Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: December 2018

Never Did This Before

For the first time ever, with 667 consecutive posts, I’ve pulled one after publishing it. 

It was a thoughtful meditation on human connection, spurred by a specific interaction that may or may not have stepped over the HIPAA line.  

I will undoubtedly be writing more about this, but my feelings on this subject are complex and will take some time to sort out.

More later…

Whose Rules?

Organized sports have rules. So does language, physics, mathematics, and chemistry. Religion would like to impose rules, but it only works if you play along.

Some rules are hardwired into our understanding of the physical world. Others we make up for various reasons – fair play, social etiquette, or just to get along.

In order to have a functioning society, we make up rules that govern behavior and call them laws. Breaking these rules carries a stiff penalty, one that removes you from the community at large and puts you in a time out in another place that has its own rules – prison.

As humans we become accustomed to living by rules, so it can come as a bit of a shock when we encounter someone who doesn’t play by them.

The thing is, these are often the people who move things forward, forcing society to change in a way that is better for everyone.

But boy is there a stiff price to pay. Until everyone else catches up to the rule breaker and realizes that the new way is better, the one breaking the rules is an asshole troublemaker who draws the ire of everyone around them.

No wonder so few people do it.

Becoming Comfortable With Radical Uncertainty

Buckle up folks because technological changes are starting to pick up steam, and how this all plays out is anyone’s guess – and that’s the perspective from the experts. It’s hard to wrap your brain around the concept of exponential growth, but that is exactly how things are playing out.

See, it is perfectly understandable that most humans think in terms of linear growth, because that’s intuitive and seemed to be how civilization was progressing. The problem is, that’s not was happening at all. It’s just that the initial growth curve seemed linear because it was, by definition, happening slowly for the first few hundred thousand years or so of human history. Well, it’s not happening slowly anymore – we are about to hit the knee of the slope where things will begin to change faster and faster. It will seem a little confusing (it already is) at first, but because we are incredibly adaptive creatures, we will attempt to adjust or we will simply be washed along with the unrelenting tide of technological changes until we know longer understand what’s happening.

Whatever is coming is inevitable. We are either about to rapidly evolve into something completely new, or we will become just another failed species.

It’s going to be quite a show.


When you’re living on the street, you get up when the sun rises. It sucks, but you have no choice in the matter. You’re not sleeping in when this goddamn ball of nuclear fusion is burning through your eyes into your fucking brain and the whole world seems to be waking up. Trust me, the world makes a lot of noise when it wakes up.

I’d been sleeping in a field and staggered up, not quite knowing what to do. I was hungry and lucky if I had a couple of bucks – but it was so early nothing was even open yet. There was a gas station nearby, so I headed there for a coffee. At least I had a pack of cigarettes – the breakfast of champions. If you’re a smoker, you know the first cigarette of the day is really special – maybe your best smoke of the day. Well, one of them anyway. So off I go.

One of the things I remember about living on the street was this sense that there was an unlimited amount of time – almost too much time, really. You didn’t know how to fill up your day. And all of this time seemed to be spent on the most basic shit: where your next meal was coming from, trying to stay unobtrusive so the cops wouldn’t bother you, somehow getting some money to eat and get high, and the eternal question of where you were going to sleep that night.

If you’re a young man, you can imagine the potential for trouble. In fact, there would seem to be no way that this was going to turn out well at all. And yet somehow I managed to come out of this disaster in one piece. Why? I’m not sure I can fully answer that. I’d like to say it was because other people reached out and helped me, but that’s not entirely true. I had an almost feral mistrust of others that prevented anyone from getting too close. 

It was really music that did it – playing in bands gave me a sense of community and belonging, and immersing myself in the subculture of music helped anchor my identity.

It provided my first hint that I could rise out of what seemed like a hopelessly epic clusterfuck of a childhood and be somebody. It was all I needed to get started…

The Purpose Of Art

Is to elicit a visceral emotional or intellectual response, to make one see the world in a different way, to spur an internal narrative, to question the limits of what you thought was possible, to elicit wonder, to upset the status quo, TO PROVOKE.

Art should be shocking and mystifying, breathtaking and disturbing – it should engage you. If it upsets you or makes you angry then IT IS DOING ITS JOB. Art is a reflection of life, and everything in life isn’t beautiful. Let’s be clear: You don’t need to be shielded from art with ridiculous trigger warnings as if you could somehow be damaged by exposure to it, and anyone or any institution that attempts to do so is hindering your ability to grow into a fully realized human being. They are trying to control your mind, whether their intentions are good or not.

You do not need to be protected from art. You need to question everything and be exposed to EVERYTHING. It’s a big, bad, beautiful world out there, and it doesn’t give a fuck about your feelings. In order to grow up you’re going to have to take it all in and let go of your fear.

