Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Thanksgiving (Part 3)

Looking back in my blog, apparently there was no Thanksgiving in 2020.

No surprise there.

Let’s pick things up again in 2021, shall we? So what am I thankful for? Quite a lot, actually…

  1. I’m not dead yet.
  2. My beautiful wife of 35 glorious years.
  3. All things considered, I’m reasonably healthy.
  4. My brain still seems to be firing on all cylinders.
  5. I have a job with health insurance.
  6. There are people I love who seem to love me back.
  7. My little girl pup that everyone thinks is a boy.
  8. Being able to write.
  9. The editors who have seen fit to publish my work.
  10. See number one.

Plot (Part 1)

There is no plot in real life.

I remember hearing Ethan Hawke discuss this idea in an interview, and it really stuck with me. He postulated that people aren’t interested in plots — they’re interested in other people. Therefore, as an actor, his mission was to create a character who was complicated and messy. You know, the way people behave in real life.

It’s only in retrospect that we can make any sense out of what happens to us — only in hindsight do the events we experience lead to what might resemble a coherent story. In real-time, it’s all a jumbled, confusing mess.

So why plot a novel? Or a short story, for that matter? Why not just let the story unfold in real-time, then look back and find the plot afterward?

Maybe the characters trump plot — and if they’re real enough, maybe they’ll tell you what’s going to happen.

Food for thought.

Hanging on by a Thread

“Health-care workers aren’t quitting because they can’t handle their jobs. They’re quitting because they can’t handle being unable to do their jobs.”

– Ed Yong, “Why Health-Care Workers are Quitting in Droves,” The Atlantic Magazine

The Last Day

Time is promise,
But uninvited circumstance
And wounded souls
Eventually barter it away.
The owner of my borrowed time
Will arrive at random to insist
All what remains of me vanish . . . .
A shadow of a shadow
Passing into mist.

So, I and my last day
Will take a journey together
When we both are spent,
That leaves the familiar
Once infused in all the days,
To stand at the edge of night,
And wonder in the dying light
Exactly where we went.

– Jim Gallagher

Transitioning (Part 2)

Transition: A change from one state or condition to another.

The current cultural zeitgeist suggests the word relates to issues of gender, but the truth is we are all in a constant state of flux, moving from one state to another.

Sometimes we’re aware of it; sometimes we’re not. Sometimes it’s a choice, and sometimes life thrusts us from one state to another whether we want to or not.

Note: I am transitioning from who I was to who I will be. I have some agency in the matter, or at least I think I do.

But perhaps not.

“I’m Sorry, I did the Best I Could”

Barbara Lock is an emergency physician and writer I’ve been fortunate enough to work with for eleven years. Today her essay on COVID, “Insect Music,” is published in The Forge Literary Magazine.

This is an important piece of non-fiction that beautifully gives voice to something that is almost impossible to put into words.

Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read about what it felt like to be a vulnerable human working in a NYC ER during the first wave.

It’s unforgettable.

Smaller Outside, Bigger Inside

As I turn my back on the chaotic hatred of the world that America has become, my inner world has become richer and more alive.

It’s not good.

I feel like I should be more engaged with all this hostility — like somehow I should be part of the solution, whatever that is.

But then I think, Maybe my part in this mess is just to create more art, followed quickly by, Really? That seems kind of silly and self-indulgent, doesn’t it?

Well, here’s the thing: I’m afraid that’s the best I can do.

It may not be much, but it’s something.

Good To Remember

The definition of getting old is being able to remember past paradigms, in order to see the reality of the latest one. The definition of being old is giving up and no longer caring.”

– Paul Frindle

Time’s Running Out!

Yes, indeed it is. Whenever I start dwelling on this, a palpable sense of dread begins to creep in.

I’m not ready for it to end yet, I think. I’ve still got shit to do!

And yet, the clock keeps winding down. My story will end just like yours and every other goddamn living thing on this planet.

So how do you square that circle? How do you make peace with your inevitable demise? With all the wasted time you could’ve been doing something meaningful?

Well, hold on Kemosabe. You’re still breathing, so it ain’t over yet.

Wipe the flop-sweat off your brow and get back to it.

There’s still time left on the clock.

I Saw You Today

It had been a long time
And I didn’t know what to expect
Had life taken as much away from you
As it had from me?

But the minute I heard your voice
It all came rushing back
The person I loved
In my own broken way
Was still there

Still beautiful
Still strong
Still thoughtful
Still shining

I miss you
But you’ll never know
Because life has moved on

I saw you today

It was enough

This Fucking Blog

Just read some old posts – pretty weird and cool. That was me before COVID. Let’s be real – that’s not me after.

I’m still struggling with aftermath of what happened in the first outbreak here in NYC, and my participation in the tragedy of the whole thing.

This will be the defining moment of your career,” is how I remember an ER doc with a specialty in infectious disease describe it to me.

