Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: August 2018

Duly Noted

A person who is not afraid of looking like a fool gets to do a lot more dancing.”

Margaret Renkl

Looking For Inspiration, Part 1

When we are young, inspiration is everywhere, because it is all new. When you are in the process of discovering the world, everything is fresh and you have very little point of reference for comparing it to other paradigms, because your personal database is pretty much a fresh slate, tabula rasa. When you see or hear something that resonates with you, it becomes inextricably tied to your physical experience at that exact moment, which makes it’s imprint even more indelible in your brain.

So inspiration is the discovery of something new that literally rewires your brain – it changes the way you think.

Once you understand this, it becomes easy to see how inspiration becomes less spontaneous as we age – our biological neural network is filled with the experience of a lifetime. We have seen and heard and thought and learned to the point where novel sounds and ideas become harder to find.

We have to actively seek them out.

They ARE out there, but the chance of “just happening on them” as in our youth becomes less and less likely. So we must work to find them if we want to experience the exhilarating feeling of inspiration, of seeing the world fresh.

Keep your mind open, because it can appear in the most unlikely places.

Day Of The Triffids

Danny Boyle cited this 1962 British horror film about giant carnivorous plants that are somehow connected to a colorful meteor storm that blinds the population of the entire planet (making them easier to catch and eat) as a major influence on “28 Days Later.” On a recent re-viewing, the connection is indeed pretty obvious. This was a horror film that deeply disturbed me as a child, so it made a pretty indelible impression. It was a seriously fucked up premise that was not, by any means, obvious. The plants were giant, they could move, and they ate people – real nightmare stuff. Insert zombies for plants and there you go.

I love the idea that something as seemingly benign as a plant could turn out to be so horrifically dangerous. Plants aren’t supposed to be mobile, so there’s mindfuck number one. They also aren’t supposed to be carnivorous, and certainly not big enough to actually eat people. These “Triffids” were not only capable of doing all of these things, they could also use their branches as crude arms by which to grab and hold their prey while slashing them with whip-like appendages before slowly eating them. Brilliant!

I was probably 6 or 7 when I first saw this film, and it was one of those formative experiences where you begin to realize that the world might actually be much different than it first appears. With art, even as a child, I always gravitated to the most fucked up shit – the weirder and more disturbing the better. What does this say about me? I guess when I was growing up the world seemed mysterious and dangerous, and nothing, especially people, were quite what it seemed. So art that took this idea and tweaked it up a few notches spoke to my experience.

Or maybe not – it’s interesting to think about, but ultimately I don’t think it really matters. One thing I do know is this: Life is short, so embrace and celebrate the things you love.

Long live the Triffids!

What Makes America Great, Part 1

That this country is an amalgamation of immigrants is our greatest strength. This point is so important I want to repeat it for emphasis and clarity: Immigrants are what makes this country great.

Why, you may ask, is this so?

At the risk of stating the obvious, let’s start here: We are all immigrants. The only people on the north American continent who aren’t are the indigenous native American Indians. Everyone else came here from somewhere else, ergo they are immigrants. Unless you are First Nations, that means YOU. But the act of immigration isn’t the point here, what’s important is why they came.

People risk their lives and endure great hardship to come to America and make a better life for themselves and their families. They are, by definition, the most motivated and hardest working people from their countries – and they often choose give up everything, including their language, to come here. Part of the traditional American dream was this idea of a meritocracy, that the harder you worked and the more you contributed, the greater the rewards. These are the people that make things happen. They don’t come here to break the law – drawing negative attention to themselves is the last thing they want, because it means deportation and the end of everything they have worked for.

This all seems so obvious. Don’t we want the hardest working, smartest people to come here? Of course, there will always be a small percentage of criminals and religious extremists with intent to harm. But these people exist everywhere – you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

How about this: Try judging each person as an individual based on what they can do and who they are – not what color they are or where they came from.

They are us.

Haunted

Shit always seemed to happen in the summer. You were squatting in this old, giant house that had long been abandoned with your boyfriend. I remember he was a Vietnam vet who enjoyed his alcohol and pot – and he used this as an in to try to get to know me. I was a suspicious 16 year old and probably a little aloof, but I wanted to like him, for you.

The old house had a lot of windows, and I remember you telling me it was haunted, and I believed you. You saw spirits in the windows late at night. Of course, to me, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world that you would be staring out windows late at night. I would have too.

It was one of those drug filled summers that I wandered through as a teenager, wondering who I was. I already knew you were crazy as hell, but we had been, and forever would be, inextricably intertwined. I loved you from a remote place that kept me protected, but I was afraid of the crazy in both of us, so I kept my distance.

My adult life was really just beginning and I knew it. I had no idea where it was going, but I knew it had to be far from you and our past together.

In retrospect, the haunted house was really a metaphor for our childhood. In some ways it seems so remote now, yet I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I loved you but was too broken to show it.

I had to get out.