Even though it can be painful and disorienting, doing so allows you to participate meaningfully in life – and hopefully contribute something useful to the world in the process.



He’s a maker..”

I just heard this term in a discussion among writers in reference to one of their peers. There seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement that this put him on another level, that possessing this quality somehow separated this person from others.

They were right. To be a maker is something special. It implies a lot beyond just being creative.

It implies that this person is a finisher. This alone is a very big deal. Notice I didn’t say anything about whether the thing that was made was “successful” financially – ultimately, for the purpose of our discussion, that’s not important.

What is important is that the thing is unique – it didn’t exist before this person made it. Whether it’s good or not is a subjective judgment that also means nothing in this context. It is good to the person who made it. 

See, here’s the thing: Once something is finished and exists, it becomes undeniable. Before it’s finished, it’s just an idea. Ideas are cool and important, but to turn an idea into something finished requires a whole different skill set.

To accomplish that one must be driven, tenacious, indefatigable, tough, and undeterred by obstacles and criticism. They must be able to look into the abyss of their soul and confront their fears and weaknesses. They must be willing to expose this part of themselves to others. 

Most people are too afraid to be that brave.

Lush Life: On Being Black, Gifted, And Gay In Mid-Twentieth Century America

I am, of course, referring to the inimitable Billy Strayhorn, composer of one of the greatest songs of the twentieth century, “Lush Life.” To hear this music once is to never forget it.

He started writing it in his teens and finished the piece at 21. This seems impossible, but that’s how genius works – mysterious and unknowable. Other than my capacity for empathy and innate understanding of art seen through the lens of human experience, I have no way to know what it was like to be gifted, black, and gay in the mid-twentieth Century. I just know that the first time I heard this piece my whole world suddenly seemed to expand. I couldn’t really understand it and yet somehow I did – this was part of the genius of Billy Strayhorn.

This song has been recorded by many artists, but for me, the definitive version is the one recorded in 1963 by Johnny Hartman with the the John Coltrane Quartet.

The wistful sadness of glimpsing a life that would never be his is heartbreakingly poignant. To express it like this in art as a teenager seems impossible – it is both a tragic meditation on existential loneliness and a celebration of the pain of life at the same time.

Twelve o’clocktails indeed.

Front Row Seats

Here they come – some confused, some angry, some violent. Conscious, unconscious, altered, dead. Generally speaking, no one is happy to see you.

Who are they? Well son, that’s your job to find out. You’re the triage nurse, the portal of entry to the ER. It’s your job to sort this mess out. Oh, BTW, some of them are going to die. Out of a sea of humanity, most with relatively trivial complaints, your job is to pick out the ones who are really sick.

It’s harder than it sounds. Because here’s the thing about the ER – the only thing you can trust are your instincts built on years of hard won experience. And on the way to getting those years of experience you are going to make some mistakes. Painful mistakes. It’s just the only way to become an expert. You learn everything you can in school and then it’s time to hit the real world. Suddenly nothing is as it seems – everything is gray, and everything seems to transpire to confuse the situation, to make the process as difficult as possible.

For example, say EMS drops off a combative, wildly agitated older woman attempting to physically assault everyone who comes close. You have to somehow figure out what’s going on. Intoxicated? If so, with what? Brain bleed? Dementia? Psychotic break with reality? Anoxia? Cancer? Just plain old crazy?

You look at the docs note from her last visit and it starts with “Pt. Screams I hope your mother rots in hell.” This is good news – now you’ve got a baseline. Further digging reveals she drinks. A lot. Every day. More good news – now a picture is starting to form. You’ve still got to get security to help restrain her while you do your exam, but you’ve now got a few guideposts to put you on (hopefully) the right track.

It’s like you have a front row seat to every fucking thing that can go wrong with humans.

It’s just the thing for adrenaline junkies with a very low threshold for boredom.

Unlocking Your Genetic Potential

So the question is: How might we accomplish this?

I believe it’s by adding stress to the body and mind.

Think about it – we don’t really know what our genetic potential is. How would we? We must first be thrown into situations where we have to adapt to find out – and of course this adaptation implies growth.

On a physical level, lifting weights provides a great concrete example. Stress the body by lifting a heavier and heavier load and it adapts by literally  growing physically – it changes our morphology. There is only one way to find out what your genetic potential for muscular growth is and that is by stressing it with progressively increasing load resistance and watching what happens.

The same is true for our mind – but this idea can also be extrapolated to an infinite number of adaptations: the ability to integrate socially, to lead, to fight, to protect, to nurture, to educate, to create, to innovate, etc.

We don’t know to what extent we might excel at any of these things until we are stressed by being forced to adapt to the needs of any given situation. This kind of self actualization is born out of living an active life, but it requires you to actively seek out opportunities for growth.

This is why the easy way out will never show us what we are capable of.