Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: July 2018

Not Exactly Regret

I have a personal edict – never feel regret. And yet…

Sometimes in life you are faced with making an important decision where all of the choices for resolution are bad. When that happens, you have to listen to your inner compass and choose the decision that seems the most ethical to you. So far so good, right?

Well, if you’re an adult, there’s a good chance that you’re in a relationship with someone else. Now your uncomfortable decision will affect this other person as well – and they may have chosen a different solution. Add to this dilemma a time constraint and the element of surprise and you have a perfect storm for making a decision where someone is going to be very unhappy. Welcome to life!

If you’re in a long term, lifelong relationship, what do you do when, years later, your partner angrily throws your decision resentfully back at you? Well, your first reaction is probably to feel like shit. Then feel angry, because you didn’t like the decision you felt compelled to make so many years ago, and maybe even embarrassed because you made it. But here’s the thing: you did the best you could at the time. Unfortunately your partner had to live with the shitty results of your attempt to make a decision that, although it seemed morally right to you, was also wrong for them. And you will always feel terrible about the whole fucking mess, but hey – nobody ever said life was going to be easy.

So what do you do? Apologize and move the fuck on. Because life will give you plenty more opportunities to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Accept that you’re not always going to get it right.

But try your best.

Rolling With Life’s Punches

The term “rolling with the punch,” not surprisingly, comes from boxing – a sport I love deeply. To me, boxing is a metaphor for life. Just as we are born alone, we ultimately live our life by our wits and we die alone, at least in the sense that death is a deeply private and personal experience. There may be others around you at the end, but they are not the one who is dying – you are. Along the way life will deal out some severe punishment, and we will most definitely be hurt badly in the process. How we take it and deal with our pain and adversity is a measure of who we are.

Unlike most sports, and much like life itself, the boxer is alone in the ring, fighting to survive. There are no “team players” upon whom the boxer can rely on for help, there is just him or herself and their opponent. Physical strength is just a small part of what makes a great fighter – the ability to remain cool under pressure and to think while absorbing punishment are equally important, if not more so. See the connection?

To “roll with the punch” means you move your body and your head “with” the punch in order to mitigate it’s destructive power. It’s physics, really – and we can use the same concept in dealing with life’s blows. Be flexible, take whatever punishment life throws at you and don’t fight it – flow with it.

It’s your only chance for surviving and coming out ahead.

Atheism vs Anti-theism

I never understood the distinction until it was explained to me in the most powerful way possible by an ex-Catholic Brother who, unbeknownst to me, had long ago lost his faith. We had never met and I was calling to tell him of the imminent death of a mutual friend. Thinking he was still involved with the Catholic Church, I explained that I was an atheist in an attempt to pre-empt any discussion of god he might initiate. I was stunned when he responded that he had become an anti-theist. I asked him to explain the difference, and his explanation is forever burned into my memory. He said “An atheist doesn’t believe in the existence of god; an anti-theist believes that the very belief in god and religion is a destructive force on society.”

So there’s that.

Understanding Your Limitations

This is easier said than done – I would argue that it’s not just that we fail to face our limitations, rather, it’s that we are unable to recognize our limitations.

So how do we fix a problem we don’t even know we have? Well, this is where criticism comes in – but it can’t just be criticism from anyone, it must be from someone whose judgement you trust and who doesn’t have an axe to grind.

If you can find someone like this, hold onto them like grim death. What they can give you is something that can’t be bought for any amount of money.

An honest appraisal.

Listen and learn.

The Big Meeting

You know the kind I’m talking about – the meeting whose outcome will have life altering implications for you. No pressure there!

These things kind of have a life of their own, and they can seem like there is a certain inevitability about them – as if what’s going to happen is almost a foregone conclusion.

I think one of the reasons for this is that the very nature of their importance rides on the fact that there is a massive power imbalance. The party you are meeting with has the ability to make this tremendously important decision that will determine how you move forward in your life, and ultimately you seem to have very little say in the outcome.

Or do you? You certainly have control over how you present your case for whatever it is you want, and you get to decide how you will react to whatever negotiation may transpire. Depending on how important the thing is we’re talking about, you may ultimately have to prepare to do whatever it takes to achieve the desired outcome. Because, if the other person holds all the cards, you don’t have much to bargain with.

