Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: May 2019

Plot and Story

The plot is the mechanical framework upon which the story hangs, so it’s really just a device to help you tell the story. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, as such, it can be dispensed with if it’s not useful.

The story is the thing – the whole thing. Nothing else matters. The story will give you the characters, and once that happens you’re off and running.

I know I’ve said this before, and it’s not a novel idea (read Joseph Campbell’s work), but humans are hard-wired to both tell stories and, most importantly, to listen.

If you don’t believe me, start telling a story the next time you’re in a group of people. Don’t be shocked if everyone starts to get quiet and begins hanging on every word. It can be a little spooky.

Before the printing press, stories were the only way to pass knowledge down from generation to generation.

So it’s literally in our DNA.

P.S. – If you want see a great example of how to tell a story with no plot, watch Robert Altman’s “3 Women.” Thank me later…

The Power to Alter Life

Driving home from my job at the Majestic Hotel [in Bournemouth] in the Majestic Dance Orchestra (in 1967), I got in and put on my radio, and this music coming out was unbelievable. It was The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, it came on somewhere in the second side, no announcements, and it kept going. It finished with this incredible wind-up and a long piano chord. I had no idea what was going on, other than that it terrified me. There was a power in this music which—I wouldn’t use the words then, but I’d use them now—there was a power in this music which made me challenge and question all my assumptions. My life was not the same again.”

– Robert Fripp, from an interview with Tony Bacon in 1991

This, my friend, is the holy grail I will continue to chase, hopefully until the day I die. It’s one of the things that makes life worth living.

Experiencing this kind of wonder suddenly rewrites the rules as to what’s possible in life.

It’s the best feeling ever.

We Choose to Give Up

Seriously – this is a choice. I don’t care what part of your life we’re talking about – it could be creative, intellectual, or physical. Stopping is a choice – quitting is a choice.

There are just too many examples of humans pushing themselves through pain and discomfort when things become hard, then instead of breaking down, they end up becoming stronger, more determined, and smarter. In fact, I think this is one of the defining characteristics of being human.

We have this unbelievable ability to adapt to hardship and grow – it’s one of the reasons we ended up taking over the entire planet.

I do, however, think the physical component is the framework upon which everything else is built. There will always be exceptions – Stephen Hawking, for instance – but these exceptions are often themselves an example of this phenomenon at work. Hawking pushed himself in spite of his disease, for example.

He didn’t give up.

The Last Thing You Want is for Life to be Easy

You may think you want life to be easy – but an easy life is not really living, it’s just marking time until you die.

An easy life means you’re not really growing, because growth is hard and messy.

An easy life means you’re not challenging yourself, because challenging yourself means you are first going to suck, and everyone hates that.

An easy life means you’ve already started the process of dying, indeed, you’re welcoming it.

You’re kind of saying “I’m done.”

Are you?


Just heard some news that really hit me hard – and not many things hit me hard.

I guess I’ll write more about it later – probably a lot more, since it touches on my deepest fears.

Just feeling really sad with this most recent sobering reminder that life can be more cruel than you can imagine. And it can happen quickly – like one minute things are about as ok as you could hope for, and the next minute everything changes. And not in a good way.

Oh, and by the way – this isn’t going to end well for any of us.

Sorry – it’s just the harsh truth.

I’ve seen enough death up close and personal to have the empirical data to back it up.

You Get What You Deserve

Thirty years ago I was fortunate enough to study with what was, for lack of a better word, a spiritual master. I studied with him for about 10 years before he died. He wasn’t supposed to be a spiritual master, he was supposed to be a music teacher – but life is funny that way, it doesn’t always give you what you want, but sometimes it gives you what you need.

He didn’t have any living family except his wife (who became ill before he did), so at the end of his life my wife and I more or less took care of him – she cooked for him and I would take him to the hospital when he needed to go, run errands, and just generally try to be there if he needed me.

To say that I got the better part of the deal would be a gross understatement. He made my life better in a more profound way that anyone else I had ever known, except of course my wife.

I had never met anyone like him – he taught me things that would seem crazy to most people (then again, most people just aren’t that bright – George Carlin said it best: “Think about how dumb most people are – then remember half of them are dumber than that.”) – Oy. So for that reason, I don’t talk about him much.

He was so immensely influential to my personal development and growth as a human being, it’s impossible to really put into words. I still think about lessons he taught me every day – about music, metaphysics, human interpersonal dynamics, space and time, death – and I always immediately think “How lucky was I to know that guy.”

Here’s the thing about life: You never know when that person is going to walk into it.

If they do – Pay attention.

You See What You Want To See

The older I get, it almost becomes embarrassing to realize that so many simple truths were staring me in the face the whole time.

This one is a good example.

