Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: May 2021

It’s a Paradox

Artists make art. Not because they hope to make money or become famous — just because they have an unexplainable compulsion to express something.

From the perspective of evolutionary biology, it makes absolutely no sense. Nonetheless, it’s a thing. A human thing.

Now, even though the artist’s motivation is not fame and fortune, they of course want other humans to see it, to get the same joy and meaning out of it they did when they created it.

Invariably, this isn’t the case. This is just how life works, and it’s certainly not a value judgment on the merits of whatever art is on the table. Art is a subjective thing — why it may or may not resonate with another human is a mystery.

Understandably, this can be a source of distress for the artist. Why don’t other people see how cool this is? Wait a minute, is this really shite and I’m misguided?

No, you are not misguided. It is as great as you think it is, at least to you. But here’s the point of this post: You want to know the best way to deal with rejection?

Go back and make more art.

It’s what you really wanted to do anyway.

Be Kind to Yourself (Part 4)

Let’s be clear: You didn’t mean to do whatever it is that’s triggering the inner voice now berating you. Making mistakes is part of what makes us human, and it’s certainly a byproduct of trying to grow.

So extend yourself the same courtesy you would a student.

Learn from your mistake and move on. You are not your mistake.

Be kind to yourself.

Transitioning (Part1)

We’re all going somewhere, aren’t we? I mean, nothing stays the same, right? So if that’s true, then everything is in a constant state of transition – but that’s not really the kind of transition I’m thinking of…

Sometimes life points us in a new direction.

If we choose to recognize it and accept the challenge, we must be brave and fearlessly move ahead, even if we’re unsure.

This is the kind of transition I’m talking about. It only happens a few times in each of our lives. If you recognize this chasm opening up, what’s the best course of action?

Damn the torpedoes.

RIP Roger Hawkins

Roger passed away on May 20, 2021, at the age of 75. Best known as the drummer for the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, he played on many classic soul hits from the late ’60s to early 70s. What hits, you might ask?

Well, let’s start with one of my favorite grooves of all time – “I’ll Take You There,” sung by the great Mavis Staples. When the drums come in, it takes about 2 beats before the whole track locks into the deepest pocket this side of the Mariana Trench, and it just stays there for over four minutes. It’s almost impossible to keep your body from moving to this beat. Magic.

Or how about Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances.” At the time he was a 21-year-old white boy from Muscle Shoals Alabama.

Let’s not forget “Respect,” Aretha Franklin’s seminal classic.

Yeah, Roger Hawkins – thank you for all you gave us.

Gone but never forgotten.

Rest in Peace.

The One Who Wants it the Most Wins

I was fortunate to have studied with a great teacher from the age of roughly 29 to 38. This was one of the earliest things he taught me.

It kind of encapsulates how life works.

Gender has very little to do with it.

Intelligence has very little to do with it.

Physical gifts have very little to do with it.

The one who wants it most wins.

Remember that.

The Exception to the Rule

Here’s where writing and music diverge: When writing or recording music, often the first take is the best. Everything that comes after may be more polished, but somehow less truthful, less raw. And it’s the truthful, raw emotion of the performance that resonates with the listener.

So why the difference with writing? Why is writing only good after lengthy, laborious editing? Why doesn’t writing lose its raw emotional content with brutal editing?

Since I’m still figuring this out, I can only venture a few guesses…

First of all, there probably are writers who are so good, either because they are naturally gifted, or because they have already gone through a lengthy process of learning, that they don’t need to edit ruthlessly.

Stream-of-conciousness writing is also a thing, so there’s that.

But this is something I think about — why is the maxim all first drafts are shit the accepted wisdom?

Maybe some times the first draft is the best, at least structurally (everything needs some editing.)

Having done both, it’s an artistic disconnect I’m grappling with.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (Part 3)

“And that’s what fiction does: it causes an incremental change in the state of a mind. That’s it. But, you know—it really does it. That change is finite but real. And that’s not nothing. It’s not everything, but it’s not nothing.”

– George Saunders

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (Part 2)

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from George Saunders treatise on writing (which also applies to all forms of creative expression) is this:

The constant iterative changes made to any piece of art are what infuses the final work with our essence. With each of a thousand edits the piece becomes a purer expression of ourselves.

I’m not sure if I completely agree with this all of the time, but there’s no question that the essence of his point is true.

It’s a provocative idea.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (Part 1)

Written by George Saunders, this is one of the best books on writing I’ve come across. So good I’ve read it twice.

A professor at Syracuse college, Saunders examines seven nineteenth century Russian short stories by Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol. I don’t know which is more priceless – the stories or his brilliant analysis. Of course I’d have to go with the stories, but you get the idea.

