Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: June 2020

You’re Welcome

I love podcasts. There is no other long-form medium where interesting people get to explore ideas in a free flowing format – uncensored. At their best you feel as though you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation.

Eric Weinstein’s “The Portal” is a case in point, and this particular episode really tweaked my mind. Eric (and his brother Brett) are both extraordinarily brilliant humans whose curiosity leads them to very interesting places. Nothing interesting is off limits.

On this episode Eric is talking to his friend of many years Stephon Alexander, a physicist and jazz musician who played with Ornette Coleman. They share a wide-ranging conversation over two hours with a couple of bottles of red wine, and I would be lying if I said I understood all of it. But holy fuck is it interesting.

The fact that this stuff is available for free is just mind-blowing.


COVID Fallout (Part 1)

Over two months after the peak of the COVID crisis here in NYC, the fallout is starting to become more and more obvious among my colleagues in the ER. We tend to be a stoic battle-hardened bunch under normal circumstances – but the experience of attempting to treat patients during the pandemic seems to be breaking even the strongest among us.

It’s becoming clear there will eventually be a mass exodus of healthcare workers traumatized by what they saw and were forced to do, by the feeling of utter helplessness in a mass casualty event. I’m beginning to hear docs I work with talking about “exit strategies.” Many nurses I’ve worked with and admired as role models for years now possess an eerie “1000 yard stare.” There’s a photo of myself taken during the height of the pandemic where the disassociation in my eyes is haunting and obvious.

This, BTW, is how I will look for the next several years at work, until there’s a reliable vaccine. For 12 and a half hours each shift no one will ever see my face again. I can smile but no one will know it. It’s difficult for patients and colleagues to hear and interpret what I’m saying because of multiple layers of PPE. It’s like trying to administer care in a scuba diving suit under water.

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the whole thing yet. I’ve learned not to ignore internal trauma, yet I also understand that healing and perspective take time and work. Sometimes a lot of both – the mind works and heals at its own pace.

The biggest mindfuck for me is knowing my job could kill me. But I counter this thought with the fact that this is what I do – and besides, nowhere is safe. At least at work I have protective gear.

This is just the new reality. At the end of the day we have no choice but to adapt. At least in my job I can attempt to help others in need.

So there’s that.

Why Be Optimistic?

Because good people outnumber shitty people. I really do believe this is true. However…

It’s also true that shitty people monopolize the public conversation – they just tend to be louder.

And of course the anonymity of online discourse only empowers the vocal minority of the intellectually-challenged. The whole thing is like a nightmarish self-full filling example of the Dunning-Krugar effect in real time.

But if good people spoke up more often…

You Know What Bothers Me?

When someone walks into the ER with a complaint that sounds benign, like abdominal pain or constipation, and we do a CT scan that ends up showing metastatic carcinoma.

It just seems like life can be so randomly cruel.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m still processing my participation in the COVID disaster here in NYC or because I had cancer, but I seem particularly sensitive to this shit now.

I used to think that it was harder for younger nurses to process the random tragedies we see every day in the ER, but now I’m not so sure.

When you’re young you feel invincible – death and disease aren’t on your personal radar. As a 63 year old cancer survivor who also had a potentially fatal run-in with sepsis, I don’t feel invincible at all.

I already know what it feels like when you’re not sure if death is imminent, but it’s so close you can feel it in the room.

Nothing is ever the same after that.

Own It

You know that shit you love that you’re embarrassed about because you think no one else would get it? You’re probably right, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it. It’s part of what makes you unique.

Own it.

What about those things you believe strongly about but keep to yourself because you don’t think other people would understand?

Own it.

The music you love that no one seems to know about?

Own it.

The things you’re interested in that no one else seems to even be aware of, therefore you think they wouldn’t be interested?

Own it.

Your age?

Own it. You’re not kidding anyone anyway.

Your sexuality or gender preference?

Own it.

Here’s why: In the long term you’ll feel better about yourself and have more friends and respect.

Just do it for christ’s sake. Treat other people with compassion and don’t judge, but be who you are.

Let your freak flag fly.

To Go From Suck to Not-Suck

Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.” This idea—that all movies we now think of as brilliant were, at one time, terrible—is a hard concept for many to grasp. … Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul. 

– Ed Catmull

Listen Up: Betty Davis (Part 2)

Kinda havin’ a Betty Davis riot here – this is just some of the coolest, most ridiculously slamming ‘70s funk ever. I think I’m in love – no, I know I am:) Betty Davis is the real deal. One of a kind – original.

