Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: March 2021

Patterns (Part 1)

You see this everywhere in art – an element is repeated, with some variation each iteration. In songs it’s verses and choruses, in writing it’s usually action or behavior manifested by a character, in comedy it’s the callback.

What makes it so satisfying is this: it sets up an expectation for the viewer/reader/listener that a pattern will repeat – and when it does, their anticipation is rewarded. But it comes with an element of surprise that makes the whole thing irresistible – some new element is added to the pattern.

It’s as if we want to be comforted by anticipating and experiencing repitition, yet we also crave surprise.

Combine them and enjoy the dopamine rush!


“(Success for a writer depends on) the extent to which the writer has learned to make causality. Making causality doesn’t seem sexy or particularly literary. It’s a workmanlike thing, to make A cause B, the stuff of vaudeville, of Hollywood. But it’s the hardest thing to learn.

It doesn’t come naturally, not to most of us. But that’s really all a story is: a series of things that happen in sequence, in which we can discern a pattern of causality. For most of us, the problem is not in making things happen (“A dog barked,” “The house exploded,” “Darren kicked the tire of his car” are all easy enough to type) but in making one thing seem to cause the next.

This is important, because causation is what creates the appearance of meaning. “The queen died, and then the king died” (E. M. Forster’s famous formulation) describes two unrelated events occurring in sequence. It doesn’t mean anything. “The queen died, and the king died of grief?” puts those events into relation; we understand that one caused the other. The sequence, now infused with causality, means: “That king really loved his queen.”

Causality is to the writer what melody is to the songwriter: a superpower that the audience feels as the crux of the matter; the thing the audience actually shows up for; the hardest thing to do; that which distinguishes the competent practitioner from the extraordinary one.

A well-written bit of prose is like a beautifully hand-painted kite, lying there on the grass. It’s nice. We admire it. Causality is the wind that then comes along and lifts it up. The kite is then a beautiful thing made even more beautiful by the fact that it’s doing what it was made to do.”

– George Saunders, from “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.”

Reassessment (Part 1)

I’m at a crossroads. A few days ago, I wrote a requiem for this blog, then thought the better of it. I’m going through a difficult time from multiple perspectives, not the least of which is a feeling of burnout from the job I always loved – being an inner-city ER nurse. At the year one anniversary of COVID, It’s impossible to deny the toll of working on the pandemic’s front lines.

Last year at this time, it was Armageddon in my ER. Death from the plague was everywhere. Then, on April 26, my medical director, a brilliant woman I felt close to and had worked with for 10 years, committed suicide. She felt responsible for the collapse of our ER, which of course she wasn’t.

Here in NYC, the hardest hit emergency department was Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, the second was mine. What happened was simply unimaginable – unless you were there, it’s impossible to convey the horror of the experience.

I now understand what soldiers who fought under constant danger of death, who witnessed and took part in mass casualties, must have felt like. Not being able to talk about what happened because you’ll either scare the shit out of people, or worse yet, they’ll try to comfort you with useless platitudes that only underscores the unbridgeable void that separates you from everyone else.

You’ve just got to process your pain and profound disappointment privately, and it’s hard. Nothing will ever be the same, but then again, life is always changing anyway, right?

Clearly, this blog is no longer a daily discipline, and I wonder if it’s serving any purpose at all. The hopeful paradox here is that I’m engrossed in writing fiction, and it’s incredibly fulfilling. I’m getting short stories published with no education whatsoever – it feels like this what I’m supposed to do, in a very good way. Better yet, I’m improving.

So that’s where my focus is now, and I’m afraid this blog is suffering. It may have run its course, but for the time being, I’m going to try and keep it alive. It’s clear, however, that it won’t be a daily thing. At least for the time being. I’m psychically wounded and a bit beat – my bandwidth is limited.

I may be temporarily down for the count, but I’m not out yet.

Undeniable (Part 2)

“Early in a story, I’ll have a few discrete blocks (blobs? swaths?) of loose, sloppy text. As I revise, those blocks will start to…get better. Soon, a block will start working—I can get all the way through it without a needle drop. The word that sometimes comes to mind is “undeniable,” as in “All right, this bit is pretty much undeniable,” which means that I feel that any reasonable reader would like it and would still be with me at the end of it.”

– George Saunders, from “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”

Good Rejections (Part 1)

Dear David Thomas Peacock,

Thank you very much for sending “Flight Number” to redacted. Although it was not selected for publication, it received positive feedback from our readers. Good luck placing this with another magazine. Please try us again!


The Editors

So why is this a good rejection? Well, let’s see…

  1. They read it and more than one person liked it.
  2. They’re taking the time to tell me about it.
  3. They’re encouraging me to send more stuff.
  4. Their unsolicited acceptance rate is 0%.