Understanding it doesn’t exactly change reality, it just changes ones perspective on reality.

That’s usually enough to get you through some pretty tough times.

You’re welcome.

Paradoxically (Part2)

I keep running into this idea from multiple sources:

The more specifically you are expressing your obsessions/vision in your art, the more universal it’s appeal.

Intuitively, you might think it would mean the opposite, but apparently you would be wrong.

Instead of appealing to less people, it appeals to more.

Maybe this helps explain why quasi-art by committee (think Hollywood films) is always the least interesting.

Films that conform to the very specific vision of an auteur (think Kubrick) tend to be the most interesting and culturally influential.

It Feels Good to Finish

I wrapped up my latest short story today – it’s called “Flight Number,” and it’s most definitely a thing. What kind of thing is another question entirely – one I honestly can’t answer.

What started out as a simple, very twisted idea, quickly turned into something else entirely. It’s extremely personal, although that wasn’t my intent when I started it.

Once again, I just started writing and let the thing tell me where to go – my job was just to write it down as it came to me. It’s not exactly stream-of-consciousness, because I do go back and edit and refine. But I don’t know where this shit is coming from. It’s just a really weird process – I don’t understand it, but then again I don’t feel like I need to.

I’m just going where life seems to be pointing me.


This idea isn’t to just silence someone so you don’t have to listen to them, it’s to silence them so no one hears them.

Really? Trust me, I don’t like this toxic bullshit any better than you do, but silencing someone because you disagree with them?

Seems problematic to me.

Now, I appreciate that Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have created global social platforms, so we’re not just talking about America – other power structures (or would be power structures) can use these “social” networks in an attempt to destabilize other societies. Now the idea of deplatforming becomes grayer and perhaps less problematic.

If, however, we are talking about a specific person, unless they are advocating for violence or using blatant hate speech, instead of shutting them down, just don’t listen.

Better yet – counter their bad ideas with something better.

It’s a big messy world out there – you have to learn how to navigate around the assholes.

Just Concentrate on What’s Ahead

E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.

This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

Anne Lamott, from “Bird by Bird”

Freedom of Speech

This may be the single most important, fundamental concept that sets the U.S.A apart from everywhere else. Even in other cultures that endorse freedom of speech, I don’t think anyone carries it quite as far as we do.

Modern stand up comedy is a good example. Try and find examples of stand up anywhere in the world that’s even remotely as transgressive as what you can find on stage on any given night in any given comedy club in America. Good luck – ‘cuz I don’t think they exist.

But here’s the caveat: Free speech is for everybody. That means you are going to hear a whole lot of shit that’s going to make you very uncomfortable, stuff you may even think that no one should be able to say. But you sir, or madam, would be very wrong.

Because censorship is of course the antithesis of free speech. You don’t have to listen to everything out there, but you do have to allow opposing viewpoints, even if you think they are wrong and abhorrent. I am not talking about hate speech or inciting violence – this is not allowed and we have laws condemning it. But I am talking about what you may think are bad, perhaps even immoral and ignorant ideas.

‘Cuz here’s how this works: Bad ideas are countered and exposed by good ideas. The eloquence, charisma, and veracity of the person espousing the good ideas will of course go a long way toward their influence on those holding opposing viewpoints, like most things in life, it’s not fair, but that’s unfortunately just how this shit works.

So grow some balls, allow yourself to be vulnerable (thus upping your charisma quotient), and learn how to be empathetic. Now you’re ready to go and make your arguments.

You’ll still probably fail, but at least you’ll walk away with everyone thinking you are cool, which isn’t worth nothing. Eventually you will make a difference, because humans like to be around someone who seems smart, eloquent, and empathetic.

And here’s a tip: don’t ever, ever shit on anyone.

Not cool.

Observation (Part 4)

I don’t know about you, but for me, sometime around two or three years ago, any intelligent, thoughtful discourse on the internet went the way of the dinosaurs.

I mean, I know all of the smart people didn’t die off, but it certainly seems like they all bailed around the same time. Why? WTF happened? Why do things sometimes seem to devolve instead of evolve?

Did the online environment become so toxic that it just wasn’t worth it to share ideas and information anymore? If so, how did this happen?

How did something that so obviously existed to communicate ideas and spread knowledge break down so easily? Or am I misinterpreting what’s really happening here?

Perhaps this is just a stage in the metamorphosis of something bigger, something transformative not just for the individual, but the species itself.

Evolution is messy and unpredictable – only time will tell.

Allocating Resources

As I find myself spending more time writing fiction, it unfortunately eats into time I would spend writing blog posts. Often there are topics I want to explore here, but I end up having to postpone them until I can find a block of time to really explore my thoughts.

