Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Immersion

Part of the pleasure in making art is becoming lost in a world that’s unfolding before your eyes. It’s a mysterious thing – you aren’t entirely in charge of what’s happening.

Say I’m really into a story. At a certain point, the characters just take over. I’ll sit down to write with no preconceived idea of what’s about to happen beyond knowing it’s a scene with two or three specific characters.

Then I just kind of let them take over and tell me what they’re going to do.

It’s a little bit creepy, but also very cool.

I think about it all the time.

I know something special is happening, and quite honestly, it doesn’t much matter whether anyone else gets it or not.

It’s good to me, and I’m not easily impressed.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone

When you’re updating an app and it says, “Bugfixes and performance improvements,” what they really mean is, “We’ve developed better ways to track you and sell your data.”

Jesus – do you think I was born yesterday?

And yet, I just hit “update,” like everyone else. This is the world we live in.

There’s no escaping it, and if you think you are, you’re kidding yourself.

This is a Hero

Sometimes, since COVID, people will find out I work as a nurse in a NYC ER, and they’ll tell me, You are a hero.

I always always say thanks before assuring them that I am not, in fact, a hero. I’m just an ER nurse who showed up to work in a pandemic. But this post isn’t about me.

I recently took care of a guy who’d had his share of troubles in life. When EMS gave me report, they said, this guy’s special, a real hero. Medics don’t bullshit about this stuff, but I was busy, so I filed it away and got on with my work.

When I had a moment, I ran a search on his name and found a news story. It turns out that last year, he came home to his apartment in the Bronx and found the building on fire.

FDNY wasn’t there yet. So what did he do?

He ran into a burning building and started saving people, of course. Over and over – six in total. When FDNY got there, they found him collapsed on the second floor. Apparently he was going back in to make sure he didn’t leave anyone behind. He suffered permanent damage to his lungs from smoke inhalation.

When I asked him about it, he said, I guess I’m a fucking idiot. I just couldn’t let those people suffer.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a real hero.

They show us who we can be, if only we try.

Why Am I Posting Less?

Because I’m a third of the way into my first novel, that’s why.

And let me go on the record and say I’m having so much fun that I can’t wait to sit down and write just to see what happens next.

I’m deep in the process of discovering what I am capable of — It’s beyond cool to discover something new to learn and attempt to master at the age of 64.

Having had four short stories published confirms that I can write, but short stories and a novel are two different things. Writing a short story worth publishing is a brutally exacting process, so just because it’s shorter doesn’t mean it’s easier.

All writers have individual strengths and weaknesses, and part of the fun is trying to find your weaknesses and overcoming them. But one of the things I’ve learned is that the long-form seems to be comfortable for me. On days where I’m not working in the ER, I don’t seem to have a problem cranking out a thousand words. Of course, how good they are remains to be seen.

But that’s part of the fun — will it hold together as a novel? Can I weave multiple narratives in a long-form story? Can I write it in such a way that the reader doesn’t want to put it down?

The truth is I don’t know. But everyone has to start somewhere, and I’m starting here.

So posting less here isn’t a sign of lack of discipline. I’m just focusing my finite resources where I feel they need to be and enjoying the ride.

It’s All a Question of Perspective

So if someone spends their life making art that no one sees except them, then they die and it all ends up in a landfill, is that tragic?

I don’t think so.

If nothing else, it enriched and gave meaning to their life.

And that’s not nothing, now, is it?

Surrender

If you’re creating art and it’s giving you pleasure, maybe even surprising you, as if its telling you what it wants to be and not the other way around, here’s what not to do:

Think.

Flow

There is a time for learning, and a time for doing.

Sometimes they overlap – but whatever you do, don’t interrupt the latter to engage in the former.

What I’m trying to say is this: If you’re in a state of flow, where you feel like art is flowing through you without any conscious thought – don’t question it.

Something special is happening.

There’ll be plenty of time to try and figure it out later.

For now, just get out of the way and let it happen.

Balance

Riding the line between one’s inner life and the outside world, between giving to others and giving to oneself, between that which cannot be explained (art) and that which can (science), between the thrill of risk and the boredom of safety.

Finding the sweet spot is the goal, but it’s easier said than done.