Let’s start with Nasty Gal. Once the band hits the groove (maybe beat 3 of the first bar), this might be the deepest pocket I’ve ever heard. I find it impossible to stop listening to.

Then maybe check out the first two tunes off her second album: Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him and He Was a Big Freak (“I beat him with my turquoise chain” is the first line of the song). WTF?!! Clearly the groove is no accident because every tune, on each record, with different musicians – all have a pocket deeper than the Mariana Trench.

Musically you can hear her influences but the way she puts it together is unique to her.

Betty Davis – she’s a motherfucker Ya’ll. Dig it.


Definition: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

I’m not sure this is the best definition simply because toughness doesn’t necessarily equate to a quick recovery.

Regardless, resilience is one of those life skills where past experience overcoming trauma is a pretty good indicator of whether one will be successful in bouncing back from one’s current psychological or physical injury.

It’s a complex response though – there are phases of recovery that might overlap, each one requiring different amounts of time to complete.

So how do you become resilient?

Reflection, acceptance, and being kind to yourself is critical but easier said than done.

Ultimately, we should try to learn something from the experience, no matter how painful.

Because learning is always positive.

I’m not there yet, but I’m trying. I’m trying really hard.

Listen Up: Betty Davis

I’m not talking about Betty Davis the Actress – I’m talking about Betty Davis the funk visionary.

She became Betty Davis after being Ms. Miles Davis for one apparently very long year in 1968. Betty Mabry before that. Her influence on Miles cannot be overstated – she was the primary catalyst that helped spark his transition from acoustic jazz to electronic fusion. She was 23 and he was 42. They were both on fire, so it wouldn’t last long. Betty wasn’t going to be subservient to anybody, and that included Miles.

She made 3 albums from 1973-1975, and holy fuck, they were other-worldly good. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know her – I didn’t either until I recently saw the documentary “Betty Davis: They Say I’m Different.” She was so far ahead of her time, there was no way for her to be accepted by the music/entertainment industry. Kind of like a female Prince. In 1973 no one was ready for that.

She was a visionary black woman who was calling the shots. Pop culture had no precedent for her – she must have scared the shit out of record executives.

It’s an interesting and kind of tragic thing to discover artists like this. They appear to be game-changers, and then they’re gone. The world wasn’t yet ready for what they had to say, but they still changed the game from the inside by influencing other artists who heard them.

All hail Betty Davis. Nasty Gal indeed…

Slog On

Honest confession: I’m really struggling. With everything.

I suspect a lot of it is fallout from working as an ER nurse here in NYC during the COVID pandemic – it was an experience that’s left me with more questions than answers.

I use to love being an ER nurse – maybe I still do, I’m just not sure. God knows I had taken an active part in death on a regular basis before COVID, but the month from mid-March through mid-April literally seemed like the end of the world.

You know those scenes in movies where hospitals are overwhelmed and start breaking down because everyone’s dying and civilization is collapsing? That’s what my reality felt like – for a month. And the whole time, looming overhead, was the realization that I was vulnerable to this thing that was killing the people I was trying to take care of. My ER was filled with patients deliriously tearing off their masks and coughing, slumped over in chairs dying because we had no where to put them, dead bodies on stretchers in hallways, some not even covered in sheets.

Now work has kind of normalized, but not really. I suspect it’ll never be the same. Because the virus is still out there, my face – and everyone else I work with – is covered with PPE. It’s painful and hard to breathe, but I’ve sort of adjusted to it. The average person wouldn’t be able tolerate it for 5 minutes, much less 12 and a half hours.

I’m not depressed, and I don’t think I have PTSD. But I’m profoundly tired and not sure what anything means anymore.

This blog has become very difficult, because right now I don’t feel as engaged with life – add in the profound sadness of my country’s epic failures on all counts, and shit starts looking bleak.

So what to do?

Slog on.

Do What You Hate

In your job, or your art – really, in anything that’s important to you – if there’s some aspect of it you hate; this is where you should focus your energy.

You hate it because you suck at it.

Being of Service

Whenever the frustrations of being an ER nurse start to become overwhelming, I always try to remind myself that I’m here to serve my patients. This immediately brings my focus back and makes the peripheral frustrations seem less important.

It’s a simple attitude adjustment that leaves me feeling good – my purpose is clear, defined and simple.

Things become clearer when it’s not about you.