This is where emotional intelligence comes into play. How well can you read what is important to the other party? Because if you can figure out what that is, there’s your only real bargaining chip right there. Appeal to what is important to them.

The goal is to make them feel good about giving you what you want.

Or at least as close as you can get it.


Question: What do you do when you’re unsupervised?

Answer: You reveal to yourself who you really are.

Lucky Gunshot

I’m sure it really sucks to get shot in the ass, but here’s the thing. When the bullet exits through your anterior thigh at the midline and you’re not bleeding out, you just won the jackpot. ‘Cuz the second biggest artery in your body is right there, and if the bullet hit it, the best trauma team in the world isn’t going to stop the massive bleeding. Not that you would have lived long enough to make it to the ER anyway. So there’s that.

Oh, and BTW, here’s a tip – don’t take a cab to the ER, that’s what 911 is for. You’ll have a better chance of surviving.

And you might want to toss the drugs in your pocket. We don’t give a shit but unfortunately for you NYPD pops by whenever someone gets shot, and they do care.

Other than that, this was a very lucky day for you. You’ll probably never know it, but hey, it’s just another day for us, and we savor life’s little miracles.

No one really knows what we do except other ER workers. Fortunately, we really like our jobs. We’re a secret society that has an active front row seat to every fucking horrible thing that can go wrong in life.

I’m never bored.

I love my job.

Crisis Management, Part 1

Natural initial impulse: You want to lose your shit and scream “Why is this happening to me?

Stop and reset: Don’t waste your time and energy. No one ever said life was fair, and if they did they were lying.

Instead, become very calm, and quietly say to yourself “I will find a way to deal with this.

Because, at the end of the day this is your only real choice.

And there is always a way. It may not be the way you want, but it will be a way.

And it will be good enough.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

I guess this is about as close as you can get to winning in life as you get older – it may seem pathetic if you’re younger, but from where I stand it works for me. What am I talking about?

Just this: the idea that you can make something positive out of a negative – and negative is something there is no shortage of as we age. There are lots of examples in my life, the specifics of which I won’t go into here. But it’s the concept that’s important – the proposition that you can take something very bad and somehow turn it into something good. And trust me, it can be done. I’m about to attempt it again, and my money says I’ll pull it off.

The added benefit is that it completely reframes your internal dialogue about whatever horrible fucking trauma you’re trying to deal with.

If you can pull it off you go from victim to conqueror in one fell swoop.

Time To Walk The Walk

Gear up son – there’s been a sudden change in the weather and things are about to get nasty. Unfortunately, I know the drill all too well. I also know I can handle it, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.

This is one of those times when life throws you a 90 mph curveball and, although you’re never ready for it, you’ve been through this shit before, so you know what you’ve got to do.

Hunker down, get mean, and prepare for some pain.

Life ain’t for pussies.

Thinking Like A Writer, Part 1

This is the kind of shit I never did before I started writing this blog. I’m eating breakfast and reading this essay in the New York Times and I come across this sentence:

Society is not simply an aggregate of millions or billions of individual choices but a complex, recursive dynamic in which choices are made within institutions and ideologies that change over time as these choices feed back into the structures that frame what we consider possible.

And I go back and read it again and think: “I like your logic – and sentence structure!” Even as I think this, I silently laugh – what a ridiculous response! But I’m not thinking it as if I’m grading a paper – I’m thinking it in admiration for it’s beautiful structure and the writers ability to convey a complex thought in a sentence that contains exactly what it needs and nothing more. The writer, Roy Scranton, is a professor of English, but that designation alone certainly doesn’t explain his gorgeous writing. I encourage you to read the whole piece, because there are several other masterful expressions of dark logic.

See, writing makes you a better reader, which in turn makes you a better writer. You start paying attention to the nuances of language and sentence structure in a way you never consciously did before.

If you love language and the process of expressing ideas verbally, it’s an endless well to explore.