It’s a winner!

Don’t be Stingy With Your Compliments

Mind you, don’t ever hand out compliments unless you are sincerely impressed. But if you are, let the person know.

Preferably in front of someone else.

You’ll feel good for making them feel good – but that’s not the point.

The point is this: unbiased encouragement from someone with no vested interest might prove to be a game-changer for the one receiving the praise.

At the very least it’s affirmation that they’re on the right track.

Entropy (Part 2)

Definition: A gradual decline into disorder.

Do I have something new and clever to say about this?

Not really.

Just watching the system breaking down here folks.

Carry on.

Internal Narrative

You may not think you have one – but you do. The real question is: What is it telling you?

See, your internal narrative is constantly observing the world and interpreting what it sees. It’s possible to have control over this process, but it takes work.

This subconcious dialog can be functional, or dysfunctional – often, the pattern is set early on in life, and just keeps playing over and over again unless you conciously work to change it.

Anyone who has undergone cognitive behavioral therapy will be familiar with this. CBT is used to treat many disorders; depression and PTSD are two. The process in the beginning (which can go on for a long time) is simple. One writes down one’s thoughts and then reads them. Are they true or distorted? It turns out to be remarkably easy to make this judgement, because irrational, distorted thinking is immediately obvious when it’s written down.

The process of constantly analyzing one’s thoughts is the first step in changing your internal narrative. It’s an incredibly powerful and simple idea that happens to work.

What’s your internal narrative telling you?

The Three Levels of Greatness

Level 1: (Visibly moved) It’s really, really good.

Level 2: Wow – this is fucking great! (Lemme check that out again…)

Level 3: Dumbfounded silence as brain rewires itself, expanding its perception of what is possible while thinking: undeniable. (Raise bar appropriately)


No matter how painful your day was – either metaphorically or literally – ask yourself one question:

Am I still alive?

“Cuz if the answer is yes, you should rest easy.

It could have been worse.

Feedback Loops (Part 2)

When you become aware of something new in the world, you are tapping into a feedback loop. Mark Andreeson talks about this idea on Brian Koppelman’s podcast “The Moment.” Feedback loops are what happens when something begins to take on a life of its own. It could be new music, or new technology, or a new idea – anything, really.

So what creates feedback loops in culture?

Word-of-mouth or critical consensus.

That’s basically it. Advertising is a weak way to try and jump-start word-of-mouth. But this phenomenon is really about the power of an idea resonating with people in such a way that they are compelled to talk about it.

Critical consensus is a powerful kick-starter for word-of-mouth – there’s nothing quite like respected voices to put something on the cultural radar.

Question: How can you make this information useful to you?

Things You Shouldn’t Take For Granted

Your health is a fragile thing. It might not seem that way, but that’s because you don’t work in an ER. I don’t know if this knowledge is a good or bad thing, and in the end I’m not sure if it really matters.

The unfortunate news is there are a million ways to suffer and die. If you’re healthy and feeling good, be grateful for what you’ve got.

This carnival ain’t going to last forever.

Focus and Discipline (Part 1)

The thing is, if you love what you do, you can accomplish some things by just working whenever you feel like it. The advantage to this is life is much more relaxed. The downside is that things are going to move at a much slower pace.

But bring focus and discipline to what you are working on and the timeline speeds up considerably. Improvements come at a faster rate – mastery takes time. There aren’t any shortcuts in life.

Grinding it out is the best approach. Focus on what you want to do, and don’t be afraid to suck.

Just keep making cool shit.

At the end of the day that’s reward enough.

The World Has Changed

2020 was the year the world abruptly changed. One might even describe it as violently changed and not be accused of hyperbole.

To realize this is to grapple with the uncertainty and fragility of life. Things we always assumed would be part of reality we now realize are fluid.

Whether you choose to admit it or not, we have irrevocably altered our climate on earth and will have to deal with the consequences. Life will not go on as we so naively assumed it would.

We now understand how vulnerable our species is to viral pathogens.

America came dangerously close to fascism – close enough to make it clear that what happened in Germany in 1933 could absolutely happen here.

We learned how dark the heart of humanity really is.

Should I go on? 

Painful But True

Your worst moments of total failure are a gift.

Learning from these failures is how you get better.

It’s part of the journey toward mastery.

We All Live in Two Realities

There is the external reality of the world with its laws of physics and messy human psychodynamics.

And then there is the reality in your mind, which is essentially whatever you want it to be.

Note: It’s important to understand that there may be very little, or quite possibly no overlap between the two. That’s alright — it doesn’t diminish the pleasure one derives from either perspective.

The degree to which any given person’s inner reality matches, or even exeeds the world’s external reality, may be the single factor that distinguishes artists from the general population.

Just a thought.