“When we look to the outside world for valuation and recognition, we might be confused about the intrinsic value of what we just created. Over time, those things may come into alignment, but that’s rare indeed.

Creation plus persistence can lead to recognition. But creation without recognition is still a worthwhile endeavor.

– Seth Godin

Gaslighting (Part 2)

There are many interpretations of gaslighting, but for the purpose of this post let’s go with this: To deny someone’s reality as a way to manipulate their behavior.

There are more examples than I could possibly list, but the one I’m thinking about now has been going on for for at least four years. Let’s put it under the heading of cultural gaslighting.

Fake news.

It was never easy to get unbiased news, but standards of journalism and accountability had been in place for at least a hundred years before the advent of this unfortunate tool of manipulation was unleashed on the masses.

It’s purpose is pretty transparent: take away people’s belief in these institutions as resources, able to dive deep and provide explanations for complex social phenomena, and what do you have left? A population you can manipulate by feeding them “real news” which of course is just bullshit designed to further the current power structures agenda.

Now, the news organizations themselves didn’t help matters by becoming so partisan, instead, many of them fell into this trap. But this was partly a result of the fact that it is a particular group of people in our government that foment these lies.

The problem is that in this case the ones gaslighting the population succeeded. If enough of the gullible public is confused and now mistrusts credible sources of information, who do they turn to for the truth?

The liars of course.

Movies That Made Me (Part 4): Vertigo

Even if you find the narrative obtuse, this is one of the most astonishingly beautiful films ever made. Hitchcock was at the peak of his powers when he directed this in 1958, and it is iconic – every shot is stunning. It even features a couple of shots that, if not entirely groundbreaking, had certainly never been pulled off with this degree of sophistication.

The story is convoluted, but Hitchcock has stated more than once that it was his most personal film. It’s essentially a multi-layered metaphor for his relationship with women, which is, unsurprisingly complicated.

This is one of those films that reveals itself with age – that is to say, when I saw it as a young person, I was drawn to the mystery and beauty of the experience without really understanding it. But of course great art is like that – it can draw you in without you fully understanding why.

Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak are perfect – Kim’s performance is particularly nuanced, even though at first she seems quite remote. By the end you are completely drawn in by her portrayal of this duplicitous yet beguiling woman. Viewed through the lens of today’s culture, it’s very patriarchal, sometimes even misogynistic – but that’s all part of the story.

I recently watched a restoration supervised in part by Martin Scorsese, and it is achingly beautiful. The cinematography by Robert Burks is both dream-like and hyper-real, the colors gorgeously saturated. And the score by Bernard Herrmann is hauntingly beautiful – once heard, never forgotten.

The two ground-breaking camera shots I referred to earlier? One is the “vertigo” scene where Jimmy Stewart is looking down a flight of stairs, apparently achieved by both zooming in and physically pulling the camera back at the same time. It’s a shot seen many times since then, but the first time you see it it’s quite a trick.

The other is a 360 degree closeup of Stewart and Novak embracing that seems continuous but appears to take place in two different locations still the same time.. Like most of this film, I have no idea how it was done, all I know is that it works.

This whole movie appears to take place in some alternate universe, one that Hitchcock invented. This is what great art does.

It transports you to a place you never knew existed.

Diminishing Expectations

Try as you might, it gets harder and harder to stay positive as you get older. You get to a certain age and start to ask yourself, “Is this it? How much can people really change, or do we just keep doing the same hateful, stupid shit forever?

’Cuz when you’re older, you realize the same terrible things keep playing out over and over. Sure, some changes happen – but it seems as if stupid and mean never go away. Like it’s hardwired into our DNA.

When it comes to humanity, I’ve always struggled to be positive but human behavior keeps making me cynical. I mean, you have to try to be hopeful – the problem is, it’s not long before something terrible happens that reminds you what murderous chimps we really are. And then you realize its been this way all along.

Don’t get me wrong, humans have created and achieved some incredible things, and we are capable of empathy. But it seems in our hearts there’s a darkness that never goes away, and I’m not sure it ever will. And just to be clear: I’m as guilty as the next person.

Which is why I always try to focus on how I’m living my life, sincerely trying to do the right thing, treating others with dignity and respect. Working to be a better person.

At the end of the day, that’s all I’ve got. It may not be much, but it’s something.

Just be kind to each other. It shouldn’t be that hard.

Has Anything Changed?

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

– Bob Dylan