Sick, Part 3

One of the downsides to working in an ER is that, by definition, you’re surrounded by sick people. This has a couple of obvious implications. The first is that, the longer you do it, the more robust your immune system becomes. So far so good.

The second is: you’re going to get sick. Most of the time this will be garden variety illness; upper respiratory and GI infections, usually viral in nature. In other words, the kind of sick that puts you out of commission for a few days, then you bounce back. Because these infections are viral, antibiotics are useless – you’re just going to have to suffer, rest, and let your body do it’s thing.

So here I am. Sick, but business as usual. Nothing to see here folks.

Feeling shitty is sometimes just part of being alive.

Tomorrow is a new day.

More Than Not Dying

Life is occupied in both perpetuating itself and in surpassing itself; if all it does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying.”


Virtuoso Freakshow, Part 1

May I direct your attention to one Rafael Méndez, born to a poor family with 19 children in Jiquilpan, Mexico in 1906, and who is certainly one of the greatest trumpet virtuoso’s of all time.

The subject of this post is his recording of a composition by Paganini titled “Moto Perpetuo.” It was written as a single continuous line that goes on for over four minutes and was meant to be played as a showcase for the violin. Because the trumpet is a wind instrument, Rafael learned to play it by using a technique called “circular breathing,” whereby the performer breathes in through their nose without disrupting the air stream while they are playing. As far as I know, this is the first time anyone attempted this technique on the trumpet, much less pulled it off so spectacularly. This recording was made sometime around 1960 when he was 54.

Listening to it today, it still seems impossible, like there must be some sort of trickery involved. He would, however, periodically perform this live throughout his life, so there is no doubt it was real.

So how was this possible? An uneducated, poor Mexican boy develops into one of the most spectacular, ground breaking trumpet virtuosos of all time? That, I think, is part of the mysterious magic of being human. We all have the ability, to a greater or lesser degree, to figure shit out and then, through the application of personal discipline, develop that idea as far as we can. In Rafael’s case, it was playing the trumpet, and he was obviously very gifted in doing so. Others have done the same in every field of endeavor, moving humanity ever forward. These are the visionaries who show us what’s possible.

We all can, and should, contribute to this evolution no matter how small and inconsequential it may seem to us at the time. Because at the end of the day our contribution may not be as inconsequential as we originally thought.

We exist for a brief time to do something.

So go and do it!

Fear Of Debility

All doctors and nurses, at some point either in their education or as they begin to practice, will experience a profound fear of morbidity and mortality. This usually happens fairly early in their training, at the point in which they begin to realize how many horrible ways there are to get sick and die. I’ll never forget when I was in nursing school, one of my instructors saying to me (about my sick patients) – “Always remember, you are not them.” The thing is, the longer you live, eventually you will be become them, however (hopefully) temporarily. But it is always a fear that is just below the surface.

With me it usually only surfaces when I am under the weather or otherwise compromised in some way.

It is scary as fuck – you have to stop your mind from running away like a train out of control and free-associating worst case scenarios for you and your loved ones. Stroke and Alzheimer’s strike the greatest fear in me – unfortunately, I have personal experience with both, so I’ve seen the devastating results up close. These are my doomsday scenarios of choice.

So what do I do to combat this useless anxiety?


For me this works better than Benzos – I don’t know how it works, I just know it does. Because worrying about having a stroke or Alzheimer’s is just about the most useless, dysfunctional activity ever. It’s ok to think about these things in the context of “what can I do to prevent them,” but to just imagine it happening to you or a loved one is an exercise in useless anxiety of the highest order. It’s on the same level as worrying about a nuclear weapon – there’s virtually nothing you can do to prevent it, so you’re just wasting precious time you’re never going to get back.

Take a deep breath and live in the moment you have right now. It’s all you’ve really got.

What a glorious gift it is.

Fuck Washington

Seriously – fuck our entire government and every morally reprehensible asshole in it.

You don’t represent me.

I don’t hate anyone because they think differently than me. In fact, I like it when others think differently – it makes life more interesting. But if their ideas are hateful and ignorant, I say fuck ‘em. I don’t have the patience to waste my precious time and energy on your mindless blather.