Anyway, I wonder if I just hit a wall with this blog, or is there still some life left?

I mean, I’m immersed in writing fiction – but less so for this. And yet, I think the personal rewards are pretty significant.

It is what got me writing fiction.

Let’s see if I can resurrect this fucking thing.

Or let it Rest In Peace.

Novel (Part 1)

Today I completed the first draft of my first novel.

I started it on June 1, so it took me four and a half months to reach my goal of 90,000 words while working full-time in the ER.

I only wrote on days off but did so religiously, always meeting my goal of at least 1000 words, usually more. So what it worked out to is 1000 words a day for 90 days.

Is it any good? It’s good to me, so there’s that. I have no control over whether it’s any good to the person reading it; therefore, I don’t waste time thinking about it.

This is probably a good point to make note of some useful decisions I made when I started.

I didn’t second guess anything. Never once thought, Is this any good? Am I qualified to do this? Can I do this?

Never crossed my mind. Thinking like this would only fuck everything up and kill the fun.

I also wrote no outline and had no plot. Just three characters I didn’t know much about with a vague idea of how it would end. BTW, this isn’t all that unusual. Apparently, there are essentially two kinds of novelists — Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters plot and Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. Both are valid ways to work. You might be surprised by which camp your favorite author falls into.

For me, part of the fun of writing this way is that it allows me to discover the story and the characters as I go along. Since I have no idea what I’m going to write about the next day, I can sit back and let the characters tell me who they are and what they’re going to do next. It’s a very entertaining way to write.

Anyway, red-letter day here. Even if it never gets published, I wrote a fucking novel. To completion. And I had fun doing it — not many people can say that. Now I’m going to pack it up for six weeks or so and let the thing marinate in its juices.

Then I’ll get it out, read it fresh, and start editing.

Meanwhile, I’ve got other shit to write.

What if This is as Good as it Gets?

Jack Nicholson asks this question to a filled waiting room after being thrown out of his therapist’s office in the pretty-goddamn-great 1997 film of the same name.

The short answer is yes, this is as good as it gets.

Isn’t that enough?

I just watched this film for the second time — 24 years after the first. It was better than I remembered it; a great, darkly funny script by James L. Brooks that would be completely un-filmable today.

But there’s a great through-line that remains surprisingly relevant.

To wit: Although some people can be insufferable assholes, it doesn’t make them all bad. Maybe they just never learned how to be fully human.

This idea is perhaps best illustrated by the film’s most memorable line, spoken by the supremely clueless asshole Jack plays to the saintly Helen Hunt: You make me want to be a better man.

Sometimes, people just don’t know how to be a functional human. Maybe we should all take a deep breath, relax, and throw them a life raft.

When All Seems Lost

Go back to basics. Try not to get lost in a feedback loop of negative thinking.

  1. What gives you joy? Do that. The joy part is your brain trying to show you where to go.
  2. Get out of your head – focus on helping others.
  3. Cut out all extraneous bullshit. Keep your purpose (and life) simple.
  4. Go easy on yourself.
  5. Allow for time to daydream.
  6. Exercise, meditate, and get enough sleep.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

What I’m Doing Now

On work days I get up and go to the ER for twelve and a half hours, then go home exhausted, my brain and body an over cooked mess.

On my days off, I write my novel. It’s so much fun it’s hard to put in words, and I’m a writer, so if I can’t put something in words, it must be either very mysterious or very abstract.

It’s both.

I’m closing in on my goal of 90,000 words, and the characters are so alive to me I sometimes dream of them.

Soon, the story will end, and I’ll start another one. I hope someone will read them and be moved, but I’m not holding my breath. Hope isn’t a good strategy.

And it doesn’t really matter, or at least that’s what I told myself when I started. See, writing and attempting to publish short stories quickly disavowed me of the idea that my writing meant anything to anyone other than me.

But, it turns out that this was a test, and how I answered the question would determine whether I was really a writer or not.

It turns out that I am, indeed, a writer. Because I’ve learned that other people’s acceptance isn’t why I do it.

I do it for me, because I can create worlds in my head and then live in them for a while.

It’s impossible to describe how fulfilling that is.

ER Alert (Part 1)

NYC ERs are seeing unusually high numbers of overdoses, a sure sign of heroin (or cocaine) cut with Fentanyl, an opioid approximately 100 times the potency of morphine.

Narcan is the drug of choice for reversing opioid overdose, and is available from any pharmacy – no prescription needed. Method of administration couldn’t be easier: it’s an intranasal spray, given like Afrin.

Carrying this with you might save someone’s life. See someone slumped over and not breathing? Give ‘em a squirt and watch them come back to life!

Handy tip: Watch from a distance, it works fast and they’re not happy when it kicks in.

It’s completely benign, so you’ll never have to worry about hurting them – besides, if they’re not breathing they’re already dead!

I wrapped up a 25 year-old in a body bag today.

If someone had given him Narcan he’d still be alive.