does this energy go? And where was it before we were born? And how do I process this as an atheist? I’ll explore these ideas further in tomorrows post “Grieving For Atheists, Part 3.”

Grieving For Atheists, Part 1

I have always been an atheist. Although I was exposed to Christianity when I was a child, even at a very young age the whole thing just made absolutely no sense to me. I remember thinking “These adults don’t really expect me to believe this, do they? I guess I better just play along.”

As I grew older, I developed a real disdain for “Christian believers,” thinking they were either so cynical that they thought if they pretended to believe then maybe no one would notice what lying pricks they really were. Or else they were just simpletons who really did believe in this ridiculous fairy tale, making me feel smugly superior. And don’t even get me started on carnies like Joel Osteen…

But I grew out of being an arrogant asshole and realized that maybe it was me who was missing out on something. I mean, this whole “Gods plan” thing sure seemed to answer a whole lot of really uncomfortable shit – like coping with the seemingly random tragedies of life, and answering existential questions. It just seems too easy though – if it’s all just part of “Gods plan” then I don’t have to bother with all that pesky thinking. And at the end of this tragic comedy called life, if we just ask god for “forgiveness,” then we get to go to some glorious place forever. As I get older & closer to death, I sometimes actually envy believers.

After all, without god there are a whole lot of very uncomfortable questions that need to be answered, or else life can start to seem kind of meaningless.

Questions like “What exactly is the point here? You mean we’re just born and then randomly die, and that’s it?” Pretty fucking bleak, that one is. And yet unfortunately it’s probably the closest to the truth.

It’s just one bitter fucking pill to swallow. I mean, if I don’t believe in “god” then does that mean I don’t believe in anything? I never said I was a nihilist.

Well, it turns out I do have a relatively positive, albeit weak theory I’ll explore in Part 2 of this post. If anyone’s listening and even remotely cares, stay tuned

Observation Part 2

Great art is NEVER made by a committee.

And if you’re thinking “But isn’t a band like a committee?,” you’d be completely wrong.

A band is like a wolf pack. Each member has a uniquely defined role to ensure the success of the pack. There is no “Robert’s Rules of Order,” and ultimately no one gives a shit whether someone’s feelings get hurt in the process. All that matters is the survival and success of the group. Weak links are simply eliminated – as a result most most bands have a limited shelf life. It’s a brutal environment where one must constantly produce.

This is why so many Hollywood movies suck – they are made by committees and decisions are guided by focus groups. The films that find passionate audiences are made by visionaries who may or may not listen to outside input. But even if they do, these outside influences are ultimately run through the filter of the auteur and used or discarded as they see fit. John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, John Cassavetes, Woody Allen, George A. Romero, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Takashi Miike, Michael Haneke, Park Chan-Wook, Lynne Ramsay, and Quentin Tarantino – to name just a few off the top of my head. No one was telling these people what they were or were not going to put on the screen.

So if you are going to create something, have the balls to fully realize your vision. Even if everyone else is telling you not to.

Especially if people are upset – this means you’re touching a nerve, which means you are making people feel something. This is the whole point, and is a good indicator that you are on the right track.

Deadwood, Season 1, Episode 1

Original concept executed flawlessly.

Perfectly cast actors of the highest order, with Ian McShane giving the performance of a lifetime as Al Swearengen. Must be seen to be believed.

David Milch pulls off the ultimate expression of art: he creates a completely believable, fabricated universe that has its own unique language. It’s both familiar and foreign at the same time.

It reads as an allegory about the birth of what would become the United States Of America. Violent, profane, and brutal – interspersed with brief moments of tenderness.

Pretty much everything is perfectly laid out in the first episode.

This is about as good as it gets.

This is art.