Blatant nihilism, the desire to destroy just for sake of seeing everything crash and burn, makes me ashamed to be a human. You are the kind of people who, as children, enjoyed pouring salt on slugs just to see them melt. What is wrong with you? Did you lose your moral compass, or did you never possess one to start with?

And our so-called “leaders” in Washington? You people represent the public manifestation of the absolute worst possible human behavior. Lying sociopathic grifters who couldn’t be honest and decent if you had a gun at your head. I actually feel physically nauseous just looking at your sanctimonious, lying mugs. I know it doesn’t matter, but here’s a news flash – some of us see right through you. You’re not fooling everyone, but you clearly already know that and don’t give a shit. Because you just have to fool most, and you know a good way to do that is by appealing to the lowest common denominators – hatred, xenophobia, and fear.

Have you no shame? Well, here’s how I’m dealing with you. First of all – fuck off. I’m not going to be a sucker lining up to be fleeced at your carnival. Unfortunately there’s clearly plenty of rubes out there willing to fall for your bullshit.

Secondly, I’m going to keep trying to be a kind and empathetic human. I won’t always make it, but goddamn it, I’m going to give it my best shot.

At least that’s something I have some control over.

As for the rest of you lying, deceitful pricks – have a nice life. I can assure you I’m enjoying mine more than you enjoy yours. I sleep well, and I’m not repulsed to look at myself in the mirror. I’m not perfect, but I’m sincerely trying to do the right thing.

It’s the best I can do.

The really pathetic and profoundly disturbing thing is that you probably feel the same way. I’d say “god help us all” but I’m an atheist. I’m afraid if we’re going to fix this we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

I’m not hopeful.

Comedy As A Weapon

May I turn your attention to exhibit A: Let’s examine Mel Brooks showstopper “Springtime For Hitler” from the movie, then subsequent Broadway show, of the same name. WTF! Where do I even begin

It’s hard to imagine anyone pulling this off today – in 1967, a mere 22 years after the end of World War II, with it’s genocide of 6 million Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany, a 40 year old Jewish comedy genius named Mel Brooks decided to write the ultimate “fuck you” to the oppressors in the form of this comedy masterpiece. Seriously, just stop a minute and appreciate how profound this was – it is the ultimate example of weaponized comedy, polished to diamond hard perfection with an edge sharper than a razor. It is so ridiculously over the top and funny it’s breathtaking. And like all great art, it’s a gift that just keeps giving.

Before going any further, take a moment to watch the 1967 clip of this set piece from the film, and then the longer version from Mel’s re-worked number in the 2005 Broadway show.

Springtime For Hitler, 1967

Springtime For Hitler, 2005 (apologies for the ad – trust me, it’s worth waiting for)

Hats off to Alan Johnson who died last Saturday for choreographing this piece in the style of a Busby Berkeley musical. When the ensemble assumes the formation of a swastika and we switch to an overhead view where they begin rotating with the dancers taking tiny goosesteps is dumbfounding. Some of these lyrics are little comedic gems by themselves: “It’s springtime for Hitler and Germany, winter for Poland and France” and “We’re marching to a faster pace, look out, here comes the master race” kill me every time. If anything, the 2005 version is even funnier – playing Hitler as a gay man channeling Judi Garland has to be seen to be believed. When they bring the lights down and Hitler sits on the edge of the stage and softly begins singing:

“I was just a paper hanger
No one more obscurer
Got a phone call from the Reichstag
Told me I was Fuhrer
Germany was blue
Oh what oh what to do
Hitched up my pants
And conquered France
Now Deutschland’s smiling through
Oh it ain’t no mystery
If it’s politics or history
The thing you gotta know is
Everything is show biz”

This is one of the things I love about comedy, and why NOTHING should be off limits as subject matter – it’s one of the most powerful art forms for making a statement about the worst parts of human behavior in a way cuts to the truth and makes you laugh at the same time. But I would argue that what Mel is doing here is much, much deeper. For a brief moment he turns the tables on Germany – the funny Jewish kid from Brooklyn is going to figuratively usurp the entire Third Reich and make fools of them for all the world to see – forever.

Question: How do you make comedy out of the holocaust?

Answer: Springtime for Hitler!