Regardless, I have come to realize that the whole point of this blog was to prepare me to write. There is no other explanation for why I am suddenly compelled to write fiction, when it was never a conscious goal in the first place. I have no business doing it, and certainly no qualifications. None of that, however, seems to matter.

I am currently finishing my fourth short story and it is incredibly rewarding. I actually got choked up writing its conclusion today, and that felt very weird. It is turning out to be way too long to really fit the definition of a short story, but it takes what it takes to tell the fucking thing. I’m just letting go and the words just come out – the act of doing it really is its own reward.

Maybe someone will read it, maybe not. I’m not sure if it really matters. All I know is doing it feels right and natural, like, for whatever reason, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m not questioning it.

Immunologic Evolution

Our immune system evolved to hum along at peak capacity when we’re happy but to slow down dramatically when we’re not. This is why long-term unhappiness can literally kill you through its immune-suppressing effects, and why loneliness in late adulthood is deadlier than smoking. Indeed, once you’re over sixty-five, you’re better off smoking, drinking, or overeating with your friends than you are sitting at home alone.”

William von Hipple, from “The Social Leap”

Hold on to Your Seat, it’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride

Last week, OpenAI, a non-profit research group founded by Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, and Peter Thiel, among others, decided not to release it’s new text generating AI algorithm (GPT2) publicly. So why is this a big deal?

Well, for one thing, as the name of the organization might suggest, the whole point was to release it’s research algorithms as open source code. And indeed, there are “scaled down” versions of this GPT2 code available to the public. But in its current iteration, the company felt it was too dangerous to release it as open source.

You might be wondering “What’s the big deal?” After all, it just generates text, right? Well, yes… The way it works is like this: you “prime” it with an opening sentence or two, then it takes over and goes to work. Here’s an earlier example posted on the OpenAI website:

First, here’s the human written system prompt:

In a shocking finding, scientist discovered a herd of unicorns living in a remote, previously unexplored valley, in the Andes Mountains. Even more surprising to the researchers was the fact that the unicorns spoke perfect English.

And here’s what the AI algorithm spit out in its 10th iteration:

The scientist named the population, after their distinctive horn, Ovid’s Unicorn. These four-horned, silver-white unicorns were previously unknown to science.

Now, after almost two centuries, the mystery of what sparked this odd phenomenon is finally solved.

Dr. Jorge Pérez, an evolutionary biologist from the University of La Paz, and several companions, were exploring the Andes Mountains when they found a small valley, with no other animals or humans. Pérez noticed that the valley had what appeared to be a natural fountain, surrounded by two peaks of rock and silver snow.

Pérez and the others then ventured further into the valley. “By the time we reached the top of one peak, the water looked blue, with some crystals on top,” said Pérez.

Pérez and his friends were astonished to see the unicorn herd. These creatures could be seen from the air without having to move too much to see them – they were so close they could touch their horns.

While examining these bizarre creatures the scientists discovered that the creatures also spoke some fairly regular English. Pérez stated, “We can see, for example, that they have a common ‘language,’ something like a dialect or dialectic.

Dr. Pérez believes that the unicorns may have originated in Argentina, where the animals were believed to be descendants of a lost race of people who lived there before the arrival of humans in those parts of South America.

While their origins are still unclear, some believe that perhaps the creatures were created when a human and a unicorn met each other in a time before human civilization. According to Pérez, “In South America, such incidents seem to be quite common.”

However, Pérez also pointed out that it is likely that the only way of knowing for sure if unicorns are indeed the descendants of a lost alien race is through DNA. “But they seem to be able to communicate in English quite well, which I believe is a sign of evolution, or at least a change in social organization,” said the scientist.”

So this is the point in human history where you might legitimately ask yourself: Is what I am reading written by a human or an AI?

Full disclosure: This blog is written by a human, but it will undoubtedly eventually be read by an AI learning how humans write. It probably already has – if so, I hope it found something useful.

So there’s that.

Wake Up

This is the most important and interesting time in human history. But the important stuff is probably not on your Facebook or Instagram feed, and it’s definitely not on Television.

It is absolutely not the current president, and certainly not the tragic joke Washington has become.

No, this is the moment in our species history where we begin to meaningfully redefine what it means to be human by manipulating our genome to influence both who we are and who we will become. Make no mistake: this is not science fiction and it’s not something that might happen in the future. It is happening now.

This is the moment in evolutionary history where we are creating what will either be our final existential threat or our next evolutionary step – one that will not be dependent on biology. This is also not conjecture, and if you don’t understand this then you are not paying attention.

Add to this the fact that this change is not linear, it is exponential.

That means by the time you’ve finished reading this short post change will have accelerated since you started it moments ago.

Wake up.

Things already aren’t what you think they are.