Revealing Who We Are

There is a universal arc over which all lives travel; everyone’s experience is unique, yet there are private struggles we don’t reveal that are more common than we know. Instead, we suffer alone, afraid to acknowledge what we are going through for fear that we will be rejected by others we care about. These are the fears of a child, because that’s when we learned them. They are not the fears of a rational, mature adult who has achieved a state of self-acceptance and gained an understanding of the way the world works.

Here is a fundamental truth I have learned at the age of 61: Everyone experiences shame and everyone feels vulnerable. But those who are open and comfortable with themselves, flawed though they may be, are not shunned – they are the most charismatic. Their honesty and comfort in acknowledging their vulnerability makes them magnetic. Instead of people turning away they are drawn to them like moths to a flame.

Here is the interesting paradox – it takes bravery to live like this, because we’ve all been hurt and rejected, and nobody wants to experience that if they can prevent it. Unfortunately, our desire to protect ourselves ends up accomplishing the exact opposite of what we intended. Instead of protecting us, it isolates us, pushing others away because we are afraid to reveal who we are.

The big question is: How much do you want to reveal? Because this isn’t an all or nothing proposition, you don’t have to reveal everything all the time. But if you really want to connect with and help others, you need to be as honest and genuine as you can muster.

Your fear might be the thing that’s holding you back.

We Only Understand What We Already Know

This is both why it is so hard to learn and understand new concepts and paradigms, and why it is critical to our growth that we continue to do so. Nowhere is this more perfectly illustrated than in a podcast interview I recently listened to with Luzer Twersky, a young Hasidic man who left his culture and religion at the age of 22. It’s a compelling story, but the thing that really struck me was his vivid explanation of what it was like to strike out in the world as a young adult who knows nothing except what he learned in his cloistered upbringing in a sect that prides itself on knowing as little as possible about the modern world.

It’s both funny and heartbreaking, but I was mesmerized by his honest description of setting out on his own having never seen a movie or television, barely able to read and write English, and having no education except the Torah. As soon as he left his parents house, he got a DVD player, went to Blockbuster, and began watching movies in his car, hiding from his community. He was hungry to learn – the world was a complete mystery to him, but he was determined to try and understand it.

This is the hunger we can never lose, because the minute you lose it is the minute you begin dying.

 

Critical Thinking, Part 1

The United States (now there’s an oxymoron) in 2018 is a very, very confusing place. Questioning and discussing ideas is the most basic social mechanism for moving society forward, and yet some topics appear to be off limits. I’m not talking about everyday life, I’m talking about academia and science. This is just madness, and I’m not sure how we got here. Censorship of ideas and demonizing those who would dare to question the status quo is never a good thing.

Because here’s the problem: the world and the humans who inhabit it are extremely complex. If it can be difficult to parse facts and interpret research for smart people who specialize in doing so, where does that leave the rest of us?

It leaves us with a responsibility to work hard in an effort to understand our world, that’s where. And in doing so it requires that we remain open and respectful of others, even when we don’t want to. It also mandates that we question our own beliefs, and be willing to change them as necessary.

I am not talking about core values here; xenophobia and racism are not up for discussion. But their effects on society are. And discussion of how to mitigate their influence and of their place in history most certainly are.

None of this is simple but if we have any hope of moving forward we must learn to listen and think very carefully about what we are saying.

All ideas are not equal – just don’t always assume yours is the better one.

Oh, and BTW – you’re probably not as smart as you think you are, so at least try to be thoughtful and respectful.

You might actually learn something.

Turning Down An Opportunity

This is a tricky one – and the answer isn’t always self-evident. Aren’t we supposed to seize opportunities? Not always

This question is probably best answered by first asking another question: Will this opportunity help me get where I want to go?

Because life is short, and you most definitely do not have all the time in the world. If there are things you want to do and accomplish, don’t commit to something that will prevent you from being able to achieve the goals that are important to you.

However, even if you answer yes to the first question, you still have one very important question to answer: Will I be fulfilled by attempting to undertake this opportunity and perform it to the best of my ability?

Because if you answer no to the second question, you are going to be one miserable puppy. Work should make us fulfilled, knowing we are contributing something important.

Everything we do should be in the service of humanity – both the collective and the individual.

Personal Rules, Part 1

The more intense and stressful the situation gets, the calmer you must become. This is the law.

I understand that this isn’t a natural reaction for most people – but that doesn’t mean that they can’t do it.

This is one of those cases where the old adage “fake it ‘till you make it” really works. Unless you are a psychopath (in which case you don’t break a sweat in a crisis naturally), you just have to force yourself to remain calm until it becomes second nature. If you can do it, you get the nice bonus of an adrenaline rush.

Like getting good at most things, it’s really just a question of practice. The problem is, most people don’t get exposed to chaotic crises very often.

A bit of a “catch 22,” but there you go.

Navigating Obstacles: Game On!

Supposition: The obstacles that must be overcome in order to get to “the good stuff” make it too hard.

Correction: The obstacles that must be overcome in order to get to “the good stuff” are part of the game that makes it fun.