Know yourself, and don’t force it.

If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen organically.

The Three Hour Gift

As I’ve noted before, I am a big fan of Podcasts. Over the years I’ve heard some incredible conversations, IMHO this is in the top two of all time.

Lex Fridman is a computer scientist and AI researcher at MIT; Bret Weinstein is an evolutionary biologist.

This is a 3-hour conversation covering a wide range of topics from two scientists who are actively shaping our future. Scientists and intellectuals are not always easy to listen to — that definitely isn’t the case here. They both have a gift for making complex topics and ideas easily understandable, and their linguistic skills and ethical humanity make their exchange of ideas compelling.

Listening to this podcast felt like taking drugs. It’s that good.

Enjoy!

Dangerous

For roughly a century, hospitals in the U.S. were run with a focus on good medical care. The administration was there to support this simple directive — to provide the best health care possible. If we imagine a hierarchy of power it would have looked something like this: doctors at the top of the pyramid, nurses next, and administration at the bottom managing day-to-day operations.

Somewhere in the 1980s, for multifactoral reasons too complex to explore here, the system began to break down. Large, historic hospitals began to run out of money, many of them closing doors.

Enter the suits — corporate management was brought in to mitigate the financial failure of these institutions. Morgan-Stanley, General Electric — you get the idea. And, let’s be clear: they were successful. Layer after layer of management, run by MBAs, began to turn things around. Hospitals (not all, but many) began to make money instead of losing it.

The problem, however, was this: the system was no longer being run by healthcare clinicians, i.e. doctors and nurses, it was now being run by “suits” whose responsibility was to the bottom line. Eventually, their incentive became to support the corporate power structure itself. Multimillion-dollar salaries for high-level management became the norm, just like CEOs of private-sector corporations.

And just like all big business in north America, management cut costs wherever they could. After all, their responsibility was to the bottom line, not clinical care.

This meant fewer doctors and less nurses — particularly less nurses. You see, in a large teaching hospital, nurses are employed by the hospital itself, but medicine is employed by the medical school associated with the hospital. This created the dangerous situation we have today — nurses are constantly understaffed. Better to funnel financial resources to the suits and let nursing and medicine figure out how to provide care without enough staff.

I am, of course, over-simplifying an extremely complex system. Private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and the pharmaceutical industry are now at the top of the pyramid, with management and administration next. The corporations call the shots, not doctors.

And nurses are left hanging in the wind, like the little dutch boy trying to plug up holes in the dike with his fingers to stop the deluge and save the city from the collapsing dam.

Only this story doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s a metaphor for what America has become.

When public services are run with a profit motive, they cease to be public services.

Humble Pie

Although painful, it’s good to be humbled.

Why?

Well, for starters, it means you’ve still got room for improvement, which is never a bad thing.

It also forces you to recognize your limits, motivating you to work harder, to be better.

Eating a steaming plate of humble pie toughens you up, and one can never be too tough.

Life isn’t for the weak or faint of heart. Getting better at anything is going to involve some pain.

Learn from it.

Irons In The Fire

If you’re a creative person, the odds of anything happening with your art is less than zero. Way less than zero, in point of fact.

So the more work you have out there, looking for a home, the less painful it is when one gets rejected.

Just keep making new stuff. It’s what you wanted to do anyway.

Besides, even if it all gets rejected, you still had fun making it.

So who’s the winner now?

How Do You Make a Long Journey?

One step at a time.

If you think about how far you have to go, and how long it’ll take, the whole thing can become overwhelming.

But if you just put one foot in front of the other, day after day, you’ll eventually find yourself at your destination.

Be sure to take your time and enjoy the trip.

The journey is as much fun as arriving — maybe more so.

You’re never so alive as when you’re not sure you can do something, but you plow ahead anyway.

Learning by Doing

If you want to learn how to make a film, you can go to film school.

Or you can just make a film.

Either way, your first one, at best, is going to show some promise. Maybe, if you’re Bob Dylan, or Quentin Tarantino, it’ll be a masterpiece – but that’s generally not the way it works. And that’s ok…

I guess my point here is this: You’re never going to be ready, so you may as well just fucking jump in.

It’s what you wanted to do anyway. You’ll figure it out as you go.