I’m endlessly fascinated by 19th century Russian literature. The disconnect from modern culture somehow highlights the humanity of the stories, making them seem more relevant, not less.

Or maybe it just illustrates how great this stuff is. I wish I could read them in Russian, although it’s hard to imagine they could be any better than their translation.

Another example that great art is timeless.

What Does It Want To Be?

Everybody creates differently – for me, I often start with an idea, usually vague. As it begins to develop, I’ll arrive at a point where I’m not sure where things are going. I hit a wall…

At this point,there are two ways to move ahead – and both of them are good.

The first one is to simply keep going, letting your subconscious guide you. Don’t second guess if you go this route – you’ll go down some blind alleys, but eventually end up somewhere unexpected and interesting.

The other option is to set it down for a period of time and work on something else, occasionally thinking about it. What’s happening here is that your subconscious mind has the project cooking on a low simmer – you’ll know when it’s done ‘cuz the answer will suddenly appear.

The main point here is this: You don’t need to know where things are going.

Something greater than yourself will let you know.

Trust vs Micromanaging

It always seemed obvious to me – hire the right person for the job, explain what you need done, and then get the fuck out of their way and let them do it.

The results can sometimes be exhilarating – often people will out-perform beyond your expectations. Praise their excellence and repeat. It’s how great teams are formed.

If corrections need to be made, be honest but supportive.

The beauty of leading in this manner is that the results end up being greater than the sum of its parts.

Johnny Cool (Part 2)

I heard about this film while listening to Elric Kane and Brian Saur’s priceless “Pure Cinema” podcast, an impossibly nerdy celebration of all things film. Their two part examination of David Lynch’s work is a perfect example of what makes them so great.

But I digress…

What makes “Johnny Cool” interesting to me is that it is a perfect pop culture artifact from a point in history just before The Beatles changed everything. Released in 1963, it was like one of the last S.O.S. from a form of pop entertainment that was about to run its course.

Even for me, it’s a strange movie – I kind of recognize this world, but not really. The theme song sets the stage, and what an opening. At first listen I thought it was cheesy, but before it finished I was sold. A rat-pack singer over a killing big-band doesn’t get much better than this. Hard to believe, but at one time songs like this would be recorded in their entirety live in a single take.

That’s right – the singer actually singing the tune live with the studio orchestra. No mixing, and no overdubs. Don’t try this at home!

I love modern music and technology; there’s always interesting stuff being released. But it’s hard to believe this level of excellence was the norm back then.

A young Henry Silva plays the title character – a murderous sociopath out for revenge. These characters would become his stock in trade, and this film shows why – with that face and those eyes, he didn’t seem to be acting.

The actors filling out the cast are priceless: Mort Sahl, Joey Bishop, a very young Elizabeth Montgomery, Telly Savalas with hair (kind of), Sammy Davis, Jim Backus – you get the picture.

And best of all – shot on location in NYC – in beautiful black and white.

Johnny fucking Cool. Not for everyone, and, truth be told, not even a great film. But if you want to see a very entertaining artifact of what the world was like in 1963, look no further.


This is also sometimes referred to as Interior dialog. It’s basically the voice in our head that interprets the world around us.

Our thoughts and feelings, our subjective reality.

It’s what makes us interesting.

Well, At least There’s That

Tonight a patient came to the ER in respiratory distress, panicked, gasping for air. I go the bedside to help, and she looks at me wild-eyed, managing to say, “You saved my life.”

Trying to engage her as I put in an IV, I asked her when.

“Years ago.”

I assured her I’d do my best to take care of her this time too.

Sometimes we make a difference and don’t even know it.

That’s All Folks!

All my bandwidth for the day has been used up by the black hole of need that is the ER.

I know I helped a few people, but I wouldn’t put money on whether they were aware of it.

There’s always tomorrow.

Flourishing vs. Languishing

Flourishing: developing rapidly and successfully; thriving.

Languishing: The absence of feeling good about your life.

So how do we move from the latter to the former?

  1. Move the focus from you to others — in other words, ask yourself: How can I be of service here? We’re not saints, I’m just talking about doing something for someone else, no matter how small, as often as possible. It doesn’t even have to be every day. It could be just smiling for Christ’s sake.
  2. Try to be grateful for what you have. Instead of: I hate my job, how about, So many people are out of work, I’m just grateful I have a fucking job.

BTW, your boss and coworkers don’t get to make you miserable at work. You make yourself miserable.

When in doubt, always default to this: You’re not dead. Yet.